How to Focus

How to Recharge Your Tired Brain After Work

“I stay motivated at work — hey, I can’t lose my job! — but my ADHD stops me from being productive at home. My brain gets stuck on ‘pause,’ which means important projects get put on hold. My wife is angry, and I’m disgusted with myself. How can I break out of this pattern?”

woman with ADHD running errands after workday
woman with ADHD loading groceries and dry cleaning into car, running errands after workday

Why Does My ADHD Brain Get Stuck?

The fact is that everything from organizing information, to managing time, to staying focused on a task requires more brain energy when we have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). So people with ADHD burn a lot of mental energy to get through the workday, and often are running on fumes by the time they get home. It feels like we have hit a wall — or, as you say, are stuck in pause. The problem isn’t a lack of motivation. It is a case of needing to properly refuel.

Here are steps you can take to get your brain unstuck, be more productive at home, and feel good about yourself as a partner and adult:

What Does My Brain Need?

When your brain is “stuck,” it’s telling you something. Just as hunger pangs remind us that our body is running on empty, brain fatigue reminds us that we need to fill our brain’s fuel tank. Instead of ignoring our brain fatigue and trying to push through (which often leads nowhere), acknowledge your brain’s needs.

Ask, “How can I restore my brain energy after work?” Write down several things that you know will boost your energy: a snack, a glass of water, a brisk walk, a shower, a power nap, listening to music, finding some quiet time, meditating, or connecting with someone else. These are all great ways to refuel your brain.

How-To Tips

  1. When you get home from work, ask yourself, “On a scale of 1-10, how much energy do I have to tackle a task right now?”
  2. Make your list of energy givers.
  3. Take an energy-boosting break, or do an energy-boosting activity each day when you get home from work.
  4. Let your family know that you are taking these steps to help get unstuck.

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Why Is Making Choices So Hard for an ADHD Brain?

Making choices seems like a simple task, but it burns up lots of cognitive fuel. If you are tired when you get home, it will be tough for you to decide which task or chore you want to do. You may make the choice not to do any at all. Planning in advance what you will do each night will help to lighten some of your brain’s load, so you can focus on getting started.

Choose a specific day of the week for regular chores, like cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming. In my family, we start the laundry on Saturday mornings, so it can be put away by Sunday evening. We never have to decide, “When should I do the laundry this week?”

Break bigger projects (like reorganizing the garage) into smaller steps, and do one step each night. A client struggles with piles (big piles) of unopened mail. He decided he would go through one stack of mail each night until the piles were gone.

How-To Tips

  1. Make a to-do list of chores and projects.
  2. Break big projects into small, doable steps.
  3. Make sure to limit your plan to one small task a night. Keep it easy!
  4. Write your plan down on paper and put it in your digital calendar, so that you don’t forget.

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Is There a Way to Do Less?

Now that you have a to-do list of chores and projects, you can lighten your load by asking, “Is there any way to do less?” See if something from your list can be crossed off because it isn’t that important. Or perhaps cut back on the scope of a project: Could you get by with a fresh coat of paint instead of remodeling the entire bathroom? Create two lists — “Do Now” and “Do Later” — and focus on the “Do Now” tasks.

My favorite “do less” tactic is to delegate. One client told me that using a grocery delivery service was “the best thing I’ve ever done for my ADHD.” By delegating grocery delivery, his family created a meal plan each week, and had everything they needed to eat well without having to make dinner decisions when everyone is tired at the end of the day. Now, he has more energy either to enjoy a relaxing evening or get something else done.

How-To Tips

  1. Imagine giving your to-do list to someone else. Does it seem like you are asking too much? If so, think about modifying it.
  2. Look at your to-do list for items that can be deleted, done later, made smaller, or delegated.

How Can I Block Out Distractions?

Sometimes when we get home from work and are tired, our brains switch to autopilot. When he is stressed out or tired, one of my clients spends evenings playing his favorite video game. His brain goes on autopilot. Unfortunately, his wife gets angry, or he gets angry at himself, because pressing things don’t get done. People diagnosed with ADHD are more susceptible to this type of idle-brain distraction.

If you find yourself wasting your evenings, block those activities that are keeping your brain stuck. Ask, “What am I routinely doing instead of the activities I want to be doing?” Most of these activities are screen-related, like searching online, watching TV, or playing games on a smartphone. Once you know which activities are keeping your brain idle, avoid doing them for one or two nights a week.

How-To Tips

  1. Make a list of activities that keep your brain idle and figure out how to block them.
  2. Use a shut-off timer on the plug of your TV, or drape a sheet over the TV to remind you that you’d prefer to do something else.
  3. Use an Internet/app blocker, and put your smartphone away.

When your brain is stuck in pause, have a list of tactics, not just one, to get unstuck. Pick and choose from the suggestions above, and make a written list of suggestions that you think will work for you. This can be your go-to guide for getting things done.

[Read This Next: How to (Actually) Finish What You Start]

5 Comments & Reviews

  1. Lol you are right about the smaller steps. The last project i completed at home was a fence. Since we had a pool going in, this was required. I am notorious for starting things and not quiting until they were done at ever decreasing standards. So this required a relatively high standard of workmanship something i would only be able to do if i broke it down to manageable chunks that left me with some energy. I did the holes and the posts one weekend, then one section each night after dinner. The result was far better than i expected but it convinced me along with the rec room disaster i had done the winter before that an expert was needed to reach decent standards and I hired one after that. I confined my evenings to maintaining the landscaping in shape shovelling snow and never again felt guilty about staying late to finish my paid work. Weekends were spent doing laundry, vacuuming and grocery and other errand shopping.
    My only regret was my inability to hire an expert to do my school homework 25 years earlier. Didnt finish high school as my total recall was mistaken for cheating..and my absence of any notes or completed assignments signed my eviction notice on my 16th birthday in Grade 11.
    It didnt make a lot of sense for this pension and Benefits Consultant and My Actuary to bill a total of $ 550 an hour and then to leave work to be late with clients reports while we attempted to be construction workers.
    Who knows if i had finished high school i might have made something more than 250k a year 95-05 limited to working 1000 hours/yr a choice I made after a severe bout with cancer in 93-94.

  2. This article was written just for me! I have trouble staying composed all day long (9 hour office work day) and just want to “shut off” when I get home. Shutting off for me is going to my recliner to crochet and watch tv shows until bed time. However, after getting off work at 5PM, the kids need picked up and supper needs made. Other various obligations need filled, like activities, homework help or light house keeping. I’ve tried relaxing for 5 minutes before cooking but found I need to get right to it, we are hungry! Part of my solution is deciding what to eat at least one day ahead and jump right into cooking when we get home. I promise myself that after cooking, eating and a couple small tasks I can have the rest of the night “off.” This helps a ton. During the day at work I keep a sticky note for that day and write down anything I need to remember/or do for that night or the next day. This simplified list keeps me on track and isn’t too daunting. One of my lists might look like this: Hamburger out from freezer, clean off one section of kitchen counter, snack for work tomorrow, clean one toilet. I also keep another sheet of paper on my desk for everything that pops up in my mind that needs done. If I have it in writing it won’t be forgotten so I can quit worrying about it. This way if I have more ambition I can start tackling that list too. If not, those are things that can be gotten too on the weekend or another time (maybe even delegated!). It’s so easy to shut off after a long day, but unfortunately life doesn’t stop moving. Lately I suffered from an ankle injury – 8 weeks and counting. My to do list has bloomed out of control as I can’t move around very well yet. Several cleaning/organizing tasks keep weighing on me. Last night I was determined to do one step of each of the 3 jobs. It felt so good to get something done I did about 3 or 4 steps of each project. Go me! Half the work is just getting started. I felt so much better about sitting down and relaxing for the rest of the night after that. 🙂

  3. I have questions as a family member of those who need this down time. How much is too much? I have a spouse and a 14 year old boy who both have this need for downtime.
    I try to accommodate but the need seems to have no ending.
    My 14 year old has homework, chores, things we might need to discuss, needs to be ready for the next school day etc.. but seems to need the full 4pm to 10pm to refuel. I don’t want to be working on homework or anything else with him at 10pm. How do I help him or teach him faster ways to refuel ?
    On another note related, My husband also functions this way (downtime from 6pm to 11pm) it leaves me to take care of the family and household needs by myself while trying to be quiet and keep the activity level down so that he can relax. I don’t want this for my son.
    I understand a need for downtime but this is limiting everyone in the house.

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