Manage Your House

“Why Am I Fine at Work, But a Mess at Home?”

Are you successful at work, but can’t seem to manage at home? Our expert explains why ADHD symptoms sometimes flare in the absence of structure, support, and stimulation.

a woman with ADHD who is successful at work finds laundry and other household tasks stressful
overwhelmed woman sitting on floor resting her head on overflowing laundry basket

The answer is simple. The very things in the office that make management strategies work — adequate structure and support, stimulation and ADHD-friendly activities and environments — are typically missing at home.

How Does Structure Help ADHD Brains?

Most places provide built-in structure: a time to arrive, a break for lunch, a time to leave. Daytime meetings, memos, and routines provide the structure of a defined set of tasks.

At home there is little or no external structure, and often little support. Many with ADHD report feeling ineffective at home — easily distracted from tasks that remain half-finished; fatigued after a day’s work in which lack of structure results in good intentions rarely fulfilled. Parents with ADHD who functioned well in the workplace feel much less effective at home raising children full time.

How Does Support Help ADHD Brains?

The support of co-workers can be critical to success. It’s helpful to be with other people with whom we can brainstorm, problem-solve, and mutually remind. Accountability helps too. When the boss asks for a report at a certain time, we’re much more likely to complete it than if the assignment were open-ended.

How Does Stimulation Help ADHD Brains?

People with ADHD work best when we’re engaged in stimulating, interesting activities. While certainly not all tasks at work are stimulating and interesting, we have more opportunity to choose a career direction that stimulates. It’s hard to find stimulation in the activities required to manage a household.

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ADHD-Friendly Activities

ADHD-friendly activities are interesting, stimulating, and allow us to work from our areas of strength. Smart career choices allow for just that — to work on tasks aligned with our strengths on topics of interest and importance. ADHD-unfriendly activities are detail-oriented, mundane, routine, repetitive, and provide little opportunity for creativity or growth. While the world of work contains some mundane activities, most household chores — laundry, dishes, mopping, vacuuming, dusting, etc. — are ADHD-unfriendly because they are unstimulating and uninteresting. Home executive duties — bill-paying, making and keeping appointments, setting schedules for others, and maintaining financial records — are ADHD-unfriendly by virtue of their demands for planning and attention to detail.

ADHD-Friendly Environment

An ADHD-friendly work environment has adequate light and space, temperature control, comfortable, ergonomically correct furniture, an ordered and visually appealing room, and a minimum of distractions. All contribute to improved functioning for those with ADHD. Some workplace environments are not ADHD-friendly; they’re cluttered, noisy, crowded, with flickering fluorescent lighting, ringing phones, and frequent interruptions. However, many are ADHD-friendly or can be modified to be so.

At home, however, the structure and organization of your environment rely entirely on you. Distractions abound — whether it’s the distraction from one task by the thought of another (stopping in the middle of the laundry to finish the dishes) or the distractions of children, ringing phones, and ringing doorbells.

When all of these things are considered — structure, support, stimulation, ADHD-friendly activities, and an ADHD-friendly environment — it’s no mystery why we have more difficulty functioning as well at home as we can in the workplace. The good news is that there are many ways to make your home environment more ADHD-friendly, and your home maintenance tasks more ADHD-friendly. Many of those strategies are outlined in the book I co-wrote with Judith Kolberg, ADD-friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.

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