Productivity at Work

The ADHD WFH Guide: 7 Ways to Build Essential Structure Right Now

WFH anxiety flows from unstructured time, unclear boundaries, unstable schedules, and unattainable goals. Here, learn how to create clarity, productivity, and balance in the new home office you share with adult ADHD.

Q: “I’m lonely and feel more stressed working from home. I’m an extrovert with ADHD and get energy and creative inspiration from my co-workers. Zoom is hardly a substitute for in-person meetings. I’m so overwhelmed with the new arrangement that it’s hard to focus and I don’t feel motivated. On top of that, my family not understanding that work from home still means “work” makes me irritable and difficult to live with. Help!”

A: Adapting to new situations is difficult and uncomfortable, especially during stressful times. It takes time to adapt to a ‘new norm,’ so be patient and gentle with yourself. We experience disappointment in direct proportion to our expectations, so lowering your personal expectations right now is OK.

Across the board, productivity is down as we all adjust to our new situations. Knowing that you are not alone should help alleviate feelings of guilt and inadequacy about your focus and productivity. Don’t compare your performance during this pandemic with your performance before you had to work from home. It’s not a fair comparison.

Things will get better. In the meantime, here are some tips:

#1. Re-structure your schedule.

Stress does a number on our immune system, and it also makes our ADHD spin out of control, which is probably why you are feeling so sensitive to everything right now. For ADHD brains, unstructured time is stressful in and of itself. You cannot cure this pandemic, but you can lessen your stress by creating a structured workday wherein your professional and personal lives don’t step on each other.

First of all, limit your workday to 9 to 5. Before and after, manage your stress by prioritizing and scheduling time for sufficient rest, nutrition, and exercise. Start your day with protein (such as eggs or Greek yogurt) and eat a healthy lunch that is light on carbs — best to avoid bread and pasta. Exercising daily will also help you feel less exhausted. Many gyms have gone virtual; check to see if yours is offering classes on-line. Now is not the time to skip doing a 5-minute meditation, 10 minutes of yoga, a healthy snack or a walk around the block because you’re feeling overwhelmed. Update your daily schedule with good self-care practices that will help alleviate lethargy, anxiety, depression, and irritability.

[Get More WFH Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Telecommuting]

#2. Break down projects to lend structure to unstructured time.

In an office environment, the routine of the day creates an external structure that keeps us on track. Colleagues are busy working all around and, of course, the presence of our boss is an incentive to stay focused. Without these external structures, many of us slip into a free fall, unsure of what to do and when to do it. We worry about every little decision. Should I watch the video my boss sent or do I answer my emails first? Are these 5-minute tasks more or less important than that beast of a project looming over me? Where do I start?

Worry flows from unpredictability. Since the world is teeming with uncertainty right now, the added burden of figuring out how to structure and prioritize our time feels like too much. A general feeling of angst develops that can and often does compromise our efficiency and productivity. When this happens, slow down, breathe, and take one step at a time.

Still feeling unsure of what to do next? Try completing a small piece of the task at hand because finishing anything is better than finishing nothing.

Consider instituting regular check-ins with your boss to make sure you are both on the same page. This should eliminate some of the worry and insecurity. And again, give your day as much structure as you can — start work, each lunch, and end work at the same time each day. These easy strategies will create security during an insecure time, and allow you move forward confidently despite the indecision and uncertainly all around.

[Read This Next: Time-Management Tools for ADHD Brains]

#3. Delineate your home office space.

Home distractions are ubiquitous, so it’s paramount to carve out a space with a chair and a desk that is just for work. If you don’t have the luxury of a home office or a spare bedroom, try what one of my clients did: He created a faux wall by handing a bedsheet and reported that it helped him stick to his work and resist the temptation to wander off to complete a random household chore. Create a cubicle with a folding screen or spare cardboard box.

Hang a “Working – Do Not Disturb” sign on the back of your chair as a reminder to others not to interrupt. Maintain rituals like showering and dressing in work clothes. Pretending to be at the office helps us get into a better work mindset and get started faster. Enter each workday with a plan.

#4. Define reasonable daily goals.

Approaching the day without a plan invites procrastination and avoidance. Define what you will accomplish by lunch time. After lunch, reassess the situation and decide what you will finish before you leave work. Keep planning simple; don’t overwhelm yourself with an unreasonable to-do list. Perfectionism loves to interfere with getting things done. Let be ‘good enough’ be good enough for now.

At 5 o’clock, tidy up your workspace, note where you left off, and clock out. Do not go back to the office just because it’s a few steps away. Don’t let hyperfocus allow your workday to bleed into your free and family time.

#5. Combat loneliness with virtual social breaks.

Without in-person interaction, many of us feel isolated and depressed. Invite your co-workers to join you for a quick Zoom session to say “good morning” — like a football huddle before the next play. Or suggest meeting for a virtual lunch or coffee break. Maybe some would like to catch up at the end of the day for a virtual drink.

Some individuals with ADHD see productivity increase when they work alongside someone else — like a study buddy. If this sounds appealing, create a virtual body double by FaceTiming with a co-worker. Create your own sense of urgency by committing to finish a particular task by a given time and sharing that deadline with your body double for accountability.

#6. Organize all of your desktops.

Working online requires new systems. Instead of saving everything on your desktop, invest the time and effort needed to design computer files that will help you find what you need easily. This upfront investment will save time in the long run as you find what you need at your fingertips. You may need to place an Office Depot or Staples order for supplies to keep your new workspace organized and efficient.

#7. Define your new boundaries.

Call a family meeting to discuss and define the new rules and boundaries needed during this time of transition. Let family and friends know that you won’t be returning calls and texts during work hours.

Make stress management a priority for every family member. Go for walks together. Do a guided meditation together. Share household chores, including meal planning. If you don’t like to cook, keep it as simple as possible with easy stir-fry or crockpot recipes that everyone in the family can help execute.

Given the stress of working from home during a pandemic that has closed schools, a little crankiness is understandable. Apologize when you lose it. Don’t make excuses for what you said or did; simply tell your family that you love them, and you are sorry for being unpleasant. Hugs are usually the best way to end or start the day.

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