Tips for working from home when you have ADHD or ASD

Transitioning to working from home is difficult for everyone, but if you have ADHD or ASD it can become a real struggle to keep working productively. 

Introduction

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, people with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) often suffer from forgetfulness, lack of organization, time management, and are easily distracted by impulsive thoughts.

Additionally, there are many different types of Autism spectrum disorders (ASD). For most people with forms of autism, changes in structure, environment, schedules and routine can often cause lots of stress, which likely lowers motivation and productivity. This can mean problems with organizational skills, self-regulation, processing tasks sequentially, multi-tasking, filtering distractions, setting priorities, planning and attention focusing.

If you suffer from any of the above, the good habits, routines and working environment you established in the office can be hard to continue outside, or at your own home.

To help, we have collated these top tips for creating and sticking to a routine and improving concentration, to help you stay organized, focused, and motivated at home, along with some novel ideas that have been shown to help those struggling to concentrate stay focused, productive and on task. 

Working from home still comes with many major advantages, as long as you can carefully manage the difficulties caused by having ADHD or ASD.

Routine and planning

Now that you are on your own and working from home, it is easy to forget the structure, organization, and good habits that come with working in an office environment. But, research suggests that ADHD sufferers respond well to external controls.

For many people coping with ASD, this is even more important as they feel more comfortable with a steady and predictable routine and working environment. If you have a form of autism, you may feel stressed and struggle to break from your normal workday routine but it is important you carefully create a new routine and stick to it as rigidly as possible to help you reduce your stress and keep on track with your work.

Start the day as if you were heading to the office

Obviously, one of the main benefits of working from home is being able to roll out of bed at 5 minutes to 9 and immediately log on and start working in your pajamas. But, if you choose this tactic you may find yourself struggling to get into your work.

Psychotherapist Andreas Pichler believes that even for those people who don’t suffer from ADHD or ASD, getting into more professional attire can change your mindset and make you more likely to stay motivated, disciplined, and on task throughout the day. For those with ASD, starting your day as if you were going to the office is even more important as it means you can continue to maintain your original morning routine for the first part of the day. 

Schedule breaks to overcome time blindness

For those with ADHD or ASD it is common to suffer from time blindness, an issue that prevents you from accurately tracking time innately. It is therefore easy to get hyper-focused on one task and end up spending far too long on it or distracting yourself with something unrelated to your work ‘just for a minute’ and then wasting a whole hour on it.

Clinical psychologist Lauren Powell has developed a great way to deal with time blindness. She advises you to set a timer of 25 minutes and then take a 3-5 minute timed break so you can ensure you are not spending too long on a specific task. Measuring these 25-minute intervals means you can have a better grasp of the passing of time. The obvious way to set these timers is to use your phone, but smartphones can be hugely distracting at the best of times, so a better option would be to use an alarm clock that won’t tempt you to procrastinate by checking on your social media or respond to unimportant messages.

Create a to-do list and check off tasks

Writing a to-do list every morning is a great way to get organized and keep yourself on-track and working productively. But, for ADHD and ASD sufferers, it is especially useful and works best if you break up your tasks into small to-dos that you can easily tick off without spending too much time on each one. Plus, someone with ASD may struggle to work through their tasks in a sequential order, instead flitting back and forth between tasks and not getting the work done in an effective and logical manner, so laying out a plan like this is vital. 

According to one popular psychology theory, the Zeigarnik effect, we remember the things we need to do more than those we have yet to do. So, if you end up getting side-tracked by a task that was not on your to-do list you are more likely to forget you have completed it and avoid getting that sense of satisfaction that comes with having completed a task. To combat this, it is important to add those extra tasks to your list and tick them off just like all the others, that way you will feel more satisfied with your work, motivated and, ultimately, be more productive. 

Take your medications as prescribed

You may feel strange taking your pills every day when you are not heading to the office, but it is important you follow your doctor’s advice closely. Most ADHD and ASD medications work best when taken regularly, so try to take them at the same time every day and not miss a dose even if you feel like you don’t need it.

For those with ADHD, your medications should help you stay focused and productive and, for those with ASD, the medications will help you keep calm, less irritable and aggressive - all of which will help the transition to working from home go much smoother. Of course, if you feel that your medications are not working for you anymore or you do not like the side effects, you could try changing them or stopping them altogether, but this is only a good idea after speaking to your doctor and getting their recommendation to do so. 

Create boundaries and stick to them

It is important to keep your work and home life separate, especially when you are spending your working hours in the house. You are most likely contracted to work a certain number of hours, so try and limit yourself to that and, when you are finished for the day, step away from your workspace and mute any work notifications on your phone to help yourself disengage and relax.

With no bosses and colleagues to judge you, it can be easy to be tempted to get up and move around the house, working from different rooms or your bed. However, it is better to establish one comfortable space with as few distractions as possible and stick with it while working to eliminate any chances of getting off task.

This means ensuring you have everything you need ready to go at the beginning of the day and eliminating as much background noise or interruptions in your working environment, a sign on the door or a quick chat with the people you live with should suffice. 

Keep it clutter-free

So your workspace is a mess, but this is your own home so who cares right? Wrong, you need to make sure your papers are organized and you know where everything you need is where it should be. Let the people you live with know that they should keep their stuff away from your area and please don’t bring anything you don’t need for work into your designated space.

Use a desk pad for taking quick notes and staying organized

To avoid getting confused and forgetting vital tasks or ideas, it is a good idea to invest in a desk pad for your home workspace. These are well-organized paper notebooks that are perfect for work notes and easy to get your thoughts onto instantly.

As ADHD and ASD sufferers are often more likely to forget things, a pen and paper option like this is far more convenient and useful than a desktop or mobile app. The main benefit of this over computer programs is that you do not have to scroll through half a dozen other apps or programs before you get to make your notes, which means you are less likely to get distracted and forget what you were trying to record.

Stay in touch

It’s easy to feel disconnected from your team and this feeling of isolation can quickly become demotivating. Plus, when you are outside the office, asking for help or clarifying something you are unsure of can easily mean you end up working unproductively. To counteract this it is a good idea to pick up the phone when you want to communicate with someone rather than relying on emails. To help keep your calls on track, write down the questions you have before the call and start with the most important ones in case there is not enough time to go through them all. 

For those with ASD, this is even more important, as many struggle with social interaction and communication even at the best of times. So, when you are working from home, it may be tempting to avoid communicating with your colleagues. But, you must be ready to talk and maintain good communication throughout the day, they will appreciate hearing from you and it will show you are interested and engaged in the work. However, this does not have to mean endless phone calls, there are plenty of options out there for people with different communication styles... 

There are lots of good apps and programs that are great for helping remote teams stay connected, in sync, and organized. Your business might have these set up already, if not here are some ones you could try with your team:

  • Free tools like Zoom, Skype, Teams and Google Hangouts for video calls, and Google Docs or Dropbox for collaborative working. 
  • Hubspot for use in client relationship management, project/task management, and more. 
  • Trello, ProofHub, and Workzone for project management and collaboration.

4 Novel ideas for improving concentration

The most severe symptom most ADHD sufferers face is difficulty concentration, which is also often a problem for those with ASD. This can become even more of an issue when you are forced out of the controlled working environment of your office.

Out of the office in your relaxing home environment, the freedom to wander your house and do some household chores means many people find it especially difficult to remain on task regardless of how well they have set up their schedule and home workspace. What follows are some novel ideas for helping to improve your concentration that are worth considering if you are struggling with the work-from-home transition. 

Practice meditation every morning

Meditation and other mindfulness practices may seem like the new fix for all of life's problems, but it does work and has been found to help relieve the symptoms of ADHD and ASD. If you have yet to take the plunge, then beginning your new work-from-home life is the perfect opportunity to start.

Although you may feel skeptical or intimidated when you begin, the more you try it the easier it becomes and the more benefits you will get from it. It is therefore important not to get frustrated if you don’t see the benefits straight away. So, before you dismiss meditation as a way to manage your ADHD or ASD try it out for a few weeks, you may be surprised by how well it works.

Luckily, there are many videos and apps to help you get into it and listening to 10 or 15 minutes of guided meditation on your headphones is a great way to start. There are different types of meditation to help with many issues, but some of the most helpful for difficulties concentrating include: grounding, intention setting, and productivity, so you start by looking up a few of these. 

Noise-canceling headphones

We all know the pain of distracting noises when you are trying to concentrate on your work. But, with noise-canceling headphones, you can block out all sounds and create a more peaceful working environment.

Although they can work without any music playing, some types of sounds and music have been proven to help aid concentration. Overall, it is generally believed that quieter and slower-paced music without lyrics works best and that music you enjoy or dislike too much should be avoided, but you may also want to try the following:

Binaural beats
Binaural beats work by playing two different sound frequencies in each ear. This causes the brain to create another frequency that is made up of the difference which has been proven to create a non-invasive stimulation that helps with concentration. Many people who have tried this music to help with concentration difficulties have found that it allows them to focus for longer without getting distracted. However, in some cases users with underlying medical conditions have been found to react badly to the sounds resulting in seizures, so please consult your doctor first before you give this one a try. 

White noise
If you are struggling to find music that works for you, then white noise is a great option that is sure to be distraction-free. It has also been found to help young people with ADHD improve their concentration. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that it makes your brain's auditory centers focus, which may help concentration and memory in anyone regardless of if they are coping with ADHD, ASD or everyday problems concentrating. 

Try working from a standing position

Research into concentration has revealed that working from a standing position can improve your productivity, concentration and increase creativity. One study found that children using standing desks were 12 percent more attentive than their sitting peers, this roughly equates to seven more minutes of engagement per hour.

Thanks to research like this and the obvious health benefits that come with standing rather than sitting, when it comes to burning calories and improving posture, many businesses are opting for work desks that can be adjusted into standing or sitting positions. Still not convinced enough to invest in a standing desk? Try elevating your laptop on a pile of books for a few hours and see how well that works for you, it could make all the difference.  

Aromatherapy

An unusual method for sure, but many people believe that aromatherapy with certain essential oils and smells helps them concentrate, relieve stress, and improve mood and mental clarity. You can buy a cheap USB oil diffuser that should be ideal for your home workspace and try the following essential oils:

  • Vetiver, for calming and stabilizing 
  • Rosemary, for reduced mental fatigue and uplifting energy
  • Peppermint, for focus, concentration, and energy
  • Basil, Patchouli or Cypress, for soothing nervousness and work stress 
  • Lemongrass or Bergamot, for motivation and invigoration 
  • Frankincense, for grounding and focus

Rosemary has been found to be particularly effective, with a study published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology finding it to have a positive impact on cognitive performance. Furthermore, the Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology has concluded that vetiver may improve task performance and alertness. In addition to the above, there are plenty of mixtures that have been specifically formulated to help with concentration and mental clarity, so try asking at your local health shop for these. 

Try a fidget toy

If you find yourself with lots of restless energy (leg jiggling, foot taping and shifting in your seat) while trying to work at your desk, you could try investing in a fidget. These are small toys, with some interesting tactile movement opportunities, that you can hold in your hand.

According to Bridget Gilormini, director of PACER Center’s Simon Technology Center, these toys can give your body something active to do, allowing the brain to focus on your work and can be useful for everyone and especially those with ADHD and ASD. Of course, if you are typing at your desk you won’t be able to use these toys all the time but it is still convenient to have one handy. The most common example of a fidget is a squishy ball, or stress ball, but there are a huge variety of options to try.   

Conclusion

When you start to work from home, it can be even more difficult to manage the problems that come with suffering from ADHD or ASD. It is therefore important that you become more disciplined than ever to ensure you remain on track. However, as with all changes, you can not expect to adapt straight away.

It is perfectly natural, both for those with ADHD, ASD and those without, to be less productive while transitioning to working from home. So, don’t be too hard on yourself and try not to get frustrated, manage your own expectations and the expectations of the people you work with, and don’t hesitate to ask for help from your colleagues when you need it.

Keep in mind that the rest of your career is likely to involve lots more opportunities to work from home, so if you develop good habits and techniques to help this go smoothly now you can enjoy the benefits of working outside the office for the rest of your life.


Author

Vicky Blom

As a recruiter, I have been helping candidates find a new job for over ten years. On this website I share my knowledge to help you make a good resume.