Working from Home with ADHD: Setting up your Workspace and Schedule

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Covid-19 continues to increase its impact on the lives of everyone I know. Or perhaps it’s better put that we as a people are increasing our response to the virus by the day. Where a few weeks ago this was something I’d heard of that was on the other side of the world, it’s now turned my entire life upside down.

I work in public education in Washington state. As of last Tuesday all of our schools have been ordered closed for six weeks by order of Governor Inslee. My staff and I continued to work at our site for a few days, but as of today, we are all working from home. This is such a drastic change in how we operate. I can’t tell you how little thought I had ever put into possibly doing my job from home.

So that’s why I’m here. I’ve now been forced into figuring out what this looks like. How do you set up your workspace? How do you schedule your time? How do you stay motivated and avoid distractions? I don’t have the experience yet to say I’m an expert, but I’m happy to share what I’ve come up with so far.

Setting up your workspace

Whether you’ll be working from home for a few days, weeks, or long-term, you will need to find an appropriate workspace. If you actually have a full or partial office with a desk in your home, consider yourself lucky, and you may be able to skip this step. But more than just a desk to work from, there are a few things you should consider before settling on any workspace in your home.

  • What types of work will I need to accomplish at home? Does this space allow me to adequately carry out all of them?
  • Does the space lend itself to video chats? Remember to look behind you to see what others in your chat will see.
  • Is the workspace somewhat stimulating, but not so far as to be distracting?
  • How close is it to some of your regular distractions? For me these would be food and television.
  • If you live with others, is the workspace in a heavily trafficked area or is it somewhat secluded?

Start by considering all spaces with a flat surface large enough to accomplish your work. In my own home, I can consider a built-in desk in the kitchen, the dining room table, the living room coffee table, a small desk in a bonus room upstairs, and a sewing table in a guest bedroom.

The built-in in the kitchen seems ideal, as there’s already a computer with webcam and ample desk space to get work done. But it’s also in a heavily trafficked area and very close to one of my main distractors, food. The dining room table and coffee table both fail the traffic and distraction tests. The bonus room desk is close to passing but is somewhat small and right outside my daughter’s bedroom.

By elimination, the sewing table in the guest room wins. The table itself may be inadequate, but I have a folding table I can put in its place if needed. There is a beautiful view from a window in that room, but no one will be coming through, and it’s far from television and food. This all bodes well for me making it work.

Having chosen it, I will organize the space as much as possible as I did at work, making sure I have all things at-hand so I can do my work without leaving the space. I’m thinking computer, pens, post-its, journals, contact lists, schedules, etc. And please, maybe most important of all, make sure you have a comfortable chair.

Scheduling

Especially if working from home is a change, you will be operating on a new schedule. It’s okay to change. Build something new that works for you. Elise Kumar wrote about why this is important on her recent post about changing gears.

Make sure you block out time on your calendar for all tasks you intend to accomplish for the day. Schedule each one longer than you expect it to take, so that you can account for transition times. You may even find that you need to schedule transition times separately, or operate on a timer system so that you keep yourself moving between tasks. If you’re plagued by time-blindness like me, you may find that timers are life-saving.

As you’re scheduling your work, try as much as you can to switch to different types of activities. If one task requires high levels of concentration while working at the computer, try following it up with something different like checking in with someone by phone. You should also be mindful and intentional about scheduling breaks, so if you do have two or more similar tasks to accomplish, you can at least make sure you get a break in-between.

As you consider breaks, remember that not all are created equal. Here are a few different ideas you can try.

  • Get up and dance to an up-tempo song or two
  • Watch a funny YouTube video
  • Go for a short walk
  • Get a snack
  • Call a friend or relative, but make sure they know your time limit
  • Read a chapter from a novel
  • Lay down and rest for a few minutes
  • Play a level or two of a retro video game

With any of these, you want to consider what task you’ve just finished, and what task you’re going into next. For any of them, you might consider a timer or alarm to remind you when it’s time to transition back. But do make sure you break as needed.

What next?

Once you’ve got your workspace and schedule set up, it’s time to get to work. But maintaining focus and motivation to do work at home is another great challenge to overcome. Originally I was going to include motivation tips in this post, but that grew into a big enough topic to tackle all on its own, which you can now read here: Working from Home with ADHD Part 2: Staying Motivated.

Have you set up a workspace and schedule using any of the tips above? I’d love to hear how it went! Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.

~~~

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Author: Jamie

At 37 I went to therapy and after two hours she asked if anyone had ever talked to me about ADHD. Surprise! I'm @ADHDsurprise on Twitter.

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