The Opportunity to Create a “New Normal”

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A couple of days ago I live-tweeted an Additude webinar called “ADHD Life: Reassessing Goals and Priorities after a Pandemic.” Since then I’ve continued to ponder what I learned from it and how the principles shared can help us as we continue to work through this life-altering shutdown. It’s well worth your time to listen to the whole thing.

Since a statewide shutdown due to Covid-19 was enacted in mid-March, my daily routine has completely changed. This includes the way I live, work, socialize, eat, play…you get the idea. Working as a school principal, I was used to commuting an hour each way. Because of the drive, I was getting up much earlier than I naturally do (5:30am- blech!). Having two hours of total drive time per day also allowed me ample time to listen to audiobooks. I probably went through 20 audiobooks during the first two-thirds of the school year. In the evenings I would return home, sometimes making it to family dinner, and sometimes not.

I now work out of our upstairs guest bedroom. I get to sleep in longer than I used to, and my truck has been sitting idle for nearly two months. I haven’t listened to an audiobook in that time, and I haven’t been face-to-face with any of my teachers or students, though I am still working with them every day. Work now consists of a series of daily Zoom meetings. And where I used to leave my office and walk through classrooms or run to help with a situation…all is now accomplished from my chair. So there are many days where I spend 7 or more hours simply sitting in the same chair in that upstairs bedroom staring at a screen while I do my work online.

Home and family are different too of course. My children no longer attend school. They are completing learning activities, some online, some not. But mostly they’re doing a splendid re-creation of Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat. Though we are surrounded by wonderful parks and beaches, nearly all are completely closed to the public. Restaurants and theaters are also closed, along with most stores. Life has basically become one long episode of Groundhog Day as we live and repeat the same, sad, quarantine routine every single day.

It’s time to reframe

I’ll admit that I’m grieving for the way life used to be, and I’ve spent many of these shutdown days sitting around wishing I could go do things I’m used to doing. This week my state governor extended our “stay home, stay safe” plan for yet another month and that hit me pretty hard. But then I was able to think back on this webinar that I’d watched just one day earlier, and I’ve got a much better outlook on things now. It all starts with reframing our situation.

Yes, this situation has dramatically altered our lives. And it’s not likely to get anywhere close to “normal” soon. So it’s time to accept that this is the “new normal” and figure out what’s next.

With work, we are no longer constrained by school buildings, traditional schedules, or even student groupings. It has opened up many new possibilities for tailoring instruction to students and giving teachers and students new opportunities to interact through technology that many had only heard about before. We are being encouraged to try new things, experiment with new ways of teaching and learning and connecting, and students and teachers alike have become more excited and engaged as they’ve begun to let go of how we used to do things.

At home the change has been slower. But I’ve come to the realization that being cut off from most of my regular routine means that I can literally create a new one. How many projects have I put off for years, and how many old hobbies did I give up simply because I didn’t have the time? Well time is something I happen to have a lot of right now!

So how do you start?

You’ve had virtually everything in your life cleared from the deck, and now you get to decide what goes back in, and what stays out. Start by dividing up your life into categories like these:

  • Health
  • Family
  • Finances
  • Social relationships
  • Fun
  • Career
  • _____

Once you’ve got what feels like a pretty comprehensive list, rate how you feel about your current status with each area. You could do this with numbers (1-5 as an example) or even with coloring a chart or graph where fuller and bigger mean better.

After rating each area, you can decide what to do about it. Feeling great about family? Perfect. Leave it as-is and focus on the other areas. Concerned about health? Perhaps you used to go to the gym but now it’s been closed for two months and you haven’t walked farther than from the couch to the refrigerator in that time? Why not start by talking short walks around the block? Do you miss connecting with friends and socializing as you used to? You could set up a video chat or a virtual game night.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that it’s not about setting and achieving goals. It’s about feeling better and finding peace and greater happiness in a pandemic. So whether you call it a goal or not, add in to your life things that will make you happy and let go of things that won’t. Find new ways to connect with friends and family members who you no longer get to visit. Work on a project that is fun and meaningful to you. Make plans to do things that you love that maybe you haven’t had time for in a while.

If you take stock of your situation you will find hidden opportunities that you’ve been missing. If all else fails, just try something new. And don’t worry about doing it perfectly. There’s power in simply doing. Jessica (@HowToADHD) put it best in song:

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Working from Home with ADHD Part 2: Staying Motivated

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This is part two of my “working from home” series, prompted by Covid-19 creating a great influx of workers into the home environment, including me. Part one dealt with setting up your workspace and schedule.

Accountability checklists

It is hard to do things. With ADHD it is even harder to do things. With ADHD and without accountability, it’s nearly impossible. So working from home, telecommuting, or whatever your current situation, see if you can build in some accountability. It seems somewhat easier to accomplish tasks when you have a boss at your workplace who is going to come by and check on you from time to time. If you still need something like that, try creating check-ins with your boss. These could be calls, texts, emails, or video chats.

I am asking my staff to email me at the beginning and end of every day to let me know what they’re working on, and then reporting back to let me know how they did. My hope is that knowing the end-of-day email is coming will help with some of that motivation. I do the same with my boss, as that gives me a real and tangible accountability for my work, which my ADHD desperately needs.

An example of my accountability checklist that I send to my supervisor. Each day starts with the empty boxes and I change them to checked boxes as I go.

✅Review staff check-in/check-out emails
✅Zoom with School Team
✅Zoom with Admin Team
✅Prepare and file TPS reports
🔲Check status of team progress on distance learning materials
✅Zoom with state superintendent’s office
✅Plan for tomorrow

If you’re having trouble staying focused and productive, something else you can try is related to scheduling. Each day, set up a list of things you want or need to accomplish. Play with the order so you have something to look forward to after the more undesirable tasks. Maybe include rewards or a break when you hit certain checkpoints or milestones.

And by the way, this list doesn’t have to be shared with your boss. You can share with a close friend, family member, or many use the accountability section of our online ADHD support group.

Minimizing distraction

You’ve probably already found the best workspace possible in your home, as far from distractions like TV, food, and people as possible. But with stay-at-home and quarantine orders going around, you may find it difficult to feel truly alone, as it’s not likely that anyone has much choice about who will be around in their home right now. I have a family of four, and we’re all pretty much stuck under this roof for the foreseeable future.

I have chosen the best workspace I can to stay out of their usual paths. I will also let family members know when I have crucial tasks on my schedule for the day so they know when it’s extra important to stay quiet. For young kids, this may be when I engage screen time. For adults, they can often plug into headphones and find a quiet task to do at the same time. And don’t forget, if you’ve got your desk right next to your favorite distraction, that’s probably a bad idea.

Self Care

Just four days into working from home, I cannot stress this enough. My job is just as many hours at it always was, though my 2 hour commute has been reduced to 2 minutes. But despite averaging more than an hour of sleep extra and gaining another hour of family time in the evening, this work seems so much harder. And I think it’s because I really never leave the office now.

I get to come down for lunch with my family, and I always get dinner with them. These are amazing bonuses to working from home. But at the end of the day, I may spend 8 hours staring at a computer screen while sitting in the same chair that digs into my thighs while I stare out the window at the same scene day after day. So what needs to change to make this work long term?

Self care. Please learn from my experience this week. Shower every day. Eat healthy meals. Try not to graze all day. Put breaks on your calendar. If permitted locally, go out for a walk. Get fidgets and other small items of interest to brighten your workspace. Make sure you have time to get up and walk away. If you need to take a mental health day, make arrangements and do it. Working from home is still work, and you can burn out even more easily if you’re not careful.

I should do a whole post on self-care sometime. What do you do for self-care? Please share in the comments below

How can anyone work at a time like this?

With all that is going on in the world at the moment, it can be extremely difficult to focus on school or work. What you’re being asked to do may seem trivial or meaningless when you consider that Covid-19 is raging through our communities and we have no idea what the future will bring.

I can’t tell the future any better than you can. But I do know that this too shall pass. The virus will eventually work through to its endpoint. We will move on, and life will eventually resume. Much of what we typically do has been taken away by the virus and responses to it.

Take this opportunity to carve out as much normal as you can. Because when it comes down to it, the best that most of us can do right now is follow guidelines and stay home. There isn’t a lick of good that will be accomplished through worry or fueling our anxiety and depression by hyperfocusing on Covid-19. Keep it from winning by doing. Don’t get frozen into inaction. Start small. Pick a place to work and make a to-do list. And don’t forget to have a little fun. You’re at home, after all.

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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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