Networking and Career Advice

How People With ADHD Can Excel at Remote Work

Craig Stevens

Copywriter, Digital Asset Manager, and Business Analyst


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can present many challenges and can even be difficult to understand. I mean only 4-5% of adults in the US are diagnosed, but it is estimated that very few adults get diagnosed or treated for it. Therefore, there’s no way to know how many working adults actually suffer from high-functioning ADHD in the workplace.

While research has gone back and forth on the genetics and contributing factors that cause ADHD to be expressed, one thing is for sure… it is a neurological condition that affects the brain. Therefore, if you are working form home with ADHD, it can have an enormous impact on your work productivity.

The Expression of ADHD in the Workplace

Adults who have ADHD can report a range of effects including, but not limited to:

A word cloud defining ADHD in the workplace.
  • Being disorganized
  • Trouble prioritizing
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Procrastination
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Propensity for stress
  • Struggling to remember things
  • Difficulty following directions

We’re all familiar with modern work environments. Even if we’re employees in an office, there is no end to the number of scenarios that other settings present. But to get a good picture, let’s work through an example.

Real Life Example of ADHD in the Workplace

In retail, a customer might want a particular item that you don’t have in stock. To keep the customer from responding negatively, then you may offer to order it in for them. Now you’ll need to work through a process of:

  1. Checking when it will be back in stock
  2. How many outstanding orders there are for that item
  3. Asking the customer if the second restocking is okay
  4. If so, then now you have to fill out an order form and get payment from the customer
  5. File the paperwork
  6. Handle questions from other customers interrupting the process
  7. Pray the item comes back into stock as expected

If you compare this list of tasks to the list of challenges people with ADHD face in the workplace, then it should be easy to see how an ordinary modern working environment could be challenging. So, what’s the alternative?

ADHD and work

If you work in an office, then it’d be very easy to transpose all of the above around meetings, calls, deadlines, prioritization of tasks etc. to your daily work. Modern offices are loud and busy, with open plan offices being particularly bad for everyone’s productivity. That’s been well known since Peopleware was published, if not earlier.

If you have ADHD, then the first two things you should identify is:

  • How does your ADHD affect you at work?
  • What impact does it have on your daily tasks?

With that clear, then you’ll be in a better position to speak to HR or your employer about accommodations that can be made in the workplace. WebMD has useful guidance on strategies for overcoming ADHD in the workplace.

Say accommodations can’t be made for you in the workplace. If your employer is willing to offer a remote working arrangement, then this could be a good option.

Working from home with ADHD

The biggest advantage of remote working is that it’s going to remove you from the environmental aspects of office working that are considered distracting. The capability to have greater control over the environment you work in is likely to be of great benefit. However, we all know there is a limit to what can be controlled. Family members, noisy neighbors or roadwork outside can still interrupt your day.

Therefore when you are working from home with ADHD, it is important to pinpoint what your focus should be on. It’s easy to focus on the word ‘remote’, and forget the word ‘working’. You’ll likely have to attend calls, complete tasks, and be productive for your employer. So the major question becomes “How can I remain productive while working from home with ADHD?”

Get Rid of Distractions

The home also comes with its own potential distractions such as TV, radio, chores etc. While all of these are so enticing, it is important to shut them off completely because even background noise can be a huge distraction. So, as you plan for your day, be sure block out your work time, and get rid of the distractions around the house.

When it’s time to take a break, then it is okay to turn on the TV or do something else productive. Just be sure to monitor the time you spend on other things, and create a schedule that will help ease you back into work after your breaks.

Mimic an Ideal Work Environment

Since you’re now working at home, you’ll need to make sure that you create an ideal work environment. This includes investing in a desk or a work space that is used exclusively for work tasks. Intermingling personal, work, and leisure in one space is a good way blur the lines between work and distractions. Your highest level of productivity will come when you can keep it all separate.

When working from home with ADHD, try to mimic a work environment that is unlike this one.
An example of a work environment that will be difficult to focus in.

Another way to mimic an ideal work environment is to encourage others to treat your work space as if you were in an office.The people home with you should be comfortable treating you as they would if you were actually going into the office. If you have family, manage expectations with them, and ask them not to disturb you during your work window.

Make Time Your Best Friend

Outside of the office, it can be easy to lose track of time. In fact, it is one of the biggest complaints of remote work. So if you are working from home with ADHD, then you know that tracking time could become a huge issue.

When working from home with ADHD, your internal clock and be low. So, make use of a time keeper to help you track time.

So think, do you have a clock or a watch that you can sit on your desk? It would be really helpful if you could set alarms on the clock to notify you when it’s time to take a break, move on to the next task, or join a meeting.

Another way you can make time your friend is by identifying a productivity window. Your productivity window is the time of day when you are most productive. From there, create a structured plan for your day so you carry out your most demanding tasks at that time.

People with conditions that affect their thinking and capability to process tasks know that the productivity window may vary throughout the day. They might be okay in the morning, barely able to concentrate mid-afternoon, and then kicking ass late afternoon/early evening. When you can align your schedule to your most productive hours, then that’s great.

Don’t Forget to Move

Go for a walk, a jog, or a bike ride. You could even go lift weights, if that is what you are into. Just remember to get up and get a little exercise. It’s good at helping promote focus.

Also, if you work on a screen for prolonged periods, try to remember the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes look away from the screen at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. It’s good eye health.

Try to Stay Connected

Is there someone you enjoyed seeing in the office? You don’t have to stop speaking. Schedule a weekly call with them, or make an effort to pop into the office every once in a while. When your company or team has scheduled events like Christmas parties, pizza parties, celebrations, etc. you should also make an effort to be there. Staying connected with your team will not only keep you from feeling isolated, but it will also help you keep a positive outlook.

Strike out on your own

On the slight chance that your employer can’t accommodate you in the office, and you do not have the option to work remotely, you can always go freelance. After all, if you’re working for an employer, then you still have tasks that may be long, complex and difficult for you to follow. Whereas if you’re working freelance, then you have the opportunity to:

  • Only do work you are interested in
  • Adjust your work load and simplify tasks
  • Create your own work processes
  • Work hours that are best suited for you

Before you decide to take that leap, just remember that being a freelancer isn’t for everyone. You must find your work, set your rates, and figure out how to do everything on your own. However, if you can make it work, then it can be liberating.

Summary

Though you have ADHD, you can absolutely can make a powerful contribution within your company. Working from home gives you the opportunity to have an environment that strips out more distracting elements and helps you to focus. It’ll also ensure that your work isn’t so draining.

But, of course, it comes with the responsibility of being productive too. If you’re working for an employer, you will still have all the work you had before. Only now, you get to do it in an environment of your choosing.

Finding a way to make it work best for you can be challenging. It will always be a work in progress, but if you work through it, then you can reap some real benefits.

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