To study or work from home is challenging. If—like myself—you’re a person living with ADHD, it may feel especially difficult to adjust to the lack of structure that can come with switching to a fully online work/study environment.
Studying (and for some of us, also working) entirely from home means that we are more susceptible to the distractions of our household, and may find ourselves overwhelmed. The habits we’ve developed to adapt to traditional formats for work and study and are not so easy to tune into from the bedroom or living room. So— how is an ADHDer supposed to adjust to remote studies during the current COVID-19 pandemic?
Here are 3 tips to help us cope:
1. Prioritize your own structure and routine
An issue that arises for ADHDers is that at times we may struggle with internal structure. This means that we may be more distracted and feel less tolerant of boredom, which can affect the ability to accomplish tasks in a routine way. In this case, it’s important for ADHDers to set up a structure and routine that is specific to their unique needs. Instead of looking at a routine as boring and infringing on creativity and freedom, we can look at routine setting as a way to get things done efficiently, so that later we can spend time on unique interests without having to face the overwhelm and guilt that can come from pushing aside work tasks.
Routine-setting doesn’t need to be boring! It can actually be helpful, for example, to structure breaks and fun into the work day. This may look like pre-structuring and planning routine breaks, like scheduling 20 minutes after you complete a task to go for a walk or have a quick call with a friend. Planning a consistent and predictable routine may feel challenging at first, but as time goes on, it can become second nature and habit, which can really benefit ADHDers while working from home.
2. Limit household distractions as best you can
Decide early on in your remote-working journey where you will be doing most of your work. Keeping this space consistent is helpful for implementing a routine. Be sure that the area you choose to work in is quiet (if possible) and limited in visual distractions. Making sure things are uncluttered amongst your work space can help the ADHD brain to remember to prioritize and focus on only what is in front of it.
3. Set boundaries with loved ones and housemates
You are allowed to be clear about and set healthy boundaries. Now more than ever, it is important to be upfront about what is needed to allow your remote study journey to be successful. Try your best to make it clear to family and/or housemates that you have set a specific schedule, and that this means you need to be off the clock for house duties, answering texts or calls from friends, having conversations with your housemates, social media, etc. Implementing these boundaries can help take the pressure off of trying to juggle your school and/or work responsibilities while also remaining a supportive housemate, friend and family member.
Oftentimes when I share with others that I live with ADHD, I’m met with the pretty common response of “but you don’t act like you have ADHD.”
Throughout my life, it’s been pretty evident to me that there’s a major stigma associated with ADHD along with a whole host of misconceptions; among them that folks like us are altogether incapable of focus, that our lack of attention is just a form of laziness, and that it’s a diagnosis that only applies to children. Although living with an attentional difficulty does come with its challenges, there are a whole host of benefits that aren’t commonly discussed.
Living with ADHD allows us to live life with a sense of spontaneity that can bring upon so many wonderful life experiences. Living with ADHD allows us to experience the excitement of hyper-focus, a common symptom of ADHD in which one can be so intently focused on a task that we forget the world around us. Living with ADHD allows us to be intuitive and curious. Since the ADHD brain lets in a lot of what the non-ADHD brain might consider irrelevant noise, sometimes, ADHDers are able to notice things that others naturally filter out. This allows us to recognize patterns where others may only see chaos–a huge benefit for creativity and problem-solving!
Oftentimes, living with ADHD means that the good old trusted organizational strategies that work well for a majority just don’t seem to work quite as well for the ADHD brain. Working productively with an attentional difficulty requires a much more creative and clever approach, but it can absolutely be done. The next time you find yourself having difficulty with focus and productivity, consider using the Time Cube method. It’s a system that has worked wonders for me in terms of productivity and getting things done effectively while living with an attentional difficulty.
The Time Cube Method
The Time Cube is essentially a fancy kitchen timer shaped like (you guessed it) a cube. There are durations of times written on each of its sides, anywhere between 5 minutes to 60 minutes.
The key strategy behind the Time Cube is that it can help with compartmentalizing tasks. By doing this, we are teaching our ADHD brains to focus on one small task at a time, instead of the big picture. We are learning to allot a specific amount of time to individual tasks, rather than multitasking and then feeling even more distracted.
So how does it work? Begin your day by writing out the most important tasks that you are hoping to complete on that day. Decide for yourself how much time you should allot to each task. For example, allocating 60 minutes in the evening to finish up a work assignment or school paper, or allotting yourself 10 minutes in the morning to catch up on emails. Set the timer on your Time Cube and remind yourself that this time you have set is for that task and that one only. The minute the timer rings, take a break, have a snack, and begin your timer for the next task. This teaches our ADHD brains how to compartmentalize tasks and encourages us to utilize the ADHD superpower of hyper-focusing on the tasks that we’ve deemed most important for the day.
When we’re having a day full of distractions, we can likely feel pretty frustrated with ourselves and our ADHD. Being mean to ourselves about it, however, doesn’t increase our focus. Rather, we can see it as an exciting challenge to get creative in exploring tools and productivity hacks that work specifically for us. And if all else fails, remind yourself that you share your ADHD brain with the likes of Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, AND Richard Branson (which is pretty cool if I do say so myself!).
Dorian Schwartz is a therapist with Real Campus
Do you feel overwhelmed juggling school, work and personal life? Perhaps you’re in class and instead of listening, you’re thinking about all the tasks you need to get done for the day including finishing your assignment, studying for your exam, doing laundry, going grocery shopping or squeezing in time to talk to a friend. Do you ever have racing thoughts about how you’re going to get everything done? Think that it’s impossible to finish everything? You may stop paying attention in class, feel your heart beating faster and your palms getting sweaty. It can feel as though your world is closing in.
If you can relate to feeling stressed out about all the demands of life, you’re not alone!
Living in an up-pace society, we are often placed with multiple demands, which can easily make us feel overwhelmed. In turn, this can make it more difficult to be able to focus and concentrate, making getting everything we need to get done for the day that much harder.
Our minds are often racing between thinking about the past or the future. We rarely stop to be present in the moment. If we can begin to learn to center ourselves back to the here and now, we can reduce anxiety and increase concentration by putting the breaks on in our brain.
Here are 10 some simple, easy grounding techniques, which can help to reduce anxiety when we notice it creeping up.
- 5-4-3-2-1: Look around the room and name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
- Box breathing: Picture a box in front of you. As you move up the side of the box, take a deep breath in for 4 seconds. Next as you move along the top of the box, hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then as you move down the other side of the box, breath out for 4 seconds, and finally as you run along the bottom of the box hold for 4 seconds. Repeat.
- Mindful eating: Take a raisin or other piece of food. Examine it. What does it look like? How does it smell? How does it feel? Slowly begin to chew it. How does it taste?
- Counting backward: You can do this several ways, my personal favourite is to count backwards by 7 starting from 100.
- Ice cube technique: Take an ice cube and move it along your arm. Notice the temperature, if it melts, how it feels, and what it looks like- again, tap into your 5 senses.
- Teddy bear technique (for children): Lie on your back and place a teddy bear on your belly. As you take deep breaths in and out, watch the teddy bear move up and down with each inhale and exhale.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Start with your right hand in a relaxed state. Slowly begin to clench your hand. Notice the tension as you begin to do this, as you transition your hand from a relaxed state into a fist. Next, slowly begin unclenching your hand back into a relaxed state, again noticing the difference in tension. Repeat these steps with your left hand and then move along to other body parts such as your foot or leg.
- Naming colors: Name everything in the room that is blue. Now name everything in the room that is red. Now everything in the room that is yellow, etc.
- Mindful walking: As you walk, notice the weight of each foot on the ground and how your weight changes as you take each step. If you are outside, notice if it is sunny, hot, cold or rainy. If it’s sunny, notice how the sun feels on your skin. Notice if you can hear cars passing or birds chirping.
- Monitoring your heartbeat: Place your fingertips together from both of your hands. Notice your pulse in your fingertips and pay attention to the rhythm of your heartbeat.
There’s a principle called Parkinson’s Law that says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Put simply, that means that the more time you give yourself to do something, the longer it will take to get it done.
For example, when you block off a whole weekend to work on a paper, but then find yourself procrastinating like crazy and get almost nothing done? Or when you have a bad date that is goes on forever because you didn’t set a clear ending?
Yeah. Exactly. That’s Parkinson’s Law in action.
But it’s not just papers or dates — it’s everything we do. Whether it’s cleaning, shopping, relaxing, errands or partying, the time each of those tasks takes up way more time than we thought they would. Think about your life and your habits, and consider how much you really get done when you give yourself tons of time. The answer is probably not much.
Here’s a better approach that’s a secret weapon used by the world’s most productive people.
The next time you have to complete a task, put a deadline on it that’s firm and then work backwards using what’s called the Pomodoro Technique.
This approach makes you give yourself only 25-minutes to complete a specific task followed by a 5-minute break. So that’s a cycle of 30-minutes… 25-minutes of work, 5-minute break. Each 30-minute cycle is called a Pomodoro, hence the name.
Once you repeat a Pomodoro four times, take a longer break of up to 30-minutes. Then sit back down and do another round of four Pomodoros, or as many as you need to do to get your work done.
All you have to remember is that one Pomodoro is 25-minutes of working time followed by a 5-minute break. And then after four Pomodoros, take a 30-minute break. Got it? Great.
The key, however, is to be organized and have your work cut into manageable chunks. It’s not like you can write a massive essay in 25-minutes. And I know that breaking up a big project, like a paper or a major research project, down into small pieces doesn’t feel natural. This is especially the case if we feel stressed about it and feel like it’s so big that no matter what we do, we’ll only ever scratch the surface of it.
That’s not true. Break. It. Down.
Before you begin your work if you’re using this technique, make a list of the bite-sized tasks that you have to do to write, for example, a paper. Your list might start to look like this:
- Pick a topic and narrow it down
- Draft a clear thesis
- Look for research to support my thesis from online sources
- Look for research to support my thesis from journal articles
- Go back and refine my thesis based on the research reviewed above
- Outline my three main arguments in a couple sentences each
- …and so on
Then once you have your list, start at the first item with one Pomodoro. Get it done before 25-minutes is up? Great, move onto the next. If not, let it roll into the next 25-minutes. Make sure that you’re focused during each Pomodoro. Don’t do anything but that one thing. Keep all other distractions at bay.
On a logistical note, there are a ton of apps and tools out there to act as a timer. You can use a timer on your phone. Or you can try PomoDone (which has a free version) or Pomotodo (which is also free for the basic plan). All will work. Just find something that works for you.
So before you dive back into work, stop everything and give this a shot! It might not feel natural at first, but keep at it. Before you know it, you’ll be a productivity machine.
Oh, and by the way, I wrote this blog in exactly two Pomodoros.