I used to have this rule in college: “If it isn’t done by 10 p.m., then it isn’t getting done until the next day.” I thought I was so cutting-edge setting that boundary for myself as a bright-eyed teen. Inevitably, though, 10 p.m. became 9 p.m., and then 9 p.m. became 8 p.m., and then, well, you get the drill.
If you are diagnosed with ADHD like me, what I just described probably sounds all too familiar to you. We set these “rules” for ourselves, just to break them, and then feel awful about breaking them.
I look back on all the times I cursed myself for not staying up late to get the work done. Everyone else could. Why couldn’t I?
Meanwhile, I had zero issues setting my alarm for 5 a.m., knocking out a 10-page paper with mere hours to go before the deadline. Fun fact: I got the grade I wanted.
Regardless, it took me years to finally stop forcing myself to sit down and “focus” on my work at times when I could not focus. Let me tell you, “focusing” in the wee hours of the night is just not going to happen if you are a) absolutely exhausted and b) diagnosed ADHD.
After years’ worth of stressing, fretting, and trying to change my work habits, I finally gave up.
That’s right—I am done shaming myself for who I am and how I work. But as many of us head back into the office, transition to in-person working environments, or some sort of hybrid/in-between version, those of you who have a working style that falls outside of the box like mine may find the adjustment returning to the office 10 times harder than it was leaving the office.
The word “hybrid” to me, as someone with ADHD, sounds like this: more choices, more schedules, more emails/messages, and more headaches. With this impending coordination chaos, it is going to become all the more important to stay strong in setting your boundaries and needs as an employee, particularly if you have ADHD.
Allow me to unpack all the things you need to stop doing/saying to yourself, especially as we embark on this reopening transition that is sure to pile on an added helping of stress. There are quite a few things that have changed forever since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the way we work is toward the top of the list. This is the time to reflect on what has worked for you during these nonnormal times. If anything, normal has been thrown out the window, and it is time for a complete overhaul.
Here are three things I have personally vowed to stop doing to myself as we start to reopen and get our hybrid on.
Stop shaming yourself for your natural workflow
When I finally decided to stop beating myself up for how I like to work, I began by getting curious about myself. It did not take much reflecting for me to realize that all of my primary tasks—exercise, mindset/focus work, doctor appointments—were all scheduled for first thing in the morning.
Instead of chastising myself for not staying up late to get yesterday’s work done, I realized that those early morning hours were my genius time zone to get my more serious, complicated work done. Because of this, I really don’t have a sacred morning routine I cling to on a daily basis (gasp!).
My morning routine includes waking up, putting on the coffee, getting some breakfast inside of me, and then sitting down to work. Most days I will usually go straight from 6 a.m. to about 10 a.m., and I’ll work my way through the hardest tasks for the day. Just knowing I have the rest of the day available for more creative pursuits, podcast interviews, conversations with people, work that requires less brain energy, or even a nap, motivates me to get my work done.
Before heading back into the office after all this time, I empower you to figure out your own natural workflow. It starts by just being curious and nonjudgmental with yourself. Ask yourself: When am I at my most motivated? When do I like to sit down and lose myself in my work?
A hybrid working environment is a great way to experiment with your work schedule. Sure, the days you go into the office will likely be more structured to what works for the entire team, but be transparent with your manager about testing out some alternative working styles on your days at home. One thing the pandemic has changed forever is people are realizing the rigid Monday-to-Friday, 9-a.m.-to-5-p.m. working hours are not the only way to work.
Instead of trying to fit into other people’s molds, lean into how you naturally work your best. Find your natural workflow and let it be yours. If your brain is checked out during a time you should be working, then maybe it is telling you to take a rest.
Stop allowing colleagues to assign you a deadline of “whenever you can get to it”
“Whenever you can get to it” in Tasha time means it will be on your desk by the 21st of never. Truly.
But pretty soon we will be returning to the in-person desk stop-bys. After more than a year being all-virtual, some of us will now see our managers’ heads looming over our cubicles, asking us to get them an urgent assignment “sometime this week.”
Deadlines add a level of support to someone who has ADHD, and while your colleague may think they’re being helpful and flexible by not assigning a specific deadline, it doesn’t really serve or help anyone involved—just ask my team.
Deadlines are necessary for me because they add in a level of accountability. It is usually when the deadline is upon me that my brain will suddenly click on, and I’m finally ready to focus. I’m a firm believer in Parkinson’s Law, in that a person will work to fill up the amount of time allotted to them. If you give me a deadline of an hour from now, I will get you the work within an hour. Give me a deadline of two weeks from now, and chances are I’ll begin working on it in the final hour, just the same as the project with the one-hour deadline.
For so long I thought this was bad. But then I realized, a deadline is a deadline. I always make them, and I never scrimp on the quality of work I deliver.
My advice, especially since deadlines are now going to be twice as important with some people in the office and some not, is don’t be shy about letting your colleagues know what will support you the most. I am constantly reiterating to my team that they should give me deadlines and actively remind me of those deadlines. If you don’t mind people reminding you—if you’re like me, you probably welcome it—then communicate that to your team.
If you’re also like me, you’re probably excited to be around people again and have that added layer of accountability. Having worked from home and in coworking places, I find the change in environment is extremely helpful when I need to focus.
Being open about your work process will make your entire team more streamlined, and will keep you more deadline conscious in the process. Stop feeling guilty and let your coworkers support you, so you can in turn support them. Another silver lining to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is I feel like we are all more inclined to help each other.
Stop using the “chipping away” method if it’s not working
If I just chip away at it a little every day, pretty soon it will be done. Honestly, I can’t even write that without cringing.
It’s easy to look at the transition back to the office as a clean slate—the fresh start you need in order for all of those tried and true productivity techniques to finally work for you. Every first day of school or work was like that for me, just to let myself down two weeks in.
If you’re like me and chipping away just ends in frustration, please, stop the madness. Going back into the office may make you think you can start working this way, but if all you’re doing is setting yourself up for failure, then please rethink it, even if it sounds right to you.
Recently, I was preparing a big presentation for a summit I was speaking at, and I thought it would be such a great idea to block off time in my calendar in the weeks leading up to the event to prep. It would be perfect: I would block off an hour here, an hour there, in the weeks leading up to the event, and the presentation would just magically complete itself, and I’d go skipping off to the summit.
Guess how many prep-for-summit time blocks I successfully completed by using this chipping-away method?
Why? Because I had weeks to complete the presentation, so why would I spend a random hour working on it when I have a dozen more pressing items on my list any given day?
Instead of scheduling a prep time for weeks ahead of time, with the full knowledge that I will not do it, I instead will prioritize my mornings leading up to a big event or deadline to work on that project. As you remember, tip #1 was all about finding your natural workflow times, and mine is the early morning.
I blocked off two to three of my mornings leading up to my event, leaned into my natural workflow, prioritized that specific deadline, and ended up having a very successful presentation at the summit. The only difference is this time around I didn’t lecture myself for not sticking to the well-laid-out Google calendar plan. I just let it be.
Because I made the deadline, and I always do. I just do things a little differently. I’ve learned to be okay with that and instead just be.
I hope as you too embark on the transitions coming our way, that you will stay true to the working style that fits your talents and needs. Because “normal” never worked for us anyway, so there is no “normal” to return back to.
Tasha Booth is an agency owner, coach, and podcaster. She is the founder and CEO of The Launch Guild, a course launch support and digital marketing implementation agency.