Three things I wish I knew before I started working from home
A little over a year ago, I started working from home.
Before I was even aware that this set up would become my reality for a good portion of my career, working from home was an experience that took me blood, sweat, and tears trying to get used to. The past year was spent trying new productivity hacks from the internet, attempts to establish some form of routine, and figuring out how to make my extended home office set up be more AD/HD friendly.
As I write this, I’m far from figuring out a system that works out for me. What I do know is that there’s a short and not-so-sweet list of truths that I wish I knew of sooner (and maybe you need to hear too, dear reader).
You don’t need to do everything today (and it’s okay)
Here’s how I used to prepare for work: I’d look at my to-do list, panic a little at how long it is, and refuse to stop working until I got every item ticked off. For a time, I would voluntarily wake up earlier and stay up late just to get a little extra work done. It was a strategy that I thought was pretty effective until I had a breakdown over minor revisions on one of my projects.
Right now, it’s pretty easy to see that I was just overextending myself. But as a 20-something with AD/HD and a desire to prove that I was enough for my job, it was also easy for me to get caught up thinking that I needed to work a little longer than everyone else because it takes me a while to be productive as everyone else. I felt like I needed to prove that I was more than capable of staying ahead of my fast-paced job.
Except (and this is something I’m still trying to come to terms with) there was never any need for me to stay ahead. I cannot, and do not, need to finish the entirety of my to-do list in one day—and that’s okay. Everyone else just wants me to do my best, all I have to do is work hard on the three to four things I needed to get done for the day and make things I’m proud of.
Boundaries are constant work
Surprisingly enough, the biggest challenge I’ve had with AD/HD as an adult isn’t struggling to focus—it’s trying to find (and stick to) my boundaries.
My efforts to stay stimulated almost always involved saying yes to more work. Saying yes to writing another article even after I’ve hit my quota or going to another event even if I’m slated to cover a few beforehand doesn’t feel appealing to my already worn out self—but to my AD/HD brain, it’s a dopamine rush because wow look at all these things I’m doing.
And while I do take some form of pride from being able to balance multiple responsibilities, it’s this lack of boundaries that have led me to fielding emails and messages from my boss at 12AM, or trying to finish a project well beyond my working hours.
At a time where the only thing standing between work and play is the little shut down button on my laptop, setting boundaries doesn’t just stop at walking away from my workspace once my time is done—it also involves closing all my work-related messaging apps (and turning on do not disturb so I’m not tempted to message anyone back before I sign in again). It’s messages from my parents asking me if I’m not done yet because I’m still at my desk while everyone’s unwinding from the day.
There is so much for you to (un)learn
I’ve spent a good majority of my life trying to learn a system that will let me do more. I’ve read countless books and articles about successful people using their AD/HD to their advantage in the hopes that I can someday do the same, experimented with a number of productivity and time management hacks that I eventually forgot about—only to find that what I needed to do was let go of my unhealthy mindsets.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not kind to myself. I don’t know how to take breaks, and I have yet to figure out when to stop taking on work because I expect way too much of myself most of the time. I don’t know how to handle praise from people because I’m almost always thinking about how I could have done things better.
It’s easy to say that I can just start thinking positive about myself to change all of this, but I know that this unkindness stems from years of unhealthy thoughts and issues that have cropped up in an environment where everything feels almost unfamiliar.
Research shows that this drop in self-esteem is just par for the course for adults with AD/HD, but there’s a part of me that knows that the road to unlearning this unkindness stems from unlearning years of unhealthy thoughts and bad habits—ones I’ve made excuses for in an office setting but can’t now that I’m working from home. Being kind to myself isn’t as easy as just thinking positive thoughts about myself, but I can start by pulling myself away from my desk every once in a while.