The coronavirus has certainly redone our everyday reality. While the direct impact of the pandemic is clearly the priority, there are still other effects to deal with.For someone already sitting in front of the computer all day and trying to work through code, it is tough to stay focused. This is even more so if you are dealing with adult ADD to work from home. This goes beyond developer burnout. It’s a different sort of stress.
Coping with family and work (and possibly managing kids’ school) under the same roof at the same time is an undertaking, to put it mildly. Many people, no matter the country, see their cognitive load and attention spans challenged at a steadier rate and longer than duration than ever before.
That is where people like Aron Lazarus, a certified ADHD coach, come into the picture. The interesting times we live in have made such coaches busier than ever. In fact, old clients are picking up the phone, sometimes for the first time in years, to get advice on an obstacle course of responsibilities.
A Personal Adult ADHD Experience
I asked Lazarus a few questions on dealing with the situation. How should we adapt regular advice for ADD and ADHD patients, as well as advice for people who don’t have that diagnosis?
“I got the diagnosis 10 years ago in Israel. I had been a social worker in England but stopped when I moved to Israel.” But the urge to help people in need didn’t go away so easily. “Four or five years ago I wanted to get back to helping people, did stuff with a career counselor and realized ADHD was something I was passionate about.”
He got his coaching certification two years later.
Those clients come from many backgrounds, and the lockdown has created similar but still unique challenges for each. The mixed blessing for people sitting in a home office is obvious. Being able to continue working while having to care for family at the same time is tough, especially for ADD sufferers. If it’s hard to concentrate in general, what about duelling responsibilities?
Developers might have some advantages though. Having ADD might make it easier in some cases to get unusually hooked to solving a problem.
“I feel like a programmer is the best kind of job. We love solving problems,” says Lazarus, but juggling lots of details and poor working memory “is definitely part of the ADD experience.”
“In all cases, managing ADHD is often just finding what works for the individual—whether it’s personality or the industry or their specific job.”
Managing ADD & Work from Home
With ADD, work from home is a lot more difficult. Then add on the stress of caring for family. But there are some general tips that Lazarus recommends that will help you deal with the balancing act.
1. Elastic Schedules
A common piece of advice for ADD is to keep to a routine. It goes the same for anyone stick inside right now. Is that possible when the demands of work and family are pulling at you constantly?
In two-parent households where one parent is working and the other is not, the division of responsibilities for the kids sounds clear. But It’s rarely as easy as one working for 8.5 hours and the other on parental duty all day.
‘If you have two adult partners…I would say…this is a new reality. It is inevitably, exceptionally difficult to deal with. Working with those three kids is virtually impossible for anyone.
Kids’ competing demands create a multitasking obstacle course which inevitably pull the working parent away from her desk. Having a flexible employer is pretty essential during times like these. But even so, everyone needs to manage the flexibility itself.
2. But Also, Firm Schedules
“Flexibility for us is a double-edged sword. If we have too much, we can often get nothing done. The flipside, in this situation, is you are at home with work to get done and your partner is a ganenet (daycare worker) all of the sudden. You need to find time to give her a break during the day is a nice option to have-how can we possibly set a routine?”
The same way you use a schedule to manage your own day, a comprehensive one helps here.
“If two adults are available, it’s helpful to set clear timeslots where one is dealing with the kids and one is free to do what they have to do work-wise. And you stick to that. You come up with very clear timings so the two of you are clear when to do X or Y.”
You remove the arguments and negotiations that crop up during random stoppages in work.
Even so, just having a clear schedule isn’t a guarantee of productivity. Even with some structure, it can be hard to develop a rhythm. That’s especially so when you need to get up every 15 or 20 minutes to get a kid’s snack or change a baby, no? When it is time to work, you still contend with the environmental factors that isolation imposes on working from home in general.
“Introduce some other form of accountability, somehow, so that 1) you know what you’re supposed to be accomplishing in that time. If you think it’s enough for YOU to know, then great.”
“But for many people, 2) let OTHER PEOPLE know.”
With that, “you build a sense of accountability because you do not want—we do not like to let other people down. Knowing that someone else knows we have accomplished what we wanted to accomplish in a certain block of time.”
Lazarus’ logic is simple: we tend to be people pleasers. Especially for ADD sufferers, we hate the very idea others can’t count on us.
4. Self-Enforced Check-Ins
That sometimes means finding ways to bring those checks and balances to you. One way might be to keep yourself busy in general with Zoom calls, but there’s only so much work you can do simultaneously. Another idea is to request regular meetings, just so you can allow someone else to keep you honest.
“If your boss asks me to get a certain task done by Friday and today’s Sunday, but I know in ourselves that we’ll push it off to Thursday night at the earliest . . . so I might turn to my boss and say to my boss, ‘Can we have a meeting for Tuesday to show you where I’m up to?’ Then if the meeting is in the afternoon, I will for sure get moving by Tuesday morning.”
“Knowing I have to present that will drive me to avoid the embarrassment of not doing what I said I was going to do.”
5. Recreate the Shared Office Environment
Try to set things up so you have other people in the room preferably adults and older kids, obviously. When we’re in an office environment, Lazarus points out, there’s a “natural accountability”—if you’re in the office messing around, others will see it. If you’re on YouTube, they’ll know.
“Take two parents, it might make sense to split up the day, but maybe work together in the evenings. Work in a room where others are working, if that’s possible.”
Do things in shifts when necessary and then work side by side in the evening. If you’re inclined, try to use scheduled screen time for the kids to have overlapping work hours for the two of you while the kids are preoccupied.
Lazarus suggests adding incentive to it:
“Let’s work two hours together and then as a reward watch a little Netflix together.”
6. (Over)-Manage your Social Media
The New York Times ran an op-ed a few weeks back claiming that with the pandemic, screens have won a long-running war for our attention.
Struggling to balance work from home with family means increasing reliance on TV. Babysitter Netflix and Nanny Youtube distract kids while parents work, and adults cope by relying on social media for, well, a social life.
“They’re literally designed to make this as hard as possible for people (like us). They couldn’t be designed in a more anti-ADHD way.”
Until lockdowns fizzle out permanent, families have to deal with 1) their kids developing a new addiction to screens and 2) not getting distracted themselves.
Ideas for Managing Social Media and Adult ADD
“To imagine we can possibly just say ‘I’m not going to check—I’m not going to check my Facebook,’ is a tall task.”
Some ideas include:
- Put (or lock) phones away—Even partial success hiding the screens from kids gives you more control. For self-enforcement, the logic is clear. To make this more palatable, consider an allotted screen time during the day for your family like those above.
- Switch off notifications—You’re going to struggle with ignoring Facebook if it keeps ‘poking’ you. You don’t need notifications for apps you check instinctively anyway.
- Censor—Consider downloading an app to manage your phone. Apps like Screen Time restrict your kids’ access to their phones according to a schedule. You can also sensor yourself similar idea would be to schedule blocking of certain websites using a a service like SafeDNS.
- Gamify—Apps like Forest use gamification to incentivize not using social apps. Tell Forest which apps you want to restrict. Every interval you monitor sees the game plant a seed. If you finish the time period without giving into logging on to Facebook, the game adds a tree to a virtual forest. If you fail, the tree dies. Over time, your digital woods will include fully grown trees and dead trees. The incentive here is to have lush wood, or a barred thicket.
Most Importantly, Cut Yourself Some Slack
Lazarus says your guiding principle right now should be “Forgive yourself.” It’s easy to see yourself as losing control—even if you don’t have ADD or ADHD—juggling so many things at once. That’s on top of a stressful public health crisis dominating headlines and weighing down the world around you. The stress can certainly get to the best of us and make family frustrated with each other.
But you can balance those things, imperfectly or not.
“Be forgiving of yourself and everyone.”