Working from home presents challenges for lawyers with ADHD and some of them are harder to overcome than others. As I have said before, job selection is key for lawyers who have ADHD or ADHD-like tendencies. If they are doing something that they love–something intellectually challenging and rewarding–it doesn’t matter where they are. In fact, once they are set up to work, they are oblivious to whether they are in the office or at home. If there are less interruptions, home may even be better than the office. But, for some, the distractions can make working from home unbearable. Here are some suggestions to make working from home, work for you.
Suggestion 1: Set up a dedicated workspace. An office with a door is ideal. Otherwise, find a dedicated space, whether it’s a desk, the end of a table or a counter, or a corner in your bedroom and designate that as your workspace. Take the time to set it up with the things that you need to work and nothing else. Remove the visual distractions and shut yourself off from the auditory ones. Some people deal with auditory distractions by listening to music, others use a white noise machine or noise-cancelling headphones. Only use this space for work. When you enter your workspace, tell yourself you are now at work in your office.
Suggestion 2: Set priorities and a system of accountability. ADHD presents a host of executive function challenges including difficulties in prioritization and procrastination. Does this story sound familiar? Tom, a talented associate, was getting lots of assignments. He put one of his matters on the back burner while he was dealing with a matter for a partner who was communicating with him on an almost daily basis. Several weeks went by and all of a sudden, the partner whose project was on the back burner wanted it–now. The deferred assignment had become an emergency. You don’t want this to happen to you.
You can protect yourself by being proactive. When you get a new assignment, look at your commitments and figure out if you have the capacity to take on the new project within the established deadlines. This can be a challenge for lawyers with ADHD, who typically have difficulty in determining how long a task will take. This can lead to becoming over-committed and missing deadlines. To the extent possible, make it a practice to take the time to consult your supervisor, a trusted colleague or a coach to help you figure out if you have the time to take on and complete the new assignment in a timely fashion. If you don’t, either tell that to the assigning partner up front and try to get a realistic delivery date or ask if you can delegate the work to a more junior associate, who has the skills and capacity to meet the deadline.
In terms of managing your existing caseload, try to adapt or continue to use the systems that you have used in the past to set priorities and to stay on track whether it’s project management software, to do lists or even stickies. If you can’t do that, find substitutes for your in-office techniques to deal with these challenges. One thing you can do is to set deadlines for any projects you have that did not come with deadlines. If it’s a large assignment, set interim dates to report progress and ask questions. Deadlines are essential for setting priorities and periodic check-ins are a great way to hold yourself accountable for making steady progress.
If the challenge for you setting is priorities, one coping mechanism is to work with your immediate supervisor or a colleague each day to review all of your assignments, establish priorities and set realistic daily and weekly goals. If your problem is keeping track of all of your assignments, and if you don’t have someone in your workplace who you can rely upon to help, a coach can assist you.
Suggestion 3: Set a schedule and adhere to it. Working from home disrupted the structure in your life and now the challenge is to create a new structure. How many hours do you want to work each day or week? Set a goal and create a regular schedule to meet that goal and communicate it to everyone who needs to know—your colleagues, household members and your social network. This notifies colleagues, friends and family of when you are available and when you are not. It will help minimize distractions and maximize your productivity. Once you have set your schedule, adhere to it by starting and ending on time. An important part of keeping a schedule is setting boundaries.
It is difficult to set boundaries when you are working from home. The lawyer with ADHD can go to either extreme, hyper-focusing on work to the detriment of all other things in life or being so distracted by all of the things at home that productivity falls. Set boundaries on yourself. One of my clients started working from home by working virtually non-stop for 3 days and then was too exhausted to work for the next couple of days. In the long run that wasn’t productive, and it undermined his ability to collaborate with his team-mates. Pace yourself.
Boundaries also have to apply to the other people in your life. The other members of your household may think that because you are home, you can take on other domestic duties or engage in conversations, walk the dog or whatever…. Talk to them about what you can and can’t do during your designated working hours. Put up a “Do Not Disturb Sign” or close your door to show when you can’t be interrupted. If your other household members are also working, reciprocate by honoring their boundaries just as you did when you were working in your respective offices.
The problem is that without a schedule or boundaries, it’s easy enough to find yourself spending your entire day working and not enjoying your life or the people around you or playing video games all day and not fulfilling your work requirements.
Want to learn more about how coaching can help?
Email me at Rosemary@partnerupcoaching.com to set up a time to talk about whether coaching would be a good solution for you.