Working from Home with ADHD: Setting Up a Home Office

#3: Some noise-cancelling headphones might come in handy.

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Working from home (“WFH”) is becoming an increasingly common option for employees, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to temporarily leave their offices. WFH definitely comes with both pros and cons, but for adults with ADHD in particular, this remote work can come with many distractions.

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, says this is partially due to a “faulty switch” that makes it difficult for people with ADHD to turn on and turn off their attention when needed. “The result is that it is hard to attend to things that aren’t of special interest and compelling to you, and yet it is possible to hyper-focus and not be able to break away from something that is compelling to you,” says Dr. Saltz, who is the Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine.

While office settings certainly have plenty of distractions of their own, your home can come with even more, especially if you are sharing the space with family members or kids who are not in school. Plus, at work you may feel obligated to stay at your computer, but at home you may be tempted to do other things: run errands, do chores, play games, browse social media, play with pets, etc.

There are ways to set up your workspace at home to reduce some of these distractions and temptations, which can improve your productivity and reduce some frustration.

1. Pick an unused room or low-traffic area

Depending on your home, this may be easier said than done. At the very least, “Pick a corner as far from others as possible,” says Dr. Saltz. Being in a corner will reduce the amount of foot traffic walking by you. Avoid high-traffic areas, like near the fridge or by the bathroom.

2. Take steps to associate the space with work

“Do your best to create a ‘work’ area, so when you see it, you think of work,” suggests Krista Kilbane, LCSW, psychotherapist and owner of Suitable Solutions Therapy. Kilbane works exclusively with adults with ADHD—and also lives with it herself.

“Try to only do work projects from this space,” Kilbane says. “Put your stapler on the desk, a calendar on the wall above the desk, etc.” If your only option is to work at your dining table, having these visual symbols of work can help you stay focused on the task at hand.

3. Drown out distracting noises

It can be helpful to request some peace and quiet from others in the house, but there may still be noises that are out of your control (like the never-ending construction work next door or the lawnmower down the street).

If your home environment allows it, “use noise-cancelling headphones or a white noise machine to drown out other people or noises and temptations that may distract you,” says Dr. Saltz.

4. Limit visual distractions

It may be obvious to avoid a TV in your workspace, but there are some other potential distractions. Kilbane recommends keeping your desk away from busy windows, which may distract you with cars and people going by.

Even objects in the area can be distracting, so try to keep only work-related items at your workspace. Clean up any clutter on your desk or around your workspace.

5. Be honest with others in your home about your challenges

“Tell other people in your home [that] this is your struggle, [and] ask them to please not disturb you until the set time you’ve created to stop working,” says Dr. Saltz. “Others helping with limits can help you control your impulses—this is what happens in an office.”

Kilbane even puts a sign on her door that reads “in session” to remind others not to come in and interrupt her. If family members continue to be an issue during your workday, you may need to come up with some creative solutions for keeping the family busy. Learn more about creating routine for family members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you continue to struggle with creating a productive workspace or reducing distractions at home, reach out to an occupational therapist or doctor, who can help you navigate your WFH setup. They might also be able to help you adjust your treatment to reduce symptoms in general, which may in turn improve your focus at work. Learn more about treatment for adult ADHD here.