Working from Home with ADHD: Focusing on Conference Calls

“Loss of focus, daydreaming, and fidgeting can occur.”

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Thanks to the internet and video conferencing tools, working from home is more possible than ever before. That’s not to say video conferencing doesn’t come without its flaws, especially if you live with ADHD.

“Video meetings and conference calls are challenging because they can become tedious and hard to follow the more people that are involved,” says Krista Kilbane, LCSW, psychotherapist and owner of Suitable Solutions Therapy. Kilbane works exclusively with adults with ADHD, and she knows a thing or two about how to live with it—because she has it herself.

“Loss of focus, daydreaming, and fidgeting can occur. Staying focused becomes the challenge, especially if you will be held accountable for what was discussed,” says Kilbane.

To make it worse, video calls take away some of the energy of a face-to-face conversation. “You lose body language and nuance. It is harder to read emotionally what is happening, and that is already something that may be particularly challenging for people with ADHD,” says Gail Saltz, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine.

Whether working from home is your norm or just a temporary solution during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can make video conferencing work better for you. Here are tips to help you focus during video chats and conference calls while working from home with ADHD.

1. Schedule calls for when energy levels are higher (if you have a say in planning)

You know your energy levels and focus naturally ebb and fade and certain times of the day (and certain days of the week). “I help [my clients] tap into this natural rhythm to make sure they are going with their natural energy, not against it,” says Kilbane. “I would suggest setting up meetings during a time when your focus is at its best.”

In other words, if you know your focus goes haywire mid-afternoon, it’s probably better to schedule your calls in the morning or right after lunch.

2. Get up and move during breaks

“Set intentional breaks by using a timer to keep on schedule. Take a walk outside [or] do some stretching,” says Kilbane. “Exercise helps the ADHD brain to release stress-reducing chemicals that can calm the restlessness, which will assist in getting back on track to focus after the break.” Learn more about the benefits of exercise for ADHD here.

Even if you don’t have control over the schedule of the meeting and there are no breaks, or if it’s just a short meeting, doing some exercises or stretches before the meeting can be very useful.

3. Turn off or avoid other devices

You know your phone is one of the biggest temptations when you get bored or unfocused, so put it in another room or turn it off. This can also help you give more energy to “reading” the call.

“In addition to avoiding all other devices during a call—making the call the singular focus of attention—it is important to look for more clues that help to read the other person,” says Dr. Saltz. If you feel comfortable doing so, Dr. Saltz suggests asking the other person to show their upper body and not just their face, so you can see more of their body language while they speak.

4. Take notes during the meeting

Taking notes can help center your attention on what is occurring during the meeting. “This will cue your brain that you are listening to something important and it will help you to stay on task,” says Kilbane.

It can also help you remember important points later, since remembering details can also be a challenge with ADHD.

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 schedule. They might also have tips for reducing your ADHD symptoms in general, which may improve your focus at work. Learn more about treatment for ADHD here.