Working at home can be hard, whether it’s education, paid work, voluntary work, or personal interest. For people with inertia, weak executive function or differences in sensory processing, attention, inertia, or a number of other issues that affect neurodivergent people, it can be particularly difficult. Here are some tips written with autistic people in mind, to accommodate narrow, intense (‘monotropic‘) attention styles, but they may be helpful for others as well.
I know some people struggle to break down a task and I don’t have any useful advice on how to do that. Once you have a list of things you need to get done, here are some ideas for how to manage them.
- Don’t try to juggle priorities. Work on one (main) thing at a time unless it’s boring and you need some variety as a break. Get extensions on the rest, or work out how to lay them out in a sequence that still gets them all done by their respective deadlines, if that’s possible.
- Keep a priority list that is not allowed beyond a certain limit of items. Could be 3, could be 12, whatever works. All other ‘to do’s are on hold until some priority space is created.
- If you’re stuck, do the easiest thing first.
- For most types of work, break up work periods and milestones based on tasks, not time. Throw away the pomodoro. Interrupting a task mid-flow to take a scheduled break can do a lot more harm than good if it takes you 20 minutes to get re-engaged, or worse, if you wander off and never come back.
- On the other hand, if you have something that is a long continuous stretch of monotonous work with no natural breaks, try something more traditional and timer-based.
- Try not to overdo it. If you work right through needs for food, sleep, toilet, etc. you will get exhausted and find it difficult to work. You may also accidentally develop an aversion to working because it leads to these bad things. So even if you’re working to a milestone rather than a timer, an absolute limit may be a good idea. E.g. I will work until I have written 1000 words or until 5pm (set an alarm) whichever comes first. Maybe allow one snooze of the alarm or set a pre-alarm notice so you can wrap up.
- Offload the task of monitoring for necessary breaks for meals, drinks, toilet, etc. to another human or a timer. If it’s a human, train them to give a gentle nudge the first time so they don’t mess up a good flow. If you’re very lucky, you may have someone who can quietly deliver a drink to where you can see it.
- Have a dedicated work space – both physical and on the device you’re using – where only work happens.
- Work alongside someone else who is concentrating, even if that has to be remote (using video).
- Work offline and disconnected if possible. If that isn’t possible, set Do not Disturb, silence, and close down everything that creates notifications.
- Work far away from your phone if possible and only look at it during breaks.
- Try white/pink/brown noise generating apps or machines (like fans). I hate them, but others swear by them. If you like to listen to music, perhaps to block out other distractors, try something that is familiar, not too exciting, and preferably doesn’t have words in it.
- Keep motivation up by allowing a limited time on a preferred activity only after a certain milestone is reached. If that activity is really addictive, don’t do it until you have a lot of time or after all work is done for the day.
- I am strangely (and autistically) motivated by counting things and patterns, so I will set a certain nice number of things to do, or do a set number of unpleasant things for every so many pleasant ones.
Do you have other things that help you work? Leave a comment to help others.