- Dr. Terri Bacow
The Distracted Brain Works From Home Guest Post by Franki Bagdade M. Ed. LLMSW
I don’t mean to brag, but I was working from home before it became pandemic-cool! In 2019 when I launched Franki’s Academic and Behavioral Consulting, it made the most sense as a mom of three to work from home. I loved working in my pj’s and connecting with educators, parents, camp professionals and colleagues via webinars and video conferencing. My at-home schedule gave me the privilege of being able to greet my three kids the moment they got off the bus, have a short conversation about their day, send them off for their coveted screen time - and then retreat back into my home office – aka a corner of my bedroom! When I opened my private practice in 2022, Franki Bagdade Therapy, it made perfect sense to continue working at home and offer sessions via telehealth!
While working from home has distinct advantages, my home is full of distractions galore and my ADHD brain sometimes focuses on all of these distractions at the same time, instead of giving attention to the work tasks at hand. When I found myself doing laundry, rearranging my dining room furniture, or looking at old baby pictures instead of writing an article with a firm deadline, I knew I had to “ADHD coach” myself into a more productive professional. So, what did I do? I took my own advice. I dusted off my trusty visual timer, and a few dozen pads of sticky notes, and got to work. Here are my top 5 ADHD working-from-home timer hacks. While these tips are certainly especially meaningful if you have ADHD, they are also absolutely applicable for anyone working from home and struggling to tune out distractions (i.e. so very many of us).
Which one do you think will work best for you?
Allow that creative (and distracted mind) some leeway in a structured fashion. Sometimes my brain craves the stimulation of wandering through the internet. I’ll open a few select tabs and flip back and forth from the FAAB social media pages to my latest blog drafts, to an article I’m writing. This is actually productive in small doses, it fosters creativity! Creativity can be a major ADHD gift and we want to allow for it. So here is how I make space for creative flow without getting totally sidetracked: I look at my “must-do” list for the day accounting for firm deadlines, and client meetings… and then I determine how much “creative free flow” time I can accommodate. Typically I set my timer for 20-30 minutes (using my whiteboard or something from my sticky note collection). Next, I write the next “must do” task down somewhere right near my computer so I can’t miss it, so I am aware that I must tackle it when my creative time is over. This strategy allows me to enjoy my creative time guilt-free and puts me right on the correct trajectory the minute the timer goes off. Of note, I find that using both the visual and auditory modes of the timer works to my advantage. This way I can completely lose myself in the creative process, glance over and visually see how much time I have left, and be assured that the auditory beep will break that hyper-focus when needed so I can start on the day's essential projects.
For those of us working at home, gone are the days of clients waiting in the waiting room, or a receptionist letting us know our 3:00 has arrived! As a private practice therapist with back-to-back telehealth clients, it is essential that I stay on track with session times. Not only do I do this for my clients’ benefit, I also want to protect that 5-minute cushion between patients so that I can refill my water bottle and take a deep breath or two! I use my original large time timer for this task and turn the auditory feature off, so I don’t disrupt my clients talking when our time nears to an end. This action allows me to inconspicuously look over and see a quick visual of how much time is left without having to constantly look at a clock and then do the math! I can easily see if we’ve used a quarter, half or more of our session time. As a bonus my child and adolescent clients especially like it if I put the timer in the camera view so they have this visual tool at their disposal as well.
I run workshops for educators, mental health professionals, parents and more as part of my business. Sometimes we are on a webinar together and sometimes we are in person. In webinars, I continue to utilize my original large time timer that is always set up in my office “corner.” When I travel, whether it’s to the next town over, across the country, or even out of the country to give a talk, I take a mini timer with me for this same reason. I find that my phone timer is too distracting, with other messages and notifications scrolling across its screen. A visual timer allows me to properly pace my presentation whether I’m given 20 minutes or a full day to cover my topic.
As an entrepreneur, consultant, author, therapist, and more… I need to use every moment at my disposal to work on long-term projects while also being on time for a myriad of commitments. I’ve been lucky enough to film several interviews right from my desk with local news crews, podcasts, and cable access magazine shows. As you can imagine these make me a bit more nervous than my typical day-to-day video meetings. I want to be able to complete my other “must do” tasks throughout the day without being worried I may lose track of time completely, before filming begins. I use my visual timers with the audible option switched ON to alert my busy ADHD brain when it’s time to save my project, log in for my interviews and fix my camera, sound, and lighting so it’s just right while leaving some time to freshen up my lipstick!
It is a giant misunderstanding that those with ADHD can’t focus! We are champion “focusers” (I hear once you publish a book, you are allowed to make up words!!!). The real obstacle is that we try to focus on everything at the same time! I will often try to take advantage of my work-from-home life by making dinner and catching up on emails simultaneously. This multitasking can work brilliantly with a few tools in place to assure those emails get attended to and I don’t end up with burnt chicken. I always have a little timer in my kitchen for this purpose or even for my children to use when they are helping themselves manage their own time. By setting a visual timer, I can quickly glance up from my laptop and quickly see how much longer that sheet pan dinner will need to stay in the oven.
These are just a handful of my favorite ways to use timers to keep me on task. What are yours?
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