If you have ADHD, here's how to manage working from home

For those with ADHD adjusting to working from home, strategies to ease the transition include replicating the work environment and keeping up with a morning routine.

(CNN)As some companies shifted to working from home, some adults with ADHD hit a wall.

The transition has been challenging for many. But for some adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly called ADHD, the switch means they're struggling to stay on top of things as well as they may have in the office.
A neurodevelopmental disorder commonly diagnosed in childhood that can last into adulthood, the disorder stems from underdeveloped or impaired executive function and self-regulation skills, all of which aid planning, focusing attention, remembering instructions and multitasking.
The specific causes of ADHD are unknown, but researchers have found that genetics have a key role. Other possible causes and risk factors include brain injury, exposure to environmental pollution during pregnancy or young ages, alcohol or tobacco exposure during pregnancy, premature delivery and low birth weight. People with ADHD have imbalanced neurotransmitters; one of which is dopamine.
    Dopamine is a key neural transmitter in the brain's prefrontal cortex required to help us "self-regulate and help us direct our focus, actions and how we respond to what's going on around us," said Robin Nordmeyer, co-founder and managing director of the Center for Living Well with ADHD-Minnesota, an ADHD coaching group for all ages.
    "The primary role of the prefrontal cortex is all about executive functioning," she added. "So when we don't have the right amount of neural transmitter availability, which is one of the leading perceptions about what's going on, then what happens is we have difficulties with those executive function skills and with self-regulation."
    Symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity: Adults may have trouble concentrating, staying organized, prioritizing and managing their time; feeling restless or hyperfocusing; or controlling their impulses.
    For some adults, these symptoms can be severe and cause difficulties in every area of their lives. These symptoms sometimes require a work environment that helps them stay on track, maintain a structure and have supportive colleagues and supervisors.
    The shift to working from home is a major upheaval to people's lives, and some adults with ADHD have shared their struggles to stay focused and complete tasks.
    Callan Jansen of Washington state was thriving as a paraeducator before the pandemic hit. The workplace was a structured, scheduled and busy but creative environment, which helped Jansen focus and stay on task. Other educators in the building were available for support, supervision and collaboration.
    But the shift to teleworking has left Jansen floundering at times. For a long time, the classroom setups weren't established or organized. Expectations for Jansen became vague, and the job description drastically changed. Jansen has been having trouble prioritizing, staying focused and keeping up a routine at home.
    "It's just really hard to feel like the work I'm doing is real or important when the expectations are so vague," Jansen said. "External motivators are really helpful for me, and right now it feels like I need to rely almost entirely on internal motivation, which can be really hit or miss."
    This time is frustrating and worrisome but it can get better. There are ways adults with ADHD can productively work from home.

    Benefits of a traditional workplace

    Workplaces can be stressful, but they offer community. Colleagues and having to show up and perform give people with ADHD the structure they need to be productive when they get stuck or need support, Nordmeyer said.
    There's a clear place to sit when you have to work on mundane tasks, said Maggie Sibley, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine and member of the professional advisory board at CHADD, a leading resource on ADHD providing support, training, education and advocacy.
    And there's probably a supervisor who keeps you accountable and ensures that you're working at a good pace.
    "When you move into the settings at home, suddenly you have to do a lot of this self-regulation yourself," she added, "and that can be really challenging for people with ADHD."
    "So now it's about how can we get creative and create that scenario," Nordmeyer said.

    Replicate your work environment

    Consider what you needed at work to be productive and functional, and how you can simulate that environment at home, Nordmeyer said.
    Avoid working in relaxing places like your bedroom or in front of the television, Sibley said. Experiment with what works best for you — maybe it's working in a quiet room or one in which the blinds are closed so you can't be distracted by what's outside.
    Talk to your family about dividing housework to keep the home in a clean, productive condition, as the workplace would be. Messes could drain your energy and pull your attention away from what you need to focus on.

    Plan your day the evening before