Staying focused in the workplace when you’re neurodivergent

Created for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, this blog by our Junior Content Producer, Oskar. The blog covers some of the methods he uses as an autistic individual to stay comfortable and focused whilst at work.

Notebook
Notebook

“This blog was written as part of my apprenticeship with The Juice Academy. I have been working with WDC Creative for eight months now as I work towards my qualification. I am really enjoying everything that I am learning whilst working here, though it was initially quite difficult for me to adapt to working in my first full-time role. It can be hard to find resources and support geared towards autistic adults, especially in the workplace, and my aim is to make it easier for other neurodivergent people to access this kind of support. 

By using my own voice, I want to be able to create resources that will help others like me to thrive in the workplace. This blog covers some of the techniques I’ve found throughout my time at WDC that help keep me present, focused and productive whilst at work - I hope that they can be useful to others out there, too.” - Oskar Moss

Fidget toy
Fidget toy

Staying focused in the workplace when you’re neurodivergent

As an autistic individual, working a full-time job can be difficult. Everyone has good days and bad days, but when you’re neurodivergent the bad days can sometimes feel mountainous. 

Previous to my current role, I had only ever worked part-time. Whilst not ideal in a lot of other ways, this at least gave me plenty of chances to have days between my shifts where I could rest and recharge. The move to full-time was difficult to adapt to at first - and honestly, is still quite hard for me. However, with these few tips, my work pattern has become a lot more manageable, and I find it easier to cope in an office environment.

Loop noise cancelling earbuds
Loop noise cancelling earbuds

Noise-cancelling earbuds

An office, whilst generally more predictable than my previous workplaces (bustling shops, busy cafes), can be a difficult place to work for neurodivergent folk. With bright overhead lights, conversations happening all around the room, and the calling of phones, offices are made up of lots of small but constant background noises. On days when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, even the quiet office radio can feel so loud that I can’t focus on anything else. 

Noise-blocking earbuds have been a lifeline to me during these times. My favourite brand is Loops - they’re small, discreet, and look quite stylish. Loops filter out background noises such as the office radio, the printer, and squeaking office chairs - but still allow you to hear those close to you (at a lower volume), so I don’t miss any important updates from the team. For days when noise is completely overwhelming, my earbuds have an add-on that allows me to make them completely noise cancelling. These drown out all noises around me and enable me to get my head down and work. Just be sure to give your coworkers a quick heads up that you’re popping them in so that they know to give you a wave if they need you. 

Fidget cube toy
Fidget cube toy

Fidget toys

For those of you who aren’t familiar with stimming, it’s the name used to describe a set of repeated actions or movements performed by neurodivergent people. These can include rocking back and forth, shaking your hands rapidly, repeating certain sounds or phrases, and more. There’s no one set way to stim, and everyone does it differently. However, feeling comfortable enough to stim in an office environment is something that I personally struggle with - how do I satisfy my need to fidget without looking unfocused on my work?

The answer to this for me has been stim toys - small, handheld items that allow you to release pent up energy in a controlled, less obvious way. I personally prefer fidget toys that I can hold in one hand, such as magnetic rings and foldable cubes. This way, I can still focus on my work whilst stimming - I can be fidgeting with one hand and operating my mouse with another. This helps me stay focused on my tasks whilst allowing me to release any extra energy I might have built up - and it’s a great way for me to stay present when dealing with sensory overload, too.

Writing notes
Writing notes

Write everything down

When you have noise sensitivities, working in a loud office can make it difficult to focus on anything. How am I supposed to think about my current tasks when I’m hearing three conversations happening simultaneously around me, and my brain processes them all at the same volume? I also struggle with task object permanence - if a task I need to do slips out of my mind, I may as well never have heard it in the first place.

Writing everything down is essential to me in staying focused at work. Every task and idea gets noted down as it happens - before it can escape me. I have three different notebooks on my desk, plus a Google Doc for taking notes that I always keep open on my laptop. Keeping note-taking tools all around me means I don’t have to search for them when I need them. I then review these notes, and turn them into tasks in a bullet list, then turn that into my to-do list for the day or week. Having this list is particularly useful to me in times of sensory overload - having my work laid out for me in a clear, simple list prevents me from feeling overwhelmed with my workload. 

Working when you’re neurodivergent can be tough. When managing your sensory needs takes up so much time and effort, keeping up appearances in the workplace can feel exhausting - especially when you may be also struggling with social and time management difficulties on top of all this. Different methods work for everybody - no two neurodivergent people are the same - but hopefully these tips can be a starting point in finding what works for you.

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