Productivity at Work

The Best Work Schedule for ADHD Brains: Flexible or Rigid?

What’s the best work schedule for ADHD brains? It depends. Flexible schedules may encourage creativity and harness the power of hyperfocus without falling victim to arbitrary deadlines. Structured routines work better for those who struggle with time management and procrastination. Hear both sides here.

Deadline, young female project manager looking at the sand glass, millennials at work
Deadline, young female project manager looking at the sand glass, millennials at work

“If you had the choice, would you prefer long-term deadlines for major projects, but a freeform daily work schedule, or a rigid daily work schedule with more defined tasks and fewer decisions to make?”

ADDitude recently posed this choice to newsletter subscribers, and received mixed responses. Some adults with ADHD say they feel suffocated by a lack of flexibility in their days. They thrive with a flexible and customized daily schedule that increases creativity and channels their hyperfocus. Others say they need the structure of a rigid work schedule to hold them accountable and prevent procrastination. Which habits and routines work best for your ADHD brain? Share your ideal work schedule in the Comments section below.

Flexible Work Schedules for ADHD

“A strict schedule does help me get more done for a couple days, but eventually the lack of flexibility aggravates my ADHD symptoms. I skip meetings, ignore messages from colleagues, and take 3-hour breaks. I feel as if I’m in a room full of lasers, desperately contorting myself to avoid setting off an alarm so I can steal something I don’t even want.” David

“I have always held positions within my field that were rigid, overly structured, and left little to no room for creativity or even a break. During the pandemic, I applied for a job that was the opposite, and I am the happiest I have ever been in my career. My ADHD brain is free to enjoy each project and to hyperfocus on the tasks that really matter.” – Anonymous

“Micromanaging and the daily pressure of a tight schedule causes anxiety and makes me run on adrenaline; good for the short term but detrimental in the long term. I prefer the pressure of a goal but the autonomy and flexibility to choose my own schedule.” – Anonymous

[Free Handout: How to Better Manage Your Time at Work

“Rigidity makes me rebellious. I like the freedom to choose the things on which I work. And I love the flexibility of going with the flow of life’s curves.” – Jen

“This choice was difficult for me. I ultimately chose a freeform work schedule because I prefer to choose my daily tasks and tend to get resentful when I’m told what to do.” – Lauren

“I hate rigid work schedules – I must have freedom to develop creative solutions. I feel like my practices and solutions have always been more effective than those of other places I’ve worked, but only because I don’t tie my ego to outcomes. My solutions are a work-in-progress and I take great joy in modifying and perfecting them.” – Anonymous

“I’ve done best in exempt positions that allow me to work long hours outside of the typical work day. If my time is limited to a rigid daily schedule, I require rigid directions to follow so I won’t get caught up in perfectionism and ‘what if’s.’” – Anonymous

[Read this Next: ADHD Minds Are Trapped in Now (& Other Time Management Truths)

Rigid Work Schedules for ADHD

“My previous job had a very freeform workday. I was shut in my office all day and just had to have the project done by the deadline. I would sit there staring at my computer, accomplishing nothing for days at a time, or focusing way too hard on tiny details. It would get down to the last week and I’d have to take my work home and pull all-nighters. Even though it annoys me to no end to be told when to do things, I learned that I don’t yet have the skills to manage my entire schedule by myself. Procrastination always wins over, and the last few days before the deadline are painful.” – Anonymous

“I hate rigidity, but have come to recognize that it’s necessary for me to function at work. Every decision I have to make is a place for my brain to stumble or lose inertia. A big part of getting organized for me is removing the number of times I have to ask, ‘What next?’– Anonymous

“I tend to procrastinate projects with long term deadlines until the very last minute. If I’m given a rigid schedule in which I don’t have to make as many decisions, I don’t panic over all the possible choices. It helps me complete tasks faster and more methodically. It’s like multiple choice rather than write-in answers – multiple choice has always been easier for me to do.” – Anonymous

If I don’t have a rigid schedule, I don’t know what to do with myself and become very depressed. I dislike weekends unless I know I have a project to accomplish. Without a checklist, I will spend hours internalizing negative thoughts like, ‘I don’t have friends to do things with.’ I love Monday, when I know I am going to work out with my friends, come home and take care of the animals, and then go to work!”  – Kimberly

“Long-term deadlines are too far out; I’d have all that time and still probably wait until the last minute. I believe I’d enjoy a freeform daily schedule more, but that doesn’t mean I’d be any more productive. Rigid structure and fewer decisions are the best thing for my wandering mind.” Tom

I have a hard time focusing and can get lost in the big picture, so I find it more manageable to accomplish smaller tasks on a strict time limit.” – Anonymous

“Long-term tasks will get done the day before they are due, and that usually leads to sloppy or incomplete work. I need structure, and to feel some pressure, so defined daily tasks are ideal for me.” – Pamela

“This past year has confirmed that I need other people and to be outside my small apartment to stay motivated. Isolation, without a hard deadline, leaves me frozen and my lack of action makes me feel ashamed. During the pandemic, I started lying to people about what I was getting done because unsolicited ‘just do it’ advice makes me too defensive. I am constantly worried about alienating or pushing away well-meaning people with rejection sensitive responses.” – Anonymous

Work Schedules for ADHD Minds: Next Steps

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