Creating a Workspace That Works for You

ADHD & Productivity

Published on
September 7, 2023

There’s a saying, somewhere, about how a cluttered home reflects a cluttered mind. I know I’ve got that quote around here somewhere…in one of these piles…

…but, I’ll have to let it go, or I’ll spend hours looking for it instead of writing this blog.

It's hard to focus on work when other things are competing for your attention. That goes for more than just the kids fighting in the next room, or the never-ending notifications on your phone. Researchers have found that being around disorganization makes it harder for your brain to focus. For folks with ADHD, even more so.

Creating a productive workspace is crucial for managing symptoms and enhancing productivity. But creating that space – and keeping it clutter-free –  is easier said than done.

Fortunately, Occupational Therapists Krysta Longridge (MScOT), and Katie Eichar (MAOT) from Mindful Mountains Wellness did a presentation on this very topic. In this blog post we’ll explore some of the reasons ADHD makes keeping your space clear so difficult, why it’s so important to do so, and how to go about it.

Understanding ADHD and Productivity

ADHD can affect productivity in several ways, such as difficulty focusing, staying organized, and managing time. Here are just a few of the reasons why.

Dopamine & Rewards

The ADHD brain has a hard time regulating dopamine, a neurotransmitter or “chemical messenger” that is crucial for motivation, anticipating rewards, and our response to reinforcement.

We often need more “extrinsic” rewards - rewards that come from someone, or something, outside of ourselves - as our “intrinsic” or internal rewards (i.e., feeling good about ourselves for having completed a task) are just…not that effective.

Prefrontal Cortex & Executive Function

Executive functions are all those processes that enable us to do…well, almost everything. Initiation, motivation, organization, planning, prioritizing, focus and attention, working memory, awareness of time…all of these are skills that we need in order to be productive.

The part of the brain “in charge” of these functions is the Prefrontal Cortex. And in people with ADHD, this is often impaired.

Brain Networks

There are two brain networks of interest in ADHD: The Default Mode Network, and the Cognitive Control Network.

The Default Mode Network is what we’re using when we’re thinking about things. The Cognitive Control Network, on the other hand, takes over when we’re doing things.

In neurotypical people, these networks operate like a light switch. When one is on, the other is off. In people with ADHD, though, both networks can be operating at the same time. That’s why we often have to fidget, doodle, or otherwise ‘multitask.’ Because both systems are on at the same time, we have to be doing something that engages both – like paying attention in a meeting (Default Mode Network) and doodling (Cognitive Control Network).

Building Your Oasis of Focus

The Environment

Krysta and Katie suggest starting your workspace makeover by considering the environment. One way to do this is by attending to your senses, and adapting to what works best for you.

  • Sight: This primarily involves your field of view. What can you see from your workspace? Do you need things to be neat and clutter-free? Do you need a window to look out of, or would that be too distracting?
  • Sounds: Do you prefer silence, or background noise? If you need some background noise, what works best for you – music, ASMR, voices?
  • Smell: Do you find smells distracting, or would some pleasant fragrance be helpful and stimulating? You could try candles, essential oils, or even your morning coffee.
  • Touch: For many people with ADHD, certain types of tactile stimulation can be irritating. Think about the texture of your desk, your chair, your clothes, even the way you’re sitting. Are you comfortable? Do you need a fidget toy?
  • Taste: Taste can be a great way to stimulate your brain. Chewing, sucking, or sipping on a snack or drink not only involves the taste of the food, but also the tactile textures, the smell, the way the food looks, etc.

Some people with ADHD tend to be easily overstimulated, and thus prefer low-stim environments. Others may require extra stimulation to avoid brain fog and keep the brain juiced up.

Go through each of the senses above and identify some of the things you can change about your work environment. Krysta and Katie shared examples of how they like their workspace.

Katie Prefers a Low Stim Environment: (Minimize sensory input & overwhelm)

  • Silence
  • soothing scents
  • no interruptions (private office, work from home)
  • window to see nature
  • movement breaks

Krysta Prefers a High Stim Environment: (helps focus to have more stimulation)

  • Sit-to-stand desk
  • alternating environments frequently (home, coffee shop, library, etc)
  • music w/o lyrics, indistinct chatter
  • Space to spread out
  • window to see nature
  • body doubling


A well-organized workspace boosts productivity and reduces stress. To organize your workspace, Krysta and Katie suggest:

  1. Schedule time in the day to tidy your space
  2. Have a catchall bin for things you’re not sure about - set aside time on a regular basis to sort through it
  3. Use labels and color-coding to categorize documents or storage bins
  4. Use clear bins, so you can see what’s inside (and don’t forget those things exist)
  5. Store only essential items within reach - everything else should be stored out of sight


Once your work environment is set up in a way that works for your brain, you can turn to productivity strategies.

Create Your Own Dopamine

Since our brains struggle to regulate dopamine levels, we sometimes need a little something extra to encourage the brain to create more. Here are a few dopamine-boosters to try:

  • Caffeine (in moderation!)
  • Eat a treat
  • 5 min stretch/movement break
  • Friendly competition
  • Exercise
  • Rewards & gamification
  • Cold drinks, cold showers

Initiation and Motivation

Another common productivity challenge for ADHDers is finding the motivation to get started on something, and then actually starting. Here are some of Katie and Krysta’s suggestions:

  • Trick yourself: Big tasks, or ones we don’t enjoy, can be difficult to start. But often, once we get started on something, momentum keeps us going. Trick yourself by saying “I’ll just work for five minutes.” If you finish five minutes and want to stop, do. But chances are, the five minutes will be long over before you even realize it.
  • Pomodoro: You can also try the Pomodoro technique, which involves set start and end times – typically 25 minute sprints of a task, with 5-10 minute breaks in between.
  • Start with fun: set a timer and do something fun for 5-10 minutes before you begin work. (Ideally this is something you won’t get so absorbed in you forget space and time exist)
  • Cue yourself: Decide on an action cue, and use it regularly. For example, “I start work after I drink my coffee.”
  • Body Doubling: work side by side with a friend, co-worker, or even a stranger
  • Accountability partners: Decide on a person who will check in on your progress on a regular basis and hold you accountable (your mom may not be the best choice if she always says “it’s okay honey, you tried your best!”)

Time Management

Time management is another common challenge for neurospicy folks. Some time management strategies for individuals with ADHD include:

  • Breaking tasks into smaller steps
  • Setting specific deadlines – short term deadlines are more effective
  • Using a timer to work in short bursts with breaks
  • Keep your calendar/schedule visible
  • Prioritizing – it’s okay if you can’t get to everything! You can start with the easiest tasks and work up to the harder ones, or get the hard stuff out of the way first.
  • Choose just 1-2 tasks to focus on – put the rest of your to-do list out of sight

Create Your Thrive Space

Creating a productive workspace for individuals with ADHD involves understanding the condition, setting up a distraction-free environment, implementing ergonomic and organizational solutions, and managing time effectively. By following these strategies, you can create a workspace that supports your ADHD and enhances productivity.

Want to learn more about occupational therapy for ADHD? Canadian clients can work directly with Katie or Krysta in their Occupational Therapy for Adult ADHD treatment package. The package includes an OT Assessment, OT follow-up and 3 sessions with an Occupational Therapy Assistant. Use code Shimmer50 for $50 off!

And if you need some help identifying or implementing the strategies that will work best for you and your brain, Shimmer ADHD coaching can help.

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