Create an ADHD-Friendly Workspace at Home
Our environments have a huge impact on our ability to focus and get things done — something that people with ADHD can naturally struggle with. Putting effort into improving the space you work in can increase your productivity and make your work more enjoyable.
Whether you work from home, are a student, or just want to create your own personal productivity zone, this guide will help you ensure your workspace is ADHD-friendly.
Table of contents
Imagine your ideal environment
Take a moment and imagine what your ideal working environment looks like. Is it a bustling office space? The sounds and scents of a coffee shop? A clutter-free, well lit desk with complete privacy? Is it boldly decorated, or more neutral?
Be honest with yourself about what you think would make you most productive, and resist the temptation to rationalize that your current workspace is exactly what you need. Understanding your ideal will help you create a workspace that suits your needs.
In a presentation on how people with ADHD can “Build Your Thrive Space”, occupational therapists Krysta Longridge and Katie Eichar explain that there are two types of work environments: low stimulation and high stimulation.
Low stimulation environments are quiet, have soothing scents, make it easy to avoid interruptions (like a private office space), and clutter-free, with a more neutral approach to decorating.
High stimulation environments can include ambient sounds or music, be optimized for moving around/environment-switching (e.g. moving from a desk to a recliner chair, or moving from indoors to outdoors), can be open or more accessible to other people (less private), contain more (useful!) clutter, and be decorated more boldly or with brighter colours.
As you think about your ideal work environment and what to put into it, try to align it closely with the level of stimulation that’s most comfortable for you.
While the recommendations below will focus on building a static workspace at home, if changing environments or working in public spaces appeals to you, explore it! You can set up mini-workspaces in and even outside your home, or schedule time to work at cafes or libraries near you. Just make sure those environments are actually helping you focus versus just creating more distractions.
Items for your ADHD-friendly workspace
This one perhaps seems obvious, but it’s also one of the most important. Getting a desk that suits how you work and fits your space can help you be more productive and make it easier to reduce clutter.
If you have space for a larger desk, going bigger can help ensure you have space for everything you need to work without having to clutter what’s in your field of view. If you can place your workspace in a corner, an L-shaped desk can give you even more room to work with.
You should also consider a convertible sit stand desk, which allows you to raise and lower the height of the tabletop so you can work at it while seated or while standing. A sit stand desk can provide more variety to your work environment, give you the freedom to move around, and keep you more alert while you focus on tasks.
If a sit stand desk doesn’t work for you, you can also look into desk risers or standing desk converters that go on top of your desk and allow you to raise up your laptop, monitor and/or keyboard.
While you work seated at a desk, an ergonomic chair is extremely valuable for both your productivity and your physical health. It’s easier to focus when you’re physically comfortable. Look for chairs with:
A backrest with defined lower back support
Adjustable height and tilt
Adjustable armrests that don’t prevent you from moving close to the desk
A five-point base with wheels or casters that make it easy to move around
If you currently experience back or shoulder pain, changing your seating setup could make a big difference!
If you often feel physically restless while seated, make sure any chair you choose gives you the freedom to move around, with features like a wider seat or a smooth, flexible tilting mechanism.
Wobble stools have become a popular recommendation for people with ADHD as they give you more freedom to move while engaging your core muscles. You can consider a wobble chair as an option for supporting yourself while using a standing desk, or as a way to change up your workday; however, the lack of support may make it uncomfortable to use all day, every day while working at a desk.
Having the right lighting setup in your workspace can create a much more comfortable working environment. There are three things you want to consider when creating your ADHD-friendly lighting setup: placement, brightness, and temperature.
Placement: Keep lights out of your direct line of sight or directly above you, which can lead to increased eye strain. Also avoid placing them directly behind you, which can cause glare on your screen and cast distracting shadows. If you use a desk lamp, place it on the side opposite of the hand you use to write with in order to avoid casting shadows on what you’re working on.
Brightness: Research has shown that people with ADHD are more prone to photophobia (light sensitivity). Ensure your lighting is bright enough to keep your space well-lit without being distracting or fatiguing. Consider using LED smart bulbs, dimmer switches, or adjustable desk lamps that allow you to control the brightness of your lighting.
Temperature: Lighting ranges in temperature from “warm” yellow tones to “cool” blue tones. Warmer lighting is more relaxing, while cooler lighting is more similar to daylight in tone and is associated with higher levels of alertness and focus. However, cooler lighting can also be more uncomfortable for people who are sensitive to light, or generate more feelings of stress or anxiety. Much like with brightness, it’s worth using adjustable lights that give you control over the temperature of your lighting.
Finally, don’t discount the value of natural daylight. Research shows that workers with access to natural light experienced increased alertness, higher levels of productivity and decreased incidence of vision issues and headaches. If you have the option of placing your workspace near a window, go for it! If you do, you’ll want to add curtains or blinds that let you control the amount of light coming in.
While some people may find listening to music while working distracting, many individuals with ADHD experience increased focus and improved mood when listening to music during a task. Headphones make it easier to enjoy music while tuning out external noise that could prove distracting. Noise-cancelling headphones are the best at eliminating outside sound, and can even be used without music to create a whisper-quiet environment.
A whiteboard is a great way to introduce a creative surface into your workspace that is always available and visible to you. Have an idea you want to map out, or an in-your-face way to track your tasks to ensure you won’t forget them? Just open a marker and start jotting things down! A whiteboard is one of the most frictionless ways to draw or organize, and you can take photos to record your ideas for later.
Not convinced? The ADHD community on Reddit is filled with posts from members extolling the virtues and value of having a whiteboard.
If you don’t have space for or simply don’t want a wall-mounted whiteboard, there are whiteboards small enough to fit on a desk, with many including storage for pens and other small items that help you reduce clutter.
People with ADHD often experience “time blindness,” meaning they find it difficult to perceive how much time has passed or how long something will take them to complete. Some of the best methods of managing focus with ADHD involve setting timers, such as the Pomodoro technique of working in 25-minute bursts and 5-minute breaks. With a desktop timer, you can better track the passage of time and block out the time you spend on tasks.
You may be thinking, “my phone can do this.” True! But phones are also a source of distraction themselves, so ideally you don’t want to be using them while you’re focused on your work. There’s also more friction involved in unlocking your phone, opening the timer app, setting up your timer and putting your phone away again. Having a timer ready on your desk can help you avoid getting distracted by your phone, and crucially, make it so easy that you actually use it.
Containers and cabinets
Clutter inevitably produces distraction. If you have a lot of stuff filling up your workspace, first consider if it’s all stuff you really want to keep. While storing things away can reduce clutter, it can also encourage hoarding items you don’t truly need — and some research has indicated that people with ADHD may be more prone to hoarding.
For items you know you need to hang onto but you don’t want to leave out, store them in a cabinet or in storage bins or boxes with labels that make it easy to find what you’re looking for when you need it. If you have a lot of papers to store, a filing cabinet will let you keep them organized and at-hand without messing up your space.
While you want your workspace to be generally uncluttered and distraction-free, that doesn’t mean you want it to be sterile. Adding visual flourishes like plants and artwork or displaying treasured items can help make your workspace a place where you enjoy spending time!
Work with what you have
Let’s recognize that not everyone has the space or the budget to include all of the recommendations above, and that it’s likely you’ll have to make compromises while building the best workspace you can. Any improvement is better than none, so do your best and don’t stress it — just remember the fundamentals:
reduce clutter and distractions
keep important information and items in-view
eliminate friction in getting things done
make yourself comfortable, mentally and physically