How To Create A Flexible Work Schedule With ADHD

For many people with ADHD, having flexible work hours sounds like the winning scenario.

We have the freedom to choose when we work, design our ideal schedule, and move things around when surprises happen.

And when you think about it, many of us have some version of this flexibility within our day – even if it doesn’t seem like it on the surface.

woman writing on white board

Maybe you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur or you work for a company, but the time of day you work doesn’t really matter as long as the work gets done.

Perhaps you have a strict 9-5 schedule, but the work you do within those 8 hours is largely up to you.

Here’s the deal. Having this flexibility is awesome…but it can also be challenging.

Without any kind of structure, our brains easily spin out.

Some of us look at a looming project and think to ourselves, “I’ll get to that later…” 

…but then later never comes.

Or on the flip side, because there isn’t a strict “end of day…”

… we find ourselves struggling to stop working, thinking we should do “just one more thing.”

Sound familiar?

I thought so.

That’s why we’re taking a deep dive into the topic of flexible work hours in episode 163 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

And more specifically, we’re exploring how to create a schedule that works best for you.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

If you want to take this work even further and create an ideal schedule for your brain and life, check out my small, supportive group coaching program, We’re Busy Being Awesome.

In Episode 163: How To Create a Flexible Work Schedule, You’ll Discover How To…

  • The effectiveness of creating structure within a flexible schedule
  • How to use your best hours when creating a schedule
  • The importance of boundaries and breaks in helping you thrive in your work

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Episode #163: How To Create A Flexible Work Schedule With ADHD (Transcript) 

How To Create A Flexible Work Schedule

On Instagram last week, I asked people what’s been on their minds. What topics they’d want to hear about on the podcast, and what would be most useful during this season? I got a huge list of incredible topics, which I can’t wait to dive into and explore in the coming weeks. And if we haven’t yet connected over on IG, we totally should. I’m @imbusybeingawesome. Come say hey!

One topic that came up for different people in slightly different ways is the idea of creating a schedule when we have flexible work hours.

AI got this question from people who are freelancers and entrepreneurs who largely choose their own hours and schedule.

I also heard it from people whose company has now gone hybrid, and someone else who now permanently works from home and they more flexibility in the times they work.

We could also look at this question through the lens of parenting full time or you’re retired and juggling lots of different commitments, but you don’t have that structured/traditional 9-5 set up.

See what I mean? So many of us navigate this level of this flexibility in some area in our lives, which can be great when we know how to support ourselves with it – when we have a schedule that works for our brain. But if we don’t have those structures or supports in place, it can be challenging for many of our brains.

We saw this firsthand in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic when most people moved to work from home virtually overnight – aside from our incredible essential workers. When that concrete work schedule disappeared, we didn’t have that structure to lean on and many of us felt very untethered.

In fact, that’s when so many of us with ADHD really noticed our symptoms or first got our diagnosis because that usual scaffolding we didn’t even realize we needed was pulled away.

Since I know many of you listeners have some version of more flexible/movable hours or unpredictable scheduling, I thought today I’d do a deep dive into effective ways to create a schedule that works when you have flexibility in your hours.

If you are a person who has a pretty rigid schedule of hours but you have flexibility in WHAT you do or the order in which you do your work, I think you’ll find something in this episode, too. Meaning, you know you’re working from 8-4, but what you do in those hours in relatively flexible, there’s strategy and support in this episode for you, too.

So let’s dive in.

Why Are Schedules So Important Anyway?

Before we start diving into strategy, I think it’s important to first get clarity on the benefits of having some type of schedule generally. Many people choose their type of career path or jobs they do because of the flexibility, so why would they want to create structure around it?

And I hear you. Many of us love thinking about the freedom that comes with flexible hours.

But what I’ve found for myself and many clients is that without any kind of schedule – even if it’s relatively loose/not so rigid – if we don’t have that structure, we have no boundaries. And when we don’t have boundaries, I tend to see two different things happen.

First, some of us tell ourselves we’ll get to the thing “later.” But when we keep telling ourselves this story, later never comes. And since later never comes, we ultimately don’t get the work done. We keep pushing it off to focus on something else that seems more engaging or rewarding or urgent in the moment.

We’ve all had this happen at some time or another, right? Gretchen Rubin often says the phrase, “things that can get done at any time often get done at no time.”

I think she’s right. So for some of us, if we don’t have any kind of schedule, can slip into that “no time” trap.

On the other hand – and what I’ve seen to be the main obstacle for my clients and the people in our busy-awesome community is the exact opposite. When we don’t have a strict time to work on things, we’ll end up working all the time.

We might push ourselves to answer one more email, take on one more project, or one more client.

We fill our downtime or rest time with work, whether that’s procrastiworking and busy work or big projects that move the needle. Either way, we feel like we’re constantly “on,” running on this hamster wheel, and feeling overworked, overtired, and tipping toward burnout.

In other words…

When we don’t have a schedule of when we want to do our work, it’s easy for the brain – especially if we’re working from home – to think we should work all the time. Or we tell ourselves, “I should be working right now.” Or “I can just squeeze in an extra hour on Saturday.” Rather than knowing the times you want to work and the times you want to rest.

How To Create a Flexible Work Schedule

work schedule on phone

1. Remember The 9-5 Doesn’t Work for Everyone

Now here’s the deal. Those of us who have flexibility in our schedules often think we need to stick with the traditional hours of 9-5.

That was certainly the case for me. When I was a professor, I technically only had to teach my classes on Tuesdays and Fridays. I had several different meetings and office hours on the other days. But I also had pockets of open time meant for research and class prep and grading and writing.

I remember when I first set up my schedule thinking to myself that I had to work from 8:00 until 5:00 every day. When I thought about having a full-time job, that was the type of schedule I knew. So that’s the schedule I created for myself.

In fact, as I’m sharing this, I’m remembering when I first went to college and had to create my first schedule. I ended up creating a schedule that was very much like my schedule in high school. I had classes starting early in the day and going until about three or four in the afternoon Monday-Friday.

Then, I compared my schedule with my best friend Megan’s, and hers looked completely different. I was so surprised because she had intentionally created a schedule where she had a day or two completely open and the rest were quite packed. This concept didn’t even cross my mind. It would have never dawned on me to play the “rules” of a school schedule that I’d known since Kindergarten.

This is where the cognitive flexibility of an ADHD brain comes in. Not all ADHD brains are this way, of course, but many of us struggle with flexible thinking. If we know established rules, we might have a hard time thinking outside of them.

Again, in both cases of establishing a work schedule and a school schedule, it didn’t even occur to me that I could create a schedule in a different way from what I’d seen or done before until I was shown the possibility. And then my brain ran with the idea.

I bring this up as a reminder that you can make your own rules.

And especially if you’re a freelancer or business owner – you do not have to adhere to a traditional nine to five or eight to four. You don’t have to adhere to Monday through Friday. Maybe you prefer to hold your work hours Wednesday through Sunday and you get your weekend on Monday and Tuesday when everything is much less busy and packed.

In other words, just because Henry Ford decided that a 40-hour work week was a great idea back in 1926, that doesn’t mean that you have to stick with it nearly 100 years later. Especially if it’s not the best for you and your brain. Because the 9 to 5 schedule is not the best fit for everybody. And this is true both in terms of total hours worked and WHEN you work your hours.

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2. Are You A Morning Person Or Night Owl?

As you start thinking about how many hours you want to work and when you want to work them, it can be really helpful to consider when you work best. This is one of the important areas I love to explore with my clients.

  • Thinking about the different types of work you do, when are your best hours to do them?
  • Are you more of a morning person or a night owl?
  • Do you get a boost of creativity at night? Do you think clearest in the early morning?
  • When do you do your best work?

Taking some time to think about when you do your best work, when you feel your sharpest, when you’re most creative, when you’re most analytical etc., can help inform the schedule or structure that works best for your brain.

Work Schedule Examples

If you like the idea of an 8-hour day, but you know you do better in the afternoon and evening, maybe you shift your day to start later with an 11-7 schedule and a mid-afternoon break.

If you tend to crash in the afternoon, you can do your focused analytical work in the morning. Then you take a break from work in the afternoon to attend a class or meet friends for coffee and you come back to your work for some creative flow in the evening.

Heck, maybe you absolutely love working early mornings, and you want to work 6 hours 6 days a week and you work from 6:00-12:00 with the rest of the day for you.

There’s no right or wrong option.

The most effective thing you can do is understand what schedule works best for you and your brain, and then find ways to reflect that with your day-to-day scheduling as much as possible.

3. Identify Your Priorities And Tasks For The Day

Now as we begin clarifying our best hours for work, we also want to take into account our priorities, which is a topic we spend a few weeks on in my group program, We’re Busy Being Awesome. Because let’s face it, identifying what our most important tasks are can be a challenge because everything seems urgent on some level.

But here’s what’s also true. If we tell ourselves that everything is important, then it’s equally true that nothing is important. So we want to challenge ourselves to create clarity around our priorities for the day, week, and month ahead.

If you are scheduling out your week you can do the following:

1. Start by asking yourself the question that I’ve shared on this podcast before from the work of Gary Keller. And his question is, “what is the one thing that I could do this week that would make everything else easier or unnecessary?” I love asking myself this question whenever I’m identifying my top priority for my long-term goal or focus time for that week.

2. Look at projects or tasks that have a clear deadline. Make note of when they are due, and break down the steps so I can map out how much time I want to allow for each one before that due date.

That way you know you’re making time for both your long-game goal, plus the projects and tasks that are due in the shorter term.

Other questions you can ask yourself include:

  • What are the appointments in my schedule that don’t have a flexible time?
  • If I could only do one thing today, what would it be? This answer is usually a portion of my “one thing” for the week.
  • If I could only do two things today, what would the second thing be?
  • If I could only do three things today, what would the third thing be?
  •  What on my list is an urgent distraction vs. what has long-term impact?
  •  Is this going to matter in 3-5 years?
  • What can I say no to today?
  •  What is a project that’s 80-90% done? What can I do to complete it today or this week?
  • What can I delegate?

Once you’ve gotten clear on your priorities, and you know when you have specific calls or appointments that can’t be moved, you can build your projects into your day at the times that work best for your focus and energy levels.

Again, prioritization is a very real obstacle for the ADHD brain, so if you’re often thinking to yourself, there’s so much to do and I don’t know where to start. Or you look at your list and everything is equally on fire, We’re Busy Being Awesome could be an awesome support for you.

It’s my small group program designed specifically for ADHD brains to drop their perfectionism, take action, and get things done. You can head to the link in the show notes to read more and sign up for a call with me. We can talk through your goals and make sure the program’s a great fit. The next group is enrolling now and I’d love welcome you in there. So if you notice yourself navigating what we’re talking about in this episode, do check it out.

Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.

4. Make Space for Overflow Time

One of the most important strategies I can offer with scheduling is to leave room for overflow time – especially as you figure out how long it takes to complete different tasks.

IAnd in fact, whether you have a traditional nine to five or more flexible work hours, I highly recommend adhering to this concept of overflow time.

As I’ve mentioned many times on the podcast, a lot of us deal with time blindness. We aren’t sure how long tasks will take, especially if they are new to us. So when we first create our schedules, we tend to underestimate how long tasks will take.

This is where overflow time comes in.

We want to make sure that we allow enough space in our daily and weekly schedule for disruptions in our plan, unanticipated snags or tech issues, kids home from school, etc.

If you happen to finish the work and don’t need the overflow time, great! You can either call it a day or work ahead on something else. But if you’re anything like me, especially when it comes to new tasks, we end up using that overflow time more often than not. And you will thank your past self for building it into the calendar so you’re not always feeling so time-crunched.

5. Create A Work Plan with Boundaries For Efficient Time Management

Other ways that we can support ourselves in creating effective schedules include setting clear boundaries on specific tasks in your job.

Limit Time Spent in Inbox & Communication Tools

Limiting the time you spend in your inbox, Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc to specific times of the day can be really effective in helping ensure you’re using your time as effectively as possible.

You don’t need me to tell you that communication spaces like Slack, email, and all social media platforms are rabbit holes. They are these vortexes where time manages to slip by at the speed of light.

When we create time boundaries around when we check our inbox and how long we spend in it, it helps create some structure in our day. Plus it helps ensure we don’t spend the majority of our precious time writing and rewriting sentences in that e-mail to your boss or describing your offer in that social media post.

Try Batch Working

Another great way to efficiently use your time is through batch working. As I talk about way back in episode 43 of the podcast, batch working is essentially grouping tasks together in a theme so you don’t divide your attention so much. This can make a big difference in enhancing our focus because it’s reducing the level of task switching each day.

For example, you might spend the morning writing blog posts or social media content and dedicate the afternoon to administrative work. Maybe you have certain days for client-facing work while alternate days focus on the back end of your business or marketing.

When I was a professor, I had days dedicated to teaching and student-centered work and days dedicated specifically to my own research and writing. In other words, grouping like activities together for longer stretches of time reduces the amount of task switching in turn keeping your mind focused on the same subject matter for a longer period of time.

You don’t have to work so hard in that uncomfortable zone of “getting into the work.”

6. Understanding The Importance Of Taking Breaks

woman stretching at desk

That said, a good work schedule isn’t just about the work you put in at your desk. We also want to ensure we’re balancing that work with breaks. As I often try to remind us on the podcast, we are humans, not robots.

We are not the Energizer Bunny. We do need to recharge.

We can do this by balancing our work hours with mental breaks. And as the theme of this podcast goes, the secret is in finding what breaks feel good for you. You can think about these breaks on both the micro and macro scale.

On the micro-scale, this might be using the Pomodoro technique of 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off or 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off. It could be working for two or three hours of focused work with a couple of shorter breaks followed by 30-60 minutes of stepping away from the screen completely, going for a stroll, listening to some music, or calling up a friend.

As I mentioned in my example earlier, maybe you find that you work really effectively and quickly in the early morning around 6:00 or 7:00 am, but after lunch, it’s really a battle to stay focused. If that’s the case, maybe three or four days out of the week, you don’t return to work in the afternoon.

Since you’ve arranged your schedule to work with your effective morning hours, you’re able to complete more in a few hours in the morning than you could in an entire afternoon of work.

Knowing this about you and your work style is really important.

On the flip side, my husband, Ryan, is a musician. And he’s often playing shows until one or two in the morning. Because he’s a night owl, his most productive hours don’t really kick in until around one or two in the afternoon. That’s the time that’s best for him.

Knowing this, he doesn’t try to fit himself within the box of a nine-to-five schedule – that’s not what’s best for his brain. Instead, by honoring what works best for him and shifting his schedule a bit later, he allows himself to get enough sleep in the morning, he’s able to effectively complete his work, get enough rest, and have time for relaxation and downtime in the later evening.

When we can drop the “should” of when we think we “should” work and instead choose the hours that work best for us in a time that works with our priorities and commitments, that’s the best strategy for creating an effective flexible schedule.

7. Make The Most Of The End Of The Day

As I alluded to earlier, one of the biggest mental games when it comes to working more flexible hours is knowing when to turn off for the day or the week. It’s challenging to leave work at work when we don’t clock out of a building, hop in our cars, and leave the work behind us.

And because we don’t mentally switch off from work, we might find ourselves picking up extra tasks or tweaking and perfecting, trying to make everything just right before we send the work to our client or boss, post the offer online, or submit the article to the editor.

We start burning the candle later and later into the night, using up our energy stores, until we hit burnout.

This is why I think the final key component to an effective flexible schedule is using a shutdown routine, which I talked about back in episode 119.

How Do You Shutdown?

The idea of shutting down after work is often easier said than done. So, it’s often helpful to create a clear, simple shutdown routine that you can stick with most days.

For example, a routine might look like:

  1. reviewing what you’ve completed for the day and celebrating each check on the list
  2. noticing the urge to do “just a little more” on those tasks left undone
  3. rather than giving into the urge, allow yourself to prioritize them the next day while mapping out your schedule for the next day
  4. tidying up your desk so you have a clean slate to start the next day
  5. creating space for transition out of work and into relaxation mode by either going for a walk, making a cup of tea, journaling, or changing out of your work clothes etc.

By acknowledging the work you completed and planning the work that’s left to do, giving yourself a clean start the next day, and allowing for transition time, you allow yourself to shift into a different gear to fully enjoy the rest and relaxation you deserve at the end of the workday, whenever those flexible hours end for YOU.

8. Don’t Be Afraid To Adapt Your Routine

As a final reminder, which I’ll never stop saying, please know that there is no perfect schedule that works for everyone all of the time.

Heck, this is why overtime exists in the 9-5 world. NOBODY is a robot. We all have ebbs and flows in energy, days when our focus is less than stellar, and times when we completely miscalculate how much time we need for a project.

Nothing’s gone wrong. Welcome to being human. It’s messy sometimes. And that’s okay.

We can make adjustments or shifts as needed and we don’t need to beat ourselves up for it. It’s all a process of iteration. Plus, this is the beauty of a flexible schedule, you CAN be flexible on those days when your executive functions skip work without giving you a heads up.

To Recap

Give yourself space to play with what works best for you. Get curious about when you feel the most focused and the hours of the day you enjoy working. Get clear on your priorities, make room for overflow time, and try batching your schedule to reduce the drag of task switching, incorporate breaks in a way that feels good for you.

Also, make use of a shutdown routine to help your brain switch off of work and on to the rest of your life.

Alright, my friends, that’s going to do it for us this week. If you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and apply them to your life, as well as support your ADHD in a way that works for YOU within a small, supportive community, check out my group coaching program, We’re Busy Being Awesome.

Also, have you grabbed the podcast roadmap yet? It has the most popular IBBA podcast episodes all detailed for you so you can get yourself up to speed and ready to work with your ADHD brain, you can grab it now!

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

We’ll be enrolling for the next group beginning in September, so be sure to add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know when enrollment opens…

Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.

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