Work from home is a part of our lives now. Many jobs offer either a fully remote, or hybrid model of work that provides unique challenges for those who struggle with executive functions. In this blog, we will go over how working from home provides unique challenges with executive function demands.
Inhibitory controls are the brain’s ability to choose what to pay attention to and what to ignore. Our brains are constantly selecting what is relevant or not. Focus is limited, so our brains are constantly shifting that focus based on our inhibitory controls. Working from home has a whole host of new stimuli that can distract us from getting our work done. When working in an office, you may go to make a cup of coffee and quickly return to your desk. At home, you can attempt the same task and be distracted by many things. Maybe you see that you didn’t do the dishes last night and decide to do them while waiting for your coffee. The same tasks that you used to do in the office can now have multiple hurdles to overcome. What if you have a family? A three-year-old who wants food can be much more important than answering a few emails. These unique challenges require unique solutions, and finding these solutions tap into another executive function: cognitive flexibility.
Cognitive Flexibility is the ability to change what you are thinking about, how you are thinking about it, and what you think about it. Cognitive flexibility is an important executive function because it is key in adapting away from strategies that are not working. It also helps us approach problems from different angles. Work from home challenges our cognitive flexibility because strategies that you used in an office may not work as well to working from home. Adapting your habits and strategies that worked in the office can be difficult. This can be even more challenging in a hybrid model, because you need two sets of strategies for two different work environments.
Shifting is the ability to ‘change gears’ in our brains to do something different to accomplish a task. Shifting can occur in our attention, processing, and action. We can shift what we are focusing on in, how we think about what we are focusing on, or what we are doing in response to what we are thinking about. When you are in an office, you typically are shifting only between various work tasks. Working from home mixes together all your work tasks with tasks that are personal and home based. This ties in with inhibitory controls, because there may be temptation to shift towards these personal and home based tasks. In general, shifting is a process that takes energy and effort, so it is important to try and limit how much shifting you do in order to maintain efficiency.
Working from home provides a set of challenges that many of us have not encountered previously. Executive function strategies can help us navigate these new problems, but the key to success is knowing yourself. Identifying what the challenges are is half the battle. Once you’ve identified where inefficiencies are in your day, then you can begin to build in strategies to confront them.
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