Work to Home – 7 Strategies for a Smooth Transition


Clock Reading Five O’Clock

What happens in that space between leaving work and stepping in the door at home? Are you able to shut off work and quickly transition to the dog, kids, and dinner or do you feel more like the two halves of your brain are constantly competing for attention?

Creating a time and/or space for yourself to transition from work to home can help you feel more balanced and under control. Here are seven strategies that can help you make a smoother transition from work to home.

1. Create boundaries around your time. Decide on your quitting time. If you are at work outside of the home it could be about leaving at 5pm. If you are at home, it could be whatever time the kids get home from school. Pick whatever time works for you that allows you to physically and mentally leave your work behind.

2. Set a routine for leaving work that allows you to clear your mind and prepare for the next day. Use sticky notes to remind you of the next action on that project. Set an alarm to remind you 30 minutes ahead of time so you can tie up any loose ends and set yourself up for tomorrow. Even if you work from home or are “at home” you can create a routine that allows you to put away the work side and focus on the family side. Kids transition through bath time, story time or certain night time routines. You can use their transition to set up your own special routine or start yours after they are in bed.

3. Get comfy by switching into stay at home clothes on the days that you can. This tells your brain you are home for the evening.

4. Make an evening plan for yourself. Is there something you would like to get done? Use your child’s homework time as your time to get some paperwork handled or send emails. The kids see that you are available but you are not distracting.

5. Plan tomorrow – what will you wear, what will you eat, what do you need to take with you and what one thing can you do either on your way home or during your lunch that will make you feel good?

6. Get everyone in the family to share one thing that is the best, worst or funniest of their day

7. Lastly, take some time for yourself! What simple thing can you do for yourself that will bring you that sense of pleasure? Turn off the TV, skim that magazine, read that book or have a conversation with your spouse over a glass of ________.

Whatever you do, making a concentrated effort to give yourself some time to make that transition from work and the stress of the commute home to your family will benefit all.

Hocus Pocus Focus!

fairyThe ability to focus or to sustain attention involves ignoring distractions and continuing to work even though the task may be boring, tiring or frustrating. This executive function, often called sustained attention, may be impacted by other challenges such as auditory or visual processing problems, working memory challenges or the inability to shift current thought processes when becoming stuck on something. Adults are constantly monitoring themselves and even if distracted by some external cause are often able to get themselves back on track and get the task completed (if it is important to them). Children have much shorter attention spans (they develop as the child grows) and may find it difficult to “push” through to completion.

In children and teens, sustained attention challenges may look like:

  • Taking hours to complete simple homework assignments
  • Incomplete assignments (skipped problems, hurried work, etc.)
  • Jumping from one thing to another
  • Problems with friends due to misunderstandings from not really “hearing” what was said
  • Failure to notice when what they are doing isn’t working and an inability to switch their approach

In adults:

  • Unfinished projects, missed deadlines, incomplete work
  • Extra time needed for tasks (due to distractibility)
  • Multitasking without actually completing anything or completing the less important but more interesting task
  • Difficulty getting through a multistep process

Removing the roadblocks:

1. Distractions can be visual, auditory or cognitive:

  • Clear the clutter or move to another space and be sure to have everything you need before beginning.
  • Work at the library.
  •  Use a tri fold foam board that has been cut in half to create a “focus place” for your child. Add visual reminders.
  • Use noise cancelling headphones or play “focus” music or classical music or white noise. Create a 30 minute play list and allow breaks if they work until the music ends.
  • Keep a notepad nearby and write down any thoughts that interrupt.
  • Keep a beverage and snacks within reach so your body won’t interrupt you.
  • If you still notice difficulty in focusing, set your phone to vibrate or use a motivaider to periodically force you to check that you are on task

2. Start with the end in mind:

  • Picture the end product and then work backwards to determine the steps involved.
  • Have students create a schedule with time estimates for homework and visualize (or sketch out) the finished product.
  • Help your child use their preferred learning style whenever possible.
  • What will be the reward for finishing? Make it motivating!

3. Break it down into smaller parts:

  • Divide the task or homework into bite sized steps so that at least one step can be completed before taking a short break.
  • If you leave a task unfinished, write a note that reminds you of the next step so you can get quickly back to it.
  • Try to determine the length of your child’s attention span and slowly push them to increase it – do the same for yourself.
  • Start with the most challenging piece first and get it over with unless your child needs time to “warm up” to working.

4. Provide incentives:

  • Check in frequently with a positive comment or words of encouragement (no nagging allowed)
  • Use a reward system that motivates.
  • Make the task interesting by making it a game or fun challenge.
  • Provide active breaks

5. Make time visual:

  • Use a visual time timer or have an analog clock within sight.
  • Use a clock with a glass face to highlight with dry erase markers, the homework schedule. Sarah Ward suggests using different colors to block off each subject (great for an hour or less at a time).
  • Online timers work for those using computers. Try Cinnamon software for a talking alarm clock or to keep you on track and off of Facebook.

The ability to maintain attention long enough to get information, or complete a task is important whether you are a student or an adult. Noticing what is getting in the way and dealing with it will go a long way towards increasing your attention and getting things done.

Just Get Started!

procrastination-fortune-cookie-500x300The ability to get started on something is called “task initiation or activation” by the experts on Executive functions (Russell Barkley, Peg Dawson, Thomas Brown, etc). Executive functions are those skills that help us get things done.  Task initiation is just one of these executive skills and it involves the ability to START. Difficulties getting started can be the result of not knowing where to begin, what to do, how to generate ideas or how to problem solve to move forward on something. It differs from procrastination in that it is often not deliberate avoidance but a lack of understanding in knowing what to do to start. It can also show up as a difficulty with transitioning from one activity to another.

In children and teens, task initiation may show up as:

  • Difficulty getting started on homework
  • Struggles with generating ideas for writing
  • Problems with morning and evening routines (often needing excessive prompting to be ready for school)
  • Procrastination or being seen as unmotivated

In adults:

  • Procrastination followed by hyperfocus to meet deadlines
  • Projects that never get started
  • Unpaid or late bills, missed deadlines, and feelings of guilt

Removing the roadblocks:

1. Is the environment getting in the way?

If your space is cluttered or you can’t find what you need to get going on something then it is time to take care of that. You end up expending more energy just looking for what you need to get started that by the time you do that, you don’t have the energy or inclination to continue.
Declutter your work space, set up materials you use often in easily accessible places. Rulers, scissors, pens and pencils fit nicely in a mug on the desk.
Set up colored plastic folders or boxes to hold all pieces of an ongoing project.
Take everything out of the backpack and pile the “to do” items on the left and as you complete them move them to the right.

2.  Are you not sure what to do?

Get help understanding what is expected (call a friend or coworker).
Break it down into smaller pieces and pick one piece to start.
Work with a friend (use them as a body double to get you started).
Have someone tell you what to work on.
Use a graphic organizer.
Start with the end in mind. Sketch out what it will look like when completed and work backwards to determine the first few steps. 

3. Nudges, pokes and jabs:

Visual timers, alarms, and phone reminders all serve to designate a start time if you use them.
Set the sleep timer or automatic shut off on your TV, or use to help shut down other distractions so you can get started on the important things.
Set false deadlines for yourself or have someone else set them for you. Put your cellphone in another room and don’t check it until you have worked 30 minutes. Use a timer here so you are not constantly checking how much time has passed. 
Make a deal with someone that you know has your best interests at heart and ask them to help you get started.

 4. Routines

Create a basic week plan so that you know what day you will do what.
Students set up a routine for your homework with a break, snack and start time. Then work for 30-45 minutes before taking another break.
Start with the easiest to build momentum.
Meet your friends at the library to do homework together.
Create a mnemonic that helps you get ready to begin and use it daily.
Create a play list for the length of time before you need to start and use it daily. The more you listen to it, the more your body and brain will get the message that it is time to get to work as soon as this is over.

5. If you still can’t….

Just start, after about ten minutes you will get into it.
Create a mind map or draw out what you need to do. Use colors and shapes to help your brain remember them and pick one.
If you are really procrastinating on something, stop and consider, “What is the worst that could happen if I don’t do this?” If it’s not too serious, then let it go or delegate it. 

Often times looming deadlines, promises to others and fear of failure will push adults to complete a task they have been putting off. Many students though are not motivated by deadlines, grades or loss of privileges. They need help in learning what is preventing them from getting started and help designing a strategy that will work for them.


What is an Executive Function?

080814-brainThe term “executive function” or “executive dysfunction” refers to those skills that are used to “get things done” and to “manage oneself” and they are often associated with ADHD/ADD.  They develop in the precortex of the brain which is in the front forehead area and damage to this area can also impact the executive functions.

I once heard it explained as the skills that a secretary or administrative assistant would handle for an executive. Those things like making sure appointments and schedules were made and kept, projects kept moving, tasks completed, etc. You may have heard it described as the conductor of an orchestra who can come in and transform the racket of multiple instruments tuning up into a beautiful symphony. Here is a more formal definition:

The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Taken from: Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel (2008)

Why is this important? If your child has a weakness in one or more of the executive functions with or without ADHD then it might show up as:

  • Spending hours on homework but be unable to find it when it is time to hand it in
  • Last minute projects that take hours and change course several times
  • Inability to sit down and get started on homework
  • Messy backpacks and notebooks with papers hanging out everywhere
  • Unaware of upcoming tests so fails to study and fails the test

As an adult:

  • Late fees on overdue bills, extra trips to the store for forgotten items, running out of gas
  • Missed appointments and deadlines
  • Difficulty organizing the process of steps for projects and reports
  • Clutter and disorganization due to ineffective or missing household systems

Although the authorities agree on what executive functions are, they do not appear to agree on names for the individual skills that are delayed (up to 3 years according to Russell Barkley). For example, the terms “activation” and “task initiation” basically mean the ability to get started. Kids with this weak skill may have difficulty getting up and out the door in the morning and/or working on homework. Each skill impacts several areas of their life. Over the summer I will be exploring several of these executive function skills and providing some strategies to help strengthen them. So, please check back often.

Thanks for reading!



What Did You Learn Last Year?

Now is the time to review the last school year with your child and use that knowledge for the upcoming year. You’re looking for the “best practices” – those things that worked really well both at home and at school and that you would like to see continue next year.

If your child has ADHD do you think the teacher clearly understood ADHD and were they helpful in providing strategies for school and home? What were the skills the teacher had that you feel benefitted your child? Good teachers have excellent class management strategies, and are organized so that there is little “down time” in between activities. Teachers are flexible and use positive rather than negative reinforcements. They encourage and stimulate your child’s creative abilities. Teachers that do not understand the neurobiology of ADHD tend to have the opposite effect on children – they dislike school, do poorly and it becomes a struggle all year long.

First, how would you rate this year on a scale of one to five? How would your child rate it? What would make it a five? Think about those things and create your own list together to use for the new school year. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Homework strategies:

Do your child’s grades correspond to the amount of time they spent on homework?

Did they work right up until bedtime?

Did they “multitask” between homework and Facebook?

How much is too much time? (Most towns go by the 10 minute per grade rule – check the handbook)

Routines: Would you give yourself an A or an F?

Updating a master calendar for the family weekly

Having meals planned ahead of time (so you can all eat together)

Making sure your child has time to be a “kid” each day

Preparing for the next day the night before

Weekly backpack clean out and a “get ready” for the week

Things to think about for next year

After school commitments – was your child overbooked?

(Could or would you keep the same kind of schedule?)

How much sleep does your child get? (Teens need between 8.5 and 11 hours)

Are mornings rushed? What can you do to reduce that?

If you do this and plan the beginning of the year using it, you can avoid falling back on some old habits that can creep in if you’re not careful. Together you can make it a great year. For now, enjoy the summer.

Homework Hassles

I can still remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. My son, frustrated at my hovering over his homework, looked up and said, “Mom, you are on me like a shirt!”

I was shocked! I thought I was being helpful. In retrospect, I was doing the opposite. I wasn’t allowing him to learn on his own, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, to become responsible and accountable to his teacher (rather than to me), or to learn self discipline. I was preventing him from learning all the skills I thought I was “teaching” him.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to be supportive of your child if they are having difficulty with their homework. Helping them problem solve without giving them the answers by getting them to “think aloud” through the process they went through can get them to figure out the next steps on their own.

The problems arise when we let our emotions get in the way of our relationship with our child. If your child has ADD/ADHD or executive function challenges then you face the added challenges of getting them to start their homework or to stick with it long enough to finish. This often leads to tension and frustration for both of you and ends up being worse than the homework itself.

Whether your child is in elementary, middle or high school, you want them to succeed and often that means trying to support them without nagging or helping them too much. As parents we get caught up in the “getting it done” mode and not the” how can we make this easier so it doesn’t happen again” mode. For example, by not teaching your child how to plan out a project but instead making his attempt to redeem himself at the last moment rather unpleasant. Then it should be no surprise that he will associate anger, frustration, and aggravation with a long term project that given the right circumstances, he might have actually enjoyed. End result: nothing learned.

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone else could teach them how to plan out that project and get it done ahead of time or learn how to study for a test so that a good grade was practically guaranteed? I don’t think it can be a parent because we are too close and too emotionally involved to be neutral. But a program that systematically teaches skills that are needed to be successful in school directly to your tween or teen through daily email lessons, now that is…..brilliant!

Watch for the launch of our new E-Learning Homework Course coming soon at: