Virtual Assistants and ADHD: Benefits and Considerations

The Marketing Team

People with ADHD in the workplace are presented with various challenges that often prove difficult to overcome. This article explores how virtual assistants can help them deal with these and what they need to keep in mind when employing virtual assistants.

For many of us, the feeling of being overwhelmed by work, or of forgetting our obligations entirely, might just be momentary lapses in what are otherwise full and productive lives.   But for some, these represent terrible loads ever weighing upon their minds.  Such is the case of those with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or ADD (attention deficit disorder), the vast majority of whom suffer from what has now been termed “executive dysfunction.”  Put simply, executive functions are those cognitive and mental abilities that drive people’s action towards long-term goals:  time management, planning, self-control, task initiation, and so forth.  With severe impairments to their executive functioning, people with ADHD are, according to a 2008 study, 30% more likely to have terminal employment issues, 60% more likely to have their employment terminated, and three times more likely to leave their job out of impulse. 

If you have ADHD, you may be familiar with the all-too-common sight of a fridge left empty by the intimidating presence of grocery shopping, or of heaps upon heaps of mess piling up in your room from negligence.  You are also probably well-acquainted, too, with the experience of going hungry from forgetting to cook, of missing crucial deadlines because the tasks themselves collectively slipped from your mind, of injuring relationships, professional and friendly alike, by inadvertently neglecting texts and emails, of being sucked into one fixation or another to the detriment of your duties, and so on.  If this is so, then you would also be aware of how damaging and alienating these habits are.  Either you’re trudging through life with band-aid solutions here and there, or you’ve used one of your genie wishes to disappear your problems and make you an immortal super-being.

The truth is that there’s no permanent “solution” to ADHD or neurodivergence in general.  We’re not even sure if such a “solution” is desirable in the first place;  would it really be moral or productive to wipe out what diversity there is in how humans think and act?  Is the onus on the neurodivergent to conform with the mores and standards of neurotypical society or is it instead society’s responsibility to serve the individual needs of its people?  Whatever the case, the fact remains that to have ADHD in today’s world is an immense and toilsome struggle.  Fortunately, though, our modern hyper-connectivity through the Internet has made it so that it is now far easier for information about ADHD to be shared, for genuine communities around it to be formed, and for help to be sought.  

One of the biggest things that help with ADHD, outside of professional therapy or prescribed drugs, is a body double.  Body doubles are essentially people who stay beside the ADHD sufferer to keep them concentrated on a task and cut down any potential distractions.  Usually, you’d have to actually find someone who’d be willing to set aside a good chunk of their time to be with you in a physical space and get you to finish your work.  But with the Internet, people have found ways to do the same thing but digitally.  Productivity calls, for instance, allow both people to work on things while also keeping each other accountable.  

Of course, there are still limitations to what friends and strangers online can do to help.  They might help you concentrate, sure, but what about all those other things you find deplorable?  Answering emails, doing uninteresting research, planning for trips, organising grocery lists, etc.?  That’s where virtual assistants come into the picture.  

What a virtual assistant can do for you

  1. Body doubling

    Finding it difficult to even get through the act of cooking a meal?  Your virtual assistant can help by going on a call with you and being virtually present as you trudge through the task.  They could also make it less of a slog by engaging in light banter, giving cooking tips and tricks, and pepping you up on the whole.  You could apply this to any other seemingly excruciating obligation, be it cleaning your room, clearing out your fridge, folding your clothes, and many, many others. 

  2. Delegating tasks

    There are those tasks that, though they only take 5 minutes are most, seem impossibly daunting. These are the items that often end up in that graveyard of unchecked boxes: your to-do list. Such is the mystery of the ADHD mind that the simple act of taking the trash out seems as daunting as climbing Everest. In the words of Dr. Russell Barkley, a specialist in the study of ADHD, “It is not that the individual does not know what to do. It is that somehow it does not get done.”

    If a task is too overwhelming for you, there’s no shame in delegating it to your virtual assistant, as long as it is within the bounds of their ability and time. And no, this isn’t an admission of sloth or impotence, but rather a mature acknowledgment of your own limitations and the skills of others. As a bonus, delegation also allows you more time to focus on the work and hobbies that you actually care about. This is especially true considering how much time is wasted by negligence; it takes infinitely more time to clean whatever waste was left by a pet than it does to just take it for a walk.

  3. Reminding you of deadlines

    Other tasks are easy and doable enough—if you could actually remember their existence.  Unfortunately, as you are probably well-aware of from experience, it’s hard to remember what’s due on what date when you have ADHD.  Thankfully, it’s no big deal to ask your virtual assistant to give you a ring or send you a text reminding you of deadlines and other things which you might have forgotten.  It’s up to you to provide them with a list of what you’d like to be reminded of.

  4. Planning for tasks and events

    With almost any project, the greatest difficulty lies in commencing the effort and keeping that effort up unto the very end.  Having a plan, even if it’s a crude one, lightens this burden immensely.  Sometimes, however, the act of planning itself can be cause for reluctance, particularly when the project for which you are planning turns out to not be very interesting at all. 

    The same can be said of planning for trips.  The dizzying array of places to visit, routes to take, deals to avail, and people to meet are just that—dizzying.  Having your virtual assistant take care of planning for these would enable you to make the most out of both work and leisure without the cloud of uncertainty constantly hanging over your head.  

  5. Handling communication

    Your innocent forgetfulness or communication fatigue may be mistaken for malice or ill intent.  While this is bad for kith and kin, it is even worse for work, as deadlines and orders from the higher-ups usually trump whatever understanding your colleagues may have for you and your condition.  A virtual assistant could help sort out your issues with communication by drafting email replies for you to later check and revise, reminding you to keep in touch with people, and pointing out social cues and tones which you’re prone to forget.

  6. Doing research

    When doing research, there are three scenarios:  either you love the subject and end up doing far too much than what is required and exhausting yourself, you don’t care much for the subject and eventually have your attention diverted someplace else, or you positively hate the subject and quit it in exasperation.  None of these are ideal.  Your virtual assistant can do research that’s just adequate, and for most work projects, that’s more than enough (contradiction, yes, but you get it).

  7. Technical whatchamacallit 

    Some people with ADHD hyperfixate on technology to the extent that they’re able to make careers out of it.  But a good deal of them don’t, and consequently face a lifetime of struggling with mscvp140.dll errors and frozen screens. Fear not, however, as you may just be saved from this pitiable lot by a virtual assistant with enough tech savvy to handle your graphic designs, video editing, social media, and presentations for you.

  8. Helping manage finances

    This is a more touchy topic, as not everyone’s comfortable with having another person involve themselves in their finances. But even if you are that privacy-concerned type, a virtual assistant can still help by finding you good coupons and deals online, keeping you accountable with how you spend your hard-earned money, reminding you of what’s essential to buy and what isn’t, and so forth.  If you aren’t too opposed to your virtual assistant take on a greater role in managing your finances, then they can help with your personal budget, bookkeeping, paying bills, and much more.

A few considerations

  1. What exactly do you want from your virtual assistant?  This is an important consideration, as it determines what the precise nature of your relationship with your virtual assistant would be.  Do you intend on simply having a regular body double or do you desire a full-on assistant to help get your life in order?  Whatever your resolution may be, ensure that you arrived at it through sound reasoning and are prepared to stand by it.

  2. Don’t stress over little things.  Mulling things over is good, but overthinking things to the point of anxiety is not.  Any virtual assistant worth their salt (read: all of us here at OkayRelax) knows what they’re doing and doesn’t need to be tutored on every little detail.  As long as you’re clear about what it is you need doing, then you should be fine.

  3. Respect your and your virtual assistant’s boundaries.  If you’re uncomfortable with having your virtual assistant pry into certain aspects of your life and work, then communicate this to them.  They’ll understand this immediately.  On the other hand, if they’re uncomfortable with a task for personal reasons, then the onus is on you to show them some understanding.

  4. Speaking of understanding, you must also understand that your virtual assistant is a human, not an all-powerful, all-knowing AI.  Don’t treat them like they are.  As best as you can, treat them as you would a dear comrade or friend: with respect for their dignity and an acceptance of their very human imperfections.  Not only will this make for a more amicable working relationship, it will also allow them to understand your condition better and find ways to account for that.

  5. Finally, don’t be a cheapskate.  While there is no harm in trying to save money, skimping out on a virtual assistant by employing the unqualified, underaged, or inexperienced, or by denying them what they’re owed, will only being forth more stress for the both of you in the end.  With trusted companies like OkayRelax, you can rest easy that your virtual assistant is paid for what they’re worth and will accordingly do sterling work for you.