Why the time of day matters for neuro-divergent people

When I got on that Zoom call with my neurodiversity coach that day, I was defeated. I felt like a failure, I felt like an imposter. I really thought that there was no way I could be a true professional because I couldn’t get things done. No matter how many to-do lists I had, no matter how good I was about blocking time off on my calendar, I still struggled to get the important tasks done. I found myself in a panic in the middle of the night, knowing that something was due the next day. I really felt like maybe I just couldn’t work in a professional capacity. So when my coach and I started talking, we discovered that it wasn’t my ability to do these tasks that were the problem, it was when I was trying to do them. The way my schedule had worked itself out is that I had my biggest chunk of focus time available for projects in the afternoon. I would block off that time religiously, I would list out all the things I needed to accomplish, and still, I just couldn’t bring myself to get the work done. Now, I know that many neuro-divergent people, we struggle with executive function and time management. I really think that’s why the advice of, “Oh, just make a to-do list” doesn’t work for so many of us, because it doesn’t take into account all of the things that affect a neuro-divergent brain every day. For example, using energy to mask in order to fit into a neurotypical work environment tends to be very draining.

Many of us actually experience crashes throughout the day at different points. These can be affected by things like caffeine or food, but for many of us, they are just a part of our life and something we need to take into account when it comes to getting things done. There are so many things for the neuro-divergent person that affect our ability to initiate tasks, to focus, to process information, to have the mental capacity to have any sort of attention to detail, and just not have that overwhelming fatigue that can occur in so many situations. So what we decided to do was to examine my week and look at when I tended to have the most success in getting things done. And what we discovered was, as much as I hated it, mornings were really the best time for me. I didn’t really have a problem getting out of bed, getting ready, doing my morning thing then coming over to the computers, sitting down, and diving into work. Later on in the day, however, I even struggled to do things that I wanted to do. So for many of us, things like playing video games and watching movies are totally enjoyable, but in those periods of time during the day when we’re really, really drained, those won’t even be accomplished. So if I can’t get the energy together to turn on the TV to watch 30 minutes of rebels, I am probably not going to be able to ever do that TPS report.

So we took the time in the morning, blocked it off, I committed to getting up one hour earlier every day, and I used that time to get my important work done, and lo and behold, it was a success. I was able to accomplish those tasks like exercising or getting work projects done that I had struggled with before, and I felt so much better that I didn’t have those things hanging over my head. So I encourage anyone, but especially neuro-divergent people to figure out what time of day does work best for you. Take a week and pay attention to the patterns that emerge. There is an excellent chance that you are going to have times of day that pop out as times when you struggle the least, times when you are most likely to have some executive function points left to take on a new project, or that you are most likely to be fired and energized, other times when you are most likely to be fatigued or to experience a crash, and then set yourself up for success in the best way possible. Make sure that you have time allocated for your important tasks during those important golden times of day when you’re most energized. If you do get work done at other points in the day, that’s great, that’s a bonus, but make sure those special times are reserved for the biggies, things you absolutely have to get done.

I encourage you to remember that you’re not lazy, you’re certainly not stupid, you’re not an impostor, you just need to figure out what works well with your brain. So take a week, figure out your patterns, and find your good time of day. You might be a night owl. Maybe 11 PM is your golden time, you might find that afternoon just after lunch is when your mind can really get going. For me, it’s the morning. So whatever it is, find out what works for you. And it’s all okay, you’re fine. And as much as I hate to say it and I probably won’t be smiling, I just might catch you in the morning.