We spoke with Aniko Dunn about volunteering, using simple tools for planning, and reducing distractions. Aniko is a licensed Psy.D. working for EZCare Clinic, which offers walk-in and online healthcare services for stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD/ADD treatments, and diagnosis. Read along for an insightful interview full of great tips.
Thank you so much for joining our interview series! Before we get started, we would love to “get to know you” a bit better. What is your ‘backstory’, and how did you get started?
I grew up in Utah. From childhood, I loved to read, meditate, and learned a few essential skills for gardening from my parents. Then I moved to NYC and did my psychology degree from Columbia University in New York City.
Can you share an interesting story or anecdote that happened to you, and which you think helped direct your career?
In my opinion, volunteering for various community projects from an early age has given a healthy boost to my confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. It gave me a sense of pride and recognition. And no matter how well you feel about yourself, you will have a positive outlook on your life and future goals.
Maybe, this is the reason today I am a psychologist and want to help people or communities to live their lives to at fullest.
In a way, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. Is there a person who helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Here I gave credit to my dad, who is a great inspiration for me, and what I am today is only because of him. His guidance and recognition towards life and lessons that he always wanted to teach us about compassion and trust. It’s probably because of him that I chose my profession, which is everything for me. It’s all about serving humanity and people’s lives.
Excellent. Let’s now move on to the core of our interview. For many of us, the pandemic fundamentally altered the way we work. Most notably, many teams have started working remotely, which is very different from the more traditional office environment. In your experience, has this shift negatively impacted people living with ADHD?
Occasionally, remote work can be a good thing for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For one thing, cubicle colleagues or coworkers who make noise to divert your attention are running side by side. But to do your work at home, you need to have good vision, organization and time management skills. Many people with ADHD struggle with remote working, or WFH, even in the best of conditions.
On the other hand, what are some significant benefits of remote work for neurodiverse professionals?
Most people have more control over their home environment than their office setting, and can customize their home office to fit the way their brain processes information. For those who are highly sensitive to sensory information, it can take the form of a natural, isolated environment that eliminates the distractions of home or traditional office.
Others can work better with a background noise surrounded by a cluttered desk and home amenities. It is beneficial to spend more time around family and friends, who may have a more thorough understanding of the person’s nervous instability and have more experience in encouraging the person to grow.
As some organizations make the move toward making these changes permanent, what are some recommendations that you would make for ADHD professionals, particularly those in positions of responsibility?
Working from home can make people dress up, and it can be very beneficial for people with tactile sensitivity. I have some recommendations.
Make a schedule: Set up a work-friendly space even if you do not have children or pets to distract your workday, interruptions can occur in your home. There are TV sets waiting for your favorite shows, cell phones with messages from your friends, and social media sites to explore. To avoid these mines, set up your office in a quiet part of your home.
Use tools to plan and manage: An easy way to stay organized with an old-fashioned daily to-do list. Or keep sticky notes on your laptop to remind you what to do. Hi-tech options include the task management apps and tools available on your smartphone, and computer.
Finally, get in touch: via regular calls, video conferencing, emails, and text.
Drilling down a bit, a common quest among ADHD individuals is finding the ideal daily routine that provides productive focus without neglecting incoming responsibilities as they arrive. What do you think is a good baseline to start planning a good day at work, and at home?
Be organized: If you often spend time figuring out where to start your day, a new organizational approach may be in order. The company helps you to manage activities and time efficiently by eliminating distractions and potential annoyances from your day.
Make a persistent routine: Once you are comfortable maintaining your daily schedule, set up an entire routine that will help your day go smoothly anyway. Make it a habit to place your keys in your entry tray as soon as you walk through the front door. Hang your jacket in the living room before you go into the living room to sit on the couch. Evaluate your behavioral patterns to develop a routine that works for you.
Reduce distractions: When you have a personal or professional task that requires a high level of concentration, reducing distractions can help you keep your focus longer. Clutter and simplify your surroundings at home to eliminate distractions and improve vision.
We are big believers in the power of prioritization. With what frequency do you think someone should review their day-to-day priorities? And what are some good tips for deciding what is your next task, when you can choose among literally hundreds of options?
This is true and thoughtful; The power of prioritization! Priority is usually given to creating an agenda, evaluating tasks, and allocating time, and tasks to bring more value in less time.
- Make a list of all the tasks in one
- Understand your true goals
- Highlight what is needed
- Prioritize based on importance and necessity
On a more personal note, how do you get yourself in the zone for productive work? Any tricks, techniques, or aids that you can share?
I try to keep my mind cluttered free, and avoid distractions at work. For example, I make a distraction list. For instance, whenever a distracting thought pops up, I write it down on a piece of paper or my notepad. It helps me to stay focused, and productive at work.
Always remember: More focus, more workflow, and eventually best results.
At a systemic level, what do you think organizations can do to help employees with ADHD thrive at work, and contribute at the top of their capacity? What are some DOs and DON’Ts?
- Provide a quiet workspace.
- Allow working from home.
- Let staff members take necessary breaks.
- Do not make noise in their office space.
- Do not interrupt/distract them during working hours. Especially when they are in a meeting or on call.
What are some specific tools or techniques that you recommend in order to stay organized and productive? Can you give a concrete example of how to integrate them?
Sure! I call this time boxing method “working in gaps”: Set a timer on your phone for 45 minutes, or ask Siri or Alexa to set a timer for you. During those 45 minutes, without checking your email, social media, or anything else, work hard and focus on the same task. When the timer is off, rest for 15 minutes. Then repeat as required. If 45 minutes seems too long to start, try 15 minutes on and 5 minutes off. Over time, you will increase your concentration and energy.
Getting a bit more serious now. I read about lots of people who went through their young years thinking they were incapable of great work, only to learn as adults about their ADHD. This finding is often liberating, and it enables them to understand how their mind works, and how to best deal with it. What are some red flags for someone who has not been diagnosed, but who suspects they suffer ADHD?
Here are some red flag symptoms that someone may have with ADHD:
- Inability to sit still, especially in a quiet, or calm environment.
- Inability to concentrate on tasks.
- Excessive physical activity.
- Excessive talking.
For someone who ticks some of these boxes, what next steps would you recommend? Read more, or talk to someone? When is it a good time to seek professional help?
Yes, reading books, talking, and sharing your feelings with your friends and family is good, but if your ADHD symptoms interfere with your quality of life in any way, it may be worth bringing them to your doctor or mental health expert.
Ok, we’re winding down now. Something I like to ask everyone: Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson” quote? How has it been relevant to you in your life?
“Life can only be understood backward, But it must be lived forwards.” (Soren Kierkegaard)
I relate this simple thought to my life. Always learn from the past, analyze it, study everything, so that you can learn more about yourself, others, your occupation, and your compassion. However, when it comes to the future, always trust yourself.
Finally, my favorite part of the interview, the “rapid-fire” session! (Tiny answers for tiny questions.)
- In the recent past, what book has impacted you the most?
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.
- Coffee or tea?
- What was your childhood dream job?
- What public figure do you admire?
- What advice would you give to your younger self?
Live life to thrive, and grow. Invest time in friends and family. Do what you like to do. Forgive others.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best way is to find my on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
About The Interviewer: Pablo Diaz-Gutierrez is the founder and CTO of Appfluence, an award-winning software company that focuses on helping busy professional make the most of their limited time, better organizing emails, projects and meetings. Priority Matrix has been recommended by ADHD experts as a useful tool to help manage time, tasks and life priorities. Appfluence is producing this interview series to highlight the tools and techniques that top experts find most effective. If you would like to suggest a new topic or interviewee, please reach out to us.