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Bonnie Mincu

Senior Certified ADHD Coach

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Surviving Zoomland with adhd

How to stay professional on screen at home

If you read my earlier blog post about Zoom with ADHD, you know how Zoom has allowed us to go from in-person meetings to entirely virtual workplaces.

But what I didn’t mention was the challenge a disembodied group on the screen can present for an ADHD brain.

In the work world, staying focused in face-to-face forums is already tough. Move the meeting to a screen and roughly three-quarters of participants will inevitably lapse into a coma of inattention at some point.

And it’s not just an ADD / ADHD thing. The Harvard Business Review calls it “zoom fatigue.”

But meeting online can be made tolerable with simple strategies that take the sting out of sessions. … even when you’re forced to participate in several professional meetings a day.

My friend Sue Treiman is a journalist and TV producer who just completed 19 hours of Zoom interviews for a video project. So I asked her for some “do’s and don’t’s” on how to come across well on Zoom.

Whether you’re participating, organizing, or just trying to wrestle your ADHD to the ground, here’s how you can survive – and even make a good impression — during Zoom time.

ADHD survival tactics for Zoom meetings

Study the agenda in advance. When you know the topics that require your input, you can avoid the danger of being  ‘called on’ while in a boredom-induced coma.

Hide your inevitable multitasking by never allowing yourself to look downward. You can sneakily check email on your screen while reestablishing frequent eye contact. Just make sure to keep the meeting visible. And avoid interacting with your phone!

Mute your microphone. Keystrokes and pings are audible proof you’re otherwise engaged.

Keep a pen and paper handy for emergency doodling. Creating artwork without looking down will keep your focus sharp and your mind engaged. And nobody will know. (Or they’ll think you’re taking notes.)

Before joining a virtual meeting from home…

  • Dress for virtual success – Remember, the meeting may be recorded. Dress accordingly. Wear a solid-color top, avoid elaborate patterns, and keep those comfy pj bottoms out of sight. You don’t want to call the wrong kind of attention to yourself.
  • Position your camera – Position your laptop camera at eye level by propping it up on books. Lovely as your nose may be, nobody wants the view from below.
  • Watch the lights – Never sit directly in front of a light source. At best, you’ll be silhouetted. At worse, you’ll show up as an indistinguishable blob – and that’s not a professional look.
  • Look behind you – Arrive early enough to assess what can be seen in your background. You don’t want anything embarrassing lurking.
  • Check out your screen – On a similar note, ‘sanitize’ your computer’s browsing history in case you have to share your desktop. A college lecture recently went viral when the professor’s notes revealed he was also visiting a ‘busty women’ website.

If you’re running the meeting…

  • Create a written agenda before the meeting. Then stick to it.
  • Have one person speak at a time. Ask participants to signal – via chat or a raised hand – when they have something to say. Simultaneous speakers can mess up audio and frustrate everyone.
  • Know who is speaking.  Remind participants to quickly reintroduce themselves before speaking, so you aren’t forced to scan the whole screen looking for the flapping lips.
  • Keep people awake.  Since everyone tends to zone out after 20 minutes, reawaken the audience with occasional visuals, whether PowerPoint slides, photos, polls, or even brief video clips.
  • Keep things moving.  If you’re doing a round robin, limit each person’s comments to three minutes.
  • Don’t underestimate humor. A laugh can reset the tone, and will keep people from dreading your meetings.

The elephant in the room

Of course, there’s the elephant-in-the-room tip that few people consider:

Ask yourself whether the meeting is really necessary. Could your goals can be accomplished another way – through email, postings, or a telephone call?  American workers attend 25 million meetings every day. Eliminating one or two would be a small, but much appreciated, act of kindness.

Please let me know if you have other tips and strategies to keep meetings sharp, effective, and, of course, blessedly brief. We may be zooming for some time to come.

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Got any Zoom tips or disaster stories?

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Author: Bonnie Mincu
Senior Certified ADHD Coach, Founder of "Thrive with ADD," Bonnie has been coaching adults with ADD / ADHD traits since 2001. She has developed numerous training programs to help with the challenges of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

Comments

    Sidney Wilson

    Listening to lectures at Zoom is the most difficult thing for me in remote learning. An hour and a half are too long for me and I forget where I started. Only taking notes helps me memorize. And of course, I try not to be distracted, but sometimes I really need to focus on something else, at least for a couple of minutes, and then I return my attention to lectures again.
    And this test (I mean the Zoom Lectures) came back with the beginning of the new semester. And I don’t know how much longer I can take it.

    Long Zoom sessions can be terribly taxing on an ADHD attention span! If you’re not on medication, that would probably help, at least to “normalize” your ability to focus for longer periods. I need to take notes to keep my mind focused, even if I’ll never look at the notes again. I’ve also found doodling helps. Doing something with a pen enhances my ability to listen.

    You could make a point of taking notes for that reason, either by hand or in something like EverNote, while listening to the lecture. (For typing notes, keep Zoom off of full-screen mode.) You also might try standing up and running in place periodically during the lecture, even for a brief mew minutes. Set a timer for periodic intervals to remind yourself to get up and stretch before your attention span wanders. We’ll all be very glad when this “bad year” is over!

    Ashley

    This article is more about how to behave and present yourself so you don’t suffer consequences for not paying attention on Zoom. That’s not what I was looking for.

    I was hoping it would give me strategies for keeping my attention on Zoom. For some reason video presentations are very easy to tune out, even if the information is important. I’ve been very thankful for recorded sessions (which allow rewind) and written supplements. But perhaps there are note-taking strategies or other methods that would help.

    It IS easy to tune out anything on screen, and so easy to multi-task. That’s where taking notes becomes the way to focus your attention, even if you don’t need the notes. As a note-taking strategy, try to synthesize what the speaker is saying, never attempt to write the entire sentence. You just want to capture the key phrases. So if you had heard me SAY the previous sentence, your notes might just say “key phrases only”.

    Mind-mapping is an excellent way to capture what someone is saying as well, and particularly useful for people with ADHD. I have my clients use it for thinking, planning, writing… just about anything you’d want to capture in visual form. If you’re not familiar with it, google “mind-mapping by hand” (rather than software).

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