May 19, 2022

The pros & cons of popular productivity methods - suitable for Neurodivergent thinkers

We explore 5 common productivity methods through a Neurodivergent lens

Lydia Wilkins

Guest Writer from Mademoiselle Women - Documenting life on the Autistic Spectrum

The pros & cons of popular productivity methods - suitable for Neurodivergent thinkers

When we think about productivity, we often think of ourselves in terms of the word ‘busy’, because this is seen in some circles as being successful. The freelance writer Sian Meades Williams, who has just released the long awaited The Pyjama Myth, has several passages in the book about this very subject; Emma Gannon has also analysed the impact of things such as office environments and set ups on our productivity too. However, we do very often fail to take into account that productivity - which much of our working lives is devoted to - can differ from individual to individual.

If you are Neurodivergent, you might find that having to work in certain environments is extremely hard and stressful, especially if you have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) You may well experience other challenges that impact productivity, such as executive functioning. This can make the sequencing of tasks, as well as starting and finishing them, quite difficult.

Everyone is different and has different needs and different ways of completing tasks. That being said, while there is often a lot of discussions of productivity methods, very few take into account how suitable they are from a Neurodivergent perspective. We hope this list gives you some ideas on whether these methods could work for you.

The Pomodoro Technique

You may have seen a few freelancers on social media recently speaking to how great this method can be! In essence, you choose the task you need to complete; set a time limit of 25 minutes. Work until the timer has finished, and take a break for 5 minutes. Complete four sets, and then have a longer break! You can find a premade Pomodoro routine in the Tiimo App.


Pros: if you’re in hyperfocus, this may well be an ideal method to set a healthy time limit; sometimes hyperfocusing can have a detrimental impact, such as when we forget to eat, use the bathroom, etc. This can act as a reminder, to put in time to help us maintain and not neglect ourselves.

Cons: 25 minutes can be a long time; if you work best in short(er) bursts, that may be a better alternative.

Bullet Journalling

The bullet journal method was actually created by someone who is Neurodivergent! (Bet you didn’t expect that!) This is a method used to catalogue information in a notebook, in order to plot the future and the present. This is the practice of mindfulness, wrapped up as a system to help you be organised and live your most productive life! And it doesn’t have to be that elaborate, either.

Pros: The bullet journal method is wholly down to you; while there are some basic rules and principles to follow, in order to catalogue the information you have to hand, the method is unique to each and every user. It’s nothing elaborate - all you need is a pen and a notebook, maybe a ruler - and can take as much or as little time as you need. Executive functioning problems you may experience are all taken into account, too.

Cons: Bullet journalling can take time for people to see results from - and can be slightly regimented in approach. Personally, I found it quite difficult, and switched back to using my Filofax this year. It is easy for you to fall in love with creating beautiful spreads in your journal as opposed to actually doing the thing that you are meant to be doing!

Visual Prompts

This is as literal as it sounds; anything visual can be used as a prompt, in order to act as a reminder, or to trigger some kind of specific function. You may have a list of executive functioning habits taped to your bedroom wall, a weekly meal plan to your fridge door, or even just a notepad next to your bed, in order to remind you about something in the morning, once you finish sleeping.

Pros: If you struggle to remember things, as some Neurodivergent thinkers may do, implementing this stratergy can be really useful, especially if you do so where you spend most of your time - be it your bedroom or your living room. Memory can be subjective, so to have a prompt may be very useful.

Cons: There is an element of ‘follow through’ that is needed in this, such as in order to maintain a routine. If you struggle with executive functioning, especially when it comes to sequencing tasks, you may find this more challenging. You could perhaps try writing out a daily routine, with space and time specifically set aside for things like when to eat, with the meal plan written into it.

The SMART goals method

This one is a little bit more specific, and goes slightly beyond just being productive. If you have a specific goal in mind, you can use the SMART goals method - each letter stands for something, in order to break the goal down to achieve it. Specific, Measureable, Achieveable, Relevant, Time-bound; this is to help you think about the goal you have in mind, and how to go about achieving it.

Pros: this might work well if you work for yourself, and need to stay on task; you could potentially be launching some kind of project. A lot of Neurodivergent individuals end up working for themselves; while the stats vary, this could help with long term planning.

Cons: Plans change! You may need to adapt to achieve your goal in the end - and there is not a lot of room to do that with this method, which could potentially hinder productivity. (You may find yourself spending a lot of time trying to adapt, such as if you struggle with executive functioning - which is arguably not being productive!)

The Use of Planners

Because everyone has a planner these days, right?! There is a wide range of planners - there’s the Passion Planner, the Filofax, the average appointment diary - to help you with a variety of functions and tasks.

Pros: There is a wide range of planners to help you - it’s just about choosing! This can also help you sequence information, as well as tasks, too - all to help you be productive.

Cons: There is so much choice it can be overwhelming! A planner can also take ages to set up for maximum productivity. Being a physical item, you have to not only remember to carry it with you, but it can also be hard to update or edit your plans when things change.

As everyone has very different needs, you might find that you respond better to certain productivity methods or even a combination of these methods. It could also depend on the task you are trying to do - you might find that Pomodoro helps you to get through your household tasks, but SMART is more suitable to keep you on track with your longer term goals. Try a few different methods out and let us know which one works for you in the comments on our Instagram or Twitter posts. But remember, productivity is a fluctuating concept. You are allowed to have an ‘off’ day, week, month or period!

Lydia is an Autistic UK-based journalist. She is particularly passionate about disability and social justice issues. She is also the author of the Autism Friendly cook book which will be out in November 2022. You can find her blog and newsletter here

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