Working in digital marketing as a neurodivergent person
Neurodiversity is becoming a topic that is more openly talked about, with society combatting the traditional view that there is only one ‘right’ way to behave. It is estimated that 15% of the British population is neurodivergent, this includes people with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dyspraxia to name a few.
It’s no surprise that neurodiversity gained traction during and immediately following a global pandemic (and subsequent lockdowns) which forced us to reconsider how we live, learn, and work. Many people took to social media during a period of disconnection to share their experiences, sparking interest and raising awareness about neurodiversity (enter TikTok).
Is digital marketing the place for neurodiversity?
Being neurodivergent can be both a blessing and a curse in the creativity-driven world of marketing. It can be a minefield: the constant notifications from social media, short-form content doom scrolling, and the pressure of being ‘present’ online. But, the fast pace of digital marketing can also provide a dopamine haven of new things to try your hand at and let your creativity flow. As a Digital Content Marketing Apprentice, I will be sharing parts of my experience in the world of work, as well as providing advice on how to navigate around the issues of being neurodivergent.
Sensory overload is when one or more senses become overstimulated. Working in a bustling office can trigger this, especially coming from a previous job that was fairly solitary. I find the office environment overwhelming and distracting at times; the sound of light chatter, people typing, the smell of food or watching people walk around. Even at university while my friends loved working at the library, I chose to work in my room. I work four days at the office but luckily there are quiet spaces and individual booths that I can get my head down in. Similarly at busy lunchtimes, I go out to eat to give myself a break or go on a walk with some music or a podcast. Removing myself from the situation where possible allows me time to return to a calm productive state.
The ‘perfect’ routine
There’s a thin line between needing a routine to prevent overwhelm but wanting a variety of tasks to keep my interest. Having a perfectly functioning routine can scratch an itch inside my brain like no other, but not every week is the same and I have noticed I struggle with last minute meetings or tasks ‘ruining’ the plan of my day. My suggestion would be to make sure you are organised and plan your day well, but leave gaps in case urgent tasks need squeezing in. Outlook and Google Calendar are classic ways to organise my diary with ‘small win’ tasks like emails or socials posts nestled between bigger tasks to fulfil the dopamine desires of getting things ticked off. Sometimes a new shiny and exciting task can enter my inbox and my attention can shift away from the task at hand, worst case scenario I can hyper-fixate on the new task. Instead, I’d suggest writing down all your fresh ideas before they get forgotten but return the focus to the more urgent task as hard as it may be.
Coming across inattentive is one of main issues while working. I find concentrating on one thing at a time almost impossible. My brain is rarely ‘blank’ which means that processing information on top of my already busy brain can be difficult. I notice this most during team meetings when a lot of information is being provided verbally. The solution? This has been a bane of my life, but my advice would be to communicate that you are not in the state to process the information in that moment, ask them to provide the information in another way or write notes to keep your brain on the matter at hand. Luckily, I have a very understanding manager, who agreed to present the information from our meetings in a follow-up email so that I could process it visually afterwards.
Inattentiveness can also be getting lost in emails, doom scrolling on social media, being unable to read large blocks of text or forgetting things. The best solution I’ve found to keep me on job is to make mini games out of tasks I’m struggling with, timing how long it takes me to read a page or even rewarding myself with a sweet treat afterwards. Anything for a small dopamine hit. In terms of getting distracted by emails or social media, phones and laptops have lock functions to limit time spent on apps. Productivity apps like Forest are good to keep you focused for a time and have the extra bonus of helping the environment. Forgetting things is my Achilles heel, but the answer is very easy – as an avid list maker, I recommend having both a paper and online to-do list. Organisation apps that input your list directly into a calendar, like Notion, are even better! Good old fashioned sticky notes (in real life and online) are another great way to write every waking thought that enters your brain.
Bursts of energy
Occasionally, I swing on my chair, jog my leg, or tap my pen as a way to release nervous energy which can be distracting for myself and others. The best relief I have found for this is to ensure I am getting as much physical exercise outside of work, going to the gym or for a jog allows me to concentrate more in the day. If this isn’t possible, I tend to use my standing desk at work or go for a walk at lunch time.
Most of my trapped energy manifests as mental hyperactivity: my brain moves too quickly for my body to respond. This can present itself in temporary poor attention to detail and forgetting things. To solve the attention to detail problem, software such as Grammarly and Quillbot are great for checking copywriting for mistakes or fluency issues, as well as asking colleagues to peer review.
As I’m a self-confessed morning person, I’ve found that I’m most productive then, but some moments of hyperactivity and hyper-fixation can occur in the evenings after work. Switching off from a job you’re passionate about can be difficult. It’s hard to not blur the lines between work and play – I often find myself accidentally checking emails, subconsciously searching for content ideas, designing on Canva, or editing a quick video on InShot. The random surges of motivation can produce some of my best work, but it can leave me feeling burnt out. This advice feels slightly hypocritical but knowing when to stop working is a good skill to learn (I’m still learning!). Hyper-fixating on work can be detrimental to your work/life balance, make sure you set healthy limits. Turn your work phone off and instead put your energy into hobbies or spending time with friends and family. You even get bonus points if you don’t speak about work to any of them!
The neurodivergent experience can be an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve already spoken about shutting down from sensory overload, but I haven’t gone into the frustration and shame you can feel when tasks that are simple to everyone else seem impossible to start or finish. The embarrassment of realising you’ve forgotten something important again. Or the disappointment you direct towards yourself for feeling like you’re behind or not understanding as well as your team members.
As a perfectionist, I’m highly sensitive to criticism from others and myself. But in the marketing world, this is something that comes with the territory – content is always peer reviewed before it goes external. It’s important to remember that edits are not a direct attack on your abilities, its constructive and having an extra pair of eyes on your work will always be beneficial. Imposter syndrome can plague us all, I found it hard coming from an entirely different career and being thrown into an industry where I felt unsure and highly unqualified. But after all, I’m on this apprenticeship to learn and develop my skills. My colleague let me into a secret that the industry is ever evolving so content creation will always feel ‘uncertain’ as part of the process will always be trial and error.
When you’re neurodivergent it can be hard to know your limits: it can lead to overcompensation, overcommitment and overstepping your own boundaries. But as with navigating anything in life, its all a working progress. I’m still figuring things out myself, but I hope some of the methods and tools I use will be helpful to anyone reading!
Sophie Mullings, Cohort 37, Digital Content Executive Apprentice at Peldon Rose.