I work in content and brand marketing, writing blogs and social media posts for several brands of consumer goods. And my feedback and reviews have always been a little telling about where I place my priorities.
My creative work, branding work, social media work, etc. are always top marks across the board. The more “boring” day to day stuff, not so much. I tend to lose a little focus and honestly sometimes I don’t feel like doing it. I get there eventually, but I don’t go above and beyond like I do when I get to dig into a creative brand project.
Everything gets done, but it’s not all fun.
And fun at work is important.
A project that makes your brain light up and get excited can help boost motivation at work, and then you look forward to work, and then you’re getting more done and feeling great about it.
How autism helps me at work
Given an open-ended deadline, the project never feels real to me.
Being autistic in the workplace has helped me establish boundaries, be a better writer, and manage my to-do list.
Boundaries: Somebody asks me to do something that is clearly not my job? It doesn’t compute. Formerly, I’d just do it anyway to not cause a fuss, but these days, I am working hard enough and I don’t also need to take on new work that is not related to the work I should be doing.
If it doesn’t fit the framework of my role and has not been communicated to me clearly as a new aspect of my role, I have no problems telling someone that it’s not my job. Politely and professionally, of course, but firmly. I am not your garbage can for weird one-off tasks.
Writing: Part of writing across multiple brands is keeping the brand voice intact, and this is something I am naturally talented at doing. I didn’t realize until very recently that it was part of my autistic brain at work.
Autism lends itself well to code switching, which is essentially the practice of switching back and forth between languages or dialects. It’s the reason I pick up a southern accent when I’m on a customer service call with someone in Tennessee, and it’s the reason I can write for one brand in a casual tone like I’m talking to my best friend and then swap effortlessly into another brand’s voice like I’m talking to my great aunt.
I have received a lot of praise for this ability, which is how I found out that not everyone can jump from voice to voice like that. It’s why I’ve done so well in marketing over the past eight years of freelance and full-time writing. Realizing I was autistic put it into a new perspective: This is a super power.
Focus: I mentioned that I don’t love every project that comes my way (who does?) but part of my brain really, really likes lists and part of my daily routine at work is checking the project management tool for my upcoming tasks. I can see the deadlines and due dates for the coming week and I plan accordingly based on my schedule.
I have a to-do list notepad that is segmented into the days of the week, and I plot out when I’m working on what. This way, if my mind wanders or I’m not feeling particularly motivated to work on something, I can see that I scheduled myself to work on it Wednesday because I’ll be booked with meetings Thursday, and it’s due Friday.
I’ve also learned to ask for deadlines and task assignments. Given an open-ended deadline, the project never feels real to me. I need an assignment and I ask project managers and coworkers to assign me to a task so it shows up on my list.
Challenges as an autist at work
Who else do you want on your team when you’re trying to keep everything straight and communicate about it without mixing things up?
Have you ever worked in an open office with up to eight people in the same room? It’s fine if everyone is quietly working, but the moment people start talking to each other, someone else comes in, someone’s on the phone, or one coworker calls another one on speakerphone, I can’t deal.
My brain absolutely cannot focus on the task at hand if there are multiple conversations happening around me. What makes it even worse is that sometimes I’ll hear my name said, and I turn around and someone has added me to a conversation and apparently assumed that I’m totally up to speed on everything they’ve already said. No, dude, I was scrambling to put my headphones in for some Spyro the Dragon background music to drown you out before I explode. But what can I help you with?
The stress of noisy office life can be overwhelming, and I’m very grateful that my workplace offers me a flexible schedule so that I can work from home as needed. I work from home once or twice a week and it allows me to focus on things that I do better without interruption: writing a month’s worth of social media posts in various brand voices, for example.
Overall, I think that my brain’s particular landscapes of problem solving, brand identity compartmentalizing, and out-of-the-norm thinking position me as an expert in my field. Because who else do you want on your team when you’re trying to keep everything straight and communicate about it without mixing things up?