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Productivity Hours

There is a growing need for professionals who can effectively work with young adults on the spectrum and with related neurocognitive conditions. Many of the referrals I get are for working with young ASD adults that are existentially stalled. They cannot get a job or be successful in college and, as a result, are stuck at home being idle. Society has little to offer the adult that does not work. Idleness inevitably results in anxiety and depression and parents find they are gradually dealing more with a mental health issue than a vocational issue. Helping young adults reengage with society has required my colleagues and I to rethink about what it means to be a productive adult. What we have discovered is that young adults don't have to be in college or work full time in order to reengage and glean the mental health and existential benefits from work.


Drawing from employment literature we have developed the concept of a "productivity hour" and used this measure to set goals. The ultimate end is full engagement in society where one creates a positive feedback loop with productivity in that they feel a sense of accomplishment, can develop a social life, have direction, and set additional goals. Young adults are not just moving toward independence, but achieving adaptive skills that are required for starting a family, moving house, or pursuing career opportunities.


Productivity Hours

A young adult should ideally strive for 30-40 productivity hours per week, and there are a number of activities that count as productive activities. Clearly, a full time job will resolve the productivity requirement, but few people I work with are ready to work full time. Initially I am very generous with awarding productivity hours.

  • A 3-unit college class is 3 weekly productivity hours plus 2 hours of homework per unit. So, one 3-unit class is 9 weekly productivity hours. 4 classes is 32 productivity hours. A person taking and passing 4 college classes is meeting my basic productivity requirement. Passing 4 classes per semester and taking summer classes (adults don't get summer vacation) will usually get a person through college in four years.

  • Part time jobs are about 12-15 hours per week, so about half or a third of weekly productivity requirements. Two classes and a part time job usually achieve basic productivity requirements.

  • Initially, attending and being active in therapy with me once a week is 1 productivity hour.

  • I initially count exercise for productivity at a 1:1 rate (1 hour of exercise is 1 productivity hour).

  • Chores around the house that are exclusively for managing the household (cooking, cleaning shared spaces, landscaping, etc.) have a 1:1 productivity rate.

  • Volunteerism has a 1:1 productivity rate.


Productivity hours mainly are for the purpose of achieving something. They are distinct from time spent being entertained or relaxing. They are also distinct from socializing. Productivity hours get people out of bed and out of the house. They build on something desired and toward a long-term goal. Exercise is initially productive because exercise creates energy and motivation. Once a person establishes an exercise routine they are more likely to get jobs, do better in school, or pursue other productive activities. My hope is that they maintain the exercise because it helps them feel better and perform better in their work. Chores are productive because they not only are effective for managing the environment but they teach independent living skills so a person can move out if they choose to. While they're living at home, chores can keep a young adult from wearing out their welcome and help the parent/child relationship mature. Volunteerism helps a person build a specific skill, engage and give back to the community, and is also a resume-builder that makes getting a job easier.


The advantage of the concept of the productivity hour is that it lowers the barrier to engaging in meaningful work and focuses on behaviors that help to achieve bigger goals. Achieving productivity hours mainly helps a person build stamina to achieve full time college or work, which is truly the ideal for productivity. Through work we participate in society and support our own well-being.


Baseline and Beyond

The first step is to evaluate how many productivity hours the young adult is currently achieving. Again, I think it's OK to be generous, but hours should be those activities the young adult does routinely and reliably. For instance, if a young adult empties the dishwasher daily, this is usually about 1 productivity hour per week. It is not uncommon even under these parameters to discover that the young adult is achieving only a handful of productivity hours per week. Once the baseline is established I would encourage a gradual but steady increase of hours every two weeks. For instance, it might be reasonable to add activities that constitute two additional weekly hours every two weeks.


Under this basic structure it becomes possible to set reasonable and concrete goals. Once hours reach a certain minimum level, then one qualifies for more formal and traditional ways to achieve productivity, such as a part time job. Again, "productivity hours" is a concept my colleagues and I have been developing to help stalled and stuck young adults engage in and contribute to society for their good and for the good of society, and are not intended to be an end in themselves.

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