High vs. Low Demand Tasks

Dr Alice Siberry – Specialist Neurodiversity Criminal Justice Consultant

At Creased Puddle, we recognise that everyone experiences the world differently. To demonstrate, different people will experience going to the petrol station differently.

Person 1:

  • The petrol light comes on in your car.
  • You drive to the petrol station.
  • You fill up your car with petrol and pay.
  • You drive away.

Person 2:

  • The petrol light comes on in your car.
  • You have to decide when in your day to go to the petrol station.
  • You conclude that you can only go at 5pm, which is probably going to make the petrol station really busy because it’s rush hour.
  • You decide to try the next day instead, having to decide which will be the best petrol station to go to from home, rather than work.
  • You have to decide what time to set off, to make sure you can get petrol and arrive at work on time.
  • You drive to the petrol station.
  • You have to decide how much petrol to put in the car.
  • Once you’ve decided, you have to decide which pump to pull up at.
  • You pull up and get out of your car.
  • You fill up your car with petrol.
  • You go into the shop to pay.
  • You realise you need milk, which means finding the milk in the shop.
  • You pay, whilst having to conduct small talk with the cashier.
  • You drive away.

The difference in these experiences is that the first person experiences going to the petrol station as a low demand task. For the second person, going to the petrol station is a high demand task.

The same task experienced differently.

What is a High Demand task?

Here, we are discussing psychological demands, which are emotional, cognitive, or mental pressures placed on an individual (Stahl and Stahl, 2018).

It is unclear who first coined the term ‘high demand task’, but referring to everyday expectations in this way allows us to identify the reasons why:

  • Someone might avoid a task.
  • Someone takes longer to complete a task.
  • Someone seems completely overwhelmed by their to-do list.

Add in the possibility that the person could be tired, stressed, physically ill or burnt out, and this will impact the person’s ability to complete what might appear, to others, a Low Demand Task.  

The environment might also impact whether something is experienced as a High Demand Task and explain why they might not always experience that particular task as ‘high demand’.

The Role of the Executive Function

With differences in executive functioning that many neurodivergent people experience, it is likely that one overarching task like ‘get petrol’, ‘wash up the dishes’, ‘take a shower’ will be experienced as an overwhelming amount of smaller tasks that require different aspects of the brain. The ability to plan, process, sequence, remember and prioritise may be different to others, which will impact the execution of any given task.   

How can you assist when someone is experiencing a High Demand task?

The main way of supporting someone who is experiencing a high demand task is to reduce anxiety and increase clarity.

  • Writing down all of the steps that may assist in processing what is required.
  • Prioritise what needs to be done in what order. This might be done in a visual and / or physical way, using a numbered to-do list or sticky notes that can be moved around.
  • Set clear timescales for actions.
  • Co-working or body-doubling, having an accountability partner who can ensure that you’ve completed different parts of the task however small.
  • Seek professional support if there are other factors, such as physiological / wellbeing, that might impact the ability to execute the task.


Stahl, A. F. and Stahl, C. (2018) Longitudinal association between psychological demands and burnout for employees experiencing a high versus a low degree of job resources. BMC Public Health, 18 (1).