Tips for Managing Adult ADHD

adhd

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can create problems in all areas of your life. But these tips can help you cope with symptoms, get focused, and turn chaos into calm.

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How to deal with Adult ADHD (or ADD)

If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), previously known as ADD, everything from paying the bills on time to keeping up with work, family, and social demands can seem overwhelming. ADHD can present challenges for adults across all areas of life and can be tough on your health and both your personal and on-the-job relationships. Your symptoms may lead to extreme procrastination, trouble meeting deadlines, and impulsive behavior. In addition, you may feel that friends and family don’t understand what you’re up against.

Fortunately, there are skills you can learn to help control your symptoms of ADHD. You can improve your daily habits, learn to recognize and use your strengths, and develop techniques that help you work more efficiently, maintain organization, and interact better with others. Part of helping yourself may also include educating others to help them understand what you’re going through.

Change won’t happen overnight, though. These ADHD self-help strategies require practice, patience, and, perhaps most importantly, a positive attitude. But by taking advantage of these techniques, you can become more productive, organized, and in control of your life—and improve your sense of self-worth.

Adult ADHD self-help myths
Myth: Medication is the only way to solve my ADHD.

Fact: While medication can help some people manage the symptoms of ADHD, it is not a cure, nor is it the only solution. If taken at all, it should be used in conjunction with other treatments or self-help strategies.

Myth: Having ADHD means I’m lazy or unintelligent, so I won’t be able to help myself.

Fact: The effects of ADHD may have caused you and others to label you this way, but the truth is that you are not unmotivated or unintelligent—you have a disorder that gets in the way of certain normal functions. In fact, adults with ADHD often have to find very smart ways to compensate for their disorder.

Myth: A health professional can solve all my ADHD problems.

Fact: Health professionals can help you manage symptoms of ADHD, but they can only do so much. You’re the one living with the problems, so you’re the one who can make the most difference in overcoming them.

Myth: ADHD is a life sentence—I’ll always suffer from its symptoms.

Fact: While it’s true that there is no cure for ADHD, there is a lot you can do to reduce the problems it can cause. Once you become accustomed to using strategies to help yourself, you may find that managing your symptoms becomes second nature.

Tips for getting organized and controlling clutter

The hallmark traits of ADHD are inattention and distractibility—making organization perhaps the biggest challenge adults with the disorder face. If you have ADHD, the prospect of getting organized, whether it be at work or home, may leave you feeling overwhelmed.

However, you can learn to break tasks down into smaller steps and follow a systematic approach to organization. By implementing various structures and routines, and taking advantage of tools such as daily planners and reminders, you can set yourself up to maintain organization and control clutter.

Develop structure and neat habits—and keep them up

To organize a room, home, or office, start by categorizing your objects, deciding which are necessary and which can be stored or discarded. To organize yourself, get in the habit of taking notes and writing lists. Maintain your newly organized structure with regular, daily routines.

Create space. Ask yourself what you need on a daily basis, and find storage bins or closets for things you don’t. Designate specific areas for things like keys, bills, and other items that can be easily misplaced. Throw away things you don’t need.

Use a calendar app or day planner. Effective use of a day planner or a calendar on your smartphone or computer can help you remember appointments and deadlines. With electronic calendars, you can also set up automatic reminders so scheduled events don’t slip your mind.

Use lists. Make use of lists and notes to keep track of regularly scheduled tasks, projects, deadlines, and appointments. If you decide to use a daily planner, keep all lists and notes inside it. You also have many options for use on your smartphone or computer. Search for “to do” apps or task managers.

Deal with it now. You can avoid forgetfulness, clutter, and procrastination by filing papers, cleaning up messes, or returning phone calls immediately, not sometime in the future. If a task can be done in two minutes or less, do it on the spot, rather than putting it off for later.

Tame your paper trail

If you have ADHD, paperwork might make up a major part of your disorganization. But you can put a stop to the endless piles of mail and papers strewn across your kitchen, desk, or office. All it takes is some time to set up a paperwork system that works for you.

Deal with mail on a daily basis. Set aside a few minutes each day to deal with the mail, preferably as soon as you bring it inside. It helps to have a designated spot where you can sort the mail and either trash it, file it, or act on it.

Go paperless. Minimize the amount of paper you have to deal with. Request electronic statements and bills instead of paper copies. In the U.S., you can reduce junk mail by opting out of the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service.

Set up a filing system. Use dividers or separate file folders for different types of documents (such as medical records, receipts, and income statements). Label and color-code your files so that you can find what you need quickly.

Tips for managing your time and staying on schedule

Trouble with time management is a common effect of ADHD. You may frequently lose track of time, miss deadlines, procrastinate, underestimate how much time you need for tasks, or find yourself doing things in the wrong order. Many adults with ADHD spend so much time on one task—known as “hyperfocusing”—that nothing else gets done. These difficulties can leave you feeling frustrated and inept, and make others impatient. But, there are solutions to help you better manage your time.

Time management tips

Adults with attention deficit disorder often have a different perception of how time passes. To align your sense of time with everyone else, use the oldest trick in the book: a clock.

Become a clock-watcher. Use a wristwatch or highly visible wall or desk clock to help you keep track of time. When you start a task, make a note of the time by saying it out loud or writing it down.

Use timers. Allot yourself limited amounts of time for each task and use a timer or alarm to alert you when your time is up. For longer tasks, consider setting an alarm to go off at regular intervals to keep you productive and aware of how much time is going by.

Give yourself more time than you think you need. Adults with ADHD are notoriously bad at estimating how long it will take to do something. For every thirty minutes of time you think it will take you to get someplace or complete a task, give yourself a cushion by adding ten minutes.

Plan to be early and set up reminders. Write down appointments for fifteen minutes earlier than they really are. Set up reminders to ensure you leave on time and make sure you have everything you need ahead of time so you’re not frantically looking for your keys or phone when it’s time to go.

Prioritization tips

Because adults with ADHD often struggle with impulse control and jump from one subject to another, completing tasks can be difficult and large projects can seem overwhelming. To overcome this:

Decide what to tackle first. Ask yourself what the most important task is that you need to accomplish, and then order your other priorities after that one.

Take things one at a time. Break down large projects or jobs into smaller, manageable steps.

Stay on task. Avoid getting sidetracked by sticking to your schedule, using a timer to enforce it if necessary.

Learn to say no

Impulsiveness can lead adults with ADHD to agree to too many projects at work or make too many social engagements. But a jam-packed schedule can leave you feeling overwhelmed, overtired, and affect the quality of your work. Saying no to certain commitments may improve your ability to accomplish tasks, keep social dates, and live a healthier lifestyle. Check your schedule first before agreeing to something new.

Tips for managing money and bills

Money management requires budgeting, planning, and organization, so for many adults with ADHD, it can pose a true challenge. Many common systems of money management don’t tend to work for adults with ADHD because they require too much time, paper, and attention to detail. But if you create your own system that is both simple and consistent, you can get on top of your finances and put a stop to overspending, overdue bills, and penalties for missed deadlines.

Control your budget

An honest assessment of your financial situation is the first step to getting budgeting under control. Start by keeping track of every expense, no matter how small, for a month. This will allow you to effectively analyze where your money is going. You may be surprised at how much you’re spending on unnecessary items and impulse purchases. You can then use this snapshot of your spending habits to create a monthly budget based on your income and needs.

Figure out how you can avoid straying from your budget. For example, if you’re spending too much at restaurants, you can make an eating-in plan and factor in time for grocery shopping and meal preparation.

Set up a simple money management and bill paying system

Establish an easy, organized system that helps you save documents, receipts, and stay on top of bills. For an adult with ADHD, the opportunity to manage banking on the computer can be the gift that keeps on giving. Organizing money online means less paperwork, no messy handwriting, and no misplaced slips.

Switch to online banking. Signing up for online banking can turn the hit-or-miss process of balancing your budget into a thing of the past. Your online account will list all deposits and payments, tracking your balance automatically, to the penny, every day. You can also set up automatic payments for your regular monthly bills and log on as needed to pay irregular and occasional ones. The best part: no misplaced envelopes or late fees.

Set up bill pay reminders. If you prefer not to set up automatic payments, you can still make the process of bill paying easier with electronic reminders. You may be able to set up text or email reminders through online banking or you can schedule them in your calendar app.

Take advantage of technology. Free services can help you keep track of your finances and accounts. They typically take some time to set up, but once you’ve linked your accounts they automatically update. Such tools can make your financial life easier.

Put a stop to impulse shopping

Impulsivity from ADHD and shopping can be a very dangerous combination. It can put you in debt and make you feel guilty and ashamed. You can prevent impulsive buys with a few strategic tactics.

  • Shop with cash only—leave your checkbook and credit cards at home.
  • Cut up all but one credit card. When you shop, make a list of what you need and stick to it.
  • Use a calculator to keep a running total when shopping (hint: there’s one on your mobile phone).
  • Stay away from places where you’re likely to spend too much money, throw away catalogs as they arrive, and block emails from retailers.

Tips for staying focused and productive at work

Authors: Robert Segal, M.A. and Melinda Smith, M.A.