Habits That Help and Hurt Your ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 25, 2022
3 min read

ADHD can make it hard to stay focused and motivated. Some everyday habits can help with those, while others can send you right back to square one. Consider these things as you work to stay on track:

Do: Know yourself. Think about when and where you do your best work. Are you more alert and energized first thing in the morning or just after lunch? Does background noise distract you or help you focus? Does having a buddy help keep you motivated, or does another person make it harder to concentrate? Try your best to get rid of distractions: Get some noise-canceling headphones, clear your desk of clutter, and don’t check social media too often.

Don’t: Set expectations too high. Many people who have ADHD are perfectionists, but not every job needs to be done perfectly. If you get caught up in making things “just right,” it’s easy to get stuck. When possible, give yourself permission to do a “good enough” job and move on.

Do: Learn to say no. You don’t need to say yes to everything that comes your way. The more you take on, the harder it can be to do it all well. If you set priorities and cut your “to-dos” down to “must-dos,” you can clear away mental clutter and focus on what’s important.

Do: Give yourself extra time. Some tasks are just going to take longer. Whether it’s budget planning, filling out school paperwork, or studying for a professional certification, don’t try to rush through it or put it off until the last minute. Instead, work backward from your deadline and give yourself plenty of time to finish.

Do: Take things one step at a time. It can be hard to make a big change or start a big project, but sometimes crossing one thing off your to-do list can give you a boost to keep going. Break a big task into smaller, more doable chunks. Want to eat healthier? Test one new recipe every week. Determined to organize your office files? Clean out one drawer a night.

Do: Make use of planners and apps. Keeping track of appointments and to-dos in your head is tough. Whether you like digital calendars and lists or the pen-and-paper method, there are tools to help you stay organized and on top of deadlines. It may help to set aside some time at the beginning of each day and each week to update your calendar, organize your schedule, and set priorities.

Don’t: Wait until you feel motivated. Rather than waiting for inspiration to hit, just get started. Set a timer for as long as you think you’ll stay focused, even if it’s just 15 minutes, and spend that time working toward your goal. You might find that once you get going, you’re able to keep going.

Don’t: Get trapped in negative thinking. This can make you feel more anxious and hopeless about your goals. When you catch yourself thinking things like “I’ll never be able to do this” or “I can’t finish anything,” try making a counterargument: “I can get this done if I work smart” or “I’ve finished projects before, and I can finish this one too.” It may feel silly at first, but it can rob those negative statements of their power.

Do: Think about your reward. Sometimes finishing a task pays dividends right away (mend your favorite shirt and you can wear it again), while other times your reward may feel further away (take a professional course now and you could get a promotion next year). If you have a hard time keeping yourself going, try to visualize the outcome you want as if it’s already happened. In this case, think about how a promotion could help you reach your professional goals and what you might do with the extra money you’d make.