Get Organized With Adult ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on January 08, 2018
3 min read

If you have ADHD, you know how tricky it can be to stay organized and on track. The challenge gets more intense when you’re trying to perform at work or raising a family.

“Managing the details of diaper bags, sports equipment, relationships, work obligations, paying bills, oil changes, and functioning as an Uber driver to children can be overwhelming,” says Caroline Maguire, a personal ADHD coach in Concord, MA.

But there are a few tricks that can help you stay focused on the tasks at hand.

Track your time. Whether you use a desk planner, calendar, to-do list, or app, it’s key for people with ADHD to be aware of their schedules. “The visual reference helps hold information in your brain in a meaningful way,” says Mayra Mendez, PhD, of Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center.

Be detailed and specific about what you write down.  Along with work projects and big events, include small chores and errands. Keep this schedule with you and check it often -- maybe several times each day.

Know your triggers -- and avoid them. Do you find it harder to focus when people are walking by your workstation? Lose your train of thought when a window’s open and you can feel a breeze? Become aware of the types of distractions that make your ADHD symptoms worse.

“Once you’re aware of those triggers,” Mendez says, “you can plan how you’ll deal with them.” For instance, a white noise machine or headphones can drown out background noises. Closing your door, dimming (or turning up) lights, even masking certain smells may also help you focus.

Raise the fun factor. When you have ADHD, boredom kicks in quickly. And once your brain deems something dull, you’ll likely avoid it. Blasting music while you do the dishes or giving yourself a reward once you finish a work project will stimulate your brain and get things done, Maguire says.  

Slow down. Living only “in the moment” can blow your schedule or cause you to make mistakes you’ll need to go back and fix.

When faced with many small tasks, “stop, think, and prioritize,” Mendez says. “Ask yourself, ‘What is most important and needs to be done first?’ ” Set a time limit, then move on to the second thing on your list.  

Facing a big decision, especially one about a fun activity vs. something you know you should do?  Don’t act right away. Take a deep breath and count to 10. Go for a walk. Have a drink of water. “Give yourself a few minutes so you can think through what you need to do,” Mendez says.

Be kind to yourself. No one’s perfect. Despite your best efforts, there may still come a time when you miss a work deadline or forget to pay a bill. When that happens, go easy on yourself. “You’ll learn from the experience if you’re self-aware rather than self-critical,” Mendez says. “Ask yourself, ‘How did this impact me? What do I need to do differently next time?’ ”