18 Tips for Mastering Adult ADHD

A woman with ADHD working well

How adults with Attention-Deficit Disorder can create a structure that supports them instead of tripping them up

Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse don’t need to be a lifetime sentence. Many people find they can taper off and end their dependence on drugs once they’ve created a structure that helps them concentrate. ADHD medicines can be used as a temporary tool to aid you in focus, while behavioral therapy teaches you life-management skills and techniques. In fact, many people have set a goal of getting off ADHD drugs because so little is known about their effects on the mind and body when taken long term. (For more information on ADHD and the side effects and long-term effects of ADHD drugs, see ADHD Medications.)

The symptoms of ADHD in adults and children are the same and well known enough to be joked about. But adults with ADHD are better able to make changes in their lives than children. Adult ADHD can limit the careers of some and strain the relationships of others. But unlike children — who must work within the strict confines of a school system — adults can change their environment or their job to better suit their skills and avoid their deficits. Adults are often more motivated to change because they’ve seen the problems that can arise with unmanaged ADHD.

Remember, as an adult with ADHD you are not alone. While teenage boys are still the largest users of ADHD medicines, the number of young adults being prescribed ADHD drugs has increased about 56% between 2008 and 2012, with women ages 26 to 34 the biggest gainers, according to a recent report.

So how can you create a structure that supports you instead of tripping you up? The MedShadow staff fearlessly searched the Internet for tips we’ve found useful — and sometimes a bit quirky. Below are the ones we like best. (They are slightly edited for style and consistency, but the ideas are unchanged.)

1. 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. (HelpGuide.org)

2. Get a HomeRoutines app.

For managing daily tasks, HomeRoutines (iOS) is the ultimate To Do List/Timer/Scheduler/Reminder/so much more! Made by a great indie couple from NZ, this app is the foundation for your entire day and week. There is a whole online community dedicated to this app, so get inspired by this one. Tip: If you need a bump of encouragement, click on the “Accomplishments” button to display what you have accomplished. (There is a fee for the app.) (ADHDManagement.com)

3. 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 a calendar app. (HelpGuide.org)

4. Use a “concentrated distraction.”

For instance, when you’re sitting in a meeting or lecture, fiddle with a mini Koosh ball under your desk. (PsychCentral.com)

5. Have visual reminders of your goals.

For both short-term and long-term goals, have a tangible touchstone that connects you to your objectives. For instance, you might keep a piece of paper with your graduation date, a photo of the car you’re saving for or the amount of money you’ll earn after finishing a project. (PsychCentral.com)

6. Move while you work.

Constantly moving can help you focus better on the task at hand. One way to incorporate movement is to sit on a large exercise ball by your desk. (PsychCentral.com)

7. Use ADHD to your advantage.

MindNode (iOS only) is an app that really lets you get into a project and tap into your ADHD instead of just letting it get in the way. Many ADHDers are big-picture people and, to that end, MindNode is truly a powerful tool to outline projects and then start to fill in the details. (There is a fee for the app.) (ADHDManagement.com)

8. Concentrate on certain words.

Repeating anchor words like “focus” can block distractions. Another option is to create a mantra based on your task, such as “Expense report; expense report; expense report.” (PsychCentral.com)

9. Place a little whiteboard on your bedroom wall.

You can separate it into 2 sections: a “to do” and a “today.” “To do” is a list of general things you have to do, like get your car inspected, buy someone a present, etc. “Today” is what you need to do, obviously, today! Things can be moved back and forth as appropriate. Having a specific list for today helps push you to get the important things done in a timely manner. Also, keep 2 things permanently on the “today” part, which are meditation and exercise. This seems to help. (ZenHabits.net)

10. Delegate.

Learn to trust people with critical tasks in all areas of your life. When you learn to effectively delegate tasks, you actually find it is easier to keep the stuff you cannot delegate better organized. (ZenHabits.net)

11. Put it away now.

The single, simplest thing to do to stay personally organized is to put whatever tool, item, clothing, bag, hairbrush etc., away immediately after using it. You’ll always know where everything and anything is so you’ll never waste time looking for something. Very efficient. (ZenHabits.net)

12. Color code.

Many people with ADHD are visually oriented. Take advantage of this by making things memorable with color: red files for “do now,” green files for bills, 1 color for each type of activity on your calendar (blue for volunteer work, green for family) — and if it’s a family calendar, separate colors for each member. (ZenHabits.net)

13. Give yourself “time-outs” as with children.

When you are upset or overstimulated, take a time-out. Go away. Calm down. (Dr. Hallowell)

14. Notice how and where you work best.

Do you work best in a noisy room, on the train, wrapped in 3 blankets, listening to music? Children and adults with ADHD can do their best under rather odd conditions. Let yourself work under whatever conditions are best for you. (Dr. Hallowell)

15. Take the easy road sometimes and do what you’re good at.

If it seems easy, that’s OK. There is no rule that says you can only do what you’re bad at. (Dr. Hallowell)

16. Fight the tendency to over-commit.

For each new commitment you make, give up an old one. If you agree to join the school fundraising committee, for instance, give up the neighborhood watch committee. ADDers tend to spread themselves too thin. (ADDitude)

17. Use a “body double.”

This is a friend or family member who sits with you as you tackle mundane chores, like balancing a checkbook, filling out a job application or reviewing financial statements. Your body double will create a productive atmosphere by sitting quietly and doing an unobtrusive task, like affixing stamps to envelopes or clipping recipes from a magazine. (ADDitude)

18. Join an ADHD support group.

Support groups provide more than emotional support. For example, the members can get together online when it’s time to tackle boring tasks, like filling out tax returns or filing. One at a time, each person leaves the computer, dedicates 15 minutes to the task at hand, then returns to joke, commiserate, and congratulate one another. (ADDitude)

You can find support through:
CHADD: Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder Association

ADHD Management

Also, FlyLady.net will send you daily tips on getting your chores done fast.

Do you have a great tip for organizing your thoughts and your life? Post your tips in the comment area below, and we’ll tweet them out to the world.


Suzanne B. Robotti

Suzanne B. Robotti

Suzanne Robotti founded MedShadow Foundation in 2012. Learn more about Su and her mission.


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