You’ve probably heard a joke or two about attention deficit disorder. Maybe you’ve joked about it yourself. For someone with an ADHD diagnosis, though, it isn’t all jokes and laughs. It can even lead to more problems like anxiety or depression. Of course the first thing anyone should do if they suspect they might have ADHD is get a doctor’s opinion. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, the next step is to accept the diagnosis at face value, don’t let stigma or preconception get in your way. There are support groups, medications, self-help books, podcasts, and many other resources available to help.
If you’re dealing with an attention deficit disorder, no doubt you’ve found yourself struggling with some basic things that other people seem to handle effortlessly. An easy way to combat this problem is to simply work with the disorder. Much like a wrestler or a martial arts fighter will use his opponent’s kinetic energy to his own advantage, rather than fighting to stay focused all of your working hours, change your actions to deal with an unfocused brain. Make use of the notion that you will get distracted and develop ways to work with the distraction.
- – Create a “landing spot” for wallet, keys, spare change, and other stuff from your pockets and make a habit of always putting all that stuff there. Make it a container, like a dish or a box, that gets left out in plain sight and near whatever door you use to come into your home. It might take a few days before it becomes routine, but if you get to where you subconsciously unload your pockets into the same container every time you come in the house, you’ll never be looking for that stuff. Better yet, you won’t end up putting your wallet through the washer.
- Make yourself a “preflight checklist” for activities such as grocery shopping, running errands, or even heading to work. Going on a “Target run”? Make sure you have your little red savings card, your list of stuff to buy, and your reusable bags with you (as well as your wallet and phone) before you go. This is especially helpful for people with toddlers or babies to take along; diapers, extra outfit, snacks, bottle, wipes… Making a checklist for that stuff will also keep you from filling a diaper bag with all kinds of other crap you don’t really need.
- Simplify your environment. Clutter is distracting. Make a place for everything and put everything in its place, preferably a place out of sight. Get some containers for stuff you need to store, and don’t store stuff you don’t need. There are tons of resources on de-cluttering your space, find pretty much any one of them and follow it. They all pretty much say the same things; if you haven’t worn something in six months, donate it, etc.
- Immediately sort your mail, and immediately throw out all the crap. Probably less than 5% of what you get in the mailbox is useful, and having the other stuff around is just more fodder for distraction. It helps if your recycle bin is near your mailbox. As for bills, go paperless as much as possible. If you have direct deposit and automatic bill paying, your finances can become much easier. I can’t remember the last time I “balanced my checkbook”, because it balances itself. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I wrote a check.
- Get a physical calendar and put it in plain sight. Electronic reminders from your phone are nice, but the phone is also a huge source of distraction. Also, to see your scheduled appointments, get-togethers, and whatever else is on your calendar will require your using that phone, logging in to an electronic environment. If all your stuff is written on a paper calendar in plain sight, you’re far more likely to pay attention to it.
- Make a daily list and throw it out at the end of the day. Write down, in order of priority, all the stuff you have to do, things you need to buy, etc, on a paper or notecard to carry with you throughout the day. Cross off everything as it gets done. If something doesn’t get done at the end of the day, you can put it on the next day’s list, but the notion that you’re physically discarding your list at the end of the day can set a kind subconscious deadline for you.
- Structure time to be distracted. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Plus, Jack can’t stay focused all day without being fatigued. There’s nothing wrong with allowing yourself some unstructured time to browse the internet, doodle, play sudoku, or whatever you like. However, set a limit for yourself so you don’t end up wasting your day reading random Wikipedia articles of binge-watching every episode of The Wire.
- Get regular and sufficient sleep. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Shut off all your screens, turn out the lights, and snooze for at least seven or eight hours if you can. Lack of sleep or irregular sleep can really hinder your ability to concentrate. Unfortunately, for those of you with babies, I can’t offer much help with this apart from suggesting the idea of taking in a nanny or your mother in law to take night-time baby duties.
- Let others help you. You have ADHD. Own it. Let others know and they’ll most likely be helpful by telling you when you’re getting off track. If you have a spouse or partner who’s better with schedules and bills, let them do that stuff and take on more of the tasks that are less mentally tedious. Obviously you’ll want to be mindful of the people with whom you’re sharing your diagnosis. Don’t blurt it out in a job interview or anything.
- Prioritize your goals and write them down. This is different than your daily “to do list” in that it’s for more abstract, “long term” stuff. Do you need to clean the garage sometime soon? Write that down. Do you need to cull your tee shirt collection? Write it down. Is your driver’s license expiring in a few weeks and you’ll need to renew it? Write that down too. Then, prioritize this list. I’ve done so by writing each thing down on a separate Post-It note, each on a color representing its importance. The driver’s license goes on a red Post-It because it’s most important. Without a driver’s license, I can’t drive legally, so I have to remember that. The garage? Most likely not a have to for most people, unless it’s unsafe or you can’t get your car in. That one goes on a yellow Post-It. The tee shirts? If I haven’t done this a year from now it won’t likely affect my life significantly, so that goes on a green Post-It. All the notes go in a conspicuous place, they get thrown out after the task is complete, and the ultimate goal is to clear them all.
- Don’t try to memorize anything if you don’t need to. A waiter that writes down everyone’s order is far more impressive than one who tries to memorize it all and brings the wrong food. Even people without ADHD should heed this advice. Human memory is incredibly faulty. Usually you remember a few key details, sometimes incorrectly, and your brain fills in the rest by its own invention. Numbers? The average person can hold about seven of them in their working memory at any time. That means somewhere close to half can’t remember even seven.