If you’ve just been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you might be wondering what the next steps are.
As with many mental health conditions, there’s a lot of stigma attached to ADHD. But, thankfully, this is changing.
For many people, living with ADHD means adopting new tools to help them manage their symptoms, which helps them to thrive in their emotional health, personal relationships, and careers.
Here’s a guide to managing your ADHD effectively. We’ll offer some tips for managing ADHD each day, methods for sticking with your treatment plans, and effective ways to boost your overall well-being.
On one hand, you might feel relieved after learning that the symptoms you’ve experienced are because of a medical condition. On the other hand, you might feel scared, as there’s still a lot of stigma attached to ADHD.
And, given that there’s so much information out there on ADHD, it’s also common to feel overwhelmed.
The good news is that ADHD is treatable, and with the right management, you can keep on top of your symptoms.
Your quality of life will likely change for the better after your ADHD diagnosis, says Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, licensed psychotherapist and founder of ADD Consults. This is because your diagnosis can point you in the right direction, so that you’re able to manage your symptoms better.
Everyone’s experience of ADHD is unique. There are many ways to manage the symptoms, and what works for one person might work not for another. Finding the system that works best for you can take some trial and error, and that’s OK. There are plenty of methods to try.
Every person with ADHD has different routines and needs, which also means that they have different approaches to managing their daily lives.
Here are a few ways to make it easier to manage your day-to-day life.
1. Use organizational and time management tools consistently
ADHD can make it very tricky to stay organized and manage your time in the way that you’d like to.
Find one or more tools that are useful and easy to use and work for you, whether it’s:
- a paper diary, bullet journal, or notepad
- an app that helps you manage your tasks, like Trello or Todoist
- a time-management method, like blocking time using Google Calendar
- the Pomodoro Technique, or working in 25 minute intervals with breaks in between (plenty of productivity phone and tablet apps have Pomodoro timers, or you can use a simple one in your browser, like the Tomato Timer)
Read about how the Pomodoro Technique helps one person with ADHD here.
Though it’s tempting to hop onto the next productivity tool that catches your eye, try sticking one out for a while. Consistency is key.
2. Make reminders to take your medication
Not everybody with ADHD uses medication, but if you’re on any sort of ADHD meds, taking them consistently is important.
Keep your medication in a place where you’ll see it, such as near your coffeemaker or next to your bed. Setting an alarm on your phone to take it at the same time each day is also helpful.
3. Gamify your to-do list
This means you turn your tasks into a game in order to complete it.
You can gamify tasks by giving yourself rewards, trying to finish a project in a specific time frame, or simply checking it off your to-do list. Crossing something off a physical to-do list can bring a real sense of accomplishment.
Many organizational tools, like Habitica, do this for you.
4. Make tasks meaningful
To complete tasks, most of us usually need to be excited and engaged. Think about why you’re doing your task. What good are you getting out of it?
For instance, a work task might be motivated by your passion for a broader cause or simply your desire to save up for a car or vacation. A school or college task might be motivated by the excitement of the project itself or your desire to graduate. Whatever it is, keep your eye on the prize.
5. Avoid multitasking
While some people do thrive while multitasking, many of us don’t. Try to eliminate distractions around you that entice you into doing other tasks.
For example, if you’re working on one subject, pack away your textbooks for other subjects. If you’re trying to focus on cooking, put your phone away.
6. Limit your screen time
Spending too much time staring at a screen can make you lose track of time, which can take your focus away from another task or errand.
You can download apps on your phone or tablet that help you limit your screen time or limit your time spent on specific apps that you find are a major distraction or time drain.
Alternatively, set a timer. For example, give yourself 15 minutes on social media at a time, then move on to your next task.
Following a treatment plan can be tricky because you might need to create new routines, such as attending regular therapy appointments and taking medications consistently.
Once you get into the rhythm of treatment, these things can become like second nature. But it might take some trial and error to get there.
Here are some tips for overcoming common challenges in ADHD treatment:
- Create calendar reminders. You might find that you’re missing therapy appointments because you get distracted or forget. Creating calendar reminders and alarms for appointments can help. This is also useful for remembering to take your medication.
- Take notes during therapy. If you find that you’re forgetting to complete tasks between sessions, it can help to take brief notes. You can also work on action points with your therapist to complete during the week.
- Talk to your doctor about medication side effects. Some people worry that ADHD medication can have serious side effects or is addictive. But at the right dosage, side effects tend to be fairly mild. Talk with your doctor about what to expect.
When it comes to medication, there are a few guidelines to follow:
- Take your meds consistently to make sure they’re effective.
- Always talk with your healthcare team before adjusting any dosages.
- Communicate with your doctor about any changes in your mood and other symptoms.
- Tell your doctor if you’re taking any other medication, including any supplements or herbal treatments, as this could interact with your ADHD medication.
- Avoid alcohol and substance use.
An ADHD coach also can become an integral part of your treatment team. A coach provides individuals with strategies and tools to accomplish their goals and overcome challenges.
When choosing a qualified coach, get professional testimonials (from psychologists or psychiatrists) and ask about educational background. Look for a relevant degree such as psychology or education, which serves as a foundation for coaching.
Looking for an ADHD coach? The ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO) provides a directory to search by location.
Other organizations that can help you connect with ADHD coaches include:
You’ve just started a new job, or you’ve just received your diagnosis, and you’re still getting the hang of managing your symptoms. Should you tell your employer that you have ADHD?
When you apply for a job, the application might have a checkbox where you can disclose that you have a disability. ADHD is considered a disability in this context. If you’d like, you can disclose your ADHD upfront, but this isn’t a must.
You don’t have an obligation to disclose your ADHD diagnosis to any employer, present or future. You can do what feels most comfortable for you at the time.
Many people choose to disclose their diagnosis if they need extra accommodations at work. That said, you can also ask for these accommodations without disclosing your diagnosis, if you prefer.
If you’re at college or university, you might benefit from asking about the accommodations they typically provide for ADHD students.
Unfortunately, ADHD is a stigmatized condition. One myth is that people with ADHD are less able to do their job than others. This isn’t true, and employers should know about the realities of ADHD.
It’s important to note, too, that discriminating against people because of their ADHD diagnosis is illegal.
In addition to the above ideas, there are a few general strategies you can try in order to make your ADHD more manageable.
- Get enough sleep. ADHD symptoms can get worse if you haven’t been getting quality sleep. Try finding a relaxing activity to slow down your brain before bed. If you find yourself overthinking things in bed, try writing down all of your thoughts and plans into a notebook to get it out of your system before turning out the lights.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise helps you to work off some energy, which can reduce hyperactive states. It’s also great for boosting your mood, focus, and overall feeling of well-being.
- Take note of patterns. If you’re able to be more focused, productive, and feel good in certain situations, make a note of that. For example, if you have a productive studying session, was it a quiet room? Were you studying in a group? Did you put your phone away? Did you exclusively use pen and paper? Different situations work better for different people, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to what works for you.
- Ask for help. This could include getting help from family and friends, hiring an ADHD coach, professional organizer, cleaner, or babysitter for your child if you have one.
- Celebrate your achievements. Many people with ADHD find that it affects their self-esteem. To stay confident, try to focus on your achievements and avoid comparing yourself to others. Celebrate your own achievements, even the baby steps. Sometimes, it’s the baby steps that end up making the most impact.
- Show up. If you’re unable to focus, your first instinct might be to skip class. It may be a better idea to go anyway, and you can feel good about the fact that you showed up. That alone is worth celebrating!
- Have a plan for the worst. Worst-case scenarios are unlikely to happen, but you might find some peace of mind in thinking about what could go wrong and taking steps to prevent it. For instance, if you’re afraid of losing your work, keeping the info on both your computer and cell phone, or printing out a hard copy, can put your mind at ease.
Making regular time for relaxing activities can have huge benefits, too. Need some science-backed recommendations?
The researchers found that more time in green space was associated with improved behaviors and symptoms of ADHD, along with better mental well-being, attention, and memory, as well as reduced stress.
A regular relaxing activity could even be something like having a mug of tea in a green space if you can, or in a cosy corner of your house, every morning.
There are many resources out there for people with ADHD. To avoid getting overwhelmed, read, watch, or listen to a small chunk of information a day when you have time. Take notes if you find it helpful.
Below are some handy ADHD resources to check out.
- ADHD Survival Guide: How I Stopped Procrastinating and Got My Sh!t Together by Sam Dylan Finch is a great resource for getting stuff done.
- Black Girl, Lost Keys is a blog about living with ADHD as a Black woman.
- ADDitude Magazine is a magazine that features helpful posts and resources for those with ADHD.
- Practical ADHD Strategies is a podcast run by ADHD coach Laura Rolands.
- Hacking your ADHD offers some practical tips for managing ADHD.
- ADHD for Smart Ass Women is a podcast directed at “women who see their symptoms as more positive than negative.”
- How to ADHD is a helpful YouTube channel with videos spanning numerous ADHD-related topics.
- ADHD Alien is a comic series about having ADHD.
- ADHD-specific Facebook groups and subreddits could be helpful for connecting with other people with ADHD.
- Your psychologist, ADHD coach, or doctor might be able to recommend a local ADHD support group if you’d like to connect with others in person.
Although there’s still a stigma attached to ADHD, this is fortunately changing as more and more people realize that ADHD is a manageable condition.
Reaching out for support and finding useful resources can take courage and effort, but in the long term, it will pay off. You’ve got this!