Staying organized might be a challenge for people living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it is possible.
It’s natural for projects and responsibilities to get out of hand once in a while. You may have a busy schedule, or it might be a hectic time of year.
Almost everyone feels disorganized at some point in time. Chronic disorganization, however, can be one of the traits associated with ADHD.
But living with ADHD doesn’t mean you have to give up on improving your organizational skills. Here are some ways you can get and stay organized.
People with ADHD often have difficulty with getting organized. But with small changes and some trial and error, you can learn how to get organized. Try these tips and see what works best for you and your lifestyle.
Have a place for everything
Assigning items a “home” may help you find them and put them away more efficiently.
“When you feel overpowered by stuff in your life, it helps to set up specific places where things go,” says Dr. Sharon Saline of Northampton, Massachusetts. Saline is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and author of “What your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew” and “The ADHD Solution Card Deck.”
“Set up bins and containers where items can be placed or stored. A box for unimportant mail that can be recycled and another one for bills and items to attend to,” she adds.
Bills, invoices, and monthly statements don’t always have to come in the mail. Signing up to receive these electronically might help eliminate stacks of papers around your home.
Getting rid of extra or unnecessary items around the home means having fewer items that need to be put away or organized.
“Clutter on the outside causes clutter on the inside,” says Dr. Kimberly Quinn, psychology professor at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, and TEDx speaker on ADHD.
Dr. Quinn, who lives with ADHD herself, states, “Minimalism is the way to go for an overwhelmed executive-functioning system.”
Create decision bags
Being undecided may cause a delay in your organization process.
“If you have too much stuff and need to get rid of things, set up four bags and label them: keep, give-away, trash and unsure,” says Dr. Saline.
Use visual reminders
Color-coding items may help you stay on track with tasks. You can assign a color to mean “immediate attention,” or you can pick a color that represents each day of the week.
You may also find it helpful to use object orientation to help stay organized.
When you’re getting low on shampoo, for example, turning the bottle upside down may help you remember to buy a new one.
Lists can be great tools to get organized. They can help you identify everything that needs to be done and can help you set a starting point.
Dr. Saline notes, “Many people with ADHD tell me that it’s easy to do a brain dump of the things they need to do but then they get stuck figuring out an order to do them.
“Sometimes the list is too long and they don’t know where to start. Sit down and write down everything you can think of that should be on your to-do list, dividing items into categories like home, work, family, etc.”
Lists can be powerful tools, but adding details to those lists may help you even more.
“Look at each category and put a label on each one: A, for something that’s urgent because there’s a time limit, and B, for something that’s important but not under pressure,” Dr. Saline recommends.
“Now make a separate list for today and tomorrow that has at least two urgent items and two important items for each day.”
Check off completed tasks
Checking off your tasks as you complete them can help create a sense of forward momentum and accomplishment.
Labeling the storage bins or containers you use while organizing can help you quickly put things away and may decrease the amount of time you spend looking for items you need.
Use colored pens/markers
The color you select for your labels can alert you to urgency, but it can also help you remember important tasks.
Research suggests that red and yellow are remembered more easily compared to blue and green.
Make life convenient
Setting yourself up for success can be a big part of organization. Keeping items near where you use them can make them easier to put away or handle on the day you need them.
For example, keeping your clothes hamper in the laundry room can make dirty clothes easy to grab on wash day.
Have one place for important documents
It can be tempting to have a separate stack for every important document type. However, having one go-to place for important paperwork can save you time and space.
Delegate important tasks
Dr. Quinn points out that tasks such as managing a checkbook and paying bills might be more of a challenge for individuals with ADHD.
“If possible, move this job along to a partner or trusted family member,” she says. “If not, electronic banking is the next best option.”
Use clear bins
Clear bins can help you quickly scan for the things you need instead of pulling down each storage unit to search through the contents.
Set aside outfits, not individual clothes
If you have outfits you wear regularly, keeping those clothing items together can save you time. You can also streamline your morning preparation by setting aside your outfit the night before.
Talk about what you’re doing
If you’re trying to complete a task, talking out loud about it may help you focus. It may also let the other members of the household know you may need support staying on track.
Keep a hardcopy calendar
Keeping a paper or whiteboard calendar where everyone can see it can be a good everyday visual reminder of upcoming projects.
“Keep an old-school calendar tacked to a wall somewhere central such as the kitchen,” recommends Dr. Quinn. “Write all appointments on this calendar with a colored marker for everyone to see. This will have the added bonus of eliciting reminders from family members.”
Focus on one area each day
Breaking tasks down can help you accomplish them, and you can continue this pattern on a weekly basis.
Assigning tasks to a specific day can help you establish a routine and create organizational habits.
For example, Monday might be the day you fold laundry, and Tuesday might be the day you check your bank statements.
Use technology reminders
Electronic calendars are a good way to manage your appointments and stay on track, Dr. Saline recommends.
She says, “You can write them on your phone or on a paper calendar but the key is to set up alerts and alarms as reminders.”
Sometimes a picture can mean more to you than a single word. Pictures can serve as replacements for labels, or they may be everyday reminders of goals.
Don’t forget about your glovebox
The car can be a place of disorganization. “Keep only your current registration, insurance cards, owner’s manual, and a flashlight in your glovebox,” advises Dr. Quinn. “That’s it.”
Plan for extra time
Giving yourself extra time for projects, events, or appointments can take the pressure off of deadlines.
Keep storage spaces small
Too much of something can contribute to a lack of organization. Keeping storage areas small may limit how much of something you can hold onto.
Set small goals
Breaking large jobs into smaller ones can help you feel more accomplished. Breaking those tasks down even further may also make certain projects feel more achievable.
Leave yourself notes
Sticky notes can remind you of things you have to do, but they can also remind you of tasks you’ve left undone.
If you have to walk away from a task for some reason, leaving a note describing where you were in the process might help you come back to that task later.
Focus on time management
“Time management and organization are intimately related so, when you improve one of them, the other gets stronger too,” says Dr. Saline.
Dr. Saline suggests using a timer to schedule breaks during the day. She also recommends to “leave yourself a Post-It of what you were doing so you can get back to it upon your return.”
Put a trash can or recycling bin in every room
A trash can or recycling bin in every room can help you throw away papers or items rather than stacking them off to the side for later disposal.
Dr. Quinn recommends you try keeping everything you need for the day in one place.
She says, “In my personal attaché, I have my laptop, phone, and a small wallet. I do not carry a purse as I prefer to have my hands free and will inevitably leave it somewhere. One less thing for my busy mind to keep track of.”
Use ADHD organization resources
There are a number of apps to help with ADHD organization, including:
- Brain Focus
While most of these apps help with lists and reminders, some provide collaboration features to help you organize your professional life as well.
Learn to say ‘no’
It may not be easy to say no when someone asks you for a favor, but saying no can help prevent you from overscheduling your day.
Organize sooner rather than later
Organizing continuously throughout each day can help prevent you from spending hours at the end of the week getting everything in order all at once.
Surround yourself with supportive people
“ADHD often has an underlying sense of shame, that excruciating feeling of being flawed or defective in some way,” explains Dr. Quinn.
“It is difficult to navigate the neurotypical world in general when we are walking around feeling like damaged goods. Surround yourself with people who value you and your wonderfully fast mind.”
If you’re living with ADHD and need more help getting organized, ADDitude Magazine provides some helpful handouts, such as:
- 22 Clutter-Busting Strategies for Adults with ADHD
- 73 ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life Now
- 10 Ways to Get Organized This Weekend
If you need more assistance with organization, you can find an ADHD Coach to help.
Support groups and forums offer a great place to talk to others with ADHD and get more tips and strategies to get organized. For a list of support groups and forums, you can visit our ADHD Resources page.
Staying organized can be a challenge for anyone, especially someone living with ADHD.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by clutter, projects, or responsibilities, following ADHD organization tips may help you regain a sense of control.
Small adjustments, like keeping things simple, creating lists, and setting yourself up for success, are all things that can make a difference.
Remember: You’re not alone. Many people living with ADHD are looking for ways to improve their organization, and everyone’s needs are unique.
Trying different ADHD organization tips can help you can find a system that works for you.