Is forgetfulness due to ADHD muddling your everyday productivity? Hack your own brainpower with these practical tips.

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — aka ADHD — is a complex condition that influences brain functioning and how well impulses and attention are regulated.

There are three different types of ADHD, based on symptoms:

  • inattentive
  • hyperactive-impulsive
  • combined (a combo of inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive symptoms)

ADHD is believed to impair the executive functioning in your brain, which can cause information storage glitches.

Executive function controls your:

  • complex problem-solving skills
  • emotional control
  • activation (i.e. how easily you can start a task)
  • memory recall skills

Any interruptions in your executive functioning can directly affect your memory.

1. Take advantage of technology

There are a lot of apps and smart devices that can help you program your day. For example, Focus@Will has a dedicated channel to “ADHD type 1” and also includes other channels and energy modes to increase your focus.

You can also check out this list of top apps for people living with ADHD.

But if you want to keep it simple, use your phone’s calendar and put in some reminders throughout the day. This is especially useful for medication reminders — but it can work for pretty much anything.

Everyday life hack

Are you worried you’ll forget your doctor’s appointment next week? As soon as you book the appointment, schedule a reminder on your phone to notify you 1 day, 1 hour, and 10 minutes before the appointment.

2. Use positive self-talk

We all have some internal dialogue, and self-talk can be a powerful tool for organizing your thoughts.

But self-talk can be a destructive obstacle to your productivity and self-esteem if you’re too hard on yourself.

So try your best to encourage yourself through self-talk — and grant yourself a bit of grace if you make mistakes.

Everyday life hack

If you’re struggling to stay focused on a task that doesn’t interest you, try not to tell yourself, “Here you go again. You can’t even stay focused on one thing.”

Instead, tell yourself: “I’ve been working pretty hard on this essay for a while. I could use a quick break to grab a snack, and then I can come back to this.”

3. Have a launchpad for when you leave the house

Trying to remember all the items you need in order to leave the house can be a challenge.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you only had to remember one specific place in your home to check before leaving? Try to designate a small area near your door as your launchpad. It doesn’t have to be a large area either, it can be a small empty bowl or shelf.

Everyday life hack

If you know that you always need your keys, wallet, I.D., and watch when you leave the house, put them in your launchpad so you can grab everything all at once when you go.

Just make sure that you put everything back in your launchpad when you get home. You could even place a bowl of your favorite treats there as a reward for remembering.

This is also helpful if you need to remember to bring something that you don’t normally take with you. Do you have an important letter you need to put in the mail? Set it in your launchpad, so you don’t have to try and remember to bring it next time you leave the house.

4. Leave visual reminders in your environment

“One of the things with ADHD is that it acts on impulses and cues,” explains Timothy Kelly, a licensed clinical social worker at Propagate Hope Counseling. “Need to take the trash out? Place it in front of the doorway. Need to do your homework? Place it on top of your computer, so you don’t end up playing video games instead.”

Visual reminders are a great way to help you remember a task that you might otherwise forget.

Everyday life hack

Maybe you need to fill the gas tank in your car but are worried you’ll forget to do it next time you’re in a hurry. Place a quarter (or any other random thing in your car) on the steering wheel so you’ll remember to go get gas as soon as you come back to the car.

By placing an unusual reminder in an unusual place within your line of sight, you can help your future self remember certain tasks.

5. Create simple systems

Building routine and structure in daily life makes menial and tedious tasks automatic, frees brain space, and helps people work through difficult emotional blocks,” says Kelly.

Combining to-do lists and daily routines allows a healthy mixture of predictability and variability, which the ADHD brain thrives in.

There are probably many more everyday tasks that you repeat over and over that you don’t even realize, and this can take up significant bandwidth trying to remember each thing.

Everyday life hack

Are you finding it hard to remember to take your medicine? You might try making it part of your dinner routine, perhaps by keeping out a saucer next to your dinner plate for your meds.

If you make taking prescriptions a step between prepping dinner and taking your first bite, it can become part of a habit and minimize your chances of forgetting.

6. Create lists and write down complicated instructions

Learning a new task — especially a complicated one — can be challenging for anyone, with or without ADHD.

If you’re given instructions involving a lot of complicated steps, or if you’re being trained on a process that involves multiple tasks to be completed in order, you might want to write down as much detail as possible.

If you didn’t hear one of the steps, ask them to repeat it so you can write it correctly. It’s always better to ask questions early than to make mistakes later on that were avoidable.

“Create checklists for tasks,” says Wendy B. Pitts, a LCSW-C in Maryland at Guiding Insight, LLC. “Each time you have a new project to complete, check off each step as it gets done so that you can always refer back to it to see what needs to be done next, and you will know when you are really finished.”

Everyday life hack

When taking notes, it can help to:

  • Date every new entry, even the setting, too. “August 2, 2021: Kids’ school registration… gather vaccine info by Tuesday, September 7.”
  • If you miss something someone says, leave a blank placeholder to ask them or someone else who was listening afterward.
  • Review your notes before the activity is over.

When creating lists, you might try:

  • creating a short checklist for the current day
  • a longer to-do for anything outside of today
  • a separate “honey do” list of household chores or responsibilities that follow a sequential or chronological pattern

7. Ask others to help remind you

If you feel comfortable, you can always ask folks in your inner circle to help you remember things. You’ll want to be clear about why you need help and what kinds of reminders work best for you.

“Be honest with others,” says Pitts. “If you have difficulty remembering to bring home all necessary supplies to complete your homework, ask the teacher or a friend to remind you at the end of the day to check your bag for everything.”

Everyday life hacks

There are different kinds of help you can request based on the relationship and what degree of mental load you may be carrying and need to redistribute:

  • People in your household: You may try delegating tasks that are a lighter lift or those that others might remember more readily. For example, you may ask your kids or roommate to holler when it’s time to get ready to go, and again when it’s a hard stop to head out the door.
  • Close friends: You could ask friends to remind you about birthdays and anniversaries within your social group. Perhaps you leave a standing invitation to contribute funds to a group gift so you don’t have to remember to buy an individual one every year.
  • Colleagues or neighbors: You might ask neighbors for a text notification “nudge” reminding you which morning to wheel your trash bins out, or a co-worker to message you when it’s time to make your way to a company meeting.

8. Set yourself up for success

It’s easy to think in the present about what your current needs are. But that means we can sometimes put our future selves at a disadvantage.

Staying up all night to read your favorite book may feel great in the moment, but you might regret that choice in the morning after only an hour or two of sleep.

And remember, good sleep plays a role in improving your memory.

Everyday life hack

“Think about the you that wakes up tomorrow,” suggests Kelly. “What will they be so thankful to you for completing today? What do you think they could manage tomorrow? Sorting through these will help you prioritize what needs to be done right now and what can be done later.”

9. Consider professional assistance if memory issues continue

It’s very possible that if you have ADHD, you can follow all these steps and still have trouble remembering some important tasks throughout your day.

This is pretty common when you live with ADHD and not something to be ashamed of. There are so many professionals who study ADHD — they can help you improve your memory.

If you feel like you need more help, you might consider finding a trained mental health professional. They can discuss your concerns and even make suggestions tailored to your needs.

Q: Is there a link between ADHD and forgetting words?

A: Yes, there’s a link between ADHD and forgetting words or losing your train of thought during a conversation. It all has to do with how the brain processes information and plans out the subsequent verbal response.

“The way I usually describe it is that ADHD is like predictive text in an email or text message,” explains Kelly. “As someone talks, their brain is feeding them the next sentence before they’ve completed the one they’re on. The result is the brain moves faster than they can [talk], resulting in disorganized thinking.”

Q: Does ADHD medication help forgetfulness?

A: Not directly, no. While a person with ADHD might see their memory improve with medication, no medication directly targets memory.

“ADHD medications are stimulants, and they work by stimulating the portions of the brain that affect focus and control,” explains Pitts. “This improves the ability to pay attention to conversations and to concentrate on tasks.”

“While the medications don’t work on memory per se, improving focus and control will improve the ability to remember instructions and steps toward task completion,” Pitts adds.

If you have ADHD, it may mean you face challenges with remembering tasks or forgetting your words during an engaging conversation. But being aware of your forgetfulness means you can take steps to work around it.

Some of these tips may work great for you, and others may not be the right fit. The important thing is to try new techniques. And if your memory isn’t improving after a few tricks, you can reach out to a mental health professional for more support.

ADHD is different for everyone, so you should explore which strategies work best for you.