Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can feel overwhelming sometimes. Most people with ADHD have a hard time staying on task, managing their time, remembering where they put important things (like their keys and wallet) and organizing their schedule. Fortunately, you can manage and ease your symptoms by taking small and relatively simple steps every day.
The key is to pay attention to how ADHD interferes with your daily life and develop strategies that work for you, said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Here are several strategies for improving common symptoms, which you can start today.
1. Find professional treatment.
“Because ADHD is an inherited biological and neurological disorder, receiving treatment is very important,” said Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and author of several books on ADHD, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Chronic Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals.
If you’re not receiving treatment right now, make an appointment with a practitioner who specializes in ADHD. Today, you can research specialists in your area, narrow it down to a few potential candidates, and contact them. (Here’s information on finding a therapist who’s right for you.)
2. Get a simple planner.
Jot down your goals for the day in a paper planner. Then “break them down into small steps to keep you on track,” Olivardia said.
3. Make the most of your smart phone.
Today, “start exploring the many functions of your smart phone,” said Terry Matlen, ACSW, a psychotherapist and author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD. For instance, “you can set up voice reminders or type written notes.” You can do this for daily tasks and appointments. Matlen even uses her iPhone to note where she’s parked.
4. Use all surfaces to stay organized.
“Sometimes unique, novel ideas work better because they keep you interested,” and people with ADHD tend to get bored easily, Matlen said. For instance, today, get a pack of white board markers, and jot down reminders on your bathroom mirror, microwave door or even your car’s windshield, she said.
Basically, you want to put reminders on “whatever you tend to look at that ties in with what you need to remember or where you are when you need to remember something.”
5. Ask a friend to keep you accountable.
Accountability and support also are helpful in minimizing symptoms, Olivardia said. For instance, call a trusted friend or relative, and ask them to become your accountability partner. This way you can check in with them about accomplishing your goals, he said.
In general, remember that it’s OK — and recommended — to ask for help. “Getting assistance with daily tasks can help reduce stress, especially considering that people with ADHD have difficulty with detailed work and organization,” Sarkis said.
6. Use transitions to get things done.
“For example, if you tend to watch TV after dinner but walk through a messy kitchen to do so, start a new habit of washing the dishes before heading into the TV room,” Matlen said. Today, think of one such transition and the quick task you can do.
7. Spot the source of your problem.
If you’re struggling with a chore or project, consider what’s holding you back, Matlen said. Maybe you don’t have the right tools to get the job done. If so, “mark in your planner a day [and] time to get to the store to purchase whatever is needed so you can complete the task.”
Maybe the task is inherently boring. “Come up with ways to attack the project so that it’s less painful.” You could invite a friend over to work on their own troublesome task. This way you tackle personal projects side by side, each motivating the other.
8. Tidy up in increments.
For people with ADHD, cleaning can feel like a big, cumbersome task. (Actually, it does for most people.) Carve out 15 minutes today or tonight to put things away, Matlen said. Make it a daily habit.
9. Get enough sleep (and to eat).
“ADHD symptoms are exacerbated when one is sleep-deprived or malnourished,” Olivardia said. So it’s vital to make sleep a priority, and to eat regularly (enjoying nutrient-rich foods).
10. Accept that you have ADHD.
“The greatest obstacle to successful living with ADHD are not the symptoms, but rather the shame that cloaks those with ADHD, preventing [people] from developing useful strategies,” Olivardia said. ADHD often requires you to get creative and work differently than people who don’t have ADHD, he said.
But that’s OK. “[I]t’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Plus, plenty of people with ADHD lead successful, productive, fulfilling lives. (In fact, all the experts featured in this article have ADHD.)
ADHD can affect all areas of your life. But the good news is that it’s treatable. And you can take small steps every day to manage your symptoms.