If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it’s really frustrating when the strategies you’re trying aren’t working. You might assume that the problem is you. What’s wrong with me? How is it that I still can’t get this right?
However, the real issue often lies with the technique or approach – which you might unwittingly think is helpful and yet is anything but. That’s why we asked ADHD experts to share strategies that don’t work for ADHD (and what does). Below, you’ll find three ineffective strategies.
1. Ineffective strategy: Staying up late to get work done.
It’s very common for people with ADHD to stay up late. “[P]rocrastination can lead ADHD-ers to wait until the last minute and then complete projects, study for exams or pack for travel overnight,” said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Also, “many ADHD adults are night owls and naturally stay awake late at night,” said Dana Rayburn, a certified ADHD coach who leads private and group ADHD coaching programs. It’s easier to focus when there are fewer distractions and everyone has gone to sleep, she said.
However, “sleep deprivation exacerbates all your ADHD tendencies,” said Beth Main, a certified ADHD coach who helps individuals with ADHD develop the skills, systems and strategies they need to overcome their challenges and achieve success.
It hampers concentration and executive functions, such as organizing, decision-making, attention to detail and planning, Main said. You’ll likely miss things that are right in front of you, and make errors in your work, she said. Sleep deprivation also compromises your immune system, Olivardia added.
Adults with ADHD are prone to sleep problems and sleep disorders, he said. So it’s important to take your sleep seriously, and protect it. These tips might help.
2. Ineffective strategy: Using products for naturally organized people.
The problem with this strategy? “[M]ost of these products were designed by people who have no problem putting things away,” said Rayburn, author of Organized for Life! Your Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide for Getting You Organized So You Stay Organized. However, people with ADHD need to approach organizing differently than others, she said.
Rayburn shared these examples of products to avoid:
- Storage cubbies for paper. “Even if they are labeled there are too many choices. They become clutter magnets.”
- Binders for paper (unless it’s information that’s put in the binder once). That’s because extra steps are involved, such as opening the rings and punching holes in paper. “We’ll just cram the paper in the binder instead.”
- Products with lids for things you frequently use. Again, lids require extra steps. For instance, when it comes to laundry hampers with lids, “people with ADHD won’t take that extra step, so the dirty clothes will end up on the floor.”
What does work? Make sure the papers you use most often are the easiest to file, Rayburn said. She suggested keeping a shredder and recycling bin within arm’s reach of your desk. Set up a filing system with “fat files.” She uses this term to describe fewer categories with more pieces of paper.
3. Ineffective strategy: Eliminating all distractions.
Well-meaning parents often insist that their kids turn off music and do their homework in a completely quiet room, Rayburn said. Adults who are desperate to finish their work might do the same, assuming that silence is best, she said.
It makes sense that eliminating all distractions would help you focus better. But surprisingly, complete quiet doesn’t work. “That’s because ADHD is actually an issue of brain stimulation. Without enough stimulation the person’s brain goes dim, they can’t focus, and nothing gets done,” she said.
Rayburn has clients build a personal stimulation toolkit, because everyone is different. To increase stimulation, they typically try music or audio tracks. They also might change the environment by working in a coffee shop, instead of a quiet home office. They might use timers, designate a friend as an accountability partner and work with another person in the room (called a “body double”). To decrease overwhelm from too much stimulation, they might start with a “brain dump,” getting “everything out and on paper so they can plan.”
For students Rayburn recommended starting with music. Also, see if they do better working in the rest of the house, where there’s more going on, versus their bedroom, she said. Some students might even focus better with the TV on in the background.
The key to managing ADHD is to find strategies that work well for you. Start by trying techniques and tools that have been specifically helpful for people with ADHD. Experiment. Keep in mind that different strategies work for different people with ADHD. And remember to be self-compassionate. ADHD disrupts all areas of your life. Navigating it effectively takes work. Commend yourself for the good job you’re already doing.
A few years ago different experts shared other strategies that don’t work for ADHD. You can read that piece here. You also might find strategies you’d like to try in this piece on the best ways to cope with ADHD; this one on taming impulsivity; and this one on beating boredom. Also, check out our excellent blogs on ADHD: ADHD Man of DistrAction and ADHD From A to Zoë.
Staying up late photo available from Shutterstock