An ADHD brain thrives on interesting tasks. So it’s not surprising that most adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have a hard time getting chores done. Chores such as cleaning, washing dishes, and doing laundry are tedious and boring.
According to Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, a psychotherapist and ADHD coach, “Broadly speaking, chores are typically left undone, poorly done or often put on the back burner unless there’s a sense of urgency.” That sense of urgency might be guests coming over or not having any clean clothes.
When adults with ADHD do start on their chores, they can run into various obstacles. For instance, they might get derailed because of distractibility, Matlen said.
Let’s say you need to clean the kitchen, she said. You pick up the mail that’s on the counter and take it to your home office. Once in the office, you notice a toy that needs to be put away. So you head to your child’s room and then decide to run to the basement for something. At this point the kitchen is long forgotten, she said.
Being overwhelmed is another obstacle: “Having a plan, making decisions, moving from step A to step B and hopefully, to step C often is so overwhelming, it makes it nearly impossible to start or complete a chore.”
That’s because people with ADHD have impairments in executive functioning, which makes it harder to plan, prioritize, perform and complete.
But you can get chores done. First, make sure you’re receiving optimal treatment for your ADHD. For many people that includes taking medication and working with a therapist or an ADHD coach who helps you accomplish your goals.
The second part is applying strategies that work for you. Below, Matlen shared excellent ideas on how to get chores done.
1. Find ways to bust boredom.
Since boredom is a big deterrent, find ways to make tasks more interesting. Get creative. For instance, make completing chores into a game. “Set a timer and see if you can ‘beat the clock.’” When you do, give yourself a small reward.
Throw clothes into your washer and dryer like you’re playing basketball. Dance. Sing.
“Take a quick before and after photo with your smartphone to feel instant gratification, and to take a more novel approach.”
Listen to an audiobook. Brainstorm solutions to problems, or compose a poem or song.
Focus on the outcome: “clean floors, clean clothes, bills paid…and focus on how good that will feel.”
2. Have a routine.
“The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ scenario is a real problem,” said Matlen, also author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD. “If you don’t see an empty sock drawer, you will most likely forget you’re out of socks for tomorrow.”
Having a routine helps you get things done so you’re not scrambling for clean clothes right before you need to leave, or paying the bills days after they’re due.
For instance, designate Sunday at 11 a.m. as your laundry day. Or do a little bit every day, she said.
Throw in a load of laundry as soon as you get home from work and sort through the mail after dinner, “putting bills in their proper place.”
3. Use reminders.
Set an alarm on your smartphone to ring every Sunday at 11 a.m. as your reminder to do laundry, Matlen said.
“Pair a chore with something else so that you don’t forget.” Make your favorite show on Thursday nights your cue to vacuum the house – during commercials.
Visual cues also are helpful: “Make a chart of daily and weekly chores, and hang it somewhere prominent, like in the kitchen.”
4. Reward yourself.
After you complete a day’s or week’s worth of chores, reward yourself, Matlen said. For instance, you might go out for dinner or enjoy extra downtime, she said.
5. Aim for good enough.
Matlen cited Ned Hallowell’s quote: “Just do it good enough.” In other words, you don’t need to be a perfectionist. “Just get it done so that you can move on.”
Avoid comparing yourself to others — especially people without ADHD — who might have an easier time tackling tedious tasks. Rather, focus on your personal strengths and abilities, she said.
6. Enlist help.
Ask your loved ones to help you and take turns with daily tasks.
“Even your 5-year-old can help sort laundry. Make it fun by turning on the music or having a sock fight with the family,” Matlen said.
7. Avoid hyperfocusing on the tedium.
Being consumed with how much you hate doing certain tasks takes “your energy away from things that are fun and that speak to your strengths,” Matlen said.
She finds it helpful to remind herself that she always has a choice: “I can do (xyz) and enjoy ticking off the task from my to-do list, or … I can choose not to do it and be angry with myself to no end, knowing I have unfinished business taking up my mental energy.”
Above all, remember that your difficulties with doing chores have nothing to do with being lazy or incompetent, Matlen said. “ADHD and its symptoms are not character or personality flaws. You are dealing with ADHD biochemistry.”