Forgetfulness is a symptom that “can impact everything” for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), said Mindy Schwartz Katz, MS, ACC. Katz is a coach who empowers clients with ADHD to get over, around and through the obstacles that get in the way of living their unique life.
It can affect how you work. For instance, one of Katz’s clients, a contractor, bought the wrong paint color for a job, costing him extra time and money. Another client got fired from a production line because they forgot a safety procedure.
It also can affect your home life. You might forget to pay the bills, run important errands and acknowledge special occasions. Your spouse and family may interpret your forgetfulness as a sign that you don’t care about them, Katz said.
“Forgetfulness is related to the executive functions in the brain — processes which help us manage, organize, and disseminate information,” according to Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, NCC, a psychotherapist who specializes in ADHD.
These functions also include planning and thinking ahead. In ADHD these functions are dysfunctional, she said.
But there are strategies you can employ to effectively reduce and manage forgetfulness. Here are nine suggestions.
1. Take advantage of technology.
Use an electronic calendar, such as Google Calendar, and set it up to text you reminders for appointments and tasks, Katz said. Have it send you the same reminders throughout the day.
Sarkis suggested the apps TravelPro, which creates packing lists for trips, and Errands, which helps you keep track of professional tasks and personal errands.
2. Automate tasks.
Like sending yourself reminders, automating other tasks also helps. For instance, Katz’s client eats the same breakfast every morning because it used to take her too long to locate all the ingredients she needed for different meals.
Katz travels often, so she keeps a toiletry bag with everything she needs. When she purchases a new product, she just adds it to her bag.
You can do the same with a backpack for school and a briefcase for work. Get duplicates and extras of inexpensive items, too, she said.
3. Use self-talk.
Katz suggested pausing, paying attention to what you’re currently doing, and practicing self-talk, such as: “Here are my keys, they’re in my hands, and I’m putting them next to my purse, which is where I always put my keys.”
Sometimes, your self-talk may sabotage your efforts. Many people will say, “I’ll remember that,” Katz said. Instead, it’s better to remind yourself of what really works. So you might say: “I need to write it down. I write everything down. I’m going to put this in my calendar.”
Sarkis also stressed the importance of writing things down. “The more you write down, the less you have to keep track of tasks in your head.”
4. Have a launch pad.
One of Katz’s clients used to spend an hour and a half every morning searching for her purse, keys, ID badge and other items. Katz suggested she create a launch pad with everything she needs to take to work. She cut down her time to 30 minutes.
Make sure this launch pad is close to the door. As soon as you get home, put all your items in it. Also, if you need to bring something new to work, put it in your launch spot right away. This way, the next morning, you don’t waste time scouring your home, and you won’t forget it.
5. Create visual reminders.
Katz works with another client who’s a case manager. She found herself forgetting a lot of details because she has so many clients and so much information to keep track of. Instead of using scores of sticky notes, she created one circle for every client. In that circle she puts anything about that client.
Adults with ADHD also may forget to do the things they enjoy, she said. A different client forgets what she likes to eat for dinner, so she posts dinner menus on the fridge.
Another part of creating visual reminders is labeling things, Katz said. “I sort of chuckle about how many systems I started and forgot about it. [I had] a drawer for the scissors but couldn’t remember where I put them.”
That’s why it’s key to have a place for everything, and for everything to have a label, she said.
6. Create simple systems.
“Set up your life so that the things you need are where you need them,” Katz said. Another client, who’s in sales, works out of his car. He uses crates to house the different kinds of samples he sells. Once he’s done with a sample, he returns it to its respective crate, which is clearly labeled.
7. Create lists.
“Lists are key to organizing and remembering,” Katz said. Her client, who has significant memory issues, has checklists for everything from cleaning the house to transitioning from work to home to packing for vacation. She writes these checklists on index cards, which she keeps on a binder clip by her front door.
8. Ask others to remind you.
“Let people know that you don’t mind reminders,” Katz said. Sometimes people worry that they’re nagging you. But there’s a difference between “You never remember to ___” and “You asked me to remind you at 3 p.m. that you have an appointment in an hour.”
9. Get help.
“Reach out for help from a mental health clinician; trusted family members or friends; and financial professionals, if your forgetfulness is causing you issues with money management,” said Sarkis, also author of several books on ADHD, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Chronic Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals.
Katz suggested hiring a virtual assistant to give you reminders and review your daily schedule and to help with accounting and billpaying. She knows a businessman who hired a high school student to be his “body double.” “Just having someone else in the room, you’re more inclined to do the things you need and want to do.”
Sometimes adults with ADHD can feel defective, Katz said. They think, “I should be able to remember this.”
But your forgetfulness isn’t a defect. It’s a symptom of ADHD. And it’s a symptom you can successfully manage. Focus on finding strategies that work for you, and don’t hesitate to seek help.