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Common Mistakes Adults with ADHD Make in Managing the Disorder

Common Mistakes Adults with ADHD Make in Managing the DisorderWhen you’re managing any disorder, you’re bound to make mistakes. (Life is filled with them.)

For instance, making mistakes when managing ADHD symptoms is normal, said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

It’s “part of the journey.”

Also, part of that journey is learning from your errors. Below, ADHD experts share the most common mistakes people with ADHD make when managing their disorder and how to prevent or fix them.

Not accepting the diagnosis.

“The biggest mistake someone with ADHD can make is not accepting the diagnosis in the first place,” Olivardia said. “Denial only makes everything worse since you are still suffering from symptoms, without any strategy or plan to combat them.”

The best way to accept the diagnosis is to educate yourself about what ADHD is and what it isn’t, he said. Also, learn about other people who have ADHD, including successful entrepreneurs and musicians, he said.

Plus, if you’re a parent, there’s a great chance that one of your kids has ADHD. “Accepting the diagnosis at that point is beneficial not only to you, but it enables you to set a healthy, accepting frame for your child.”

Relying solely on medication.

It’s also common to assume medication is the only treatment for ADHD, Olivardia said. “Medication can be an important part of treatment … but only as a complement to behavioral work and management one must make in many areas of life.”

For instance, that includes getting enough sleep and learning to manage your time. For specific tips, here’s more on sleep, organization, helpful programs and apps and other healthy habits to incorporate into your days.

Not planning.

“ADHD individuals enjoy the spirit of spontaneity and dread the thought of planning and structure,” said Rudy Rodriguez, LCSW, a coach who specializes in ADHD and founder of the ADHD Center for Success based in Asheville, N.C.

As such, many make the mistake of not planning out their days, which can lead to little productivity. Rodriguez cited Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Rodriguez suggested writing down a plan for your day. He tells his clients, “if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist.” That’s because people with ADHD have an impaired working memory, which can lead to forgetfulness, he said.

He also suggested creating your to-do list the night before. Doing so means “you’ll wake in the morning with a clear idea of what you need to do and what you need to do first.” This prevents you from “meandering mindlessly.”

Underestimating time.

People with ADHD have a distorted sense of time, and they underestimate how long tasks take. “We say, ‘I’ll be ready in 10 minutes’ but the truth is we don’t have an accurate internal clock that alerts us to the passage of time,” Rodriguez said.

He suggested what he calls “mindfulness bells.” This can be anything from an alarm on your cell phone to a kitchen timer. For instance, if you’re giving yourself 30 minutes to work on your computer, so you can get to bed on time, set one alarm to go off at 20 minutes and the second alarm at 30 minutes, he said.

The first alarm is your “’get-ready-to-get-ready-to go’ notification.” This gives you 10 minutes to save and close documents and shut down your computer, he said. When the second alarm dings, you’re all set to get up and go to bed.

Assuming perfect solutions.

ADHD coach Mindy Schwartz Katz, MS, ACC, often hears her clients say things like “if I was just more organized, everything would be fine” or “if I could just get out of bed at 6 a.m., everything would be perfect.”

For instance, one client bought a pricey planner. She believed that once she started using it, it’d become the perfect solution to her problems. But she wasn’t using it, because it simply didn’t work for her.

Managing your ADHD is really about figuring out what works best for you and experimenting with it until it becomes part of your life, Katz said. For instance, the goal isn’t to be organized, it’s “to be functional, to feel good about yourself and to live a good life.”

Listening to ignorant people.

People with ADHD also can make the mistake of listening to individuals who don’t know anything about ADHD, Olivardia said. They might say things like “ADHD doesn’t exist” or “Everyone is a little ADD,” he said. “These statements are not true and only minimize the true experience of those living with ADHD.”

“Make sure to get support from people who are at least aware of ADHD and not critical of the diagnosis,” Olivardia said. And when people are dismissive of your disorder, try these tips.

Focusing on what went wrong.

When she first started seeing clients, Katz noticed that they’d mostly talk about all the things that didn’t go well that week. But the things that go wrong only make up a portion of your day.

Today, she starts every session by asking clients to discuss what went well. Collecting the positives actually sets a different tone. Because when you focus on the positive you experience more positivity, Katz said.

She used one of her favorite quotes as an example: “The grass is always greener where you water it.”

Remember that making mistakes is a natural part of learning. Nothing in this world was ever invented without mistakes, Katz said.

Think of babies first learning to walk, she said. The first time they step on their own, they fall down. They get up. Then they fall down, again. They get up, and they fall down some more. They go through this process, over and over.

“We sometimes expect ourselves to be perfect right out of the gate. We all fall before we walk.”

The key is to turn mistakes into learning experiences, which shifts how they affect you. When things don’t work out, Katz always asks her clients: “What’s your takeaway? How are you going to do things differently? How can you do it better next time?”

Also, avoid being critical when you make a mistake. “Calling yourself an ‘idiot’ will not make you remember something better or motivate you the next time around,” Olivardia said. Rather, “the more you devalue yourself for your ADHD symptoms, the more your self-esteem plummets.”

You’re not stupid or less than for making mistakes. Try to shift your focus away from supposed inadequacies and onto the lesson you can learn and the improvements you can make.

Common Mistakes Adults with ADHD Make in Managing the Disorder

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Common Mistakes Adults with ADHD Make in Managing the Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 3 May 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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