Some symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can easily turn everyday activities into obstacles in life. (For instance, if you’re constantly distracted, it may be difficult to get work done at your job.)
But that doesn’t mean that they have to remain hurdles and hamper your days. The key is to forget what works for people without ADHD and find the tools and techniques that work for you.
Below, several coaches and clinicians who both specialize in and suffer from ADHD share their biggest challenges and the successful strategies they use. Maybe these approaches will resonate with you, too.
1. Obstacle: Balancing work with a personal life.
Jennifer Koretsky, a senior certified ADHD coach and author of Odd One Out: The Maverick’s Guide to Adult ADD, used to struggle with “keeping work at work.” “I used to be one big ball of stress because I’d worry about work on my personal time, and worry about personal stuff during my work time,” she said.
Solution: Today, Koretsky is strict about separating her professional and personal lives. For instance, if a work-related thought pops into her head, she doesn’t disrupt her personal time by attending to it right away. Instead, she just emails herself a reminder about the idea or issue.
2. Obstacle: Constant distractions.
As Koretsky said, at work, her ADHD brain has a hard time returning to a task after she’s been interrupted. And distractions such as ringing phones, increasing inboxes and chatty co-workers are aplenty.
Solution: When she wants to work uninterrupted, Koretsky carves out specific blocks in her schedule for “Meetings with Me.” She treats this time like she would any other meeting: “I close my door, I turn the ringer off my phone, and I shut down email.” This prevents distractions and helps Koretsky make progress on her projects.
3. Obstacle: Hyperfocusing.
Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and author of 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD, finds it difficult to sustain the same energy on every task. Consequently, hyperfocusing on some tasks can sometimes lead to a crash.
Solution: Whenever she’s working on activities that require great attention, Sarkis takes frequent breaks. She also practices healthy sleep habits – such as going to bed at the same time all week – knows when her body needs rest and exercises regularly. Plus, she avoids foods with refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
4. Obstacle: An overactive mind.
For both Sarkis and David Giwerc, MCC, founder and president of the ADD Coach Academy, an overactive mind can be a challenge. For Giwerc, new ideas or thoughts can fly in so fast and furious that his brain simply shuts down, he said.
Solution: Giwerc, also author of Permission to Proceed, has learned to work with his speedy thoughts. For instance, to capture his cascade of ideas, he uses voice-activated software, types on his computer or creates mind maps. He also keeps a pad of paper outside the shower, since that’s when he gets many of his ideas.
Exercise helps Sarkis quiet her overactive brain. She also suggested readers try yoga, prayer, meditation and deep breathing along with writing out your concerns and brainstorming specific solutions.
5. Obstacle: Feeling overwhelmed.
“If I don’t actively manage my stress, my time, and my to-dos, then I will succumb to overwhelm,” Koretsky said. She views overwhelm as one of the biggest challenges people with ADHD face.
She described it this way: “You feel frantic because no matter how hard you work or how much you think about things, you always seem to be further behind at the end of the day than you were when you started.”
Solution: Koretsky makes time management a priority. Every morning she spends 15 minutes managing her calendar and to-do list. She described her process like this:
First, I look at my to-do list and make sure it’s up to date. I become familiar with what I have to do, and what needs to happen in the immediate future.
Then, I take a look at my calendar and see when I have meetings and other commitments, and when I have time to actually get some things crossed off my list. If at all possible, I schedule one of those “Meetings with Me.”
This way, my day is planned out and my expectations are realistic.
Then, at the end of the day, I’ll take another look at my to-do list and happily cross off what I got done that day. It’s a great way to focus on the positive and build momentum!
Koretsky also makes time to relax in the evenings. “I know that I need my downtime every day in order to wind down, recharge, and truly avoid overwhelm.”
6. Obstacle: Eating too fast or too little.
People with ADHD often forget to eat — and only remember once they’re already ravenous, Sarkis said. She finds that she also rushes through eating.
Solution: Sarkis makes a conscious effort to eat more slowly and doesn’t let too much time lapse between meals or snacks. She also ditches distractions like watching TV while she eats.
7. Obstacle: Getting bored easily.
Like most people with ADHD, Giwerc has struggled with accomplishing tasks that are less interesting to him.
Solution: Giwerc tackles the most interesting tasks first. These tasks are aligned with his true passions and values (such as compassion and creativity). But he limits the amount of time he spends on these tasks (usually several hours), so he can transition to the more mundane activities.
8. Obstacle: Dwelling on perceived weaknesses.
People with ADHD tend to fixate on their supposed flaws and struggle with low self-esteem. Giwerc has experienced the onslaught of negative thoughts, which can be immobilizing.
Solution: Giwerc has learned to pause — with the help of visual prompts such as his poster with a giant stop sign and hand — and instantly ask himself: “How is what I’m paying attention to serving me?” If these thoughts are paralyzing, Giwerc works out.
Another strategy he uses — and suggests to his clients — is keeping a success diary, which helps shift the focus from demoralizing thoughts to positive ones. In it, you can jot down at least three events in your life when you’ve experienced success (along with why).
“Every person with ADHD is so unique,” Giwerc said. Again, that’s why it’s important to find your own approach to overcoming obstacles. Your strategies also will vary with each situation. For instance, when Giwerc is learning a new concept, he needs total silence or classical music. However, when he’s in a meeting, he needs to squeeze something or shake his legs.