You feel like you’ve tried every technique, tool, and trick to get organized. But nothing seems to work. Tasks still go unfinished, and you still find yourself frustrated and stressed out.
Maybe your systems have simply lost their spark. “The ADHD brain likes novelty,” according to Barb Hubbard, M. Ed, AAC, an ADHD specialist and life strategies coach. “So, when you find a system that works, expect the newness to wear off after a while. Know that it’s OK to change systems often or make small changes that allow you to feel like it’s new again.”
Maybe you’re fixated on perfection. “When you set yourself up to do something ‘perfectly,’ it’s not going to work and perfection is a big barrier to the outcome of your success,” said Annie Varvaryan, PsyD., a clinical psychologist working with adolescents, adults, and couples in private practice in San Jose, Calif. Instead, realize that “some of it will work and other parts will pan out differently than expected,” she said.
Maybe you’re skimping on self-care and other focus-bolstering habits. Gayle M. Gruenberg, a coach and professional organizer in chronic disorganization who specializes in working with clients with ADHD and other brain-based challenges, noted that these habits include: getting good sleep; exercising; eating nutrient-rich foods; going outside; and working in an optimal environment for you (which might mean quiet and calm or lots of commotion).
Maybe some strategies haven’t worked because you need a pharmacological solution. Or maybe you need to switch medication or increase your dose. This is when it’s important to see a psychiatrist who specializes in treating ADHD (if possible).
Whether you’re taking medication or not, there are plenty of other strategies that can help—like the ones below.
Have ongoing support. Gruenberg has found that this is the most effective technique for people with ADHD. “Whether it’s a family member, friend, or a professional—organizer, coach, therapist—having someone to be accountable to is very helpful.”
She noted that having an external support system can assist with everything from helping you find strategies that work to validating your challenges and surrounding emotions.
Find out what else is going on. Often individuals with ADHD have other conditions that can affect how they learn and process information, and thereby the tools that will be effective. This might be anything from a learning disability to a mood disorder. This is why it’s important to get a comprehensive professional evaluation.
Meditate. Today, meditation is a common recommendation for everything. But it can absolutely help to sharpen your focus. For instance, studies show a link between regular meditation and thickening of the prefrontal cortex, home of executive function skills, such as attention, organization, planning, decision making, judgment, and self-regulation, noted Marilyn Abrahamson, a speech-language pathologist and Amen Clinics certified brain health coach.
“People with ADD commonly have behavior changes that are associated with these areas of the brain, which is why meditation is so effective in this population.”
For Abrahamson, who also has ADHD, meditation has been tremendously helpful. She suggested starting with a guided meditation, such as an app (like Calm or Headspace) or a free video on YouTube. The great thing is that there’s a wide array of options, she said—from a single minute to an entire hour, from men’s voices to women’s voices, from soft music to babbling brook sounds.
“I find that what works best for me today is different from what I chose from yesterday’s meditation. The most important thing is that you take the time to do it each day.”
Create rewards. If you’re motivated by them, rewards can inspire you to get things done. Varvaryan noted that “a reward could be something that the person wants to do or build toward doing.” An example, she said, is “If I complete my tasks every week for four weeks, I can buy the concert tickets I want.”
Delegate effectively. Gruenberg’s mantra is: “Do what you do best and delegate the rest.” What are your strengths? What feels easy for you? What feels excruciating? Can you assign the task to someone else? Maybe you can hire out. Maybe a colleague is better suited for that part, while you can focus on a different area of the project.
Always write it down. Abrahamson uses Google calendar to set reminders. She also uses Siri and the iPhone note-taking app to capture thoughts and ideas that pop up, even in the middle of the night. “Just noting it somewhere gives me the confidence that the information is ‘safe’ and I can go back to sleep without worrying that I’ll forget it.” Phones are a great way to record reminders, because, let’s be honest, they’re constantly with us.
Set a timer. Timers create a sense of urgency for all sorts of tasks, and they help you get started. (Often getting started is the hard part!) For example, Hubbard suggested setting a timer for 10 minutes every day to clear your desk. You also might set a timer for tedious tasks (which can’t be delegated).
Create routines. Routines can help you accomplish the tasks that really require effort, because routines allow you to move through everyday activities without much brain power, said Hubbard. For example, she said, you might create this bedtime routine: Turn off all screens by 9 p.m., journal about what went well, meditate for a few minutes, set out clothes for the next day, brush your teeth, take your medication, and settle into bed with a book.
To create routines, Hubbard suggested these tips:
- Always follow the same steps in the same order.
- Identify three things that are vital to you, and create your routine around them. You can add additional steps later.
- Create a visual reminder of your new routine. For example, you might write your list on a post-it note and put it on your bathroom mirror.
- Pair activities that are already routine (e.g., brushing your teeth) with new activities (e.g., taking medication).
- Keep your routines no longer than 15 or 20 minutes. “You want to create a routine that will lead to success and build on it from there.”
Have a minimalist mindset. Instead of adding one more thing, work on subtracting. According to Derek Mihalcin, Ph.D, a psychologist and board-certified behavior analyst, you might: turn off TV during family dinners; keep your phone on silent during meetings; and focus on three tasks (rather than starting your day with a running list of everything). He also stressed the importance of single-tasking. Then if you complete those three tasks, move on to the next three.
When trying a strategy, try not to get discouraged. Think of yourself as a scientist or an explorer. You’re simply experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. Everything is invaluable information that helps you adjust, pivot, and change course. So, if a strategy doesn’t work, reflect on the reasons why—and then try something else that might be a better fit.