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Staying Organized with ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic disorder that begins in childhood and persists into adulthood. A person is diagnosed with one of three subtypes: predominantly inattentive type ADHD, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD or combined type ADHD. Inattention can create difficulty with organization, which can pose problems in school during childhood and at work during adulthood.

Problems with organization stem from issues with executive functions (i.e., the level of detail and the time it takes to complete the task). Learning organizational skills can help people overcome this obstacle, and can also be helpful with the other symptoms of attention deficit disorder, such as time management.

Staying Organized in Childhood

The NYU Child Study Center notes that some children have difficulty with organization, though the deficits are more severe in children with ADHD. But learning organizational strategies early can prevent the symptoms from interfering with productivity. Parents can play an essential role by teaching the child different techniques and monitoring progress. For example, the parents and child can make a schedule for homework with due dates, and leave space for checking off the assignment when it is done. A homework schedule helps with other symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity and impulsiveness, as it keeps the child on a specific routine. Parents can use the schedule to make sure the child submits his assignments on time, and see if there are areas in which he is struggling. When making the schedule, part of it should be kept open to review assignments, as careless mistakes are also a symptom of inattention.

Besides creating a method to keep track of assignments, the child also needs an area to work where the number of distractions are limited. For example, the child should have a consistent place to do homework with all clutter removed. The study area should also be quiet. The child can also create a storage area to hold important papers for school, such as a binder labeled for each class. Parents should also encourage the child to pack his bag at night to prevent school work from being lost or left at home. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign adds that the child should also clean his desk at the end of the day to help maintain organization; this also encourages the establishment of a daily routine.

Since inattention can make it difficult for the child to do complex tasks, caregivers can help break tasks into steps and write out each step. This exercise also helps the child learn planning and follow-through. Leave room on the list to check off when a step is completed. When taking notes, the child should leave the page margins open to add more information when reviewing the material. Parents should also use a reward system, which reinforces the child’s new organizational skills.

Staying Organized in Adulthood

Many of the techniques learned during childhood can also work with organizational problems in adulthood. For example, the reward system built during childhood can work as motivation to stay organized during adulthood; however, the adult sets and administers his or her own rewards. Daily planners can be used for schedule tracking. The National Resource Center on AD/HD notes that some people can improve their organizational skills by working with a friend or through an organizational skills-oriented Internet chat.

Breaking the organization of a physical space into steps can help adults with ADHD view organization as an obtainable goal:

  1. Select the areas that need to be organized, and rank them from easiest to hardest.
  2. Make a visual representation of what needs to be organized, and put it in a highly visible place such as a bulletin board.
  3. Start with the easiest task.
  4. Choose a motivational strategy.
  5. Divide the task into smaller increments. For example, if it will take 20 minutes to file the mail, set a timer and work until it goes off.
  6. To prevent becoming overwhelmed, focus on one item at a time. Once the easiest task is completed, move on to the next task and continue to increase in difficulty.

Avoid bad habits, such as procrastination. recommends taking care of items as soon as they come in, instead of letting them pile up. Some people may benefit from having a professional organizer come in and develop an organizational system that suits their needs. Inattention symptoms will become easier to manage as organizational skills are learned and incorporated into daily life.

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Staying Organized with ADHD

Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch

APA Reference
Stannard Gromisch, E. (2019). Staying Organized with ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Mar 2019 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Mar 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.