Being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult doesn’t mean your life has to be out of your control. This adult ADHD guide may even uncover your unique strengths!
Even to someone who doesn’t have ADHD or ADD there’s a lot more ‘work’ that seems to go into finding productive habits these days and a lot more apps and options to choose from.
You could say on the one hand the choice is a blessing (how can you not be organized with so many handy gadgets and automations making your workflow quicker and more efficient), but on the other hand, it’s just another case of information overload in today’s inter-connected technology-fueled world.
So, if this world is fast for those who don’t have a focus/attention disorder, then what do think it must be like for those who do?
Adult ADHD Is A Difficulty Shared Amongst Many Today, But There’s Hope
There’s so much stimulus around us today. The world is just becoming a lot busier and detailed and we have so much more to take in. It’s no wonder there’s a growing number of people being diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood today.
I can safely say as someone diagnosed with ADHD/ADD some years ago, it’s messy, but not impossible. It just requires a whole set of different tools to stay focused because, well, you simply can’t, at least not for long, even without all the bells and whistles around us today. You could tuck them all away out of sight but, like a kid in a sweet shop, you will have your head turned in every direction anyway (even if you know you are only ‘allowed’ to buy one).
So, how can someone with ADHD/ADD learn to focus and get stuff actually done if it’s just too hard to focus on a task for too long?
Well, actually it’s the same methodology that should be used by those without ADHD (but who seek to become ‘overly’ organized).
Too many times we think (or are told) we need to have a fixed schedule and work to a clock (that only works if you are as busy as say Elon Musk and have to save the world each day (or fly away from it)).
Yet, you give a calendar to someone who isn’t always booked in for meetings and you’ll find that the same calendar will either be filled in with trivial, time-wasting to-do list tasks that take more time to set up than actually do, or just be left blank and make you feel slightly redundant. This goes the same whether you have ADHD or not.
Adult ADHD Needs To Play By Different Strokes
We don’t need a schedule, or at least we need one that works differently.
We need to create a conducive environment to focus, yes, but also to ‘flow‘, but not just get us in the flow, but to keep us in it because it works around our more natural gifts, that being creativity, curiosity, and hyper-focus (when we can actually focus). That’s vitally important.
Our natural gifts are anything but being organized, and it’s taken over a decade of trying, of procrastinating, of feeling like there must be something wrong with me, being told I must just pick one vocation or task or to ‘set up a schedule and routine’ to make progress in life, and for me to eventually come up with this Adult ADHD Sufferers Guide To Getting Organized.
Years ago I couldn’t even write a full sentence without getting distracted by something else, but today I arguably write too much (not a bad thing, sometimes).
My struggles, experiments, and findings have been long-enduring but on the whole, it’s been infinitely helpful for me and I hope it will be for you too.
It consists of three main areas A, B and C. You certainly don’t have to try and do this all in one go. It’s meant to just be there as a reference guide to refer back to whenever you feel slacking in your progress or to keep ongoing. Even just one point would be a great start.
So, first things first:
A) Make Visual Goals & Get Visually Organized
Have a visual timeline on a board/wall in front of your computer/in you work room.
This can quickly help you see what your goals in life are and whether you are on track to making them happen. It takes practice to find the right length of time for goals to motivate you into action.
It will be different for each person but make too many in a short space of time and you simply won’t do any of them. Make them too distant and you won’t feel the time constraints that force you into action. For me, having one main goal a month was finally the balance that worked best.
Create a goal chart and backward flow until you have tasks you can do right now.
This isn’t a daily task. It’s something you should revisit though, say month-to-month. It’s also the one step that is incredibly hard to implement as it involves getting yourself to sit down and knuckle down for a while (‘trick your brain‘ may help here), so I tried to make this easier.
Instead of thinking you have to make an immaculate spreadsheet of what you need to do, simply get an A4 paper and a pen and draw the goal in the middle of a mindmap. This should be the end goal, like ‘climb a mountain’.
Of course, the best way to climb a mountain is to get out there and do it, and not just put it down as a bucket list goal that might or might not happen, but you might not be able to do it right now, and you will likely get distracted by other goals before that happens too.
Writing it down gives it meaning and purpose, but you might need to do other ‘easier’ things to feel the ball rolling, so work backward from that goal until you can do some task today that isn’t so big or overwhelming.
It could be that you need to establish a way of exercising each day, or go from walking on the flat to on hills gradually, or learn to improve your nutrition for the climb, or find a warmer jacket, or get a buddy to join you etc. Work back until you can do something today and then move on to the next part.
Use Richly’s ‘3 Things Technique‘.
You now have visual guides set up and a good idea of what to actually try and focus on. The last part would be to simply pick 3 things you can do today.
It might be to ‘write an article’, ‘call a client’ or so on. These are tasks that you can get done in the day and which don’t require an infinite amount of focus.
What I do is pick one as the absolute priority and write it on a yellow post-it note and pick two others and mark them down on a light blue one. Then put them on a noticeboard in front of you (nothing more than these three as cluttered noticeboards are just another distraction that stops focus. It becomes very clear what we have to do today now.
You can do this using a todo list app like Todoist, but this is actually an anti-productive idea as you’ll likely end up spending too much time and valuable energy just writing an overwhelming list of things you never really get done or stick to. Instead, when you have a thought of what you need to do, just quickly write it down on your notepad under a page called ‘todos’ and then leave it until you give yourself a post-it note task to focus on it.
The 3 Things A Day technique can be used in a number of ways such as ensuring you find balance in your day with 1 thing you must get done, 1 thing to make sure you are social, and 1 thing to make money etc. It’s flexible to your needs.
After you do a task I recommend getting a ‘complete jar’ which is visual satisfaction without the cookies. You can leave this jar on your desk and see all those completed post-it notes as both a reminder of achievement and in reward (see later).
Visual goals certainly help people with ADHD get more things done, but it’s only useful if we can get into the ‘flow’ where our hyper-focus can get into full swing (and ensure our hyper-focus can actually be on ‘mundane’ tasks we need to do and not just video games or sports), but to do that we need a few more things working in our favour by eliminating other distractions first.[mepr-show rules=”10441″ unauth=”message”]
B) Clean & Set Up Your Workspace For Flow
Clear your desk at the start/end of each day.
This one might be easy or hard for you. I know a couple of people who have OCD alongside their ADHD and their desk is always immaculate, but others simply get distracted and leave junk everywhere.
Clearing your desk first is important to help you avoid unwanted distractions (or feel the need to put everything in order in the middle of a task).
There’s a lot of talk as to whether having a messy desk promotes creative thinking or not, but for someone with ADHD having a messy desk will likely do two things; distract you easier or make you feel like there are a million other things to get done, both stopping you from focusing on the one task at hand.
Set up a timer and use it.
Work to a timer, NOT a calendar.
It doesn’t matter what time you get the 3 things done, just so long as you do them within the day (although it can help to ‘eat the frog’ in the morning to build momentum).
I recommend a visual timer, like those used in creative brainstorming sessions. I’ve used them in creative workshops before but also find them very useful for my own self-focused (or attempted-focused) tasks.
You can visually see how long has passed and is left, and they work best on an hours basis, but you can also set it lower than that to smaller time chunks to help you slowly build up your focus times.
When the timer is done you can stop, but if the task isn’t done you can keep working on it too if you’ve found you are in a flow. It’s just a guideline that works best for ‘getting’ you into focus. I recommend you don’t stop when in the flow as it is always harder to get back into if you do stop.
Eliminate distractions, noise, and popups.
When ready to focus on a task try to eliminate surrounding potential influence. Only open up web pages if they assist the task, and if you find yourself too tempted to look elsewhere then you’ll benefit from a couple of apps that can help you.
I recommend using Tide and a Google Chrome extension called One Tab. Tide is a great app that allows you to focus on one task whilst it can force you to ‘flip’ your phone over in focus mode, as well as it playing focus music as you do your task (assuming your task is online).
It works with the Pomodoro technique that separates time chunks into 25 minutes (with 5-minute breaks in between), although you can adjust it to fit your needs.
One Tab is a very handy tool that minimizes all your open tabs into just one (and saves memory at the same time). It’s amazing just how clear your mind becomes when you see 25 tabs turn into 1. Of course, if like me then they do all build up again, but just press the button again and they are swept into a side tab where everything sits behind closed doors if you do actually need to open some tabs again (often you don’t).
Don’t overload yourself with too many apps for too many different things either, you really only need a couple.
Another way of eliminating distractions is to put on some noise-canceling headphones (the over-the-ear ones work better than the Airpods earphones in my opinion).
To truly get focused I also turn down the lights a little and put on a hooded top over my headphones to feel as though no one is around me and I can find a flow easier (but that’s just me ha).
I’d also suggest stopping any pop-up notifications. Set up focus assist (or something similar) to stop notifications from coming through when you start a flow session. Avoid emails completely.
Finally, if working on a writing task then open a note out to full screen so you can’t be distracted by other notes on your screen (unless you need them to work together).
Trick your brain.
I just mentioned how distractions take our attention away quickly so we could use the same trick to distract our brains the opposite way.
Treat the task in front of you as a distraction, as something that allows you to just explore your curiosity and all the other noise around as annoying blocks to that curiosity. It’s like making a kid eat something they don’t want by making it appear like you really want it instead, and suddenly they will eat it.
Our minds are curious like kids so why not use that to our advantage. It’s always the boring or hard parts that we try to avoid doing so we need to make it feel more fun to stay on task, and turning it into a game may work for some.
Let’s say the problem is that we don’t want to organize something that we’ve put off or seems too overwhelming. Then turn it into a challenge or a problem to fix.
Our creative side naturally comes out when we have problems to fix in front of us, and creativity and ADHD curiosity go well together. Our brain naturally flows when there’s a dopamine rush coming our way (just look at how many people are addicted to social media platforms each day), so we can try and trick our brain into making our task the absorbing, dopamine-inducing part of our day.
As they say, love your work and never work a day in your life.
Automate the process.
With ADHD we might not know when we have that spark of flow where we seem to go from hyper-agitated to hyper-focused, and we don’t want to mess up that flow so the process of starting a task should be quick and painless. You should find the best way to automate your process once you’ve got something down that works for you.
If it’s such a task in itself to get set up for optimal focus and flow then we likely won’t do it.
It’s a good idea to test out a process again and again at first. See how much time it takes you to get into work. From picking your task on a post-it note it shouldn’t take any longer than a couple of minutes to be able to get on with it.
With just a few movements you should easily be able to get your headphones on, close down any tabs or programs not useful for the task, ensure popup notifications aren’t enabled, and have your timer start.
We should actually try to automate as many repetitive tasks that don’t need direct attention such as paying bills on time. What we don’t want is to spend our day testing out different processes and never settle on one. That is just procrastinating and giving us an excuse to let our minds wander. The point is to get a fixed approach that can be turned on and set up very quickly.
So let’s say you are now working on a task. How do you allow yourself to flow, and stay flowing? Many of the tools above will help focus but we are prone to being distracted whilst working on something that at first feels okay but soon turns into boredom, then downright dread. Something we might have liked at first (because it was new at the time) can quickly become tedious. It would explain why I have hundreds of ‘unfinished’ notes.
Here are some ideas to counteract that.
C) 15 Ways To Keep Yourself On-Task & In The Flow
1) Treat it as finished.
People with ADHD are similar to ‘Scanners’ in that they often find it hard to finish a task.
Yet the Pareto principle rings true where 80% of the output is often created by just 20% of the input. The other 80% is more or less wasted time for the ROI of the last 20%.
Perfectionism might seem far away from someone with ADHD (it’s not that we must be 100% all the time) but there’s a correlation in how we never feel finished. If we were to work on a task and get the bulk of it done, there’s likely no hugely noticeable difference between doing it to 80% than there is spending all that extra time trying to get it to 100%.
Our brains can’t focus on all those extra details, and if they can then we’d likely be too distracted by something else anyway to keep at it. Treating a task as finished will help us tick off a sense of accomplishment, just like ‘little wins’ does do.
However, adding loads of tasks to a to-do list that aren’t really relevant or important towards our overall goal will only give us a false sense of achievement and won’t help.
2) Stirrers and settlers.
Many years ago I had a little stint helping to teach young elementary learners English and I remember a technique that was used to help control kids’ overactive and excitable imaginations.
It was called stirrers and settlers. You would divide a lesson into activities that would have a stirrer (and active productive task) follow by a settler (a calmer receptive task). I kept hold of the strategy and tried to use it in my own working style.
If I find I’m getting too distracted by another task or project or general pleasure that I’d prefer to do because this task is taking too long and waning, I will stop it for a bit and take a break, do a bit of exercise, have a shower.
Doing an activity completely away from your current focus, and without going onto another task, allows your mind to whitespace in the background, and it turns the task into something fun again as it is in problem-solving mode.
It’s the equivalent of writer’s block. You spend too long on one area and you can start going over and over the same idea and never seem to ‘settle’ on an outcome. Enter a stirrer. You could introduce a different character or setting and you have yourself a fresh idea.
Whilst ideas aren’t generally a problem for people with ADHD, the ability to keep on task is, so using the same approach can fuel some energy back into a task.
3) Write. A lot.
This is a really hard one. It took me years to actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
Any time I had an idea I would either just discard it or try and do it and then never make much further progress.
When we are younger we tend not to like writing anyway, regardless of whether we have ADHD or not. It feels like a chore. It also takes longer to do than speaking and is harder than receptively listening or reading (although focusing on that wasn’t great either).
So what changed? Why do I write endless amounts of notes nearly every day today? How did that happen?
Well, I found that it wasn’t that someone with ADHD couldn’t write, but just found it hard to really get into it.
Then I read an article (no longer there) about our superpowers, about how there’s a natural flow of creativity because we are constantly pushing our mind around to new places to take new stimuli in, and even a hyper-focus because it’s not like we were spared of ‘attention’ (like an unfinished Edward Scissorhands) but more how our attention is deregulated from being normal due to lower dopamine levels.
So what can we do?
We have to repeat things to ourselves more, a lot more. We were nagged as kids hundreds of times to brush our teeth and may still forget occasionally.
Working in the design industry I learned pretty early on the importance of subtle (and not-so-subtle) repetition. When you see something enough times (8 is the magic number apparently) then you start consciously recognising it more. It’s why companies repeat the same ads over and over.
For us, that means repeating things to ourselves more. It’s why having purposeful notifications can help remind us to keep doing something (rather than the many other notifications that are just vying for our attention – block these).
On top of this we should be telling ourselves that the task we need to do is good for us, fun even, to help compensate for lower dopamine levels (see trick the brain).
After a while, I finally developed the ability to put finger-to-keyboard and just write, and when I did it did become fun.
The first time I did I ended up writing for 5 days straight, just pouring thoughts and ideas out. They had no real connection other than it creating a flow in me I didn’t know I had, which brings us to another point.
How do you know you are in the flow?
It feels like your voice or movie in your head playing out and leading you rather than consciously having to think too hard of what to say, write or do.
4) Allow a time to empty.
‘Emptying’ (or ‘offloading’) means to just empty our mind of its many streams of ideas. I guess you could call it ‘draining’ but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Deleting is also a rewarding task where you actually delete content or notes you no longer need (although for creative stimulation it can be best to just ‘sub bench’ some ideas, not deleted but hidden away in another folder if you need them later). Anyway, back to emptying.
Each day it’s likely that curiosity will take you in many different directions, and as a result, many ideas will come and go.
Now, when on a task it’s not a good time to ’empty’ (more on that next), but at some point in your day, ideally at a time when your creative peak is, err, peaking, it can be a great idea to just empty your thoughts out.
Some people do this through journaling, others through dictation. Others just meditate and let their mind wander. Whatever works for you. It’s just important that you do it otherwise your mind will become overloaded with ideas, and it will be more like flooding than ’emptying’.
This allows your mind to just flow without restriction and it can help build up hyper-focus too where you find you are being less distracted.
5) Quick fire notes.
However, if you are on task then you need to stay in the flow. But what happens if other ideas or thoughts come to you whilst you are on task?
Most likely we will flip open our browser and search Google for some information, taking us away from the task at hand.
In this case, we can benefit from having a notepad at hand (always). If an idea comes to us and we can’t empty it out of our minds then simply write it down quickly on the notepad (real paper or a quick-access app) and get back to the task before the temptation to move onto the other idea or task sinks in.
If we use a paper notepad then we can also simply add a letter (like a code for a related project) to the note so we can find it again later and know what it was about. You can then always group your notes together for a purposeful focus session (post-it note task) later.
Some people say you should just ignore ideas that come to you and try and find them later in the day but with ADHD that can be a disaster as you just know your mind will be racing and searching for the ideas you had before earlier in the day, and no doubt spark new thoughts, and become a cocktail of confusion.
With an ADHD mind, you don’t need to learn how to trigger whitespacing. Your unconscious side is already firing and as soon as a new idea comes (whether you want to work on it now or not) your unconscious imagination is already at work. It makes it so hard to just ignore an idea, so the best thing I found is to simply write it down on a notepad at hand and then get back to what you were meant to be focusing on.
6) Organizing (importance) sessions.
Okay, this one most will hate (trick the brain again, pretend your curious problem-solving side will love it).
Emptying is useful but let’s say we have a whole load of new notes now. Every day we are adding to our thoughts, and at some point they become overwhelming. So much so that we just don’t even want to look at them.
This is why we need to have the occasional organizing session. It’s where at least one of our 3 post-it notes is dedicated to going through notes, thoughts, backflow chart etc. and we update it (we should also sub-bench and delete here too).
Just like with the goal chart we have to make it as painless as possible, so we revert back to the 3 things method.
From our notes what 3things stand out as important? If you were to move them to the recycle bin (not permanently) would you feel like you are missing anything or would it bring up a feeling of loss?
Our gut instinct often tells us a lot.
It’s worth doing this organising session (like a spring clean) after a few days or each week or two. Often what we thought was a good idea was just a search for validation in our own minds at the time, and often what we thought was a task that ‘must’ be done really isn’t that important in the end. Some are though and it’s for us to decipher which are more important and which aren’t.
Treat this organizing like a brainstorm to work out new patterns rather than a boring chore of overwhelming mess and you may find that you can even look forward to them (maybe not, but maybe).
7) Minimize where possible.
Our minds in today’s tech-led world are easily swayed from one direction to another, and it’s another level when having to deal with the onslaught of thoughts that ADHD sufferers can often have in waves.
How on earth do you actually get anything done when your mind is constantly distracted by people and businesses all around the world shouting desperately for attention?
You could say, ‘just ignore them and get on with what you have to do’, but as we know that isn’t really an easy thing to do.
We can adopt some suggestions above but we also need to set up a habit (if possible) to minimize stimulus when things are becoming too overwhelming (like taking a kid out of a sweet shop), but also allowing us a reward for when we do something on our task list (more on that next).
While this article might be quite extensive, and admittedly not always so easy for someone with ADHD to fully focus on in one session (it is meant to act more as a bookmarked reference guide to keep coming back to), we are generally better off when we can edit or delete rather than add to our thoughts (when we need to get things done).
We might have a list of hundreds of things we like or want to do, which ain’t going to go away in our minds, but we can at least put a lot of them behind a curtain until the time for them to pop up comes, and then have less in our immediate focus to distract us.
As visual creatures, our minds tend to tick with ideas when we have something visual to feed on, but take visuals away and we reduce both the physical and mental clutter around us. This can work for the number of physical objects we have in our room.
I did an experiment years ago (well it took me years to finally finish) to see if having an office that was minimalistic or maximalist would help focus.
Whilst it was only a home test and not a study building up data or averages on numerous people, my findings were that when I stripped away the room to the bare minimum of essentials my mind also followed.
There was a feeling of anxiety along the way like I was missing something at first, but through hard perseverance, I went with it and my mind started to clear and the temptation to add more, both in physical stuff and mental clutter, became less.
However, I also noted that my creative side fell short too at first. It was like I was starved of creative oxygen and even though I got stuff done, I didn’t feel like I enjoyed the accomplishments, and was longing for those times of creative flow again (a gift we should not expel).
Therefore, I tried another experiment, where I would have another room that was more maximalist, with creative inspiration everywhere.
Did it help?
Yes, I certainly found that ideas were flowing, but I also found it had to be in small doses as too much time in this room and I’d lose focus on the point of the creative inspiration and find I had ideas running around all sorts of projects that would never amount to anything. But for a creative stimulus, it works wonders for overcoming writer’s block.
The key really is to find that happy place that lies in between creative freedom and logical focus, and this is true for everyone regardless of having ADHD or not.
Just with ADHD, we don’t need much for creative stimulus to fire up, but we need a lot more for our focus to be more aligned as it’s imbalanced. Therefore, we know we have to take advantage of our hyper-focus when it comes, and therefore create as conductive environment as possible to allow this to come about.
It involves experimentation to see what works better for your form of ADHD. Experiment and see what works.
With lots of attempted focus in the past and getting nowhere, I finally found that combining the two helped the most. I’ve interestingly found minimalism to help me focus better when writing an article or novel (as when you have a blank page/screen in front of you and no fixed task of what to do, only your imagination to think and write, then without surrounding distraction once you get in the flow of writing), but maximalism for when creating UI app layouts.
9) Find varied projects or careers.
People with ADHD are best suited to jobs that are flexible and require a multitude of skill sets and thinking.
Think researchers, virtual assistants, actors, entrepreneurs, designers, etc.
There’s enough opportunities to tailor your ADHD so it doesn’t have to become a burden on your life and career, but you have to be honest with yourself that you will find it hard to stick to typical 9-5 routines, and as much as advice says you need a schedule and to stick to it, we just know that won’t really happen.
Therefore, finding work where you have varied projects of different focuses can actually work in your favour. It’s something others find very hard to do. As long as you are able to use certain tips above and find focus for at least a period of time then your career would work best when you treat it more like school. Not in terms of ‘a different lesson every hour’ (as time constraints to the exact hour will likely not be followed), but instead ‘the ability to float between simultaneous projects’.
If you focused on writing an article but then lost some flow along the way, then you can regain it by switching to a project where you are required to do something totally different, such as building an apps UI.
Whilst it might seem hard enough to set up one career, never mind multiple ones (such is our modern world’s specialist obsession over generalist – which will change, I’m sure), it certainly isn’t impossible and it is actually the most fruitful in terms of stabilized incomes and job satisfaction.
There’s another technique I developed over the years called ‘quick adaption‘. In my work trying to help train other people to bring out their problem-solving capability, I found that the ability to adapt from one type of thought process to another was key in being able to solve problems more efficiently.
This technique isn’t just useful for ADHD sufferers (who are naturally good at turning their focus, just not directing it to conclusion), but for anyone in today’s busy and attention-seeking world. It’s learning how to ‘flip the switch’ so you can go from divergent to convergent thinking and see problems from a different perspective.
10) Lock in the focus.
A potentially useful tactic that I found was to lock in the focus.
This means that when you create a conducive environment to getting into focus don’t allow others around you to distract it too easily.
I’m now in the fortunate position to have my own home office (well I worked hard to get to that point), but even so I can have family around me at times who can walk into my office and my flow can completely go.
It’s highly frustrating as to them (who don’t have ADHD) they forget I can’t just go back to work easily after I’ve dealt with something on their mind, but as we know we can’t. It’s hard enough getting into focus, but even harder to return back to it once distracted.
Therefore, I made a simple rule. When the door is closed don’t come in. It might sound harsh and selfish to do so but you have to maintain a focus when you have it.
Also, when people around you can understand your difficulties and try to empathize with them they will be less likely to walk in on you when they need something (although humans are humans and it still happens).
You could go further and lock your door completely if it helps but do remember to unlock it and embrace time with others too. As much as we need added time to master our focus, we also do need time of letting our minds flow into other important areas in life.
11) Let out frustration early and safely.
One thing that people massively misunderstand about people with ADHD is that they must be ‘uninspired’, ‘directionless’, ‘lazy’, and even (the worst) ‘angry or disruptive to society’.
No. We. Are. Not. (at least not until you say that)
It can be common to become frustrated.
Frustration in how we have so many ideas come and go and not ‘used’ (because society makes you think everything you do has to become commercialized – it doesn’t).
Frustration in trying so hard but seemingly getting nowhere.
Frustration in forgetting what you were thinking two days ago as you move on to another idea.
Frustration in being labeled and misunderstood.
It’s safe to say that having ADHD is frustrating, so we need ways to deal with that. When your flow is distracted, for example, in order to get back into the flow soon after you should deal with that frustration there and then.
Don’t vent it at other people (if they distracted you), or let it build up into resentment.
Instead, I find having something around my desk such as squeeze balls helps, or so does a big deep breath, or taking a second to do a 5-minute meditation. These are the times meditation really helps and you can treat it as a mini-break, but don’t diverge too long or you will only find it harder to get back on task again after.
Let out the steam and move on, rather than let it linger. If you can, use the negative frustration as fuel to motivate you to focus even more (although this anti-fragility takes a lot of practice).
12) Fail and repeat, in increments.
This one can’t be underestimated. If there’s one thing we are guilty of with ADHD it’s how we move on to something when something becomes boring or difficult.
We aren’t quitters but just have a constant need and curiosity to keep our minds active. However, if we don’t sometimes force ourselves to do the harder things then we don’t build that kind of resilience in order to push through when we really need to.
Of course, to be told to just ‘focus’ is pretty dumb advice, usually given by those without ADHD, but learning how to just do something regardless of whether we like it or not is important.
Let’s say you want to build up a writing habit but can’t get yourself to pick up a pen or open up a digital notebook.
Well, the first goal is to do that and write a couple of sentences.
The next day a few more, and so on.
Whilst in theory this seems like common sense it’s not always easy to do. I mean the next day we will no doubt be surfing our minds off to another mental paradise, so it might not have to be tomorrow, it could just be the next time you are at your laptop.
Association is key. If we associate a place with a task then the task becomes easier (it’s why you should never work in bed). When you eventually associate a place with a task then you can learn to push and bit more with it each day (or whenever you are around that space). Let’s say you have a fear of speaking via the internet on videos, and you do one video call and it’s a disaster.
It’s likely to make you not want to do it again, it wasn’t fun, it was the opposite.
Well, if you don’t try again you will always associate that task with being horrible, but if you try again you will find that it’s less bad. Maybe not good, but a bit more polished, a little less nervous.
Eventually, it’s not such a chore anymore, it’s not so hard, it could actually be exciting, as it opens up the doors to many more possibilities that your creative and curious mind will likely conjure up around it.
People with ADHD are really people with a huge amount of hidden potential, that if allowed to push through the hurdles (that often lead to distraction elsewhere) they can become great natural creative problem solvers that we all need around us.
13) Turn thoughts into lists, and even shorter lists.
This list started with 40-50 ideas but even though they were initially written as random unassociated notes, then broken down into a long list of related ideas. It still felt a bit overwhelming, so I cut the list in half (and yes it’s still very long, but reference guides are a bit different ;)).
There’s a reason why some of the more successful articles have catchy headlines such as ’11 ways to…’. They make it sound digestible. It might seem like having more is better (like 101 ways to…) but in reality, they actually do the opposite as they can become just long, redundant lists that people can’t do anything with, especially if they are lists of generic ideas without any actionable advice within them.
Yet it goes further with an ADHD mind.
Large lists of ideas don’t help us, especially if they are vague, because all they really do is invite possibilities (just possibilities without guidance and answers). The curious nature of an ADHD mind will want to know some (if not all) of those answers.
It’s like saying ‘you’ll never guess who I saw today’ to someone and then stopping there and walking away. It will now be on that other person’s mind. Someone without ADHD will likely let it go soon enough, but with ADHD you will be distracted by it (at least until another new distraction comes along).
The smaller we can bring lists down to the better.
14) Write in bullet point step-by-step lists.
This one is more for the writers amongst us, but can be very helpful for ADHD sufferers too.
As well as having smaller lists to help us receptively focus we can also produce more through writing or creating step-by-step lists.
This guide was first outlined as a quick bullet point list. It allowed me to get ideas out for this article whilst busy doing other things, and allowed me to come back to it without being overwhelmed by too many unrelated and disorganised thoughts to make sense out of (too much and your mind quickly tires).
Before I would write in sentences and paragraphs, but when hyper-focused the problem of someone with ADHD isn’t about coming up with ideas (you can write A LOT) but in how that note ends up becoming just another mess in the jigsaw of increasingly messy and unorganized notes.
It’s not that people can’t get any work done, it’s often that when they do they simply don’t know how to organise them after (editing is not our strong point) and end up leaving them as a pile of notes that themselves become overwhelming after (see organising sessions).
Instead, I was able to come back to the list and then start writing out the flesh of each listed point, condense some of the lists into less, delete some completely, and then compile the rest.
Even writing a guide as long as this didn’t feel overwhelming as I was able to gather my thoughts and direct them to a related bullet-pointed list item or topic rather than just note down anywhere without structure.
When we talk about needing structure with ADHD this is what is really meant, not about sticking to a time schedule you’ll likely never follow. I can’t repeat that enough (it may work to force children into habits, but it is another thing in adults). It’s about ensuring your mind can focus easier on a related bit of information so it can’t wander.
Having bullet points really helps you focus your attention on one bullet point at a time and before you know it you have created more substantial content.
This works for anything you focus your mind on, not just writing an article. You break down your focus into manageable segments.
15) Don’t edit your content, just your lists.
This again may apply more to the writers amongst you but it can be used as a general tip too.
With ADHD we know we find it hard to filter and edit. Whilst we should try hard to do so to help manage what we want to actually do, when it comes down to creating and focusing on a task at hand then we really shouldn’t limit our imagination here, we should let it blossom.
Our greatest gift is in our ability to get totally engrossed in something and just think or write away, so don’t worry about editing everything down to a specific length, just let it out and edit around it as you go.
Allow the voice within you to guide you like you are simply transcribing down what your mind is telling you, as when you start getting your imagination and your productive output working together then you end up being able to allow your imagination to feed into actions rather than just thoughts.
You get tasks done. You create content not just think about it.
This has an enabling effect as it allows your mind to free itself from some material that is now out of your mind and dealt with, giving you more room to unleash curiosity onto other areas once you’ve finished.
Don’t worry about all those excessive notes or thoughts. You really don’t have to use all of them. Allow yourself to follow methods mentioned above like ’emptying’ or ‘sub-benching’ and they won’t be much of an issue. They will largely be out of sight.
Make Sure To Reward Yourself (& Go Again)
Remember those 3 post-it notes? from the ‘3 Things Technique’?
When one of the 3 post-it note tasks is done (or when you have managed to focus for longer), you should be rewarding yourself.
This doesn’t mean having a week off after each mini-triumph, but giving yourself a reward to work together when you complete enough mini-victories (smaller rewards are important otherwise you will likely feel the overall goal is too big and you don’t do and feel frustrated again and likely just reward yourself anyway without the results. Smaller tasks help guide towards the bigger goal making it more attainable).
After getting into the flow of organizing I took the 3 Things idea a little further.
I took a green post-it note and put it on the jar. I’d write (or get my other half to write) a reward down on the jar, and once I had enough completed notes in the jar (stipulated on the reward note) I’d then get the reward. For smaller tasks, this would lead towards small rewards, like chocolate bars, etc., but for bigger goals (my green post-it notes) I would get a bigger reward.
It might seem like it only works with children, but it absolutely works with adults too.
You can do this for whatever your main goals are, whether it be finding income working for yourself, or figuring out how to build your own doghouse in your garden, etc. Then think of an adequate reward for the efforts of completion.
Suffice to say, this is useful for anyone, not just people with ADHD.
Like I said before, it’s taken me years of struggle to finally get to some kind of setup that helps me focus a bit better through the day. These are the methods I invented or picked up along the way, and I use them as they work for me, but not all of these suggestions will work for everyone.
I don’t always succeed, and I procrastinate a lot still, but keep at it and try and implement at least one new thing today and you’ll find you might get an extra 15 minutes somewhere in the day. It might not sound like a lot but it can really help you be motivated to keep going.
There may be other ideas you wish there was around to help you, such as how I wish there was a way to ‘lock’ a note in Evernote whilst working on it, as well as an option to see ‘unfinished marks’ for unfinished sentences as your mind goes to another step as a new idea comes up, so you could get back to it and find it easily again.
You might have your own ideas too. Likely you do. Feel free to share them amongst each other in the comments board below.
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