How to Be Organized with ADD/ADHD
Adults and children with ADD/ADHD can be particularly susceptible to disorganization, both in their material surroundings and how they approach everyday life. This reality can be both annoying and impractical for people with busy timetables. Thankfully, there are numerous strategies that can help people with ADD/ADHD — and, honestly, anyone — become better organized.
Replacing Clutter with Order
Create eye-catching reminders and receptacles.When you have ADD/ADHD, it can be easier to miss or forget about reminders. Use colors, shapes, and placements to make sure that reminders catch your eye and hold your attention until the task is completed. Interesting visuals connected to your actual organizational materials can also help keep your interest while you are in the process of organizing.
- For instance, purchase patterned, colorful folders. Sorting out your clutter doesn't have to be boring; try buying bright, fun colored folders to make it less of a chore. You could even try accessorizing the folders with glitter, stickers and shapes.
- Don’t, however, get too caught up in perfecting the style and presentation of your organizational categories and materials. Overly complex, detailed, or “bedazzled” filing and sorting systems can take time away from the actual process of getting organized.
Limit your options.If you find yourself throwing hangers full of clothes on the bed each morning while trying to find a shirt and pants that match, you may be giving yourself too many options for your own good. ADD/ADHD can, in some people, further enhance the “mental paralysis” that occurs when too many alternatives are presented.
- Narrow down the color palate of your wardrobe so that practically everything matches. If you want to have a slightly larger clothing color spectrum, choose warm-weather clothes in one color range and cold-weather clothes in another. And, would anyone at the office really notice if you rotate through the same seven outfits or so?
- Try to limit your options in other areas as well. For instance, try to have as few bank accounts and credit cards as possible. This gives you fewer statements and bills to try to keep track of. Or, if you pack your lunch each day, have the exact same menu each Monday, Tuesday, etc. (and pack it the night before).
Sort through your stuff regularly.Have a set time (marked clearly on your calendar) every few weeks or monthly when you sort through all the accumulating stuff in your home or office. Turn it into a habit, so that you would feel like something was amiss if you didn’t do your regular “weed out.”
- Sort through your piles of stuff and immediately place it into one of five (or fewer, but not more than five) groups: Keep, Toss, Give, Donate, Recycle. Do not let yourself create any “maybe” or “not sure” piles; make immediate decisions.
- While it’s not ideal, if you simply can't muster the time or energy to organize clutter, try putting it into vague piles so they're easier to look through when you can do your full-on sorting. You could dedicate a certain drawer or area to a specific thing, e.g. revision sheets in the wardrobe drawer.
Discard relentlessly.When sorting through your stuff regularly, make it your default action to get rid of things. That is, make it so that each item of clutter has to “prove” its continued usefulness in order to hang around. If the stuff has potential value (but not for you), sell it, donate it, or give it away.
- Don’t ask yourself “Might I ever find this useful or necessary?” Instead, ask “Is this valuable enough to keep right now, in place of other useful things?”
- Again, while it’s not ideal, create a “ripening drawer” for things you can’t decide on. If you think that there is a slight chance that you may need them, put items aside and out of the way instead of leaving them piling up alongside things you do need. Once the ripening drawer fills up, force yourself to make a final decision on the contents.
Focus more on the short term.One of the frustrating things about ADD/ADHD is that it may spur you to have hyper-focus on the “here and now” in one moment, then have you getting worked up about things weeks, months, and years down the line in another. Long-range planning is a good idea for all of us, but when it comes to getting organized and reducing clutter, narrow your gaze to the shorter term.
- Create a shopping list and shop for groceries only for the week ahead, not for weeks and months to come.
- Keep a small basket for unread magazines, etc. If you haven’t tried to read an issue by the time one or two new ones have arrived, assume you’ll never read it and recycle it. Don’t keep it for that week at the beach six months from now.
- Prepare for emergencies by having a first aid kit, adequate supplies of water, food, etc., but don’t create an “apocalypse bunker.” Emphasize resourcefulness (making due with the essentials you have available) above over-preparation (having a supply of everything you may possibly ever need).
Maximizing Efficiency and Productivity
Implement a motivation strategy.Getting motivated enough to do things can be a major obstacle for people with ADD/ADHD. To deal with this obstacle, you might find it helpful to develop a motivation strategy. Some things you might try include:
- Setting a timer to help keep yourself focused. Try setting a timer and work until the timer goes off and then reward yourself after. For example, you could set a timer to work on something for 20 minutes and then reward yourself with 20 minutes of playing a favorite video game.
- Identifying reasons to be grateful. You might find it easier to do common household tasks and other jobs if you remind yourself that many people cannot do these things because of physical limitations. This gratitude may help to motivate you.
- Prioritize your to-do list. It can be hard to get motivated if you have a huge to-do list and are not sure where to start. To help motivate yourself, try ranking the items on your list from most to least important. Then, start working on the most important tasks.
Aim for “better,” not “perfect.” For some people with ADD/ADHD, disorganization is rooted in perfectionism. Because they fear the reality that they can never become perfectly organized, they hesitate to make even minor attempts at improving organization. In essence, they see it as “I can’t fail if I don’t try.”
- By narrowing the focus to manageable, incremental improvements, your paralysis based on perfectionism can be overcome. If you have diagnosed ADD/ADHD, rely upon your treatment plan — therapy, counseling, support networks, medication, etc. — as a key element in changing your perspective.
Prioritize and be realistic about your tasks.Remember that regardless of whether you have ADD/ADHD or not, you can’t accomplish everything. Whether it’s at the office, at home, or in school, you need to create priorities in your list of daily tasks and focus on completing those that are most important and most manageable.
- Don't try to do too many things. Don't sign yourself up for extra tasks unless you know that you will have the time and interest to do them when they need to be done. And if you do find yourself in the situation where you're unable to do a task, be honest and open with whoever assigned the task instead of stressing over it.
Organize for efficiency.While this quality is by no means limited to people with ADD/ADHD, you may find yourself eager to begin tasks but struggling to complete them. Even mundane tasks like retrieving, sorting, and filing the mail or taking out the trash and putting a new bag in the bin may often be left half-done.
- Create a layout in your home or office that makes starting and completing a task as simple as possible. Set up a mail sorting station right near the door closest to your mailbox and include a trash can or recycling bin so junk mail is immediately discarded. Keep the roll of new trash bags right near the receptacle, along with a hard-to-miss reminder of the trash pickup schedule.
Pair up your tasks.In the U.S. at least, the weekends during which Daylight Saving Time begins and ends are always filled with reminders to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors while you move your clocks ahead or back an hour. Merging two tasks into one is not only more efficient, it also makes it more likely that you will remember and follow through with them.
- Try associating paying the bills with weeding out unnecessary statements and receipts. Or, for that matter, take little breaks from giving the house a monthly cleaning to pay your bills. (This is especially effective if you can coordinate the due dates of your major bills, which is a good idea for anyone.)
- However, breaking up tasks into smaller ones may help you as well. For example, you might have “clean the kitchen” on your list, which can be broken down into smaller tasks like “wash dishes,” “rinse sink,” “wipe off stove,” “sweep floor,” “mop floor,” etc. After you do one of these actions, cross it off the list, take a break if you want, and then do the next one.
Don’t try to do it all alone.Everyone can use a bit of help getting better organized. People with ADD/ADHD, however, might particularly benefit from a “body double” — that is, another person who joins them in doing tasks (especially mundane ones). Having a trusted companion by your side can provide added motivation and focus.
- Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks as well. Why shouldn’t your kids help clean up the house? And isn’t that one of the reasons why you have an administrative assistant (or, even better, interns) at work?
Helping Kids Get Organized
Create to-do lists.Kids with ADD/ADHD need simple, explicit, unavoidable reminders and lists to keep them on track. Create a master to-do list for chores, etc. in a conspicuous common area (like on the fridge), along with an individualized list for each child. Update it regularly.
- Make sure that the lists are short and each task is simple and straight to the point. This will help minimize the chances of your child getting distracted or bored when examining the lists and trying to complete the tasks.
- Try things like “Take out the trash each night at 7 pm” or “Do your homework starting at 3:30”.
Provide small rewards.Consider having a small reward for completing each task, e.g. a sticker. Don’t go overboard and make it seem as though you are bribing or paying your child to do what is expected of him or her. Stick with simple, age-appropriate tokens of appreciation for completing tasks.
- In truth, small rewards can work for people of all ages. Every time you accomplish a task that you could have done later, reward yourself. This could be anything from putting on some music to putting a few coins into a jar, which can eventually amount to enough to buy something nice.
Label everything.All kids misplace and lose things, and kids with ADD/ADHD can be even more naturally skilled in this area. Put their name in an easy-to-spot place on everything you send them out of the house with, from their lunchbox or phone to the clothes they are wearing. Never catch yourself assuming “there’s no way he could ever lose this … is there?”
- Label to help with organization as well. Mark the proper location for certain toys on the toys and the bin, shelf, etc. Use color coding and other eye-catching methods.
Create a “launch pad.” For kids with ADD/ADHD (and adults, for that matter), strive to streamline the process of getting ready and getting out the door. Near the main door that you use to exit your home, create a “launch pad” that provides a convenient spot for everything needed when your child leaves for school, etc.
- Have hooks for a jacket and backpack, shelves for a lunchbox and homework, cubbies for shoes, and so on. Label them clearly and require the items to be returned to their proper location upon return.
Help and teach your child.There is no way to avoid it: kids are going to sometimes drive you crazy with their disorganization and general messiness, and kids with ADD/ADHD may do so more than most. Try your best to remain calm and understanding, and help them to develop and enact strategies for efficiency and organization.
- Help your child create his or her own to-do lists, or to label his or her school items. Give your kid an active role in the process.
- Help clean up or get organized when necessary, but don’t take over the task or let your child “off the hook” when it comes to clear responsibilities.
- Lead by example. Keep your stuff (and yourself) organized.
Video: How do I get organized, cleaning house with add/adhd
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