How To Stay Organized With ADHD, According To 9 Women Who Live With It
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is often thought as a disorder that only affects children, and particularly boys. That couldn't be further from the truth. Many women and girls also have ADHD, but experts note they often struggle to receive diagnoses because ADHD tends to show up in different ways in women. Regardless of sex, though, ADHD in adults can create issues with focus, organization, attention, impulse control, and following through on plans. Because of the gender divide in perceptions of ADHD, women often aren't diagnosed with ADHD until well into adulthood. Coping with this mental illness can involve using medication or making lifestyle changes, and as nine women who live with ADHD tell Bustle, it can be a process of trial and error.
Liz, 47, who was diagnosed with ADHD last year, tells Bustle, "Up until my diagnosis, I was constantly scattered. I wasn't able to organize my thoughts, all tasks were done last-minute, and I never seemed to have a logical order for accomplishing errands. At work, I felt like I couldn't understand what the person was actually saying to me. Oftentimes, my house would look like it had been robbed, as I would start a project and abandon that project to move on to something different." Liz and eight other women shared their tips and tricks for focus, organization, and kicking ass at work with their ADHD on their side.
"Could I function without a bullet journal? NO. Literally the thing that made it possible for me to finish my DPhil.
"Bullet journals are magic — there's an official system but you can adapt it to your needs (which is what I did). For me it's basically a very specific diary with lots of tick-boxes and checklists so I don't forget how to function. Everything is broken down into manageable tasks, but all in one place. They don't have to be fancy (mine is colorful but very boring otherwise), but they're life-changing if you need a lot of structure to function. Which is one of the main things with ADHD.
"[For me], focus requires a lot of regular exercise and mega sh*t tons of caffeine (for its stimulant properties)."
"I started with a vision board so when things are crazy in my head I can remember why I'm doing what I'm doing. I use my alarm clock on my phone to remind me to drink water, call my mom, and follow up with business leads. I use my phone camera to take pictures of ideas and sometimes to take pictures of people holding their business cards so I remember what they look like.
"On the other hand, since I frequently forget my own business card, I have a picture of it so I can text it to people I meet. I try to keep my surroundings uncluttered, including my computer desktop. I have a faithful dog who reminds me not to sit all day so I get up and move. My phone and my Outlook calendar are my saving grace. I put every task on there and give it a time slot so I won't get sidetracked doing something else."
"Alarms in my phone. A planner. An understanding family who prompt me when I make a list and forget to check it."
"I have a Passion Planner and a Moleskine planner with the weekly-layout. The Passion Planner is where I keep track of all meetings, birthdays, events, etc. I love it because it has a month layout and week layout with time slots. It also has to-do lists and goal-setting sections. In the moleskin planner, I write out all of my to-dos under each client, then on the week side I bullet what tasks need to be done on the due date. If something is urgent or I’m behind on it, I highlight it.
"Every Monday, I wake up, meditate, set an intention for the week and pick three things I will accomplish no matter what. I choose one thing I am excited to do and two things that are hard.
"Next I open my calendar and make sure I have all my meetings in my planner. Then I open a spreadsheet that has my entire business on it — current income, hours I need to hit for each client, business expenses, and budget for the month. I update each client with the hours I worked the previous week and make note of how many hours I need to work for each client this week in order to hit my income goal. I also update this with any business expenses from the previous week and make note of any upcoming expenses.
"I meditate for 10 to 20 minutes every morning and I feel like it really slows down my mind and prepares me for the day.
"I always listen to music when I work in coffee shops but found music with lyrics to be distracting. I listen to instrumental hip-hop and instrumental jazz because it is upbeat but with no words. I have these amazing noise cancelling headphones that I couldn’t live without!
"I work in PR so some days this is impossible, but if I am able to I set up times to check my email and then shut it down completely. It has helped me so much to not have notifications popping up all the time while I am trying to focus.
"If I have a day when I notice I am jumping around a lot, I put everything away and write down the tasks I have to get done on a sticky note. Then I do those in order and check them off when I’m done. It helps to have the list right in front of me with no other distractions around.
"Some tools I use: Asana for project management, Timeneye for time tracking — I love this because it is visual — and Later for social media scheduling. I schedule a full week and then check in on it everyday in the morning. This saves me so much time and distraction!"
"I am on Adderall now and I can't tell you how it has changed my life! To be able to focus and complete tasks is amazing to me. As a makeup artist, there are lots of things I need to do to prepare for a job, and now I'm actually able to get everything done in plenty of time. I'm able to concentrate on my clients and their needs without having to stop and think (with enormous effort) about what I need to do next.
"To say that Adderall saved my sanity is an understatement. It is amazing to me how much I can now accomplish while taking this medication. I feel like my memory has improved, my ability to complete tasks has improved, and my communication with friends, family, and clients is so much better."
"I actively choose to set one to two full workdays a week as 'focus time.' This uninterrupted space is a boundary that allows me to contemplate and create with no distractions. Focus Assist helps me do that by turning off notifications, sounds and alerts to allow me to focus on the task at hand; it then catches me up with what I missed.
"I write down what I can and can’t be flexible on when planning my time. Understand what you can and can’t be flexible on as a way to honor yourself, your time and your wellbeing."
"I have tried to set myself up for success — if I absent-mindedly put my keys or phone on any surface after I finish using it, there's a massive chance it'll go missing and I'll be frantically searching for it everywhere with little time to spare. I made a habit of tossing them back into my bag immediately after use."
"I try to drink a kombucha at my desk every day to keep my gut health in check. I've heard that gut health is linked with ADHD and have noticed that I feel better when I drink it.
"I also keep an old school paper organizer in my bag. People can say what they want about it, but I was the only one prepared when Google Cals went down last week."
"Maintaining a clean and organized environment really helps me focus at work. This not only means having a clutter-free desk, but also listing out what’s scheduled for the day ahead. I also break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable parts, to stave off restlessness and distraction.
"I keep two to-do lists: one with work tasks and one with personal tasks to make sure nothing slips my mind and keep myself on track. I always make sure I finish one task (no matter how small) and cross it off my list before moving onto the next. Keeping these lists in sight remind myself what my priorities are for the day ahead and help me from becoming overwhelmed.
"In challenging situations, I find one concrete thing to focus on until I can take a break, or the situation improves. Things like chewing gum, or spinning a ring on my finger help bring my focus back to the task at hand and make me feel comforted and calm. My most important coping mechanism is making sure I exercise frequently. Exercise helps me maintain focus and emotional stability by stopping me from becoming irritable because of restlessness, distraction or feeling overwhelmed."
"Creating a strict routine is very important. I thrive on this. A routine keeps me on track without having to think about it.
"Put like activities together and assign a specific time to get each time block done. Delegate! Hire out the things you struggle with. For me this is some of the more detailed aspects of my business. If somebody can do something better than I can, I hire it out! I leave my time and energy for what I do the very best.
"I find that if I don’t have a specific goal set I meander. If I don’t have something specific to work towards I tend to get distracted much more easily.
"While I have tried every diet known to man and not seen any luck with dietary changes, I have found some natural solutions, like essential oils, that have helped. Of course, I am still very passionate about organic healthy eating for other reasons! Exercising is always good too."
If you think you might be living with ADHD, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Living with ADHD can be challenging, but finding management techniques that work for you can help.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.