Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are terms that have become more and more common in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11% of children between the ages of 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, and 5.6% of adults 18-44 have been diagnosed, with a recent uptick in diagnosis in adults over 45.
Adults with ADHD, even undiagnosed, have built up a toolbox to function in a fast-paced society. When the world shut down, and people had to spend the vast majority of their time at home, they had to figure out how to cope when they weren’t always in go mode. It’s easy to overlook a diagnosis when you’re always moving, or always exhausted from the daily toil.
ADHD can be complicated, especially when co-morbid conditions such as depression, anxiety, or autism are present. In fact, the co-morbidity of these disorders is part of why so many individuals go undiagnosed into their adulthood. ADD is no longer the commonly accepted term for different types of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. With further research, it’s been discovered that hyperactivity is still there, but present inside the mind rather than outward in the body.
There are three types of ADHD: Hyperactive, Inattentive, and Complex. Hyperactive ADHD is characterized by difficulty controlling impulsive behavior and struggling to sit still, while Inattentive ADHD is characterized by difficulty paying attention and staying focused on tasks because your mind is going a million miles an hour and in a dozen different directions. Complex ADHD is a combination of both Hyperactive and Inattentive ADHD.
The following quirky tips (that have been recommended by actual ADHD brains) will help newly diagnosed adults with ADHD and those who strongly suspect they may have it gain control of their focus, daily functions, and routines.
Tip 1: Understand What Makes Your Brain Tick
The first step towards gaining control of your ADHD is understanding what makes your brain tick. Everyone’s experience with ADHD is different, so it’s important to find out what strategies work best for you to cope with hyperactivity or inattentiveness, or both.
It’s also important to find your motivation and drive, and observe what burnout and self-care look like for you. ADHD brains rarely do self-care the same way as neurotypical brains. Like training a dog, some ADHD brains are reward motivated, while others are achievement motivated.
Tip 2: Drop the Mask
It’s important to stop pretending to be someone you’re not and wondering why you’re always exhausted. Embrace being neuro-spicy. Masking increases fatigue in ADHD people because it takes a lot of extra energy to put on a mask every day and act like someone you’re not.
Be your authentic and most genuine self so that you can let the creativity and drive that powers you run loose. Once you’ve found some tools that work to keep you on track, there’s no telling where that track can go.
Tip 3: Find the Joy in Your Routine
ADHD brains chase dopamine, which is created when we experience joy, pleasure, or a feeling of accomplishment. Find the little ways to reward your brain for doing tedious tasks it doesn’t want to do, such as cleaning up your room or taking out the trash.
Keep rewards consistent so that you can learn how to motivate yourself through positive reinforcement. When you’ve kept up your routine, and you’ve accomplished a larger goal, you can reward yourself with a bigger treat.
A good example of this is setting a goal to get a number of chores done in your home. And promising 20 min of screen time when you finish the first three items on the list. Another 20 min of screen time awaits you after your next three tasks. If you can maintain that for the week, take yourself out for a movie and buy the big popcorn bucket to reward yourself for adulting.
Tip 4: Lists and Lists of Lists
ADHD brains struggle with executive function, so having a list of things that you need to do, in the order you’d like to get them done (perhaps the order of most efficient or worst chore first) is like having your best friend reminding you of your tasks.
I personally use WondrNote to keep track of everything from my grocery list to my chores, and any important dates for my family. We have a fully linked Google Calendar that all members of the household have access to, and if it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t exist.
To make sure that you stay motivated throughout your tasks, add reward points to your list. Add variety when things get tedious, and try listening to music while you work. ADHD brains thrive on movement (most of the time), and music will keep your body moving even when your brain is buffering between tasks.
Tip 5: Keep Life Visual
With ADHD, out of sight is out of mind (which is why we absentmindedly leave the cabinet doors open). Organize your spaces with labels or clear containers so that you don’t forget things exist. Open-faced shelves are a great way to keep things visible, but remind you to organize them.
With open-faced cabinets, clear bins, and labeled containers, when you go to look for something, it will be easier to find it without having to search through piles of things that don’t belong where they are. The tasks of organization and decluttering are the bane of the ADHD brain, it’s just not something most of us are good at. We WANT to be good at it, but when push comes to shove, we have more ideas than space to store it all.
Tip 6: Sphere of Influence and DOOM Boxes
Daily tasks that need to be done should be grouped together so that it’s easier to stay focused on them for the limited time you can concentrate. For example, when making coffee in the morning, keep all of the supplies (coffee pods, cups, creamer etc.) within arm’s reach so that there is less time spent searching for them when you need them. You can also add medications to this location as a reminder to take your medications every day.
DOOM boxes are a source of relief and of anxiety for most ADHD brains. Didn’t Organize, Only Moved is what DOOM boxes stand for, and it refers to the idea that “tidying up” is the same as “hiding the evidence of chaos”. Keeping a DOOM box in most rooms will help you keep things tidy looking, but add at least one extra chore every week. Every ADHD brain will have at least one DOOM box, which is fine, so long as you make it a point to put things away once or twice a week.
Tip 7: Order of Efficiency and Natural Process
Often, ADHD brains will get severely distracted during a task, and immediately drop that task to start the next. If similar tasks are clustered together, you can begin to build a habit of doing them in conjunction with one another.
Here’s an example, my Kuerig Machine is next to the microwave and across the walkway from the fridge and coffee cups. I can grab my coffee mug and creamer, and start my K-Pod. While my coffee is brewing I can also prepare my snacks for the day which are stored in the cabinet under the coffee setup.
Another example that I use with my kids is that they naturally wake up and go straight to the bathroom. When they’re done washing their hands, they can see the medicine shelf in the reflection of the sink, and the water cup is on the counter.
Tip 8: Remember That It’s Okay To Have Off Days
Even neurotypical brains have days where they struggle to function at 100%, accept that sometimes 60% is all you’re going to get, and do your best on those days. ADHD goes hand in hand with Imposter Syndrome, making it difficult to cut yourself some needed slack.
Additionally, people with ADHD are statistically at a higher risk for chronic pain disorders, chronic fatigue disorders, depression, anxiety, and other similar mood disorders. It’s hard to be cheerful and spritely when your brain chemistry seems to hold a grudge against you for waking up.
It’s also important to give yourself grace when it comes to tasks like calling friends or replying to texts; many times we reply in our heads and forget to actually reply on the phone or type something out and forget to push send; these are out of sight out of mind type struggles for those with ADHD.
Tip 9: Eat Healthily
Food has a huge impact on how our bodies and our brains work. It may be hard at first to create the motivation to cook healthy foods when GrubHub is just a click away; however, if you can push yourself to develop a healthy eating plan tailored to your individual needs it will become a habit much easier over time.
ADHD brains tend to graze; they are at a higher risk for eating disorders than most other learning disabilities, and it has very little to do with body shame or dysmorphia. Take some time once or twice a week to prep foods that are nutritious and easy to snack on and store them in the fridge or dry storage cabinet so they are easily accessible when needed.
Some studies show that artificial flavors and food colorings can make ADHD symptoms worse by causing interactions with your brain chemicals; try removing some of these things from your diet and see if there is a difference in how you feel. It’s okay to snack on unhealthy things every once in a while, but your brain will thank you for eating healthier for the majority of your intake.
Tip 10: Sleep Is Important
Do all in your power to capture a solid 6-10 hours of sleep if that’s what your body needs; however, many ADHD brains find that breaking up their sleep into two or three periods of a few hours each leaves them more rested and more productive than if they had slept for 8 hours straight.
ADHD brains often struggle with 9-5 jobs because our circadian rhythm is off; many folks with ADHD find that they are night owls and perform better working swing or night shifts; often falling asleep naturally around 2-3 am works best for them.
My theory is that ADHD is a step in the evolutionary path and that our insomnia and sleeping struggle is part of the human race’s defense systems re-engaging from our hunter-gatherer era. But I’m no scientist, I’m just a gal with ADHD, and three kids also touched by ADHD.
Bonus Tip: Find What Works For You And Hone It To Perfection
ADHD is a superpower but you need to find the tools that work best for you and your brain; when you find something that works for you then hold on to it and hone it for your specific needs.
For example, listening to a book or podcast (like this one about hacking your ADHD), while doing chores engages a different part of your brain and keeps you moving along toward your goal. If you find that you struggle to sit still for long periods of time, but need to remain in your seat, try bringing a craft or activity you can do with your hands that doesn’t distract others, such as knitting, crocheting, coloring, or playing with a fidget toy quietly under the table.
Additionally, Jessica from How To ADHD has some great information about why we are the way we are as well as tips on how to make life easier – just because your brain works differently doesn’t mean it has to be a struggle!