Desperate to manage both your household and your work space? Struggling to stay on top of your schoolwork? I think you’ll agree with me when I say that having ADD/ADHD can make it a challenge to navigate our fast-paced world. Granted, it may seem you have your work cut out for you. But check out this list of ADHD coping skills you haven’t yet mastered. I guarantee you, these approaches are almost entirely effortless. In fact, these same methods have helped me to launch my own business!
19 ADHD Coping Skills That Will Positively Change Your Life
Approximately 4% of adults are diagnosed with ADHD, but this number may be inaccurate, as more people are coming to terms with a lifelong pattern of disarray. Maybe you have problems getting started with tasks. In other words, you’re a master at procrastination. Or perhaps you’re extremely disorganized; you lose track of things, and your office space is a mess.
There are 7 core executive function skills. They help us regulate our actions and emotions. Neurotypical (non-ADHD) folks are often thriving in their chosen career by age 30, maybe even juggling a marriage and family. In contrast, people with ADHD experience limitations or delays with one or several facets of these building blocks of life.
I’ve put a lot of energy into studying ADHD as it relates to executive function and dysfunction. Here’s a list of 19 ADHD coping skills that I’ve honed with conscious effort over the last few years. That all too familiar feeling of drowning has almost disappeared from my life. Some of these tactics are so simple, I wonder why I didn’t implement them sooner in my daily routine.
1. Use technology and de-clutter your space
Technology is your friend! If used wisely, it can help you to keep on top of your daily activities, as well as to prioritize the more important tasks. It’s convenient, and saves on paper. And it’s so easy to use! Here are some examples of the types of apps that are good for the smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer:
- to-do lists
- digital calendars and day planners
- task trackers
- note-taking apps
- grocery lists
- coupon apps
Need more suggestions? Check out these recommendations for the best productivity apps available to use in 2020.
2. Break everything down into short, manageable chunks
This tactic is known as the Pomodoro Technique. You use a kitchen timer (doesn’t have to be a pomodoro) to keep track of your time. Since its development in the 1990’s, it has gained a lot of attention as a valuable time management tool.
You can see why it is especially appealing to those of us with ADHD, because work intervals are only 25 minutes long. In between each interval, you take a 5-minute break. After four consecutive pomodoros, take a 15-30 minute break. Reset, and go back to step one. But why does it work?
- you know you only have 25 minutes to get something done, so you are less likely to waste time on unrelated tasks
- 25 minutes is a lot less daunting than an hour, two hours, or a whole day
- it gets you into the practice of seeing the smaller pieces of the whole, instead of only focusing on the big picture. This is a lot less intimidating.
- the sound of the timer going off is an effective auditory aid for letting you know when it’s time to get up and stretch
3. Determine your best time of day
At what time of the day are you the most energized and alert? This is usually the time that most people are able to focus for longer periods of time. For me, it is the first 3-4 hours of the morning. I utilize this time to do most of my creative writing. Find your own best time of day and use it to do the things that count.
4. Check your lists several times per day
And also again before bed. I can’t emphasize it enough. This is key to staying organized. Maintain a habit of checking your lists at least 4-5 times a day. Check off items as completed, and add new ones as you think of them. Before bed, make sure you plan a few tasks to do tomorrow so you don’t forget. It never hurts to be prepared.
5. Update your calendar right after you book an appointment
As soon as you make an appointment, it needs to be entered into your calendar app. Make sure you set at least 2 reminders that will pop up on your smartphone or tablet. Always set one for a day or two before the appointment, and the other for at least an prior to the actual appointment. I used to forget or miss appointments all the time! Since starting this practice, I haven’t missed a single one.
6. Plan to be early
Chronically late? Most people with ADHD struggle to be on time for work, appointments, classes, and so on. When you know you have to be somewhere for a certain time, plan on being 10-15 minutes earlier than the scheduled time. Start getting ready earlier, and if it’s winter, warm up the car a good 15 minutes before you have to leave. Set reminders for yourself on your watch or smartphone to start getting ready early. People will appreciate your efforts and feel like they can rely on you to be on time.
7. Schedule the fun stuff
It’s important to schedule activities that bring you pleasure. It can amount to 30 minutes of watching funny cat videos, or taking your dog for an energetic walk. Just make sure that it’s entered into your schedule at some point. I tend to work 3-4 hours in the morning. Afterward, I devote time to one of my passions: cooking. It actually serves to re-energize me, and then I am able to put another 2-3 hours of work in.
8. Establish a solid bedtime routine
Before you retire for the night, assemble the things that you need for the next day by the front door. For example, an umbrella, if you know it’s going to rain, or the report that’s due tomorrow. In the morning, you will be less apt to be rushing around in a panic.
Another important thing: limit your screen time two hours before bed! It is well known among experts that blue light from a television, smartphone, or computer screen can impact a person’s sleeping ritual. So, dim your lights, and consider reading a book instead.
9. Keep your smartphone out of reach
Most of us are attached to our smartphones as if by an invisible tether. It is important when you are trying to get some work done to keep that device out of reach. Turn it upside down, put notifications on silent, or place it three feet away from you. You’ll thank yourself later.
10. Add yoga or mindfulness to your daily routine
This is huge. When I started following simple yoga routines, it changed my life. There are tons of guided yoga exercises on YouTube for both beginner and advanced levels. I also listen to a mindfulness podcast that focuses on breathing. To really benefit from this, step away from your work space and allow yourself to decompress for 15 minutes or longer.
11. If you think of an idea, write it down immediately
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve thought of something brilliant, only to be distracted by another idea that just popped into my head. Now I’ve forgotten what it was I was thinking about! In true ADHD fashion, my working memory is faulty at best. I make it a practice to seize those moments of genius when they occur. You can do this by:
- keeping a pad of paper handy
- using a notes app. Most notes apps allow you to record audio clips, if you prefer that over typing
12. Harness your ability to hyper focus
One of the many ADHD superpowers is the ability to hyper focus. You become so immersed in an activity that you shut everything else out. It requires an intense amount of concentration. This phenomenon only occurs with tasks that we genuinely enjoy. Embrace it. If some aspect of the work you’re doing triggers your superpower, don’t let it go to waste.
13. If you have nothing to write with, say it out loud
I have used this technique for remembering people’s names. After being introduced to someone, I repeat their name out loud to them, greeting them with a handshake. This has the added benefit of making you seem more personable and engaging. Another occasion to use your voice is when you have one of those brilliant ideas as noted above, and maybe you’re driving. Keep repeating it aloud, and hopefully by the time you are able to get to a notepad or computer, you won’t have forgotten it.
14. Always put important items in the same place
A common occurrence when you have ADHD is to misplace items. At times, I’ve spent hours tearing apart the house looking for something, only to find it in my pocket. I’ve found it crucial to designate a spot for my frequently used items. I rarely lose my keys or my glasses any more.
15. Make housework enjoyable
Ever since I purchased my Bluetooth headphones, I rarely go anywhere without them. Paired with my smartphone, they give me instant access to audiobooks, music playlists, and podcasts. Now that I have them, I can’t do housework without them!
16. Don't try to clean the whole house in one day
You’ll burn out quickly if you do. Additionally, when you fail to meet your own expectations, you’re adding to a vicious cycle of self-blame and depression. Personally, I might schedule one day for cleaning toilets, another for vacuuming, and another for organizing my filing cabinet. And I’ve learned to relax my expectations a lot: if the floors don’t get swept till Thursday, I don’t beat myself up over it.
17. Weekly meal planning
I have developed a routine of meal planning days in advance of doing the grocery shopping. First, I select recipes that look good. From there, I add needed items to my grocery list. I take the time to look through the fridge and cupboards to see if anything needs replacing. My tendency is to make big meals that will keep days, so I always have leftovers. Anything else gets put in the freezer. If you make this a routine, it can change your whole attitude toward food. I no longer eat fast food at all. It’s been great for my health!
18. Take a picture of it
Very simply put, take pictures of things you need to remember:
- phone numbers posted at a vet clinic or grocery store bulletin board advertising a dog walking service
- the sides of trucks and vans advertising a service you intend to use
- the appointment card your doctor gave you, with the time and date of your next meeting (aren’t we always losing those?)
- the whiteboard with today’s homework written on it
19. Practice self-compassion
This is the most important thing you could do out of all the things I have listed for you. If you’re constantly beating yourself up for your failures and faults, then you’re going to start feeling depressed and anxious. The more depressed and anxious you feel, the less you feel like doing anything, and the less you get done. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s exactly how people end up living like hoarders. Suddenly, there are unfinished projects on the go, and dirty dishes covering every surface in the kitchen. A lot of people don’t tie these two things together, but ADHD and depression are often correlated.
So how can you practice self-compassion? I listen to Thich Nhat Hanh quite often. From my perspective, he is a beautiful, gentle soul, and his teachings always affect me in a positive way, giving me more inner peace and understanding.
In our society, with such a focus on productivity, it is easy for me to feel inadequate when compared to others. I end up placing high expectations on myself to be successful. The fact is, I operate differently than most people. I’ve had to learn how to forgive myself for not being able to keep up with these 21st century demands.
Routine and structure are important to me, but sometimes it falls to the wayside when I have a setback with my depression or anxiety. I tell myself it’s okay, and I can just pick it up tomorrow, or the next day. I have to just let go. With practice, you can let go, too.