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How to Get Organized When You Have Adult ADHD

If you are someone who’s been clinically diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, you may oftentimes find yourself spinning in circles (physically and mentally) when it comes to organizing.

Whether it’s organizing for work, at home or just daily life, you can easily become overwhelmed. Sometimes, you may even feel like your brain is short-circuiting with decision fatigue.

If you find organization a daunting task, take a deep breath. You’re not alone—and it’s not your fault. You can blame it on how your brain functions, or rather how it doesn’t function, when it comes to planning or organizing, multiple tasks, decision-making, focus and problem-solving.

ADHD and organization

“ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder and many of the symptoms are related to issues with executive functioning of the brain - those skills that help you execute or carry out what you intend to do,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital.

ADHD is also on a spectrum, meaning the type and severity of symptoms can vary from person to person across eight executive functions: impulse control, emotional control, flexible thinking, working memory, self-monitoring, planning and prioritizing, task initiation and organization.

“Think of your executive function skills as the conductor of your brain,” Dr. Fox said. Basically, your executive functions help you plan, organize, set goals and start and complete tasks.

If you have ADHD and are trying to organize at home, at work or elsewhere, it’s likely you’re struggling with one (or more) of these eight executive functions.

Getting organized when you have ADHD

Organizing and staying organized may not be the most exciting thing on anyone’s to-do list (unless, of course, you’re a professional organizer!), but for those with ADHD it can be even more difficult. The good news is that it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Dr. Fox shared some ways you can get and stay organized if you have ADHD.

Set a goal

Do you struggle with project management or categorizing certain things? Do you struggle with what to put away or in the appropriate places? Or do you find yourself spending most of the day trying to figure out where to start on a project only to wind up getting nothing done?

Difficulty with organization can vary from person to person and task to task. Jot down (do a brain dump of) what you’re hoping to accomplish.

“The first step is examining where your struggles are and to make a plan or goal to tackle them,” Dr. Fox said. “Identify pain points so you can come up with a plan to execute. Without a plan to execute, you’ll fail in the executive functioning area every time.”

Break your goal down into smaller steps or bite-sized pieces

If you have a plan or goal that requires multiple steps and attention to detail, break it down into smaller, more manageable steps that are easier to accomplish. Remember, you don’t have to do everything all at once.

“Breaking tasks down even further can help you feel more accomplished and the goal more achievable,” Dr. Fox said.

[Read “How Micro Goals Are Key to Achieving Your Goals.”]

Schedule time you’re going to devote to those tasks

Build in time to complete your goal. Find a method that works for you. “Organization in the conceptual sense isn’t always realistic,” Dr. Fox said. “You need your own system and strategy to manage time and space in your life.”

Here are some tips that can help:

  • Use a digital calendar to record all activities and appointments every day.
  • Add tasks to your calendar as actionable appointments.
  • Work in sprints. Create short periods of time to address certain tasks. When the time is up, move on to another task or reschedule for another time until the task is completed.
  • Make it fun. Set up challenges for yourself. Can you clean up in ten minutes or organize something in five minutes? Listen to music or something enjoyable while you do it.
  • Avoid to-do lists. This can complicate and add stress to your process. Focus on a few tasks each day, not a million. You weren’t going to get that many done anyway. Small progress is still progress.
Give everything a home

If you’re notoriously misplacing things like your keys, glasses or remote, keep them in the same spot every time. Keeping things near where you use them can make them easier to put away or find on the day you need them.

Schedule 5 to 10 minutes each day to put things back where you found them. It may seem crazy to schedule this, but if you can make it a habit, it’s one less thing to worry about – especially the next morning as you’re running out the door.

If you have kids, make it a game or a part of the nightly routine. Who can put things back in their places and get back to the living room the fastest?

Ask for help

No, you can’t always do it all on your own. Ask for support when you need it. If your finances have you frazzled, ask your spouse or a trusted person to help get you organized. If you’re stuck on how to get started on a large project, ask yourself if there is a trusted colleague or coworker who can help break the project into tasks with you.

If you don’t have someone you can lean on, consider reaching out to a professional organizer, financial planner or a behavioral health specialist for help.

Takeaway

Keep in mind that you won’t go from disorganized to perfectly organized overnight. Will your house always be spotless? Maybe for a few minutes. Will your office space filing system always stay organized? Maybe for a few weeks.

One way to deal with the organizational challenges of ADHD is to realize that perfection is overrated. Try to be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that sometimes good is good enough. As long as you keep reasonable expectations and take steps to get back on track, you’ll start to see meaningful changes.

If these tips aren’t helpful, consider speaking with your health care provider or a licensed behavioral health specialist.

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