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We’ve Got Your Back: 75 Tricks By (and For!) Women with ADHD

Tips and tricks won’t cure ADHD, but some fresh insight and ideas — from two women with ADHD who have “been there” — can shore up our sagging self-esteem when we forget to buy orange juice at the store (for the third time) or re-wash wet sheets that have turned sour in the machine.

Woman with ADHD smiling at the sky on a clear day
Woman with ADHD smiling at the sky on a clear day

Between the two of us, we’ve had every woman’s ADHD-related catastrophe imaginable, and we’ve survived. After failing miserably at tasks that should be easy, we stepped back, took stock of our lives, our relationships, and our ADHD and came up with strategies that work for us.

Here are some of our favorites, a “peek behind the scenes,” if you will, at two women with ADHD. These tips are tried and tested to work for our type of brain! See what works for you and throw out what doesn’t.

Organization and Clutter Management

  1. Click! Can’t part with something? Too sentimental? Take a photo of that first-grade art project or Aunt Jen’s moth- eaten tablecloth you inherited. File the photo and toss the item.
  2. Get rid of it! Do you really need 10 shades of lipstick? Five Disney sweatshirts? Purge!
  3. Tame the paper monster. Stop paper clutter before it enters your house: unsubscribe from magazines and non-essential newspapers. Pay bills online and cancel paper bank statements.
  4. Label everything. Stop using precious brain cells to remember minutiae. Instead, label drawers, light switches, laundry baskets, and refrigerator shelves with important information.
  5. Find your glasses. Reading glasses fit neatly into cardboard pencil holders (divided into four squares). One holder keeps four pairs perfectly!
  6. Mark your place. If you get interrupted while sorting papers, jot a clue as to what comes next on a Post-It.
  7. Recycle the easy way. Sort the mail every day, next to the recycling bin. Staple together multiple sheets of bills or letters, so they don’t get lost.
  8. Take note! Keep one notebook and Post-Its beside every phone. Jot down phone notes and put them into your notebook at the end of the day. No more scraps of paper scattered around the house!

Time Management

  1. Tick tock. Buy a waterproof clock with a suction cup for your shower, so you’re not late for work every morning.
  2. Time to go! Instead of telling yourself what time you need to be somewhere, tell yourself what time you need to leave.
  3. A little more “lead time.” A GPS estimates travel time, but not “getting-out-of-the-car-and-walking-to-the-office” time, which can add 10 minutes or more to the journey. You might add five more minutes to retrieve things you’ve forgotten, too!
  4. The 15-minute rule. Always add at least 15 minutes when planning on what time you need to leave to get somewhere. You never know when you’ll be searching for your purse/phone/keys.
  5. What do I do first? Have a hard time prioritizing? Listen to your gut: Which item on your to-do list will make you feel better when it’s done?
  6. Multiple clocks. Clocks are your best friends, especially atomic clocks that reset automatically. Put one — or more than one — in every room to remind yourself to get a move on.
  7. Mirror, mirror on the wall. Use erasable markers to write reminders on the bathroom mirror. Why do the best ideas seem to come in the bathroom?
  8. Whiteboards for your daily agenda. A small whiteboard on the refrigerator is great for “Today’s Tasks.” Its size limits the number of things you can list, so most will get done in a timely fashion.
  9. Use your favorite songs. Not a fan of timers? Play a favorite song and work like crazy until it ends. Singing along is optional!

Social Skills

  1. Take two — or five. Find yourself interrupting people? Count to five before you jump in with your thoughts/comments.
  2. Blah, blah, blah. Do you get distracted or bored when people are talking to you? Look at their mouth to help you stay focused in the here and now.
  3. Foot-in-mouth disease? Say something you wish you could take back? Take ownership and say: “I wish I could take back what I just said to you.” Then, apologize.
  4. “Send me an email or text.” Boost your chance of following through on a promise by asking for a written request — an email, text, or Post-It.

Calming Emotions

  1. SOS! When you find yourself obsessing over things, use acronyms to help you get out of the rut. Example: SOS: Stop Obsessing, Silly!
  2. Stop breathing. Not really! Breathe in while counting to 8, hold your breath for 4, breathe out to the count of 8. Repeat. And repeat, until you feel yourself calming down. Bonus: The breathing routine also helps you fall asleep.
  3. Time out! Give yourself a timeout when you think you’re about to blow. Head to the bathroom for an emotional break, or get some fresh air.
  4. I said “No.” Adults with ADHD are often people pleasers and take on more than they should for fear of hurting others’ feelings. Learn to say “No” (gently), or “Let me think about it,” which is a sure solution to prevent overbooking.
  5. Stop apologizing to tables. Many of us are so accustomed to being “wrong” that we get in the habit of apologizing for everything we do, including bumping into tables! Notice how many times a day you say, “I’m sorry.” Then notice that not everything is your fault. So cut out the apologies, except when truly needed.

In the Kitchen

  1. What’s for dinner? Have a hard time deciding? Write up seven to 10 dinner ideas on index cards. On the back, list the ingredients needed for each. Keep the cards in your purse so you can pull one out as needed.
  2. I bought the milk but forgot the tomatoes! Take photos of your favorite recipes so you’ll know what to buy at the grocery store. Upload them to online storage or keep them on your phone for easy retrieval while shopping.
  3. Eat backward. Have breakfast for dinner. How can you turn down a loaded omelet and a side of hash browns (from the freezer section, of course)?
  4. Use a fast cooker. Today’s combination pressure-cooker/slow-cooker cuts cooking time by 75 percent, so even if you forget to thaw the roast, you can have dinner on the table in minutes.
  5. Customize a printable grocery list. Create a grocery list of the items you use most, and post it on the fridge. Check off what you need each week, and grab it as you run to the store.
  6. Half empty or half full? It’s never a good idea to waste water, but occasionally running the dishwasher half full is an ADHD necessity. It beats moldy dishes sitting in the sink. Avoid the heated dry cycle to save energy.
  7. Is it soup yet? Any time is soup time for the ADHD kitchen. Simple to make and easy to freeze, soup can be healthy and satisfying for several meals. A crockpot makes it even easier.

Moms with ADHD

  1. MIF! Can’t get kids to pick up their toys? MIF (“Make It Fun”). Set a timer for 10 minutes, and whoever gets their toys put away first wins a small reward (staying up 15 minutes later, for example).
  2. But I hate rules! True, but your kids thrive on them. Write down their bedtime routine, with times and activities (8:00 p.m.-bath), and hang one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom.
  3. Set the tone each morning. If you wake up expecting to pick on your kids, you’ve made the decision for everyone to start their day in a foul mood. Remind yourself that each morning is an opportunity to feel great throughout the day.
  4. Group bonding. Kids won’t do their chores? Bond with your kids by working alongside them (perhaps helping them or doing your own chores). It’s a home run: You get things done while spending time with the kiddos.
  5. Score! Can’t get your kids to throw dirty laundry in the basket? Get a toy basketball hoop, place it over their door with a basket underneath, and voila.
  6. Don’t forget your… If your kids forget to bring school papers back to school, get a second backpack and hang it on a hook in the coat area. If you find signed papers, completed homework, and so on after your child has gone off to school, place it in the second backpack for your child to wear the next day.
  7. Capture vital info. Buy color-coded binders — one for each household member — and store health records and other important papers that you need to access regularly in each. Your own binder could contain bills that are due, names and numbers of everyone’s doctors, medications, important upcoming events, and so on.
  8. Pick your battles. Ask yourself: Is it worth the battle to make sure their socks match every morning? Give them some slack and you’ll all be happier.

Remember the…

  1. The windshield trick. Do you leave the house without your purse, phone, or (fill in the blank) on a regular basis? Use a dry erase marker and write a reminder on the driver’s side of your car each day when you return home.
  2. Don’t lose that thought! Send yourself phone messages and emails. If you have a smartphone, use the voice-controlled assistant (Siri, Cortana, Google) to make a note for you or to add an appointment to your calendar.
  3. Talk to your phone. Use the voice memo feature on your cell phone to capture brilliant ideas and boring grocery lists before you forget them.
  4. Stumble over it. If you absolutely cannot leave home without a particular item, put it on the floor directly in your path to the door, so that you would stumble over it unless you picked it up. Take care that others don’t stumble, though!
  5. Keep Post-its in the bathroom. Inspiration can strike anywhere, so keep a pen and Post-Its near the sink to write messages to yourself. Stick them on the mirror until you’re ready to take action. The sticky notes are easily discarded when the task has been completed.

Apps and Electronic Gadgets

  1. Smile! Use your smartphone to take photos of where you’ve parked and gift ideas you get while shopping, to keep a record of everyone’s medications, and so on.
  2. HomeRoutines ($4.99). Schedule routines and chores for the entire family — from general tasks to specific activities — with this great app.
  3. Pzizz (free; $4.99 for the full version). When you get wound up, this app will put you into a deep meditative state. Many people diagnosed with ADHD swear by it for helping them fall asleep.
  4. EpicWin ($1.99). Got kids who hate doing chores? Turn their (or your) to-do list into a game. Just pick a character and go.
  5. Remember the Milk (free; $39.99 for a Pro subscription). This effective reminder system sends you emails and texts in case you forget a task or appointment.
  6. Try a step tracker. Exercise builds brain connections, so invest in a Fitbit Blaze, which tracks steps, sleep, and heart rate. It also functions as a watch, so you’ll be on time more often!
  7. Sync your tasks electronically. Rely on your calendar app, which syncs with the rest of your electronic devices — phone, computer, iPad, and so on. Create multiple “calendars” — “Outside appointments,” “Personal time,” “Reminders” — all color-coded, of course, so your ADHD brain doesn’t miss them.
  8. 1Password ($3.99). If you tend to forget your computer passwords, use secure password software to store all of them — and call them up instantly on any device.
  9. Multiple charging stations. Make sure all of your devices are never short on battery life by buying plug-in chargers for the bedroom, kitchen, home office, and, of course, the car.

Household Essentials

  1. Pre-sort dirty laundry. Install hanging canvas baskets in your closet to sort clothes as you take them off. One basket for “blacks and dark colors,” one for “whites,” and one for “gentle cycle.” Laundry day will be less of a hassle.
  2. Use a key hook. An inexpensive key hook next to the garage door keeps all your keys in one place. Label each hook, attach a unique key fob to each key, and the days of hunting for your keys are over.
  3. Back up your essentials. It is frustrating to run out of an essential (shampoo or laundry detergent) when you’re in a hurry. Store a backup set of this stuff in the garage, coat closet, or attic.
  4. Duplicate kitchen utensils. Equip your kitchen with duplicates of almost every cooking utensil: measuring cups, measuring spoons, spatulas. You won’t have to stop in the middle of cooking to do dishes.

Money, Money, Money

  1. Auto-pay the bills. It takes time to input the account numbers, but let your bank do the paying, automatically. Late payments and bank fees will be a thing of the past.
  2. When you need to write a check. Top stub checks are great for ADHD; the payee and check amount are easily seen. These checks are harder to find, but worth the extra expense. Stay away from fancy designs on your checks; they can be distracting to the ADHD brain.
  3. Corral receipts. Keep a “Receipts” folder on your desk to capture all the tiny pieces of paper. If you need to return something, you can find the proof of purchase quickly and easily.
  4. Color-code financial folders. Red for expenses, green for pay stubs and income, blue for charity, and yellow for taxes. Keep the same system year in and year out. If you add colors, print out a legend and post it on the side of the file drawer, so you can remember.

Manage Your ADHD

  1. Freeze that fish oil. Store the entire container of fish oil supplements in the freezer, so they don’t get rancid. Chilly capsules get further down the GI tract before melting, so you will reap the benefits without the burps!
  2. Use red, not blue, lights on your alarm clock. Blue light wakes up your brain, so be sure to choose a clock with red, or, even better, amber numbers to lull you to sleep.
  3. Work at night. Folks with ADHD are generally night owls, so why not work when everything is quiet, the phones aren’t ringing, and distractions are at a minimum? Don’t stay up too late; daytime productivity falls when you are overtired.
  4. Recharge with calm. This is easier said than done, but the ADHD brain needs a break. Sit still for a minute, take a deep breath and raise your shoulders, then exhale and let your shoulders drop. Four breaths calm and refocus your brain.
  5. Use a SMTWTFS pill box. Taking meds each day is a challenge, so use an inexpensive plastic pill dispenser labeled with days of the week. You can see instantly whether you’ve taken your meds for the day.

Your Personal (ADHD) Life

  1. Buy a purse with lots of pockets. Pockets help organize what you pack so you can find items quickly. Some handbags have built-in slots for cards, long hooks for keys, and outside zippers for your cell phone. Shop around until you find one that fits your “stuff.”
  2. Match outfits, shoes, and jewelry in advance. It takes some time initially, but it’s worth it to line up work clothes for the coming week. Put everything together — top, slacks or skirt, earrings (put in a pocket or in a baggie that slips over the hanger), shoes, socks, jacket.
  3. Dogs need organization, too. If you have dogs that need regular walks, install a three-pronged hook next to the door you use most often. No more impatient barking or hunting for the leash!
  4. Makeup and lipstick nearby. To get out of the house quickly, create a fast beauty routine. Then use a plastic organizer with compartments for lipstick, mascara, and so on, and leave it sitting out in the bathroom. No need to hunt down beauty supplies.
  5. Stock your glove compartment. Make sure you carry the must-haves in the glove compartment: registration and insurance card, small flashlight, tire gauge, napkins, extra glasses, pen and pencil, adhesive bandages, and plastic utensils. Store it all in plastic bags.
  6. Separate buckets for projects. When you have many projects in process at one time, group the paperwork and necessities into separate buckets or baskets. This way you can easily access the items for each project.
  7. Schedule routine maintenance. For ongoing, regular appointments, such as oil changes, tax filing deadlines, and doctor’s appointments, set recurring reminders in your electronic or online calendar, so you don’t miss dates.

2 comments

  1. Really great list. Quite a number of these I’ve discovered on my own and swear by! But I picked up some good ideas, too and it is nice to ha e some of my old standby’ validated. Thanks!

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