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5 ADHD Organization Tools That Never Work for Me – and 5 That Do

“Given ADHD’s wide-ranging symptoms, not to mention our individual strengths and weaknesses, it makes sense that one person’s treasured tools and strategies are another person’s trash.”

All my life, I’ve had practically everyone – therapists, teachers, coworkers, family – try to force on me a variety of tools and techniques to make my life with ADHD a little easier. The truth? Most of their solutions have never worked for me.

One unspoken burden of ADHD is trying to explain to others — ADHD or not — why I still struggle even after trying their, forgive me, useless tools. If it works for me, it’ll work on you.

Given ADHD’s wide-ranging symptoms, not to mention our individual strengths and weaknesses, it makes sense that one person’s treasured tools and strategies are another person’s trash.

Here are some of the organizational tools that I was forced to use over and over again to no avail, and other ones that actually helped – a lot!

5 ADHD Organizational Tools That Don’t Work for Me

1. Any kind of organization app

I can’t even begin to count how many apps I’ve downloaded onto my phone hoping to unlock new, magical organization skills. I’ve tried reminder apps, time-managing apps, list apps, and more. All they’ve given me is a hassle.

[Click to Read: 25 Great Mobile Apps for ADHD Minds]

The problem is that I always forget that I have them, and how they work. I download one app, only to find that an existing app carries the same function. Ultimately, the only achievement these apps made was eating up space on my phone.

2. Agendas and organizational notebooks

When I was in high school, every student was given an “assignment notebook” where we had to write down different reminders, due dates, test dates, etc. I NEVER used mine. In typical ADHD fashion, I would throw my book into my backpack and completely forget that I had it. Seriously – I had so many other things to focus on that the book wouldn’t even cross my mind. Not even our weekly assignment notebook checks were enough to get me to use mine, and I’d get in trouble every time.

3. Phone calendars

Now, these aren’t 100% useless. They sometimes work for me – if I remember to look back at entries and if I remember to set alarms and reminders. This way, if I do forget about that extremely important work meeting I penciled in and promised my boss that I wouldn’t forget, my phone alarm will remind me. Still, phone calendars end up becoming multi-step, wasteful processes for me.

4. Organizational binders

Big nope. I’ve been gifted many of these useless objects. Each time, I would promise that I’d use it, but I never did — at least not effectively. Rather than organize papers in some logical fashion, I would use them to collect a smorgasbord of unrelated papers and forms that I’ll never need in the future. A trash can would have been more efficient.

[Read: The Best ADHD Planner? One That Actually Gets Used]

5. Locker organizers, bins, or any kind of container made for organization

I understand why these exist. They look so nice and clean when used correctly. But I have spent countless dollars on various organization bins and they NEVER work. They start out neat, and organize my cluttered life perfectly, but then one week goes by without maintenance and the only thing contained inside is a disorganized mess.

A bin that’s meant to hold my makeup turns into a bin that also holds my writing utensils, keys, snacks, loose change, etc. I was always forced to use locker organizers at school, and it just turned into a waste of space and energy.

5 ADHD Organizational Tools That Really Work

These items and tools may not be the prettiest or the fanciest, but they’ve been absolute lifesavers for me.

1. Sticky notes

I use these for EVERYTHING. If I have an important reminder for work, I write it on a sticky note and slap it on my laptop. Need to pay my friend back? Write it on a sticky note and stick it on the door so I can see it before I leave to go spend more money I don’t have. Produce in my fridge? Write myself a reminder and put it on the fridge door so I don’t forget about my food and then find a nice, moldy surprise three weeks (or months) later. Sticky notes work because they’re in my face — literally.

2. Anything automatic

I have a cat. I never forget to feed her (believe me, I’m not a bad cat mom), but her feeding schedule can be slightly off some days, which she absolutely hates. To avoid damaged property from a revenge-seeking feline, I got a nice automatic cat feeder. It was a little pricey but so worth it.

If I had more money, I would invest in more automatic contraptions. Automatic feeders, Roombas (#CommissionsEarned), automatic litter box cleaners, and smart home features are all godsends for people with ADHD.

3. Timers

I have a terrible sense of time, as do most people with ADHD. Using a simple dial timer has helped tremendously (I stay away from digital timers since the batteries eventually die and I usually forget to replace them). I keep one timer in almost every room of my home. I set a timer whenever I’m in a time crunch — when getting ready in the morning, when taking a work break, and when unwinding after work so I don’t sit on my phone for three hours. Since my internal timer is perpetually broken, using an external clock has helped me prioritize my life.

4. Whiteboards

In my kitchen hangs a giant whiteboard with multicolored markers that I use to write to-do lists, reminders, and everything else. Since it’s right in front of my face, and because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, it’s easy to use for remembering to do simple chores and other tasks.

5. The back of my hand

There is absolutely nothing cute or pretty about this method, but it’s hands down (no pun intended) the best memory trigger I’ve found. If there’s something extremely important I need to remember, I write it down on my hand! I can’t lose my hand (I hope) and seeing it repeatedly triggers me to remember.

I’ve gotten made fun of so many times for still writing on my hand, but I honestly don’t care anymore. If this method works for you don’t be ashamed to use it!

ADHD Organization Tools: Next Steps


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Updated on November 18, 2020

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