Ask the Experts

7 Daily Intentions for Brains In Search of Structure and Purpose

A strict daily schedule doesn’t work for all ADHD brains during a quarantine. For motivation and connection with some helpful, guiding structure, try setting daily intentions instead. Here’s how to get started.

An abstract image of a wandering person

Q: “I think I just need control or structure over something in my life. Whether it’s a schedule, lists, budgets… I don’t know what would help me feel calm. What can I control or change to fit my family’s needs? On a day-to-day basis, the thing that’s causing the most anxiety is the unknown and my inability to plan or control anything!”

“How can I look at a day without appointments or scheduled activities without seeing an overwhelming giant empty slate and a giant list of things to accomplish (which I then avoid altogether and feel guilty about)?”

“I would like to be better at finding a balance between self-care and productivity. I don’t always (i.e. rarely) know when it is the best option to pull myself together and get the thing done (be it work, grocery shopping etc.), or to cut myself some slack, and relax, breathe, meditate do things that can make me feel better. If I choose the first, I might get too exhausted, lose myself and feel bad and stressed. If I choose the second, I risk slipping away from my schedules and not get work done, and in the end not feel better at all because I blame myself. I don’t know when self-care is necessary and when it is an excuse.”

A: First and foremost, be gentle with yourself. The emotional toll of navigating this “now normal” is real. We’re all still going through so much; putting undo pressure on yourself to create and stick to a strict schedule might be seriously unrealistic and even painful. So instead, I’d like to introduce the concept of setting “daily intentions.” Let me explain.

I have a lot of clients with ADHD at Order Out Of Chaos who are having trouble getting into gear. They’re finding that “strict schedules,” although useful for providing structure to their days, are unmotivating. They simply can’t follow them.

[Click to Read: Will This Quarantine Ever End?!? ADHD Brains Grasping for Structure and Certainty]

To help our clients get unstuck and started, we introduced the concept of setting “seven daily intentions.” They provide a roadmap for the day, but in a gentler and more balanced manner. And I hope they help all of you, too!

1. Do something for your BRAIN.

Help your child with their online learning or teach them a new life skill (I have a client who is working through the car manual with her 16-year-old son), read a book, learn a new skill or dust off an old one. Do SOMETHING that requires some heavy mental lifting.

And a tip within a tip? If you have a child at home, have them teach YOU! Does your child play an instrument? Know the secret to mastering chess? My son has been teaching my husband how to play the ukulele, and the confidence and connection is priceless.

2. Do something for the HOUSE.

As we all shelter in place, there is no end to what needs to be done in our homes. Whether it’s cooking a meal, creating your monthly budget, paying bills, or planting your spring garden, make sure that every day you are putting in “house time.” Being able to “control” what little we can provides a sense of accomplishment and progress.

[Read This: “My Daily Schedule is in Tatters!” How to Build Routine and Boundaries Now]

And a tip within a tip? Grab your children or your spouse and work together! Sometimes “body doubling” (being in an environment where others are doing what you’re doing) is super motivating. Make it fun by playing everyone’s favorite music and having snacks on hand.

3. Do something for your BODY.

Whether it’s a virtual yoga class, going for a walk, eating healthy or morning meditation, the way you treat your body directly effects your ADHD brain. Engage and invigorate your brain with an invigorating walk in the fresh spring air or a dance cardio workout.

4. Do something for YOURSELF.

I firmly believe that self-care is more important than ever. Whether you relax in a soothing bubble bath, catch up with friends on a Zoom call, or indulge in your favorite ice cream and entertainment magazine (Ok, that’s mine!), building “YOU” time into your day is not selfish but essential and medicinal. Our stress and anxiety levels are off the charts right now. So, remember, no guilt! Taking care of yourself allows you the brain power to take care of others!

5. Do something for SOMEONE ELSE.

This one is my favorite. Why? Because I’m finding the more we are physically distant from others, the more we crave human connection. Our desire to help and support each other – from our immediate family to our community – is powerful and important. Not only does it enrich our lives, it also keeps us happy and filled with purpose.

6. Do something for your SPACE.

Making beds, doing laundry, and yes, even cleaning can provide some much-needed order during this chaos. Performing small daily tasks will provide you with small successes, building the muscle you need to tackle those larger, more daunting projects! If you are looking for ideas for starting a large organizing project, I invite you to check out this easy-to-follow roadmap for getting started: Q: Why Can’t I Tackle All These Home Projects While Trapped Here?!?

7. Do something for YOUR FUTURE GOALS.

I can’t stress this point enough: Balance your focus between today and what comes next. This is critical to your well-being. I know it is impossible to plan, as we can’t predict the “when,” but working toward future goals gives us some power and control to be ready when it does.

If you are looking for more traditional ways to set up schedules or routines, please check out the many helpful ADDitude resources. Here’s a link to one of my favorites: Free Resource: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule

Good Luck!

Daily Schedule Help: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

To support our team as it pursues helpful and timely content throughout this pandemic, please join us as a subscriber. Your readership and support help make this possible. Thank you.