I am a writer and researcher with ADD. Any advice on how to organize my thoughts

Home Welcome to the ADDitude Forums For Adults I am a writer and researcher with ADD. Any advice on how to organize my thoughts

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    • #196556


      I’m a writer and researcher with moderate to severe ADD. I am trying to learn new ways to better organize my thoughts so that I can complete writing tasks in a time-effective fashion. Can anyone recommend tips or resources? I have been struggling with this problem for nearly my entire adult life. I am now 48. The problem is that I don’t have time to waste now the way I did when I was 25 or 30.


    • #196591

      I am 60 with moderate to severe adhd and still struggle with organizing my thoughts. My dad showed me something when I was struggling to write a really long paper when I was in college. This was before computers but I still like the old fashion paper and pencil way. The first step, get a stack of index cards, stick notes or small pieces of scrape paper best if they are the same or close to the same size. Then write each thought/idea on one piece of paper, only one thought/idea per piece of paper. Just a couple key words the shorter the better. The second step, set them all out on a large table, lots of room to be see them all. The third step is arranging and rearranging into groups. It will sorta look like a mind map or flow chart. Arranging and rearranging is kinda the cool part. Trying different groupings can help with organizing but also help determine the focus if it is not clear. As the groups change the focus can change. Keep rearranging until it feels right. It takes me a number of tries to see what the best arrangement is. I start to see different patterns like arranging and rearranging letters when playing scrabble. If I like an arrangement I take a picture and also write a quick note why I liked it so I don’t forget. Then I am free to arrange again to find a different pattern. Arranging and rearranging helps me determine the main “chapters” and to see where the rest of the ideas fall in place. After I arranging all the pieces of paper I am able to write an outline. Then it was easy to write the paper. Congratulations if you read all the way to the end. I hope this is helpful or gives you some ideas of your own. Good luck. K

    • #196598

      Hi there! I’m 47 and while I managed to earn a doctorate and secure a teaching job (year-to-year contract gig), I have found “being on my own” incredibly difficult. No longer under the auspices of a graduate program, nor in the company of compassionate colleagues, my life very quickly unraveled to the point of nearly losing it. It was only then that I finally learned why I struggle so much with tasks (from assignments to relationships…) and in ways that my colleagues and peers don’t: I’ve got an ADHD brain! Well, all that to say, you’re not alone friend!

      I wish I practiced this more consistently (I’m workin’ on it!), but I find setting a timer helpful. I can sit for hours staring at the computer screen when I work, sometimes to the point of sitting in a dark room because the sun set and I forgot to turn on the lights. (I now use wi-fi controlled lights, which turn on automatically!) I use a timer or a post-it note stuck to my computer screen to remind me to “Stand up! Walk away from the screen! You’ll thank me later!” Movement helps me feel better and physically removing myself from something I’m staring at helps me finish it faster when I return. If I don’t set a timer, a message or email the size of this post could take several hours to compose. Other tactics I deploy–with varying degrees of “success”–are practicing self-compassion and meditation, usually guided via phone app.

      Wishing you all the best!

    • #196611

      Why has no one ever told me about this technique?

      I am going to be doing this from now on.

      Thank you!

    • #196615

      You are very welcome. I hope it works for you. I don’t know anyone else who does it. Just something my dad had me try and it worked.

    • #196622

      I love I’m @kmcw’s idea above, and having devices like iPads and phones that can take pictures of good arrangements is brilliant. I never saw the point of outlines growing up, it seemed tedious, and while teachers often talked about them and suggested them, I was never forced to make one. Not until I was nearly done with college did I get how helpful this would have been. Even more so for my adhd brain that has so many ideas and see so many connections that I can’t always keep track of them all, or can forget 10 great ideas that I wanted to address or investigate while I hyperfocus on the one I’m writing about now. Now that I teach writing, I make my students slow down and go through the process. Go online and search for “essay graphic organizer” (or be more specific, and put in persuasive essay graphic organizer or whatever kind of writing you are working on) and you will find some good ones. Start with a simple one, even if it looks a little juvenile. Much like sticky notes, lists, or a visual timer, or the great note card idea above, it can help to get your ideas into a visual plan to keep you on track as you write. And then you can permit yourself to change it, add to it, or pursue an interesting tangent because you can always come back to your “road map”. Before long, you’ll likely develop your own template personalized to your specific writing style, but even simple high school style ones will work well to help map out your chapters or arguments.

    • #196632

      These are amazing recommendations. I find tactile and spatial forms of organization to be very useful. I will try exercise with the index cards. As for graphic organizers, I recently discovered a mind mapping software tool called XMind 2020. It is very useful for organizing my thoughts. One nice feature is that with the paid version you can include images. I use it in my teaching as a college professor and not just as a researcher.

    • #196667
      Penny Williams

      My suggestions have already been made: post-its/index cards and mind map software.

      When I write books, I use post-it notes on my sliding glass door. I can see the whole “map” at once and can move things around easily until the structure is where I want it.

      But the mind map can then really help to develop those ideas further. Like creating an outline but more loose and visual.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Coach, Podcaster & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #196676

      Dear Writer/Researcher with ADD
      So am I! I wonder if you would like to create some kind of accountability/support group for women writer/researchers so we can discuss our problems with prioritizing.
      My problem is ADHD combined with near OCD levels of perfectionism, but also combined with the continuous dopamime squirts that come with finding yet one more data point, one more association between this and that, one more perfect article — or the fun of hunting down the perfect article which I know is out there.


    • #196734

      Wow, these are all amazing to read. Thank you all for sharing.

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