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5 Little Changes That Freed My ADHD Mind

Living with ADHD is all about finding tweaks, hacks, and systems that align with your unique brain. Here are five that I devised over decades of living with attention deficit that I now recommend to my overwhelmed, late and scattered clients.

I grew up with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but no one knew it at the time. In those days, hyperactive, disruptive, or inattentive kids were diagnosed with PIA (Pain In the Ass) and then shuffled along with the rest. Our challenges were overlooked and there weren’t as many tools designed to help us manage ADHD symptoms.

Today, I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, so I spend a lot of studying and thinking up ways to help both myself and my clients with ADHD stay organized, focused, and balanced.

On a personal level, this has not always been easy. My mental space is often disruptive, making it difficult to stay on top of “adulting.” I have good days. And I have “I spend 30 minutes looking for my phone because I accidentally left it in the freezer and now I’m late to work” days. (Anyone else?)

Over time, I’ve found that these five small but essential changes significantly improved my daily life — and I hope they can help you to perform your best, too!

1. Keep sensory-happy items handy

One ADHD attribute that hampers concentration is excessive restlessness. People with ADHD process sensory information differently and often seek sensory stimulation through touch, movement, or sound. We are easily under- and over-stimulated by our surroundings. This creates a lot of distractibility and disruptive behavior.

[Self-Test: Do I Have ADHD? ADD Symptoms in Adults]

I suggest keeping stress balls or other sensory toys that provide appropriate sensory stimulation or help dissolve excess energy. Notice warning signs like rocking or tapping, and grab a sensory item before you wander away into mental abyss.

At home, soothing textiles like comfy pillows or blankets also create a sensory haven that promotes relaxation. When we use calming sensory items, our parasympathetic nervous system activates. This sends relaxation signals into the body that ease hyperactivitiy and improve emotional regulation.

2. Clean before starting a task

As I mentioned, people diagnosed with ADHD are easily overstimulated and distracted by their surroundings. We process our environment differently than people without ADHD. Spatial clutter means mental clutter.

So, before you start a task that requires extended focus, organize your space. This will allow your mind to settle and tune into the task and hand.

[Free Resource: Make Mindfulness Work for You]

3. Designate a specific space for your keys, money and phone

Let’s play a round of “Where Are My Keys?”

What’s the grand prize, Bob? A big wad of frustration!

This game is also available in a variety pack including, “Where’s my phone?” “Where’s my money?” and the latest travel edition, “Where did I park my car?”

I mindlessly put things down without even realizing it. Then, I spend valuable time looking for these items when I could be completing more important tasks. In the morning, this starts me off on the wrong foot and I end up tripping over myself all day. If I’m already frustrated and overwhelmed, I can’t expect myself to be ready to focus and take on other daily stressors.

Create a launch pad and you will knock off significant wasted time each day.

Put your important items in the same place daily, and over time it will become muscle memory. This will become hand of those “off” days when your consciousness is elsewhere.

4. Create visual prompts that remind you to do things

I know my forgetfulness, so I have a board in my home with visual reminders to complete tasks. I color coordinate it and make it aesthetically pleasing, so it gets my attention.

Put your board in a place that you always walk by and simply cannot miss. In no time, you’ll be grabbing those keys on that special hook when you catch a glimpse of your daily to-do list.

I also keep reminders in my phone. As soon as I think of something, I don’t miss a beat, I make a reminder! This has been a life saver for both my work and personal life.

5. Devise a daily routine

First of all, I would like to pay respect to all adults with ADHD who made it to the end of this article.

Second, and most important: routine, routine, routine!

Humans are creatures of habit. The more you do something, the more automatic it becomes. If your body knows what to expect next, it automatically prepares for that next thing to happen. When the daily shuffle becomes recognizable to our brain, it does not have to put in as much effort to figure out what’s going on!

Wake up and do the same thing at the same time every morning.

This helps your brain spend less energy on catching up and more energy on remembering important tasks, staying organized, emotionally regulating, managing stress and adapting to change.

[Free Resource: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule]

Updated on December 6, 2019

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  1. Great tips. So many great suggestions/ Also, I would add that using a timer has been life-changing for getting things done. It helps me in two ways: I use it to stop procrastinating and I use it to stop hyper-focussing. Now 58, I have been a notorious and life long slob- using a morning routine, as the author suggests has meant for the past couple of years, my house is under control. Unheard of 🙂

  2. 1. I don’t do this enough. Some years ago, my mother would get on my case for not making eye contact when I talk with her (very hard for me to track of my thoughts when I’m discussing things in detail with someone at the same time I look him/her in the eye). Unless I am engrossed in what others are saying, I tend to fidget my leg or my fingers. During one visit with my mother, I sat on her rocking chair. Amazing difference. No restlessness…more consistent eye contact.

    2. I know that’s necessary…BUT very difficult for me. I just want to get right down to business instead of dealing with the tedious tidying-up unless “the earth moves me once in a blue moon” (words of my dear wife).

    3. Gladly, I have mastered this. Very few designated locations in the house or office. If for some reason, I place them elsewhere, the search time increases to 5-15 minutes instead of up to 10 seconds! My dear wife, on the other hand, is on a never-ending quest to find her things.

    4. This works for me. Challenge is to MAKE the visual cue in the first place. Better at the office with the computer programs in handy. But at home…still topsy-turvy.

    5. Home: it does take a very long time and much repetition combined with key emotional cathartic moments for specific routines to become a steady part of my daily life. Case in point: I DO clean the kitchen after dinner regularly. Used to be a much neglected part before a) grinding out over time to establish this routine and b) dealing with other people’s exasperation. On a side note: medication does make a difference here…helps make it quicker to start and to do it more efficiently. If the meds wear off at end of day, the job still gets done, but it takes longer.

  3. Thank you for this article. I’m pretty good with these tips they help a lot! I appreciate the kudos to those who finished the article, 😂. I will admit I skipped through some to be able to finish. 🤷🏼‍♀️

  4. Good tips, thanks! I go one step further with my keys, though. I bought a carabiner, and I clip them to my purse strap or my belt loop. My purse is big enough that I can find it easily and I always put it in the same place, and my keys are clipped to the strap so there’s no rummaging through the purse to find them. As soon as I get out of my car I lock it and clip them to my belt loop so even if I lose my purse or set it down someplace unfamiliar while I’m out, I always have a way to get home and a way to get into my house again. This has saved me SO many headaches.

  5. I just got to read this article. I had to wait until I remembered to read previous articles. Of course. I’m all about jumping pads and routines! I put my keys and sunglasses my side table and my phone on the coffee table or I lose them. When I shower I do everything in the same order including brushing my teeth the same way every time. It makes my life so much easier!

  6. Great points. I went through school being told that I would be a great student if I just focused. Then in adult life I felt like I was a procrastinator & struggled to start a project then when I did I’d get bored and move onto something else. It wasn’t until I was being treated for depression that my physiologist diagnosed me with ADHD, it was a game changer. It was very difficult for me but I have specific routines I use now. My ex used to get so frustrated when we were going some where as I’d have to go back for phone, then keys then lipstick etc. I now have a tray that I empty my purse onto each day so everything is where I need it.

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