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.
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.
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.