Memory Tricks: ADHDer See, ADHDer Do

Ping your memory with notes, Post-its, and visual cues galore. Hey, it works beautifully for me.

Row of pink sticky notes on orange wall reminding person with ADHD to exercise for brain power
Row of pink sticky notes on orange wall reminding person with ADHD to exercise for brain power

One of my Twitter followers recently asked a great question: “How do you remember to take your meds?” A lot of us struggle with this, and I’ve had my own mishaps. Overall, though, I’m pretty good at remembering to take my meds, thanks to a strategy that I’ve been working on for years: visual cues.

This isn’t something I do just to remember to take pills. I use visual cues to remember pretty much everything that I need to remember-and I have a lot of things to remember.

By definition, I create visual cues so that I will see them. It usually involves leaving notes for myself. On most days I write a lot of little notes and leave them in a lot of places. Post-its are great. I like to write notes on them and leave them in unexpected, visible places. Suppose I need to remember to take the cat to the vet. I might write a Post-it and stick it near the feline’s water bowl. When I fill the bowl, the note pings my memory.

The more important the thing I need to remember, the more visible, even intrusive, I make the cues. I will leave more of them in more places-on the doorframe, on the bathroom mirror, and on my purse.

How big do the notes get? As big as they have to be. I’ve written notes on 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper and 4-foot by 3-foot pieces of paper and taped them to doors. I’ve even taped off a desk from access and wrote a note on the tape. I couldn’t sit down until I read the note. My mom suggested it. Genius.

As far as I’m concerned, people in my life need to back off about finding my notes annoying or intrusive. Do they want me to remember things-or not? Then they’d better quit caring about how I remind myself.

So what do I use to remember to take my meds? I own a pill container that has slots for each day of the week, with an A.M. and a P.M. slot. I leave the container in a very visible location. Since I go to the kitchen counter every morning to make coffee or read, I generally leave it there. The minute I see the container, I take the pills. One of our kids has a similar container, and he leaves it on the dining room table because that’s his spot.

I have other strategies to trigger memory. If I need to remember to take the garbage out in the morning, I place the garbage can in the middle of the doorway. I won’t miss it, for sure. On my desk, at work, I take a few minutes before leaving for home to organize the things that I need to do the next day. I organize the tasks in order of importance and the pile sits conspicuously on my desk when I arrive in the morning.

Need to remember to feed a goldfish or other silent pet? Make sure that the pet is in a visible location, and don’t give in to the temptation to “do it later.” Worried about overfeeding? Put a little calendar and a pen next to the tank, and mark off the days you feed Goldie.

I forget to check my calendar a lot. So I made a rule that I have to take it out of my bag when I get to work in the morning. This is a matter of prioritization. I decided I needed to put more energy into using it. But it’s also an exercise in creating a visual cue. If it’s sitting on my desk, I will look in it several times a day. I’m not allowed to put it away until I leave at the end of the day.
Today, I have a bill that needs to get paid, so I put it in front of my computer screen at work last night before I left. Believe me, I saw it this morning and mailed it first thing.

All of these efforts improve my ability to get things done. It doesn’t mean that I am perfect at remembering things, because I certainly miss things, but it improves my average, and that’s positive.

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