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Memory Tricks: ADHDer See, ADHDer Do

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

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.

[Self-Test: Do You Have a Working Memory Deficit?]

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.

[“You Would Forget Your Head…”]

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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