Time & Productivity

13 Coping Skills You Haven’t Mastered

You will never love meetings. Or grocery shopping. Or alarm clocks. Accept these ADHD truths to be self-evident, and get on with living by following these practical rules for life.

The words "24 HR," representing the 24/7 coping skills you'll need to manage ADHD
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Never a Day Off

ADHD doesn't only affect adults when they're at work. It's a 24-hour, 365-day reality. But with the right treatment plan and coping tools, people with the condition can sleep better, get over the hump of starting new tasks, and be more successful at work. Use these 13 strategies to cope with adult ADHD symptoms from morning 'til night.

An illustration of a blue brain, representing ADHD coping skills
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1. Approach It Like a Marathon

For your own sanity, avoid the mindset that "My ADHD will be better when..." It's true that diet, exercise and sleep do help. But a good night's sleep or less stressful job can't eradicate your ADHD symptoms. Acknowledge that this is a chronic, brain-based condition. Doing so will let you conceptualize long-term treatment solutions (not quick fixes) and help you mentally position your journey is healthy way.

An arm muscle being flexed, representing ADHD coping skills
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2. Catalog Your Strengths

We all face challenges and struggle with defaults. Don't allow yourself to get bogged down in the failures — obsessing over them almost never helps. Instead, begin mentally cataloging the area where you succeed. Think, "What's working well in my life?" Focus on what you already do well and concentrate on making those strengths even stronger.

Three adults with ADHD working together to improve coping skills
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3. Outsource Your Weaknesses

"To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence." -Mark Twain
To this list, we'd add a third: teammates. Specifically, ones that excel in the areas where you struggle. If you are great at starting projects that never get finished, try partnering with someone who is a good closer. If you're great at design, but bad with numbers, team up with a math whiz in your office. Find go-around's for the parts of your life that your ADHD symptoms complicate.

Coupld with ADHD meditating outdoors as a coping skill
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4. Always Be Adjusting

If your ADHD symptoms are percolating to the surface again, it's time to rethink your treatment strategy. You might need to tweak the dosage or type of medication you're taking, or broaden your alternative treatment plan. Add some yoga, mindfulness training, or exercise to help get symptoms under control. Remember that not every physician is knowledgeable about the condition. You may need to find another doctor who is eager to help you optimize your treatment, and figure out if a coexisting condition is impacting your symptoms.

A woman seaching for ADHD coping skills on her iPad
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5. Turn to Technology

Investigate gadgets and apps designed to help you manage problem areas, like keeping track of your priorities. For example, 30/30 lets you assign an amount of time to each to-do list item so are reminded to complete it without delay. This page is a great resource for finding ADHD-friendly apps.

Blue and red game pieces grouped together, a metaphor for ADHD coping skills
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6. Go After It

You respond differently to things than do your peers who don't have ADHD. You have different needs. That's more than OK — it can be an asset if you use the resources available to you. Listen to webinars. Read books and articles. Go to support groups or meetups to learn what works for other people. Check out organizations like CHADD and ADDA to remind yourself that you're not alone. Then, when you've found something that works, share it. Give back, and good things will continue to find you.

A woman turning off her alarm clock, since proper sleep is a good ADHD coping skill
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7. Prioritize Your Sleep

Many adults with ADHD struggle to fall asleep and wake up in the morning. The first step to better rest is figuring out how much sleep you really need. Some people only need 7 hours to feel refreshed; others need 9-10. Then, rule out a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. Technology like Sleep Cycle can help you track sleep patterns and identify problem areas. Try supplements like melatonin to fall asleep, and avoid using electronics around bedtime. Find the caffeine regimen that works for you. Some adults find it helps them sleep, while others feel too wired with even decaf tea.

A kitchen timer on a counter, used in several ADHD coping skills
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8. Start Tasks Easily

The first step is almost always the hardest. When starting a new task, isolate the prep work from the actual work and treat them as two distinct goals. Task One: Gather everything you need. Task Two: Jump in. Use a timer to avoid feeling trapped, panicked, or overwhelmed. Set a start time and a stop time. Schedule in a bit of fun before starting a task you dislike to get up of momentum. If all else fails, ask a friend to come coach you through the work.

Cartoon man with hands over mouth, thinking about ADHD coping skills
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9. Curb Impulsive Outbursts

To stop outbursts before they begin, use a cueing system – like an alarm that vibrates every couple minutes – to remind you to stop and think before you speak in a meeting or at a party. If you're working in a friendly group, try saying something like, "Sometimes I think so fast I don't quite get a chance to filter all of my thoughts. If something comes out wrong, let me know and I'll clarify it." Remember that impulsivity is a neurologically based condition; frequent outbursts might mean it's time for a change in your treatment plan.

Meeting at work to discuss ADHD coping skills
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10. Keep It Short and Focused

If your attention trails off in meetings or phone conversations, jot down notes so that you don't lose track of your thoughts. Try to limit conversations or meetings to a time period that matches your attention span. For example, schedule 10-minute meetings. If you can, tape record important moments so you can come back to the crucial parts for a reminder. Or, ask other participants for a summary of the top three takeaways from the talk.

Colored binders in a row, filled with ADHD coping skills
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11. Create Structure

Once you've identified your ADHD stumbling blocks, take steps to overcome them with structure. If you're disorganized, use a filing system that keeps your interest with dots and colors. If your attention wanders, use a visual prompt like a $5 bill taped above your desk as a reminder that you work to pay your mortgage. The purpose of your actions can help you stay on course. Pick two tasks and alternate between them when you get bored with one until both are done.

Woman with ADHD preparing dinner as a coping skill
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12. Set Up a Meal Schedule

Cooking and grocery shopping can be sticking points for many adults with ADHD. Work with your family to figure out a solution. Try crock pot recipes. Or set up a schedule for meals where every Monday is spaghetti, every Tuesday is meatloaf, and so on — patterns makes it much easier to plan.

A target representing ADHD coping skills
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13. Keep Growing

Following an ADHD diagnosis, many adults feel like they're new people with new clarity and opportunities to grow. Keep the progress going by setting new goals, and reach out to new people or coaches who can help you accomplish them. Rethink your situation, and remember to focus on the things you have accomplished, not everything that you haven't.

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