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40 Little Life Hacks from ADHD Gurus

Run-of-the-mill organization strategies don’t work for adults with ADD. Our ADHD brains — and attention spans — need more creative, clever “organization hacks” to the problems of losing our keys, forgetting our bills, and missing appointments. Here they are.

An illustration of people discussing organization hacks
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ADD Experts, They're Just Like Us!

ADHD experts struggle with the same symptoms that challenge us all. They lose stuff, they miss appointments, they buy books on organizing that they never read, and they live with clutter. What makes them experts is that they figure out tricks to help them overcome the problems. ADDitude asked eight ADHD experts for their simplest, most effective organization hacks. Here's what they said!

Get Organized at the Office with ADHD
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Michael Laskoff, CEO of abito.com

1. Buy bright and shiny objects. When it comes to personal effects — keys, wallet, pens, notebooks, umbrella — I avoid black; it's easy to overlook and lose.

2. Know what you will forget. I forget a meeting time almost as soon as someone tells me. Knowing that, I make an appointment only when I can write it down on my calendar.

3. Dress the night before. I’m not a morning person, so I lay out my clothes and critical items for the next day the previous evening.

4. Downsize your desk. Give me a flat surface, and I will pile paper on it. And since I can’t stop piling, I opted for a small desk. It limits my potential to create paper-based chaos.

5. Be redundant. I use multiple “alarms” — setting a clock, programming a cell phone, asking people to call me — to remind me of things. I ignore single reminders, but almost always pay attention to several of them.

An organized closet. Getting rid of something for every new item is an organization hack that will keep it that way.
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Sandy Maynard, ADHD Coach

6. Make it eye-catching. I paste logos on folders, rather than writing on them. The colorful logo of Citigroup is easier to find than a folder with “banking” written in black ink.

7. Make it digital. I use a smartphone to hold contact information. And I enter new phone numbers immediately. No scraps of paper that inevitably get thrown out.

8. 10-9-8-7… I create a launchpad with my keys, purse, cell phone charger, and any items that need to be taken with me in a basket by the front door.

9. Nip clutter in the bud. I collect and sort my mail daily over a recycling wastebasket, so that junk mail doesn’t make it to my desk.

10. Closet control. For every new piece of clothing that I purchase, I get rid of one old item. That means socks with holes in them, too.

[Free Download: 73 ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life]

An illustration of a timer. Keeping track of time is an organization hack that always works.
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Ben Glenn, Founder of simplybenglenn.com

11. Be a people person. I have a special person I trust, who understands the struggles of ADHD, to help me separate my wants from needs and focus on what’s important now.

12. Track time. Tasks that I think will take an hour often take three or four hours. The Time Timer helps me track time’s passage by showing how much has lapsed.

13. Meeting place. To avoid losing my phone, keys, and wallet, I created and trained myself to use an “essentials” spot—a place where I put all the things I need to have in hand before I leave the house.

14. Go smaller. I downsized to a messenger bag. Its smaller size forces me to ask, “What do I absolutely need to bring with me?”

15. Click on organization. The iPad has organized my life. E-mail, blogs, games, movies, music, and calendar are on one device.

16. Write it down—and forget it for now. A small spiral notebook that fits in my jacket pocket acts as an external hard drive for my brain. I write down my thoughts as they pop into my head, without fear of forgetting or veering off track.

Manila file folders stacked on a desk. Keeping papers neat is an organization hack that always works.
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Beth Main, ADHD Coach

17. Easy access. I keep items that are used together near each other, and stuff I use regularly easily accessible. It minimizes running back and forth to get the things I need to do a job.

18. Pounce on paper. When new paperwork comes into the house, I immediately sort it into Action Required, Might Act On Someday, Reference/Cold Storage, or Trash. The Action Required items go into a bin, and onto my to-do list.

19. Take the pressure off. I categorize everything I intend to do someday on a master to-do list in Microsoft Outlook with due dates and priorities. It keeps me from forgetting important things, and frees up mental bandwidth.

20. Buzz me. I program Google Calendar to send alerts to my phone for appointments and time-sensitive tasks, with different color-coding for each area of my life.

21. Solving problems. Graphic organizers help with making decisions, solving problems, or getting started on a project. I draw circles and write a few words representing an idea in each one, then connect the circles that are related.

Index cards, a simple organization hack to keep track of tasks
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Ned Hallowell, M.D.

22. Create a chore file. I write down chores on index cards, and meet once a week with my wife to coordinate the priorities, and figure out who will be doing what.

23. Schedule sex. Set specific dates for sex, then put a reminder (or two!) in your calendar. What’s less romantic: scheduling sex or never having it?!

24. Chart tough decisions. I write the problem at the top of a big piece of paper, and create three columns: Reasons to do, Reasons not to do, Creative ideas. Then my wife and I fill it in and find solutions together.

25. Hire an office organizer. At least once a year, I hire a temporary secretary to do all my filing.

26. Create “capture” areasI create capture spaces for “grabbing” stuff where it enters, like a mail bin and key hanger near the front door.

An illustration of a table setting. Setting the table the night before is an organization hack that saves time at dinner.
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Nancy Ratey, Ed.M.

27. Meal prep. I set the table the night before, prepare any ingredients ahead of time, and place them in plastic bags. Then I just throw them in the pot, pan, or microwave.

28. Key trick. I attach my car keys to (or place them near) one of the items that I take with me when running errands — letters, to-do list, shoes — so I don’t forget them.

29. Go digital. Two words: online banking. It cuts down on paper to file, and eliminates the need to write down everything I’ve debited or charged to my account.

30. Document recall. I always tell a close friend where I’ve hidden a spare key or put a document. I also photocopy the contents of my wallet in case I lose it.

31. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I file related papers together in folders rather than filing each one alphabetically.

32. Keep it portable. I keep active projects in wire baskets on my desk. That way, if I get bored of working there, I can carry them with me.

[Self-Test: Could You Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

An illustration of a notebook with a pencil, an organization hack to keep track of tasks
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Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW

33. Stuff goes here. Instead of scraps of paper, I use one spiral notebook for brain dumps, and date each page, so I can find important information quickly.

34. Time trick. I focus on the time I need to leave to get to my destination on time, not the time of the appointment.

35. Plastic for paper. I keep a small plastic baggy in my purse for receipts and one in my glove compartment for directions.

36. Memory trick. When ADHD meds are running low, I turn the bottles upside down in the cabinet as a reminder to call for refills.

Close-up of man with ADHD holding cardboard box
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Michele Novotni, ADHD Coach and Therapist

37. Label storage containers. Not only do I label a container with the broad category, I list all the items inside that box on an index card and tape it to the side.

38. Recipe recall. I use MasterCook software to store and organize my recipes, so I can quickly browse them by title, category, or ingredients.

39. Two to-do lists. I have an Action List of up to three items to do now, and a Parking Lot of things I want to/need to do. When I finish the Action items, I pull items or parts of items off the Parking Lot list.

40. The college try. I hire college kids to file papers and scan documents regularly to help keep papers organized.

[The Ultimate Room-By-Room Organization Guide]

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  1. After a 70 year lifetime Of undiscovered ADHD i have survived and at least career wise thrived by using many of these tips. It was after career retirement that i was knocked for a loop. No longer did I have an assistant to monitor time, appointments, scheduling, phone numbers, junk mail, exta keys, filing, condolences, congratulations, and seasons greetings, travel arrangements, vacations, Addresses, banking, and a host of other nitty gritty of everyones life.
    Retirement at age 60 and a new spouse (3rd and last and we are recently divorced) created a totally new set of circumstances that required me to mange not only my own but a few of these for my new spouse. Through another 12 years I have made use of almost all of these tips save one or two and they will be incorporated immediately.
    The first is an organizer. I have moved . After maintaining a pristine household for the 6 months prior to moving,I cant get my home back to that condition . Clutter at best moves from one surface to another as I slowly work out a new “parking system for it. Despite my very limited financial resource (3divorces left me with a minimal retirement income) an expert organizer is a must. I definitely do not want to waste another minute living in this.
    Thank you for reminding me once again how important it is. And to those of you who are still wondering when that peace of mind comes It has recently made its appearance for me thanks in part to age, venlafaxine and singing in choirs and choruses 5 times a week (dopamine) The 10 to 20 cups of coffee/day it replaced is no longer missed.

  2. Before I retired I developed a trick for organizing my work fest Every Friday afternoon I went through all the paper on my desk. Once I put a piece of paper in my hand I would not put it down until I had found a place for it. A file or the shredder It worked like a charm.

  3. At 45, I have finally managed some tricks that I find work well too. There is a basket on a stand by the backdoor… Keys MUST go in there (I spent my entire younger years just looking for keys).

    IF I take my card out of my purse, it is ONLY because my purse is in my lap… where the card goes immediately back. Even if I get distracted making an online purchase, I can’t get up with the purse in my lap without putting the card away. Yes, for years after starting to buy stuff online I would get all the way up to the cashier with a basket full of groceries and find my card no longer in my purse.

    I bought a belt clip for my phone… it is too uncomfortable to wear on my belt, so I clip my phone to the shoulder of my top and I have stopped losing my phone. Yes, that one tends to make people give me that “WHAT?” look, BUT I KNOW WHERE MY PHONE IS! Trust me, that is a miracle.

    To find my “everyday” useful stuff… I have two storage things by my desk, the rule is that they get emptied out when I can’t stuff anything else into them.

    Meds… I never ever remembered to take or refill my meds. I bought the weekly containers, and I fill them from the bag of meds (it includes vitamin C and stuff) that I keep in my top draw, whenever they are empty. One for the morning, and one for night (because apparently that is a thing to have to take them in the morning and the night. Even if I get an antibiotic, straight into the weekly schedule containers and into the bag. When I refill the weekly ones, I take out all the meds, after each is in the container, it goes back in the bag or it goes on my desk for refill. Because the empty one is in front of my monitor, I always order refills before going back to other things.

    I had to make a rule that I couldn’t take out more projects than fit on the kitchen table…. if I got sick of those projects I had to put them away before getting out more.

    I haven’t solved the stay-on-track for work one, because I am writing this instead of taking the grandbaby to daycare and finishing my work. 🙂

    The work one is harder, I have deadlines, I usually meet them, but one day I would like to not be finishing them with only a few minutes left to the deadline. 🙂

  4. These contributors must have been highly motivated, they sure did a lot of work creating all these places for things, labeling everything, etc! They can’t be ADHD

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