ADHD Apps & Tools

My Daily System: 10 Secrets to Health, Happiness & Productivity with ADHD

“It worked for me.” These four words are like a magic incantation when you’re searching, praying for a way to quiet your racing brain at night or keep your lists in order or stay alert after 3 pm. Here are the fixes, fidgets, and systems that I swear by after nearly 40 years of learning to manage my ADHD.

A circus big top represents life with ADHD
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Parenting While ADHD

The other day, my small son cried, “Sometimes I hate having ADHD!” and all I could do was hold him and say, “I know, baby, I know.” Because there are times when having attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), especially as an adult woman, is simply overwhelming.

There are schedules to keep, bills to pay, an entire life — or even lives — to keep track of. You’re expected to juggle six balls simultaneously without a day logged at clown school. Your thoughts trip over one another. You fixate on small details while the big picture eludes you. You can’t make dates, appointments, birthdays, or anniversaries stick in your head. Your house is a federal disaster area of piled papers and undone laundry. You’re afraid to open your mail.

You need help. You need control. I get it.

Over the years, I’ve found a few things that have helped me take control of my life. Some of them are huge. Some of them are small. All of them have helped me live a productive, low-stress life that keeps my ADHD (mostly) in check and helps me accentuate its positive aspects (like creativity and hyperfocus) rather than its downsides (like not remembering to throw my kid a birthday party).

Woman with ADHD reading a map
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The Perfect Drug

To find the perfect drug, you need a good doctor. To find one of those, I recommend using Psychology Today’s online tool, which lets you filter doctors by area, accepted insurance, and more.

The right doctor will help you find that ADHD medication that’s right for you. In my case, because I wake up so early and need my medication to work all day, that’s Mydayis, a relative newcomer on the market. It lasts me from 5:30 in the morning until later in the evening.

Without the right medication, I could not function. It’s just that simple. But the process was not easy peasy. I did my research, I knew my body, and I worked with my doctor to figure out what would make me the most productive. Once I found my perfect drug, I ended up with a drawer full of matched socks. That, my friend claims, is the hallmark of true ADHD accomplishment.

Woman using a planner calendar to organize her ADHD life
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A Good Planner

There’s something magical about putting pen to paper. When it comes to planners, I like the Panda Planner ($24.95), which, unlike other planners, comes in three-month increments and is based on scientific principles to help you “take back control, reclaim your happiness, and flourish in every way.”

When I fill it out every morning and every night, my planner helps me to keep my eye on my goals and what I’m grateful for. It also keeps me on track to improve my life and my focus. I need to use it in conjunction with a standard “this is when appointments happen” planner, but the act of transferring those into my Panda every evening helps me feel in control and remember where I have to be and what I have to do (i.e, no more forgetting the things that recur every week, like my son’s theater class).

[The Best Planners for ADHD Minds]

Sunrise simulating alarm clocks work well for ADHD brains
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A Decent Alarm Clock

Let’s be honest: the blaring alarm on my iPhone is too jarring, too sudden, and too easy to silence. I need something a little more gentle to ease me into the world, and Phillip’s Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock ($97.99) does just that. Now you’re laughing because I paid almost a hundred bucks for a freaking alarm clock (even if it doubles as a reading light), but seriously: this thing is worth it.

About 30 minutes before you have to wake up, a light starts coming on that gets gradually brighter and brighter. By the time you’re supposed to wake up, you’re actually ready to get out of bed, not startled out of sleep. It makes calming wake-up sounds, and can be adjusted in a ton of different ways to suit you. Thanks to this, I start my day in a much calmer way than if I wake to a blaring alarm and a mad dash for coffee: I’m less groggy when I wake, less apt to forget things, and less likely to make dumb mistakes when I wake up (Did I actually take that medication?).

Rings in a wood cutting
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A Fidget Ring

I have a fidget ring ($12.99), which is much more stealthy than the fidget spinner I was using and wrote about in The Washington Post. I need to mess with something, or I end up picking my cuticles instead: unsightly and unattractive. The fidget ring lets me mess with something, which helps me concentrate, and no one’s any the wiser. Plus, in stainless steel, it looks decent and matches any outfit. Pretty much a win/win, especially when my wedding rings are platinum and white gold.

Alarm system for reminder ADHD minds
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An Alarm System

Perhaps you love Google calendar. Or Apple alerts. Or Android’s reminder system. Whatever your preference, make sure you use some system regularly to tell you what you need to do throughout the course of the day. Set a remind when you should take your meds — I needed it when I took an Adderall booster in the middle of the day, because my ADHD time sense never let me know when it was 3pm — or when you need to pick up kids, or something as simple as when to eat lunch. An Apple Watch can do the same thing, and stick on your wrist to boot — though definitely for a price.

Notebook for ADHD memory and time management
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An Auxiliary Notebook

Why do I love a fresh, crisp notebook so much? Because it saves my butt on a daily basis. As an adult with ADHD, you know it helps to write everything down immediately, because you will remember things at random times and then they will fly out of your head and you will recall them two hours later with chagrin and regret.

I prefer a Moleskine notebook ($22.46), which lets me keep multiple pages for multiple lists at the same time. I usually keep big to-do lists, big Things I Need At Target lists, big Things We’re About to Run Out Of lists, Housework Priority Lists I can check off as time goes on (and then record that I did then in my Panda Planner, yay!). The auxiliary notebook basically serves as the Book of Lists, and I’ve used it for everything from party planning to planning my sons’ Fourth of July outfits.

[The Time-Management Products Our Readers Love Most]

Red thunder and lightning
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Aldi Red Thunder

We all need a boost sometimes. The medication starts wearing off, we start to lose our focus, we get frustrated, and a long day stretches on to infinity. But energy drinks are expensive. For times like these, I turn to my favorite discount grocery store, which carries a cut-rate version of Red Bull in 8-ounce cans. I keep about a dozen on hand for my husband and me, and we tend to use them a few times a week.

This caffeine infusion gives get me through that post-lunch, 3pm torpor, and helps me soldier through the rest of the day without brain fog — the type of brain fog that keeps me from remembering my sons’ regularly occurring afternoon activities, despite having written them down in multiple places.

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Somewhere Quiet to Recharge

I can’t tell you where your personal peace is hiding; you need to find it for yourself. Maybe you find it in a good book, like I do. I know that, when I’m totally overwhelmed by the universe, I can find something to read and everything will be okay.

Or maybe you need a quiet space with a beanbag chair, an essential oil diffuser ($15.67) and a white noise machine ($29.99), all proven to help people reach a state of relaxed mindfulness. Maybe you need your dog. Maybe you need a jog with your Fitbit ($199.95). There is no right answer. Whatever calms your racing brain and overcharged emotions is the best solution for you.

Close-up of cleaning mop
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Domestic Help — of Any Kind, from Anyone

Can you afford to have MerryMaids come out once a month and wash your floors? Worth it. Not enough money for that? Can you make a honey-do list that includes not repairing something in the shed but cleaning out the refrigerator instead? Can you pay your kids an allowance for taking out the trash? Doing the laundry?

Say it with me: the bulk of the domestic work should not fall on you, especially when you are working with a neurological difference like ADHD. It can make a huge difference to have your partner do something as simple as sorting the mail, or auto-drafting your bills to assure they’re paid on time. Grasp for any help you can find, and grasp hard. You need all the help you can muster up.

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Other People Who Have Been There

The easiest way to find people who’ve successfully walked the ADHD path? Read. Read about people who’ve endured your struggles — be they an inability to finish college, emotional hyperarousal, comorbid conditions — and you’ll feel less alone. ADDitude has a great section of books available in both physical and e-book form, and just seeing that someone has been there before you and tread the path that you’re walking, can make you feel more able to fight another day.

Can you think of any other ways you stay in control of your ADHD life? What helped you? Leave your ideas, tips, and tricks in the comments to help out our community. Remember, we’re all in this together.

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