How to Focus

When Sticky Notes Lose Their Power

You’re easily distracted and forgetful — and not just about little things. When your loved ones become the casualties of ADHD memory loss and inattention, try Ned Hallowell’s treatment plan with practical tips that work.

Elephant in africa symbol of good memory for people with ADHD
Elephant in africa symbol of good memory for people with ADHD

Are you easily distracted? Do you forget to pay bills, call back a friend, or clean the cat’s litter box? Do lists and sticky notes no longer work? They don’t work for me — and I know why. Below are some alternative treatments that help adults with ADHD, like me, forget less and remember more:

How to Pay Attention Consistently

Think of a nugget of information as a nail and your memory as a board. Attention is the hammer that drives the information into your memory. ADHD causes you to have inconsistent attention, so some nails don’t get hammered in. To remember better, you have to maximize your attention while the information is entering your brain. Here are strategies that help me:

Limit external distractions. When having an important discussion with your partner, or planning out the week’s tasks, shut off the TV or computer, let the barking dogs out in the yard, or move to a quieter room. At work, when getting directions for a project, close the door or put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on it to limit interruptions. Or schedule a one-on-one meeting in a conference room.

Reduce internal distractions. ADHD medication, doing yoga, or meditating before thinking up strategies for finishing a project can all slow a racing brain.

Practice being more attentive. Before a meeting, write a note on a pad, telling yourself that it’s important to pay attention for the next 20 minutes. Turn away from the computer and make eye contact when talking with a colleague or the boss. At home, schedule a special time — at breakfast or before bed — to plan the following day.

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Exercise regularly. Many studies show that exercise boosts attention and alertness, increasing the chance that you will remember things.

Eat right. Simple carbs (low in fiber or whole grains) and sugars cause your glucose levels to rise and plummet. The roller-coaster effect compromises your focus.

How to Remember More While Doing Less

All of us are trying to keep track of too much information. Our memory reaches its saturation point. If you want to forget less, reduce the load you’re trying to remember:

Cut out lower-priority items. Continue to read to your fifth-grader at night, but arrange to have a friend drive her to basketball practice.

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Don’t try to be perfectly organized. Your home office is “organized” if you can find what you need, even if it’s in piles and boxes.

Delegate tasks or hire help to handle some of the chores on your list.

Learn to say “no” politely, when someone asks you to do something. Alternately, you can say, “I’ll have to think about it,” to buy yourself some time to think it over.

Products for Adults with ADHD

When these treatments don’t work, I turn to these ADHD products to help me remember:

Electronic reminder systems. Systems that sync between my computer and phone are especially helpful to me. is one example. It sorts through projects, according to how you prioritized them, and reminds you, with visual prompts and alarms, when your deadline approaches.

Mind-mapping software. Programs like FreeMind (download on “grab” disparate thoughts and organize them in a visual and dynamic way. When your ideas are better organized, you can put them into a reminder system that draws them to your attention.

Timers. If you have problems with short-term memory, use a timer that you can set to alert you, again and again, as you get closer to a deadline. Timers are especially useful if you find it hard to disengage from a task. And what if you forget what the timer is supposed to remind you about? Stick a note on it.

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