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Five Basic Organizational Tips for ADHD

ADHD is a complex disorder that, among other things, impedes the neurological processes that help most people get organized. From forgetting about assignments or bills to getting hyperfocused on one activity, impaired executive function is a lifelong struggle. If you or a loved one have trouble organizing and prioritizing everyday necessities, here are some tools you can employ to create a less chaotic environment.

1. Start Making Lists

Everyone can benefit from making lists for appointments and activities; after all, nearly no one has a perfect memory. Some people prefer electronic lists while others benefit more from the traditional paper list approach. The choice is yours.
There are two common types of to-dos that can benefit greatly from lists: the everyday stuff such as "clean the gutter" and those pesky appointment or recurring tasks such as "visit the doctor" or "pay the phone bill".
We’ve found great success in keeping things like appointments and bills scheduled using a day planner. Depending on how you spend most of your time, your day planner could live on your computer or phone or it could be a physical book or hang on your wall. Keep the calendar in one spot and set yourself one morning and one evening alarm to help you remember to check it.
Having a calendar of events can help you to gain a visual overview of the day or the week ahead. Help yourself plan for early appointments or particularly busy days by laying out clothes, packing a lunch or writing a check ahead of time for the next day. Stay on top of your finances by scheduling one day a month to review bank statements and other information such as credit card balances or retirement investments.

2. Always Take Baby Steps

All of those handy to-do lists will ultimately be most beneficial to you broken up into steps. A to-do list is not doing you any favors if it gives you anxiety at a glance.
Whether you're spring cleaning, compiling a presentation for work or paying a stack of bills, trying to tackle any large project all at once often leads to frustration, anger and failure.

To break your tasks into manageable chunks, first make a list of all of the steps you'll need to take in order to get from start to finish. Then, break this list down even further. By writing down only three to five to-dos at a time, you're creating a manageable workflow. Once your short list is complete, you can make another list with three to five additional tasks. Completing small tasks will help you feel less overwhelmed and much more productive, providing a satisfying and rewarding experience.
Those with ADHD tend to overschedule and set unrealistic expectations. When making lists, be practical about how quickly you'll actually be able to get through each step. Don't make endless lists for every aspect of your life. To avoid jumping around between tasks and ultimately leaving things unfinished, each list should deal with only one task.

3. Get Ready, Set Your Timers

Ok, so you've made your list and your calendar is up to date, but now you've spent 4 hours cleaning grout. Hyperfocus is the flipside of distractibility for people with ADHD and it can be just as damaging as not being able to concentrate. If you have difficulty shifting your attention from one task to another, you need a timer.
Just as is true with lists, timers can be a godsend for anyone. Most people have trouble managing their time to one extent or another, and this is particularly true when you're deep in concentration.

Timers are also excellent tools for people who have trouble focusing and tend to shift from one task to another very easily. If you know that you tend to jump around from project to project, or you're the type of person who's always tunneling through wormholes on Wikipedia after Googling just one thing, a timer is a valuable tool.

When setting timers for your tasks, be realistic about your expectations. Try and look at the big overall picture and see how this task factors in to everything else you need to or want to accomplish that day. If you know you can only spare 20 minutes for a particular task, use your timer to alert you to stop. Similarly, if you know you check your watch every five minutes when you engage in a task you don't enjoy, remove your watch and rely on the timer to alert you instead.

For some people, visual timers are highly effective because they allow them to track their progress. Other people tend to become distracted by visual timers, checking them frequently and compromising their work flow. See which one works best for you.

4. Phone a Friend

Chores are often easiest accomplished with a friend nearby. Call it emotional support or productive friendship, having a friend to sit with you while you clean, or accompany you to the DMV is often the best way to get those particularly mundane or overwhelming tasks done. Friends who also have ADHD are oftentimes the best companions for tasks that require a bit of distraction. Consider scheduling weekly runs to the grocery store with a buddy; such a mutually-beneficial activity is not only enjoyable but strengthens bonds.

5. Learn How to Treat Yourself

Breaking up tasks into manageable bits is a great way to keep from getting overwhelmed and abandoning the task altogether. However, it can be difficult for people with ADHD to take pride in accomplishing small or mundane tasks because they lack the chaos and challenge we’re used to. It’s very important that you reward yourself for the little things. This is what will help you to stay motivated! Whether you crossed three things off the list, paid a bill on time or didn't let the dishes sit unwashed overnight, it's important to allow yourself to feel accomplished. Make a mental note of how this one small job fits into the bigger overall picture of your organizational goals, and feel free to pat yourself on the back even award yourself a star.

As someone with ADHD, you know how easy it is to focus on failures rather than successes. We desire to be perfectly organized and in the process can't manage even a little more organization. Remember that making changes to organize your life won’t happen overnight.

Breaking up tasks and understanding how each small aspect of an assignment helps to contribute to the bigger overall picture are valuable tools you can carry with you through the rest of your life.
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