In a previous post, I talked about my experience with adult ADHD and common symptoms I think we should be talking about more. In this article, I’m sharing some tips I’ve learned or discovered over the years to help me be more successful living with ADHD.
My hope is that you can come away from this article with a new helpful tool for your own ADHD toolbox!
(And I realize this is a long article, so feel free to jump to what you need help with the most):
My Tips and Advice for Managing Adult ADHD
First of all, if you can, I’d recommend seeing a psychiatrist or other mental health professional who can diagnose you. Look online for someone with good reviews. Search on sites like Yelp, Google reviews, or Healthgrades to see who’s getting good feedback.
Being diagnosed with ADHD and talking to a professional about it was one of the most eye-opening experiences for me. Everything began to make sense, and I found myself really starting to move forward from there.
That being said, I developed tools for managing adult ADHD long before I had an official diagnosis. So, hopefully these tips can be helpful for you either way.
Just hearing the phrase “time management” makes my lunch come back up—because I spent so many years trying to manage time like other people and feeling like I failed miserably.
But now I understand that’s because the ADHD brain experiences time differently than the norm. So we just need to make our time management fit our brains.
Here are some things that finally worked for me (and that I use on the daily now):
1. Pomodoros and a Time Tracker
Have you heard of a Pomodoro Technique? It’s a brilliant way to break up your work into intervals of 25 minutes. Here’s what you do:
- Spend 20 minutes working on something.
- Take a five-minute break.
Each 25-minute interval is one pomodoro.
So if I have an article to write, I’ll break the work time up into pomodoros. I love it because one, pomodoro is a fun word, and two, it’s somehow less daunting to say “I’ll send four pomodoros on this” verses “I’ll spend two hours on this.”
You can also set a pomodoro goal for yourself each day and see how close you get to it!
If 20 minutes seems too daunting (which is me when I’m having an off day or tackling something that emotionally overwhelms me), start smaller at first. Fifteen minutes, ten.
And don’t be a hero. Start where it’s realistic for you, and work up to that. If I can work on something in 10-minute chunks, I’m still getting things done—verses of trying to struggle through 25 minutes once, getting frustrated, and instead spending all day adding towels to my wedding registry.
I use an app called Be Focused on my Macbook for this. (It’s free, and there’s an optional Pro version.)
It lets you adjust the interval times as needed, and it gives you a longer 15-minute break after a certain amount of pomodoros (mine is set for every six.)
My other handy tool for managing work time is the Caato Time Tracker app also on my Macbook. I use this to track the total time I’ve been working for the day, plus how long I’ve spent on each project.
For example, I have a Project called “Admin” broken up by Activity: Email/Client Convos, Invoicing, Training, etc.
I have another Project named “MDO” (for Modern Day OM) with Activities like Blog Work, YouTube, IG, Newsletters, and Podcast.
At the top of your computer, it also displays your total work time for the time (right next to my Pomodoro countdown!).
This app has been a GAME-CHANGER for me. I track everything, even the little things, to help me stay on task and also remind myself that even the small tasks add up as work time that matters.
2. Trello Boards
Trello is a project management tool that you can easily access from your computer, phone, or tablet. It’s great because I’m a very visual person and find it easy to look at and organize.
I have a board called “Weekly Work Schedule.” Within each board, you can create Lists and add Cards to those Lists. As you can see, I have a list for To Do This Week, To Do Today, In Progress, and Done.
I create Cards as each to-do and move them into the appropriate list.
Example: I had this Managing Adult ADHD article in To Do This Week (for way too long, I might add), moved it to To Do Today today, and right now it’s in the In Progress list. Soon it’ll (finally) be moved to Done!
…. Oh yeah, and to the very left, I have another list called To-Dos for Later where I dump things I don’t know what to do with yet. Because ADD! And because, that way I can have them somewhere for LATER without them overwhelming my weekly flow.
Last note: I’m mindful to always only have one card at a time on the In Progress list. I know I have to do one thing at a time to actually be productive. It’s hard to do with ADHD, but it gets easier with practice—I swear.
3. Headphones and Binaural Beats
This is a fairly recent addition to my worklife that has made a big difference. I bought myself these over-the-ear headphones to play music and cancel out extra background noise. They really help me get in the zone so I can focus better.
But I don’t listen to normal music; that actually distracts me, especially if there’s singing. I play binaural beats from YouTube. Here are some of my favorites:
4. Simplifying the To-Do List
Easier said than done (like most things), but I try to limit myself to 2-3 main things to get done per day. Even if there are smaller things I have to do, I keep 2-3 larger things in mind as my main focuses.
Some days, that’s just one big thing. Like a super long post on managing adult ADHD. 😉
5. Setting Up a Sense of Urgency with Something to Look Forward To
ADHD is an interest-based condition. If we’re really passionate about something, we can hyperfocus on it. But if it’s not very exciting, we have trouble getting and staying engaged.
(It’s why I can stay up until 3am working on my blog or playing video games but would struggle with sitting down for 30 minutes to write a not-super-exciting article or answer some “quick” emails.)
We’re painfully familiar with procrastination and hyperfocusing at the last minute. While this can be impressive, it’s not good for our stress levels, mental health, self-worth, or productivity in the long-run.
So, let’s create our own urgency!
Consider giving yourself something to look forward to at the end of your work day. For me, that’s been reading a book I love, watching an episode (or two or three) of my favorite show, playing video games, going to Target, seeing a movie with my fiance (at the theater or at home), or eating out.
I know that when something I enjoy is on the schedule, I’m much more productive because it doesn’t feel like an endless trudge through work-work-work-work. Something fun and more stimulating is up ahead!
6. A Good Work Environment
As much as possible, make your work environment fit your brain. For me, coffee shops are the best. Or if I’m working at home, I make sure my dogs are out of the way and I have my own little space to focus.
If you have an office, think about what you can change to make focus easier for you.
7. ADHD Medication
This has made a huge difference in my work life: taking medication for my ADHD.
Between 70-80% ADHDers seem to benefit from medication. It’s not quite the same as taking an antidepressant for depression or anxiety—conditions that some people can overcome through holistic methods like cognitive behavioral therapy.
This is not to say you absolutely need medication. Some people manage their ADHD well without it (like Peter Shankman), but my advice is: Don’t let fear of medication prevent you from possibly helping yourself.
I was TERRIFIED to try a stimulant, and I even had to try a few before finding one that works for me. But now that I have… it works really well for me.
So, don’t be afraid of ADHD medication—but, if you can find a good doctor. And remember that it’s just a piece of the puzzle. It’s a tool just like any of these other tips. :),
As anyone with ADHD knows, it doesn’t just affect focus. It can prompt intense emotions and affect how we interact with the world.
Emotional regulation problems related to ADHD is something I don’t yet see talked about in the medical community… but that I see mentioned a ton in ADHD communities. Which tells me I’m not the only one who struggles with it—not even close.
And honestly, this is one I’m still working on—but here’s what helps me.
8. Slowing Down
ADHD means our brains are on the go-go-go. Emotions can come on strong and intense and feel uncontrollable. For me, setting the intention to SLOW DOWN helps.
Slow down and notice what you’re feeling. Don’t judge the emotion or try to get rid of it, just notice it. Try to pause before you respond or react to the emotion. This can help you better identify it and figure out exactly what you’re upset about.
9. Writing Down and Reframing Beliefs
I’m not always great at this, but it helps a lot when I do it.
I’ll write a sentence or two about the belief I have that is upsetting me. Usually the feeling is overblown and at least a little irrational, but in the moment it feels so justified. (These are cognitive distortions.)
Then, I’ll write 2-3 things that counteract the belief.
Then, I’ll write the same belief but reframed in a more realistic light.
- Cognitive distortion: “I’m having so much trouble focusing today and am so frustrated. I never get anything done! I’m a failure and somehow need to try harder.
- Counteracting statements:
- I’ve actually been trying very hard to focus today, but there’s a lot on my plate, and I know a lot going on makes focus hard for me.
- I didn’t get nothing done. I walked and fed the dogs, got myself ready, finished X for work, and had a good lunch.
- I’m not a failure, but even if I did “fail,” failure isn’t bad. It’s a chance to try again and learn more about myself.
- Reframed belief: I got less done than I wanted to today, but I did accomplish things and will give myself credit for them. And I know that I’m doing my best with my current situation.
10. Asking for Help
Many people with ADHD are well-versed in the feelings of shame, guilt, and worry. We don’t typically fit the mold of how a productive human being is “supposed” to be. But we are not lazy; we’re just misunderstood.
Talk therapy with a professional can help, as can online support groups or confiding in someone you trust you will listen.
Understanding ADHD in adults can really help too. Most resources still focus on ADHD in kids, but the ones for adults are growing.
Here are some adult ADHD resources I’ve found helpful:
- Faster than Normal by Peter Shankman
- Delivered from Distraction by Dr. Ed Hallowell
- ADHD According to Zoe by Zoe Kessler
- Distraction podcast
- How to ADHD YouTube channel
- ADHD Support Facebook group
I’ve found taking care of myself is so incredibly important for managing my ADHD> So here are some ways I take care of myself:
11. Regular Exercise and Whole Foods
No, you don’t need to become a pro athlete or spend hours doing yoga. I find even a little something each day can make a huge difference.
I usually do some form of exercise five days a week for around 30 minutes. Usually it’s an at-home workout. I do a combination of weights and HIIT training about three of those days and straight cardio the other two. For me, cardio is really great if I’ve been struggling with my mood.
I also usually watch a show or even read a book (if I’m using a cardio machine at the gym) while I do my workouts.
And the other half of this is diet. But I DO NOT eat a restrictive diet. I actually think my ADHD contributed to my past of disordered eating and binge eating, so I practice intuitive eating while incorporating whole foods-based meals and snacks I actually enjoy.
For more, see my ebook 5 Steps to Making Peace with Food.
12. A Mindfulness Practice
I know from talking with other ADHD folks online that making time for mindfulness is hard. Well, it is for me too. But I also know from experience that when I do incorporate mindfulness into my days, I feel much better.
- Practicing mindfulness and self-kindness when I’m feeling all over the place
- Slowing down to actually notice the small, boring things I’m doing—like preparing food or getting out my laptop or walking my dogs. Coming back into my body gets me out of my head when I’m there way too much.
- Taking 10 deep inhales and exhales. That only lasts about a minute, and we can all fit in a minute—even if we don’t feel like it at first.
- Doing restorative yoga to help myself slow down.
13. Not Neglecting Self-Care (It’s So Important)
I’m constantly having to remind myself of this one. To really thrive with adult ADHD and, we need self-care in our lives.
And self-care can look different for everyone. For me, it’s about going easy on myself when I’m having a rough day and can’t focus like I want to.
And what I’ll end with is this: If there is someone in your life with ADHD or who thinks they might have it, please listen to them with an empathic ear. One of the best things I could have done for myself was getting help, learning more about this, and being open to support.
And if you have ADHD and are reading this, you’re never alone. I know it can be frustrating and isolating and hard. But with the right tools and by making your life fit better with your brain, you can use your ADHD to soar. <3
Note: I am not a mental health professional. These are just things that have worked well for me that I’m passing on in hopes they help you or others like me who need support. Take that as you will! 🙂