Life with ADHD can be chaotic and overwhelming. Being disorganized and having trouble planning ahead can result in things that shouldn’t be a problem spiraling out of control.
One way to manage this side of ADHD is to simplify. The less there is to organize, the lower the demand on your organizational skills. Of course, the trick is to simplify in ways that don’t make your life any less fulfilling.
1. Cut activities that aren’t rewarding out of your life
The best way of managing ADHD I know of is to maximize the amount of time you spend doing things that you enjoy. Activities you find inherently interesting make far fewer demands on your executive functions than activities that bore you. This is true for everyone, but the disparity is bigger for people with ADHD.
The more you play to your strengths, the easier it gets to organize your life. Prioritizing things you find rewarding is a good principle for organizing life as an adult with ADHD, but it’s also something to keep in mind or parents and teachers of children with ADHD.
In particular, because children with ADHD often have areas they struggle with in school, many parents and teachers assume children should spend as much time as possible “catching up” by doing remedial work in these areas. This approach misses the big picture: minimizing your weaknesses is important, but maximizing your strengths is always the first priority.
As children grow into adults with ADHD, the same rule holds. You’ll never build a fulfilling life by putting all your strength into things your bad at. The key is to become “good enough” at these things and spend as much time as possible in the areas where you can excel.
Just as it’s important to remove activities you don’t enjoy from your life, it’s also helpful to get rid of objects you don’t need.
The motivation for this one is more mundane: people with ADHD lose a lot of stuff. And the more stuff you have, the easier it is to lose stuff. It’s a lot harder to find that one paper you need right now if there are three hundred other sheets of paper scattered across your desk.
Whether it’s how you spend your time or what material possessions you choose to keep, discarding whatever’s not important will free you up by taking pressure off your organizational skills.
3. Use Lists and Schedules
Sometimes the way to simplify isn’t by getting rid of stuff but just by giving that stuff a more coherent form. Say you have five tasks you need to do in the next two days and you’re feeling overwhelmed.
One thing you could do is just get rid of one of those tasks so you don’t have to do it anymore. But that’s not always an option.
So the other thing you can do is sit down and schedule out exactly when you’re going to do each task. Five tasks that are happening at specific, known points in the future are a lot simpler to deal with than five random tasks looming over you in no particular order.
Like schedules, lists are a great way to simplify your life by giving it more order. Think about going to the grocery store: it’s a lot easier to do your shopping if you have a list of what you need to get! You’re not getting any fewer items, but just having them in a list makes life simpler. Look for other areas of your life where you can apply this principle.
If you have ADHD, you’re probably prone to going through periods of life where it can feel like the disorder and chaos is winning. You have some powerful tools to fight back though! By decluttering, cutting out activities that aren’t rewarding, and using schedules and lists you can bring down the organizational overhead your life involves and focus your energies on the things you care about.
Image: FreeImages.com/Bob Smith