Adding “structure” to your life is a somewhat vague ADHD coping strategy people sometimes talk about. When we talk about combating ADHD with “structure,” we’re talking in abstract terms, but I take it to mean basically doing anything that adds order, routine and predictability to daily life.
The idea goes like this: people with ADHD aren’t naturally very structured in the way we approach life, so creating some sort of external structure to guide us can keep things on track and reduce stress.
This is true, to a point anyway. It’s always a good idea to look for ways you can “outsource” some of your executive functions into an organizational structure you can follow so you don’t have to spend as much time planning.
But it’s not true that because structure is sometimes helpful it must be always helpful.
An example is routine. If there are tasks you’re consistently struggling to get done on time, then you’re in a situation where structure just might save the day: working out a regular schedule you can stick to might go a long way toward fixing your problem.
On the other hand, following a routine can also make ADHD symptoms worse. For me, being in a routine can make me more inattentive. My brain goes on autopilot more easily, motivating myself gets harder, I’m less able to concentrate.
This is why people with ADHD can sometimes struggle in highly structured work environments and thrive in unpredictable ones – a fact that in itself shows how structure clearly isn’t always good for ADHD. It’s easier to focus on things that are new, and routine by definition makes things not new.
Just as it’s a good idea to look for ways structure can make your life easier to manage, it’s also a good idea to look for places where unnecessary structure is weighing you down. Doing things in a haphazard way can spell disaster for people with ADHD, but so can boredom and lack of stimulation.
In my last post, I talked about a recent study suggesting hyperactivity could be a coping mechanism more than a core ADHD symptom. I think it’s possible something similar happens with the unstructured way people with ADHD approach life: it’s not simply that we have bad organizational skills, it’s that doing things in an unstructured way can actually help us pay attention at times.
So to get back to the original question of whether structure is good or bad for people with ADHD, the answer is: yes. Depending on the situation, structure can help people with ADHD or it can make things worse. The key is knowing it can go in either direction and being on the lookout for opportunities to both add and remove order from your life.
What d’you think? What are some situations where structure has helped you or hurt you?