We often talk about “organizational strategies” as a way of coping with ADHD. For good reason. By all means, do use a planner and enjoy the benefits of a less chaotic life.

That said, I want to talk a little about when we take the idea of using organizational strategies as a coping mechanism too far.

ClutterMany people with ADHD are also prone to anxiety and are sensitive to the feeling of not being able to do what other people do, or not being able to do things “good enough.” These feelings can lead to a kind of perfectionism – because we have experiences of repeatedly not paying enough attention to the details, we try to compensate by trying really hard to pay attention to the details.

With this mindset, perfectly reasonable “organizational strategies” can become unattainable ideals. Instead of trying to make your desk cleaner, the goal becomes to make it spotless. Rather than cutting back on procrastination, the goal becomes to never procrastinate at all.

These types of ideals are actually counterproductive when it comes to coping with ADHD. So much of managing with ADHD is about accepting that your brain works a certain way, then figuring what you can do to create the best life possible given the parameters of how your brain functions.

So I know I’ll probably never have a tightly, perfectly ordered life. That’s OK. As I see it, the best approach is to find the most problematic kinds of disorganization in my life, work on those, and then not worry about the rest.

Yes, there’s still some clutter on my desk. But at least my desk is now functional. Sure, I do a lot of things at the last minute. But at least I don’t pull all-nighters any more.

For what it’s worth, I think there are also some cultural influences that play a role in elevating organizational strategies to unattainable ideals. There’s a quasi-religious approach to “minimalism” and “decluttering” that seems to be in right now.

Think “Inbox Zero.” That’s the perfect example of taking organizational techniques way farther than they need to go. Sure, I might still be at Inbox 782, but all the important stuff has gotten read. (I think.)

There’s one more problem with thinking of organizational strategies as the solution to ADHD: unfortunately, many of the symptoms that make people with ADHD disorganized to begin with also make it harder for people with ADHD to stick to organizational strategies. While having a stricter organizational “method” can minimize some of the effects of ADHD symptoms, the underlying symptoms of inattention and impulsivity are still going to be there and could potentially interfere with being able to implement a given organizational method.

None of this is to say that organizational strategies aren’t helpful. That’s going to depend on both the person and the specific strategy. You might find that one organizational method works especially well for you while others don’t do much – if Inbox Zero brings out your hyperfocus, go for it!

But there’s no need to beat yourself up about not being able to achieve organizational enlightenment. If you make your life even moderately less chaotic than it was before, that’s still an accomplishment. And if you still have some “clutter,” who cares? A little clutter is a healthy and normal part of life.

Image: Flickr/Nick Lee