Managing adult ADD / ADHD

For adults with ADD / ADHD, life can be a frustrating merry-go-round of running late, not getting things done, and screwing up — or at least feeling as if you are. Keeping track of and completing even routine chores and work activities can seem overwhelming. But ADD / ADHD doesn’t cancel out intelligence, and folks with ADD / ADHD often exhibit lots of creativity and imagination. And in those qualities are the seeds of skills and practices that can bring order to your chaotic world.Managing your adult ADD / ADHD is largely a process of self-help. While ADD / ADHD is not a character flaw or something you caused, the disorder is an explanation, not an excuse. You still have to get the kids to school, keep the house in order, get your work done, and pay the bills. It’s a challenge, and it’s up to you to recognizing your strengths and use them to develop skills that will allow you to work better, be better organized, and interact with people more effectively. If you do, you can counteract the effects of ADD / ADHD. And there are plenty of people who can help you help yourself.Once you know you have ADD / ADHD, you can start to compensate for its effects and manage the symptoms. There are dozens of self-help methods for getting organized, becoming more efficient at carrying out responsibilities, and improving your interactions with people. By taking advantage of these techniques, you can become more productive at home, work, and in every area of your life.

Getting organized and managing time

For many people, keeping track of time, money, objects, and information is second nature. But if you have ADD / ADHD, a well-ordered routine may seem as elusive as the Holy Grail. However, there are things you can do to take back control of your daily schedule, household, and finances.

Sticking to a daily schedule

Use a planner or electronic organizer. Instead of hunting for appointments and phone numbers written on scraps of paper, find the right day planner or electronic PDA for you and use it.Review your schedule each morning. Before you start your day, take a look at your planner. Take an inventory of your appointments and the things you need to get done. Make a daily to-do list. Prioritize the items so you do the most important ones first. Keep the list with you and refer to it often.Jot down reminders and ideas. Keep your planner, PDA, or a voice recorder handy so you can write or record appointments, errands, and thoughts that come to you on the spur of the moment. Keep extra notepads in your car, purse, desk, and backpack.Update your schedule every night. Establish a time every evening for reviewing what you got done and transferring new tasks and appointments into your day planner.Give yourself visual reminders. Keep an open errand box, such as a plastic milk crate, in plain sight to remind you of what you have to do. Message boards and prominent notes taped to the door can also do the trick.

Time management tips

Schedule time for errands. Make a schedule for routine tasks such as grocery shopping or gassing up the car and do them at the same time each week. Schedule them for when you’re not already stressed for time.Don’t take on more than you can handle. Stop the automatic “yes” answers to requests for your energy and time. Adults with ADD / ADHD tend to underestimate how long it will take to get things done. To avoid overcommiting, always check your schedule first. Give yourself more time than you think you need. For each 30 minutes of time you think it will take you to get someplace or complete a task, add 10 minutes.Plan to be early, not on time. Write down appointments for 15 minutes earlier than they’re really going to be, and set clocks and your watch several minutes ahead.Set up reminders to leave. When you have somewhere to be, don’t let yourself lose track of time or get distracted. Use alarm clocks or timers to tell you when it’s time to go. When the alarm sounds, immediately stop what you’re doing and get out the door.

Task management tips

Do your favorite tasks first. Work on the projects you most enjoy early in the day, not after you’ve used up your energy and focus on tasks that drain you. Doing what you love first will give you a sense of accomplishment and help banish procrastination.Build breathing space into your schedule. Give yourself space in between meetings and other appointments so you can gather your thoughts. Because transitions are often difficult for adults with ADHD, these mini-breaks can help ease the shift in focus.Shorten the periods you devote to a single task. If you find your attention wandering, especially from a boring or repetitive task, switch to something else for a few minutes. Or work with frequent built-in breaks, such as 30 minutes on, 5 minutes off. Break big tasks into a series of smaller ones. Tackle each small task one at a time. For example, the overwhelming task of cleaning out and organizing the garage can be broken down into flattening cartons, putting up a shelf, organizing your tools, and so forth. Set deadlines and other limits for decisions. Determine the most important factor in deciding on a purchase or something like where to go on vacation, set a time limit for the decision, and make the decision based on the factor you chose.Enlist the help of friends or family members. Ask your loved ones to keep you on track. They can offer friendly reminders when its time to start a task, take a break, or switch your focus.

Taking control of your finances

Money management requires budgeting, planning, and organization. So for many adults with ADD / ADHD, it is a particular point of weakness. However, you can get the upper hand if you take the time to assess your financial situation. Start by keeping track of every expenditure, no matter how small, for a month. Then analyze where your money is going. You may be surprised how much you’re spending on unnecessary items and impulse purchases. Using this “spending snapshot” to create a monthly budget based on your income and needs. Figure out what you can do to avoid straying from your budget. For example, if you’re spending too much at restaurants, make an eating-in plan and factor in time for grocery shopping and meal preparation.For people with ADD / ADHD, staying on top of paperwork and bills can also be a struggle. Mail piles up unopened, financial papers get lost, and due dates are forgotten. Unfortunately, the consequences are costly: your wallet takes a hit from the late fees and penalties, and your peace of mind suffers from the frantic searches for misplaced bills and anxiety over your out-of-control paperwork pile.Getting and staying organized requires an easy and painless paperwork system. First, set up a filing system that makes sense to you. Use dividers or separate file folders for different types of documents (such as medical records, receipts, and income statements). Label and categorize your files so that you can find what you need quickly. Second, establish a daily routine for handling the mail. When mail arrives, deal with it immediately: either trash it, file it, or put it in an “action” pile. To keep your action paperwork from getting out of control, make a “one-in, one-out” rule: for each item you add to the pile, take care of one item. To make it easier to keep track of bills and documents, consider going paperless. Many banks offer easy ways to pay your bills online or even schedule automatic monthly payments. Additionally, most financial institutions and utility companies allow you to view your bills online and receive bills electronically. The less mail you receive, the easier it is to keep up with your system.

Improving job performance

Once you know you have ADD / ADHD and you understand how it affects you, you can bring that self-knowledge to the workplace or classroom. To start, determine what your best working conditions are. Are you most comfortable working or studying where it’s quiet, or can you concentrate better with background music or in an office buzzing with people and activity? Do you need to focus on one thing at a time, or are you at your best when multitasking? Figure out how you work best and arrange your environment accordingly.

Improving social skills

People with ADD / ADHD often miss or misinterpret the verbal and nonverbal social cues that most people take for granted. They interrupt conversations, often with irrelevant comments or questions. They let their attention wander, making it look as if they don’t consider what others are saying as important. They talk on and on, not noticing that others are becoming bored or exasperated. As a result, folks with ADD / ADHD are sometimes seen as rude, insensitive, and socially inept—qualities that take their toll on friendships and relationships, not to mention self-esteem.In order to engage in two-way conversations and build relationships like everyone else, you need to retrain your brain to make space for what other people are communicating with their words, facial expressions, and body language.
  • Be mindful – Focus on the speaker and on what is being said as the most important information you need to hear right now. If necessary, check with the speaker to make sure you got the information right.
  • Pace your conversation – Pause after expressing each point in a conversation, and wait for a response before continuing to talk. Engage the listener, then listen carefully to the other person’s response.
  • Avoid promises – Learn to say “I will do my best” or “I can’t guarantee it, but I’ll try.” This may not be the reply the other person wants to hear, but it is better than a broken commitment.
  • Observe how other people interact – Choose role models at work and in your personal life and watch how they communicate.
  • Practice, practice, practice – Rehearse skills, such as focusing on other people’s words and waiting for a response, by yourself and with other people. In certain situations, you might be able to enlist a friend to give you a signal if you’re talking too much.
  • Show your strengths – Becoming a good listener doesn’t mean you have to hide your knowledge, cleverness, or sense of humor. The idea is to be the smart, fun person you are without monopolizing the conversation.

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