Living with ADHD can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on how severe your symptoms are, and can fluctuate from moment to moment.
ADHD minds are creative and curious–we see solutions where others may only find insurmountable problems. But we can also struggle with a lot; basic executive function can be difficult, we have a higher likelihood of falling into debt, and many of us have trouble consistently getting enough sleep. At its worst, ADHD can be a truly debilitating disability.
Beyond medication or any other forms of treatment a medical professional could give you (or for those of us fortunate enough to be able to manage without medication), there are a few things you can do to potentially manage your symptoms better (or at least lessen them, hopefully).
What follows is a collection of various tips and tricks that can help alleviate your symptoms, and help you organize yourself a little better in ways you can stick to!
A small disclaimer before we dive in: Get advice from a licensed medical professional if you’re having a lot of trouble with your symptoms, and take everything said here with a pinch of salt. I am not a medical professional, and I don’t know everything. None of these tips are meant as a substitution for medication or other treatment, and this list is by no means exhaustive or meant to be a catch-all. These might work for you, they might not, you might find methods elsewhere that do, and that’s all fine. There’s no right or wrong way to manage ADHD–or any illness, for that matter. We’re all different, so of course, what works for any individual is going to be different.
Some of these don’t work for me, some of them do, but every single one of them I’ve heard has helped someone with ADHD, which is why I’ve included them.
With that out of the way, here’s some small ways you can help ease some of your symptoms!
12 Tips to Generally Ease Symptoms
Practical ways you can get started today:
1. Get someone to hold you accountable.
This can be anything from asking a friend over for dinner so now you have to tidy the house, to joining a club where people will encourage you to work and make you responsible for that work. Including others in your productivity plans can be a fantastic way to gently nudge your brain into productivity mode, in all kinds of situations.
Personally, I used to hang out in libraries or coffee shops–the hustle and bustle of such places really motivated me. The pandemic has unfortunately put a dent in this method, but video calls and online groups can also be really effective. There are plenty of Discord servers, Facebook groups, or even people streaming their own study sessions that can help achieve a similar effect until we’re allowed to interact with others again (if your country still has restrictions, or if you simply don’t feel safe yet).
2. Create spaces.
It’s a good idea to create designated spaces for specific things: keys, mail, bills, and other things that could easily get lost. The idea is, once you get into the habit of keeping those things in specific places, it’ll be harder to misplace them. Figure out what you need daily, and then find designated spots for them!
3. Get some nature time.
Easier said than done on some days, but spending time in nature can reduce ADHD symptoms. Even if you’re not fortunate enough to have a woodland area near you or a back garden, just getting out and heading to the local park can do wonders for your mind and body. Speaking of, you could double up on these benefits by combining it with…
I know, I know, the dreaded ‘E’ word. Unfortunately for those of us less actively inclined, the science is in, and working out is one of the most positive and efficient ways to reduce hyperactivity and inattention in ADHD. It relieves stress, boosts mood, and calms the mind. This means, as much as you might not want to (or I might not want to), exercising once a day just makes sense.
How do you go about achieving this? It’s very much about what works for you–you need to find something you know you will stick with, vigorous but enjoyable. 30 minutes a day is what’s generally recommended. A decent workout, or even just going for a walk, could really help.
5. Eat healthily.
Managing how and what you eat is a pretty well-known struggle for the average ADHD brain. As it turns out, a lot of nutritional problems can arise when you struggle with planning and impulse control! While eating habits don’t cause ADHD, of course, not eating well can actually make symptoms worse.
Stress levels, hyperactivity and distractibility can be reduced if you remain mindful of your eating habits.
One of the best ways to manage your eating can be to plan and shop for meals and snacks in advance. If you have healthy-ish snacks and meals ready to go for when you get hungry, you’re going to be less likely to binge on sugar and fast food, which can increase our natural hyperactivity. I’m not saying never have these things–that’s a ridiculous standard to hold yourself to–but just make sure your nutrition is as balanced as possible.
6. You probably shouldn’t be drinking that much caffeine, either.
To us queers and our coffees (iced or otherwise), teas, or Monster energy, this may as well be blasphemy. I’m guilty of this one too, and I’m not telling anybody to never have caffeine again–that’s something very few of us are likely going to manage. Just, maybe, possibly, don’t have 7 caffeinated drinks in a day. That’s not healthy for anyone, let alone for people whose brains go fast enough already.
Meditation can be super helpful for ADHD. Mindfulness meditation especially can focus your brain, lower impulsivity, and help to give you more control over your emotions. Hyperactivity can be a big barrier to this, but starting slowly and trying out different methods (moving meditations have revolutionized my life) and building from there is a good way to take small steps. Guided meditation particularly is useful when starting out–talking you through things instead of leaving you to your own devices. There are plenty of apps and sites which offer guided meditations.
Whether you work better with guided meditations, or just want some calming sounds, have a shop around and see what works for you!
Many adults with ADHD have sleep difficulties. We can have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, and getting up. For those of us with ADHD, our Circadian rhythms can be a little bit messed up. 25%-50% of us have sleep issues, in fact! When and how you sleep can negatively affect your health more generally, on top of worsening ADHD symptoms, so getting a good night’s rest is pretty crucial for helping to manage your symptoms. Here are some tips to help you better regulate your sleep:
9. Seriously, don’t drink so much caffeine.
Yes, this can generally help symptoms as mentioned above, but do you really think those 7 cups a day are helping your sleep? No! Don’t drink caffeine too soon before bed–you will struggle to sleep.
10. Have a set bedtime and stick to it.
Try to get up around the same time as well! Setting alarms for bedtime especially, or at least an alarm to remind you to start winding down, can be really helpful. Consistency is key in this–getting up and going to bed at similar times every day will get your body into a routine.
Have trouble waking up to an alarm? There are a few apps you can try out that use different methods to get you up!
11. Keep your bedroom dark.
Even dim lights can disrupt sleep, so keep the lights down to an absolute minimum.
12. Implement a quiet hour before bed.
Try and keep most screens off for an hour (or more) before bed. If you struggle with this, you can implement a schedule which shuts out technology (i.e. exercise, showers, etc.). Or if you, like me, read on your phone or tablet before bed, turn on Night Shift (iOS products) or get an app that shuts out blue light, to minimise the effects it can have on your sleep.
Managing impulsive moments
Impulsivity from ADHD can be dangerous for both our health and our wallets. It can put you into debt, and make you feel guilty or ashamed for some of the more irrational choices you make. Here are some tactics to curb those impulsive urges!
Only bring cash out with you.
Leave those cards at home, and just bring out the money you can afford to spend! This is the simplest method to avoid overspending, but also one of the most effective–you can’t spend what you don’t have on you!
Stop and think.
Easier said than done, but try to make a habit of stopping before you do or buy something and asking yourself: Do I really need this? Do I really want to do this? Come up with your own criteria for what you need to keep in mind before doing something.
Take some time away from staring at that checkout screen, or a step back from whatever situation is making you want to lash out or do a certain thing. This can be going for a quick walk, blasting music and dancing around, cleaning something, whatever you need to take you out of that moment and readdress it later.
This is one of the best strategies–delay. Let that impulse to buy that feels totally urgent wait a few hours, or even days. If it’s really important, the ‘need’ will still be there, for shopping or whatever else.
Get things done!
Here’s 15 Golden Tips for Overcoming ADHD to Accomplish Your Tasks:
1. Learn to say no.
Impulsivity can make us agree to too many projects at work, or commit to showing up to too many social things. A schedule that’s bursting at the seams can leave you feeling overwhelmed, tired, and affect the quality of what you’re putting out there. Check your schedule before agreeing to something new. Remember, you can say no to certain things if you think it will be too much.
2. Do it now.
One of the best tips I could possibly give you is this: you won’t do it later. Do it now. Little things like quickly checking your email, giving your room a quick tidy, cleaning up a mess, returning phone calls, all that stuff you can do right now. You avoid so much procrastination and forgetfulness with this. If you think it’ll take two minutes or less, just get it done. Right now. You’ll thank me later.
3. Prioritize your tasks.
Ask yourself what tasks are most important to you, and which ones you need to tackle first. Do any have time constraints? Make sure those are higher up on the list of things to do! Color code your lists by priority to make your organizational stuff look more appealing, pick colours that work for you so you’re drawn visually to the higher priority stuff.
4. Break bigger tasks down.
This isn’t just effective for when you’re getting work done, but this is great for any tall task you have ahead of you! Breaking things down into smaller, more manageable tasks that you can finish quickly, or at least get those parts done in one day, is an important tool for anyone looking to be more productive, but is especially helpful for those of us who find larger tasks overwhelming.
5. Plan ahead.
Setting aside some time to plan through the coming week on a Sunday, and reviewing what you’re going to be doing tomorrow before bed is a sure-fire way to get yourself a little more prepared. Got reminded of a meeting earlier in the day but still forgot to do some prep? Seeing it on the agenda for tomorrow is another way of making sure you get something done. Essentially, the more systems you have to remind you of the thing, the more likely you are to start doing it!
6. Get a record of it.
If you’re attending meetings, lectures, or workshops, and the like, have things in place that let you go back to the material and review it. This is key to be able to manage our focus and intake of information. Ask to record your lecture (many educators won’t mind this at all, especially if you’re comfortable explaining why it will help you). Get an advance copy of relevant materials that you can take notes alongside, to help you focus and guide your active listening.
Don’t struggle in silence, there are things people can give you, in education or work that will help, and let you fall back to, instead of relying on memory.
7. Put your to-do list where you can see it.
Have a physical to-do list plastered onto your door, scribbled on a whiteboard above your desk. If a physical paper isn’t for you, have your to-do list be your desktop or phone background, or have a master document or page on a note-taking app for time-sensitive tasks. Having something to remind you directly where you can see it is a great way to get started. While not always effective on its own, as we tend to let things become part of the background static if it’s there for too long, combining it with other methods of reminding yourself can be really valuable!
8. Make use of passive activities.
When you have ADHD, keeping that part of your brain occupied while you get things done can really help. Try a more passive activity in the background like music, audiobooks, or fidget toys! This keeps that part of your brain at least somewhat distracted, allowing you to get on with whatever it is you need to do!
9. Move around.
Where appropriate, during your breaks try walking about during your breaks, or jumping up and down, or whatever you can to get yourself moving about for a moment. It can help with that feeling of restlessness and help you focus more when you are working!
Timers keep you aware of how much time is passing, as well as making sure you don’t burn yourself out when you’re hyper fixated on something. Setting a timer for tasks or having an alarm go off at regular intervals is a great way to keep you getting things done, and reminding you to stay aware of that pesky thing we call time.
Personally, I use the Pomodoro technique. It gives you built-in breaks, which can really help when I’m struggling with doing things because I can push forward knowing I have some time coming up where I don’t have to think about it for the moment. It also helps when I’m hyper-fixating because it reminds me that writing 3500 words on how to manage ADHD in one go isn’t typically good for you.
11. Give yourself more time than you think you need.
Those of us with ADHD are notoriously bad at time management, which is why timers can be helpful. No matter which way you spin it, we’re bad at estimating how long it’s going to take to do things. Give yourself a 10-20 minute buffer on anything you plan for. If you’re using the Pomodoro technique, add an extra ‘pom’ or two to how long you think a task will take, in this case, it’s usually better to overestimate and get that essay or report in early than running out of time because it’s taking way longer than you thought it would.
Set a reminder for everything! Set four! Combine this with the above tip and give yourself way more setup time than you think you’ll need! That meeting? Remind yourself the day before, so you can get all your work and notes prepped and together, instead of scrambling to prep when you realize it’s in ten minutes.
13. Save the big ideas for later.
Those awesome story concepts or art ideas or other random thoughts that keep popping into your head and distracting you? Jot them down somewhere and save it for later. You could even set aside some time in the day after your work to go through the notes.
14. Use a shift approach.
Focusing on something until it’s done can be really difficult. Your attention and motivation can wane and your brain starts to drift away from it. Try moving to another task whenever this happens! Personally, I have a list of to-dos and habits for the day, and I cycle through them. If one task feels like pulling teeth, I’ll move onto the next task. That way I can still get things done, but the variety helps with focus.
15. Fidget toys.
A Rubix cube, a fidget cube, and a tangle sit right beside me and my laptop on my desk. I cannot stress how much these help me in day-to-day life. Find something that works for you and let it occupy the monkey part of your brain while you get some actual work done!
Technology is your friend!
Here are 8 Apps to consider:
1. Home Routines
This app is useful for those daily repeat-y tasks! It has a built-in timer, and it lets you organize your priorities into ‘zones’. This is especially worthwhile for tidying or organizing tasks and sorting the zones by area of your house or type of task can help make keeping things in order seem less daunting.
This is a home for all your passwords! If, like me, you struggle to remember the combination of letters and numbers you’ve used to get into your Twitter a little too regularly (seriously, I have 4 Twitter accounts because I’ve forgotten the password, and the password to the email I used for it), this is a great option for you. You only need to remember one ‘Master Password,’ and then this handy guy will take care of all the others!
A traffic app that will help you plan out your journey! Hopefully, it’ll help you be slightly less perpetually late. This is specifically helpful for those who catch rides, take public transport, or drive themselves, though. Not quite as useful for those of us who walk or cycle.
4. Google Keep
This is a great little notepad app for your phone! The key difference between it and the built-in notes app: you can access it across platforms! I use this with a few other apps to keep myself on top of things. This is a great one to jot things down quickly and then move into more permanent homes when you have a moment to spare. I make checking on the desktop app one of the first things I do when I sit down at my laptop, making sure anything I might have jotted down quickly gets moved to one of my more permanent note-taking homes. Speaking of which…
5. Get yourself a note-taking app that works for you!
Some of you might much prefer taking notes on paper, and if you do, having something physical can serve a similar effect (I have all 3 in my workspace!), but if you have a tendency of forgetting the world around you and only staring at your laptop, this can be an absolute lifesaver. Of course, note-taking apps are most well suited to taking notes (shocker, I know), but one really useful way of using them is to create a hub of sorts. My personal favourite is ‘Notion’, but you can achieve a similar effect with most note-taking software (OneNote, Evernote, ColorNote, etc.)
Do you like Gamification? I know I do! With Habitica you can level up by getting your tasks done! This is great for putting your habits, to-dos, and recurring tasks all in one spot as well! It’s got a ton of guilds and challenges as well. You can also join a party and battle in quests just by getting your tasks done for extra rewards, and that extra incentive and accountability.
7. I Can’t Wake Up
This app makes you do puzzles before you can turn your alarm off! It also has a feature where the alarm checks you are awake and turns the alarm back on if you don’t! This is useful if, like me, you really struggle with waking yourself up.
Plum is one of those apps that helps you budget and save–more of a savings app, but it’s a useful tool if you’re looking to have some rainy day funds, or are looking to save up for something big.
I hope that you found some actionable takeaways in this article that can help you manage your ADHD symptoms easier. If you found this article helpful, please consider leaving a comment below and joining our online LGBTQ+ community!
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