Strategies for Adults Living With ADHD

May 11, 2021

If you’re one of the 11 million adults in the United States with adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, you understand how hard it can be to avoid distractions, stay organized and work efficiently. With treatment and behavioral changes, you can learn how to handle ADHD to increase productivity and fulfillment. These simple, effective strategies can help you manage symptoms to focus and thrive.

How to Deal With Adult ADHD

Inattention, impulsivity, disorganization, restlessness, overactivity, lack of focus, behavioral control difficulty and other symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder typically emerge early in life — often before age 12 — and evolve as time goes on.

If you’re older than 18 and experience these symptoms, you’re not alone. ADHD is one of the most prevalent childhood disorders, which continues beyond adolescence for many adults. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates ADHD’s lifetime prevalence in U.S. adults between 18 and 44 is just over 8%. While children with ADHD are more likely to struggle with impulsivity and hyperactivity, adults with ADHD are more likely to experience memory problems, restlessness and lack of mental focus.

Even though you may find that evidence-based treatments like medication and psychotherapy go a long way to help you manage your condition, learning effective behavioral strategies can give you the power to control your ADHD symptoms in the moment. Here are five tactics you can use daily.

1. Get Organized

If you often spend your day trying to figure out where to start but wind up getting very little done by dinnertime, a new organizational approach might be in order. Organization helps you manage activities and time efficiently, removing distractions and potential frustration from your day.

One strategy for a more organized lifestyle is to start writing down a schedule for yourself every night for the following day. Beginning each morning knowing what to expect gives you control over your responsibilities and activities. The act of crossing out completed tasks boosts a positive sense of accomplishment.

Whether you have to go to work, run errands or tackle household chores, it’s helpful to write down your top priorities so you can start your day strong and refocus when you lose momentum. Create a habit of checking your schedule at consistent times throughout each day — first thing in the morning, a second time at midday and once more in the early evening to see if you need to complete any lingering items before bedtime.

To maximize your chances of success, cluster similar tasks together under the same time umbrella. For example, answer emails and return phone calls once in the morning and once in the afternoon, instead of throughout the day. Also, make sure you create a bit of space in your day to allow for unexpected obstacles.

How to Create an Organized Home for Adults With ADHD

Home organization and tackling clutter can feel intimidating for most people, particularly those with ADHD. Due to distractibility, decision-making and difficulty with categorizing, adult organizers with ADHD benefit from a targeted approach:

  1. Focus on only one area or room at a time.
  2. Schedule specific cleaning and organizing times in your planner — plan to spend only 30 minutes to an hour on each task.
  3. Categorize boxes for items as you organize — toss, donate and keep.
  4. When you fill a donation box, make an appointment for that action. Schedule a day and time to take those items to the donation drop-off point.
  5. If distraction continues to interfere with your goals, hire a sympathetic professional organizer for extra help.

How to Stay Organized With ADHD

To maintain the progress of added structure and your newly decluttered space, follow these tips to make organization a habitual ADHD management tool.

  • Use a day planner: Use a calendar, planner notebook or smart device to record all activities and appointments every day.
  • Schedule your organization: Add tasks to your planner as actionable appointments. For example, pencil in 15 minutes to tidy up the living room at 7 p.m. every day. Designate 30 minutes to clean up the office as part of an ongoing decluttering project.
  • Create a “home” for items: Once you determine where an item belongs, consider that location to be its home. For example, place a tray near your entry to hold your keys, sunglasses and wallet — and always return those items to that spot.
  • Use color coding or labels: For work or personal items, color-coded, labeled storage containers and files can prioritize items by topic or importance.

2. Follow a Routine

Once you’re comfortable organizing your daily schedule, establish an overall routine that helps your day run smoothly, no matter what may crop up. Get used to dropping your keys into your entry tray the moment you walk through the front door. Hang up your jacket in the closet before walking into the living room to sit on the couch. Evaluate your behavioral patterns to develop routines that work for you.

Build routines by developing protocols to tackle regular chores with less effort. To feel less scattered and more accomplished when you go grocery shopping, create a standing list of weekly staples and take a few minutes before you head out the door to add whatever else you may need for the current week to your list.

Routine-Building Tips for Living With ADHD

Building a pattern of repeated behavior takes time and practice. These tips help routine become second nature in reducing stress levels:

  • Follow a mail routine: Make a system to check and sort mail on specific days and times of the week. Designate an area or container to hold important mail like bills, checks and insurance information and immediately toss out junk mail.
  • Create a routine for chores: Schedule regular chores like laundry and dishes at set days and times every week.
  • Use electronic notifications and reminders: Use electronic devices, apps and smart technology to your advantage. Make it a habit to set reminders for appointments and meetings the moment you schedule them. Add notifications for routine responsibilities like taking medications or placing trash outside for pickup.
  • Make an exercise routine: Fitness increases the availability of dopamine in the brain, which is often at lower levels than usual for people with ADHD. Exercise also reduces anxiety, improves memory, reduces compulsive behavior and improves executive function — the skills used to organize, plan and remember details.

3. Make Big Tasks More Manageable

If you have to complete a long assignment or an overwhelming project that requires multiple steps and great attention to detail, break it down into smaller, more manageable steps that are easier to accomplish.

Use a detailed checklist or write out your task’s separate components to create a step-by-step roadmap that helps you stay on course from start to finish. Initially, it’s not necessary to put these actionable items in order or even get them all down on paper. After you’ve gotten started and have some momentum, you can add items and put your list into alphabetical or chronological order.

Time Management for Adults With ADHD

Organization and routine set the foundation for better time management, but it can feel overwhelming to start a scheduled project. Sometimes you aren’t quite sure how to begin, or the full scope of the duty seems immense. Whenever you experience these mental or physical roadblocks, commit to working for short amounts of time using a timer method.

Break up large projects into smaller tasks. Instead of one big, daunting project to “clean the entire living room,” create separate tasks like this:

  • Task #1: Collect dishes from the living room and place them in the kitchen sink.
  • Task #2: Remove items that do not belong in the living room and place them in their homes — toys go back to kids’ rooms, shoes go into the closet.
  • Task #3: Vacuum the carpet.
  • Task #4: Wipe down tables and surfaces with polish or cleaning spray.

The next time you need to start a substantial project, try this exercise:

  • Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes to do only one of the defined tasks.
  • For those few minutes, keep your attention focused on that task alone.
  • When the timer chimes, decide if you have the energy to continue on that task or, if completed, start a new one for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
  • If you still feel motivated, reset the timer and continue working in short intervals for as long as you can.
  • If you’d like to rest, that’s OK — stop the activity and try again later or the following day.

4. Minimize Distractions

When you have a personal or professional work environment that requires a higher level of concentration, minimizing distractions can help you keep your focus for longer stretches of time. Declutter and simplify your surroundings at home to remove distractions and improve focus.

Simplification helps at work, too. Improve your concentration by completing existing projects before starting new ones.


Avoid overscheduling and learn to say no to new tasks or responsibilities. Saying no to unnecessary tasks gives you the time and focus to say yes to crucial ones.

How to Deal With Adult ADHD at Work

What distracts you the most at work? Social media? News alerts? Email? Texts? Your messy desk surface? Noisy co-workers?

Distractions at work are a common challenge for employees with ADHD. Be honest with yourself about what causes your primary distractions and curtail those diversions using these tips.

  • Turn off notifications: Route calls to voicemail. If you can, turn off message notifications. Check your messages at set times during the day.
  • Use noise-canceling headphones: Headphones are ideal for busy or loud environments.
  • Choose a quiet space: Request a quiet office space or cubicle.
  • Listen to music: Play music or a white noise machine. Research shows that music structure helps the ADHD brain stay on a linear path and address timing deficits. However, not all music works the same way. Loud songs with lyrics can have a distracting effect on some adults with ADHD. The best music options for the benefit of concentration are classical composers and soothing instrumentals.
  • Adjust your work schedule: Start work earlier in the day or stay later than usual when it’s quieter at the office.
  • Maintain a clean desk: Keep your workspace clutter-free to prevent visual distraction.

5. Respect Your Limits

If you start each morning feeling optimistic about how much work or activity you can incorporate into your day, you’re not alone. Many people overextend themselves by taking on more tasks than they can handle or underestimating the amount of time they need to get things done.

Nothing creates more pressure than committing yourself beyond your limits day after day. Failing to deliver on your promises, whether you’ve made them to your boss, family, friends or yourself, can take the wind out of your sails and leave you feeling even more scattered than usual.

Learning how to live with ADHD involves recognizing when you’ve reached your limit and need to remove tasks from your plate. When you take time to understand and respect your limits, you empower yourself to commit to less and deliver more often.

Professional Help for ADHD Management for Adults

Here at Advanced Psychiatry Associates, we know that ADHD is a complex disorder that affects each adult uniquely. If you’d like some guidance from a mental health professional to find the strategies and solutions that fit your life, our experienced team is ready to help.

We understand how to deal with ADHD in adults and have dedicated our time and training to providing comprehensive care for our patients. Advanced Psychiatry Associates offers the largest full-service facility in the Sacramento region and provides medication management, therapy and counseling, and mental health treatment all in one place for your convenience. Call our office in Folsom, Calif., or schedule an appointment online today.