8 Tips for Living With ADHD as an Adult

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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental diagnosis that involves issues related to attention, executive functioning, hyperactivity, and impulse control. Typically, symptoms emerge in childhood, but many people go undiagnosed until adulthood.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that approximately 9.4% of children in the United States meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but only 4.4% of adults have ADHD.This may be due in part to the fact that adults have developed coping skills to manage their symptoms and often have sufficient control over their environment to prevent symptoms from interfering.

If you are an adult with ADHD whose symptoms are interfering with your functioning, these tips and strategies may help you.

Figure Out What Works For You

Countless books, blogs, and articles have specific and detailed suggestions for living with ADHD. Although well-intentioned, these suggestions often require the very executive functioning skills that ADHD interferes with.

People with ADHD are often pressured to stick to schedules and systems that work for neurotypical brains. If you have difficulty sticking to a particular system, it is OK to let go of that expectation.

Notice what tends to work for you, and lean into that. For example, many people keep their keys on a hook by the door, but people with ADHD might struggle to remember to return their keys to the hook or follow that organizational system.

Instead of choosing the best location for your keys and trying to remember to put them there, notice where you tend to put them. Then, designate that location as the spot where your keys go.

Notice what works for your brain, and create systems around that.

Keep Things Visual

One sign of ADHD is forgetfulness. If something is out of sight, a person with ADHD may not remember it. Visual cues can keep important things at the forefront.

If you need a regular reminder of something, keep it in a basket in a location you pass regularly. Keep a schedule where you can see it. A whiteboard allows you to jot down what you need to remember each day.

Determine Your Optimal Level of Stimulation

Although ADHD is marked by specific symptoms, each person is unique and has different needs.

Some people need background noise in order to focus on a task, though white or brown noise might be more distracting than music, a television show, or a podcast. Others might require silence to maintain focus.

Through trial and error, figure out what works for you. Then, set up your work space to fit with those needs. Remember that your needs might change over time, so be flexible and change your system as needed.

Remember That Your Brain Craves Novelty

ADHD brains process dopamine differently than neurotypical brains. Because of this, people with ADHD will often find it easier to focus on things that are new. Regular changes to your environment or workspace can keep your brain engaged.

People with ADHD tend to thrive in positions where they do a variety of tasks. This way, their duties vary and remain interesting and novel to the ADHD brain.

When you notice that your routine is not holding your attention as it did before, make a small change to keep things interesting and keep your mind engaged.

Practice Self-Compassion

Many people with ADHD also experience anxiety and depression. People with ADHD often struggle to live up to neurotypical standards and keep neurotypical schedules. Even when these standards are not essential for functioning, society often punishes or ridicules people for diverging from them.

If something works for you and is not harmful, that is OK. Know that you can follow different routines, and that is not a reflection of your value as a human. Practice being kind to yourself and letting go of expectations that do not serve you.

Getting down on yourself for having different needs or brain functioning can be a vicious cycle, with people trying even harder to force themselves to meet these arbitrary expectations and becoming more upset with themselves when they are unable to do so.

Break Tasks Down

People with ADHD can get overwhelmed by projects or tasks that seem too big or have too many steps, which can cause difficulty with motivation.

Any task can be broken down into even smaller steps. Take things one step at a time, and give yourself permission to take breaks as needed or stop and start.

When starting a task or project, remember that you do not have to finish it all at once. You can do part of a task and then take a break. For example, if washing the dishes feels like too much, just wash one plate, and then stop. If you find that starting the task gives you the energy to keep going, you can wash more. However, giving yourself permission to stop after one dish can make the task small enough to start.

Half done is better than not starting, and it is OK to stop even if you have not finished everything.

Use Alarms and Reminders

People with ADHD might experience meta-forgetfulness, or forgetting that they tend to be forgetful. You might find yourself thinking, “I don’t need to write that down; I will remember it.”

Instead, tell yourself that it is OK that you will not remember it. Now, you can write it down and set a reminder for yourself.

You might have to set multiple reminders for different things, since it is easy to dismiss an alarm, and you might forget that you dismissed it. Having several reminders or cues can help you follow through and remember what you were doing.

People with ADHD often lose track of time, so frequent cues and reminders can help you stay on track.

Try Body Doubling

Body doubling” refers to having another person present while you complete a task. People with ADHD tend to do well with another person present while they work on something, as this is a physical cue to remind them of the task and acts an accountability booster.

Although research has not been conducted around the benefits of body doubling, adults with ADHD have reported that this practice helps them stay on task and improve executive functioning.

A Word From Verywell

There are many ways in which you can adjust your schedules and complete tasks when you have ADHD. The good news is that they're not even just limited to what you've read on this list. If you find that you're having a hard time staying on task, a mental health professional can help you create some solutions that are tailored to your needs.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is a clinical psychologist who works with children and adolescents. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.