Staying Organized with ADHD: 4 Little Rules that Are Seriously Necessary

These life-simplifying tricks can help you better manage your ADHD.

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If you’ve been diagnosed with adult ADHD, you’ve probably been attempting to cope with and compensate for the way certain ADHD symptoms impact your life. You may be notoriously late for work because you spend too long picking out what to wear, or you miss appointments because you forget to put them on the calendar.

“If it impacts your work, if it impacts your home life—paying bills, losing car keys, getting locked out of the house—it really can wreak havoc on your life,” says Khadijah Watkins, MD, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine.   

Dealing with symptoms of ADHD can be very frustrating for you (and, let’s be honest, those around you) but there’s a lot you can do to manage them. Besides making sure you see a medical professional to properly identify and treat adult ADHD (and this may include taking medications), it’s also important to develop better organizational and time management skills. Ask your doctor to recommend a therapist or an organizational skills coach who specializes in working with adults with ADHD.

“That’s key to managing your ADHD,” says Susan Samuels, MD, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine.

Here are four proven tips to help you get more organized if you have adult ADHD.

1. Aim for consistency. “We talk a lot about practice and consistency; doing things in a way that will become internalized,” says Dr. Watkins. For example, put your keys in the same place every day so you’ll be less likely to lose them. Or keep a calendar or a notepad handy, and write down everything so you’ll be less likely to forget appointments or things you want to remember to do later.

2. Simplify decisions. If you find yourself wasting too much time making decisions, try to figure out a way to simplify those decisions. For example: “I have a friend who has very bad ADHD and he keeps his wardrobe very simple,” says Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD, a psychologist in New York City. He buys a lot of the same kind of shirt in the same color and has a minimal selection of pants, she says. “There’s not that extra thought where he’s standing in front of his closet, totally overwhelmed and distracted, and it’s a great strategy for him.”

If you take away the choice factor, you don’t get lost in the choice and lose an hour trying to figure out what you want to do, says Dr. Hartstein.

3. Plan ahead. Waiting until the last minute can often be stressful and leave you frazzled and more likely to forget things. Reducing next-day decisions or making a to-do list ahead of time can do wonders. “You might plan your meals for the next day [or] plan a little bit of what your tasks are going to be so you don’t have to think at that moment what you need to get done,” says Dr. Samuels.

4. Create a schedule (and stick to it). “Time management and organizational skills are so challenging for many of us, even if we don’t have an ADHD diagnosis,” says Hartstein. “I think it’s super important to create a schedule to figure out what’s reasonable in that schedule, and to see if you can follow it.”  

These tips may or may not work for you, but the key takeaway here is to pinpoint how your ADHD subtype affects you personally, take note of the patterns you notice about yourself, and learn out how to adjust accordingly so you can better manage your symptoms.