By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Organization is a common challenge for adults with ADHD. But it can be done! Below, ADHD specialists share their foolproof tips for cutting out clutter, managing time, creating an efficient space and more. Remember that the key to organization is having a simple system that works for you and your family. So experiment with these tips, keep what you like and toss the rest.
1. Use a planner.
People often underestimate the power of a simple planner. “An effective, consistent planning system is the number one strategy to better organize, prioritize and manage time,” according to Laurie Dupar, a certified ADHD coach, nurse practitioner and editor and co-author of 365 Ways to Succeed with ADHD, a full year of bite-sized strategies to help you thrive with ADHD.
Psychotherapist Terry Matlen, ACSW, who has ADHD, uses a teacher’s style spiral “at a glance” calendar with large boxes. And it goes everywhere she does.
2. Use eye-catching materials.
“Copy a schedule of your weekly planner on an obnoxiously bright colored piece of paper [so it stands out] at the beginning of the week,” Dupar said. Cross off what you’ve done and add Post-It notes for tasks that come up.
3. Keep tasks straight with spiral notebooks.
For instance, she has one notebook for her daughter’s medication and another for phone notes with her webmaster. Matlen keeps each spiral notebook with related paperwork in a file folder with a matching color. If she uses a notebook regularly, she keeps it on a wall organizer for quick access.
4. Have a “brain dump.”
That’s how Matlen describes one of her notebooks. Here, Matlen records any notes, phone calls or other plans, and dates each page. Her latest page features the foods she’s ordering for the holidays along with her winter travel plans, which include detailed flight information.
5. Bank online.
Put a stop to paper statements, so you have less paperwork to manage. Use direct deposit and automatic withdrawal, said Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, psychotherapist and author of four books, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Chronic Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals. She also suggested using money management software, such as Quicken, and getting a receipt scanner so you can throw away paper receipts.
6. Forget your appointment time.
Instead of focusing on when your appointment actually is, plan around the time you’re leaving. If Matlen has a 2 p.m. appointment, she knows that she needs to be out the door by 1:45. This way you don’t think you have more time than you really do.
7. Sort items using a five-box method.
Sarkis suggested having five boxes with the labels: “Keep, Toss, Give away, Donate and Trash.” When figuring out whether to keep or toss an item, avoid asking yourself if an item has any value or if you’ll need it some time, said Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a psychologist and author of the new workbook Understand Your Brain, Get More Done. (The answer will probably be yes.) Instead, he suggested asking: “Does this item have enough value? Will this get in the way of finding more important items?” As he added: “These questions yield very different answers.”
8. Purge excess possessions — ruthlessly.
The more stuff you have, the harder it is to get and stay organized, because there’s less space and more laundry, more dishes and more to clean. As Tuckman said, “At some point, it becomes impossible [to organize] — you can’t organize 10 gallons of water into a 5-gallon bucket.”
That’s why Susan C. Pinsky, owner of Organizationally Yours in Acton, MA, and author of Organizational Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder, takes a radical approach with her clients and helps them purge most of their possessions. She believes that good organization for adults with ADHD is all about efficiency with the least number of steps and effort. And managing less will always be less work, she said.
Pinsky asks clients to pick one or two indulgences, such as books, shoes or music, and pare down the rest. For instance, do you really need a cabinet filled with Tupperware? With a little resourcefulness four to six pieces are plenty, Pinsky said. And you’ll find the same with dishes, knick-knacks, shoes, documents and other items.
9. Get creative with visual reminders.
“When my daughter’s meds are running low, I turn the bottles upside down in the cabinet as a reminder that I need to call in soon for refills,” Matlen said.
10. Enlist an organization buddy.
This can be anyone from a friend to a family member to a coach to a professional organizer, Sarkis said. To avoid burnout, work for 30 minutes, take a 15-minute break and then repeat, she added.
11. Cut out company logos for your file folders.
12. Sort mail over a wastebasket.
This makes it all the more convenient to trash what you don’t need without moving papers or going to another space. Maynard also believes in using the O.H.I.O. principle when sorting mail: “Only Handle It Once!”