On this blog, sometimes I deal with details of living with ADHD. My blog about packing light for instance. Today I want to address something wider and more fundamental. The following is what I might expound on to someone who told me they were newly diagnosed with, or were secure in their personal knowledge that they have ADHD, or challenges with executive dysfunction, and wanted to really get their life together and no longer suffer as a result. Or rather it’s what I would want to say, but because it would be verbal, I’d probably do it in four times the words and ten times the tangents.
Nothing in this blog post will apply to absolutely everyone, nor will it cure the way anyone’s brain is wired (and when phrased like that, would you really want to cure the way in which you exist?), but I have found them to be nearly universal. This is also by no means an exhaustive list.
So, what are some fundamental tools, concepts, and principles I’ve gathered for effective ADHD/EF management?
1. Write everything down
One of the very first things I really grasped about ADHD was the poor memory aspect. Any time my brain tells me (and at this point, I think it has mostly given up) that I’ll remember something, that has become my cue to write that thing down. Not only is there a very high chance I’ll forget whatever it is, but even if I do manage to remember, the effort involved in keeping that information, no matter how important, in my brain, is simply not worth it. Never has been, never will be.
The flipside of this is having to come up with ways in which to know what things I’ve recorded are of urgent importance, what things either need to be tabled until a later date and what things I just need to let go of. Writing everything down doesn’t mean meticulously tracking every stray thought that flits across my consciousness, no matter how badly I may want to do just that.
The Someday/Maybe function of the Getting Things Done system is the main way I combat the information hoarding instinct. Anything - projects, ideas, tasks - I can’t take action on in the next 3 months, I input as a reminder in Wunderlist. I do this to keep Alarmed, my day-to-day management app, from getting clogged up with this kind of item.
One of the places to write things down is the calendar. Digital, wall, or planner, it doesn’t matter. Getting the things that need doing at a specific time and day into a location where they will be in front of eyeballs is the important part.
Some people try and juggle a paper and a digital calendar. Eric Tivers said "Stick to one calendar. Having multiple calendars is the best way to mess yourself up." I agree with him, for the most part. If you have more than one place to record and reference information, chances are that eventually something will be missed out of one of them. The only way I’ve managed to maintain a digital and a paper calendar is by having a strict routine of sitting down and updating my paper calendar twice a week. The digital one on my phone is the master calendar and the paper the secondary. Which means, when in doubt, always trust the master one.
3. Know how you will remember things for specific times without using your brain to remember them
There seems to be this idea that remembering things is good and forgetting them is bad. There even seems to be low-key stigma around using anything to remember stuff except what’s between our ears. If you want or need a Post-It or mobile app to do the remembering for you, that’s somehow less desirable. David Allen said “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” and that captures exactly my feelings on the matter. But I digress...
On its own, writing everything down doesn’t guarantee we will see the information we need, when we need it. If a prescription needs filling, and that information is written in a notebook, and nothing else is done, then the prescription isn’t likely to get filled, unless the person involved has a habit of checking their notebook when standing in the right pharmacy. In this example, I would use Alarmed and set a reminder for when I know I’ll be in town doing errands.
This does not mean, however, that digital is the only way to go. Plenty of people find low-tech pen and paper to be their perfect organizing solution. One of the benefits of going old school in this way is that it limits the brain’s exposure to the siren’s song of distracting technology and internet access.
Whatever it is, knowing how important information is going to be available and in front of our eyeballs when needed is important.
4. Basic needs
Maslow and I define basic needs as things like sleep and nutrition. Other ADHD basic needs include medication (if applicable), physical movement (especially if hyperactivity is in play), hygiene, laundry, and proper hydration. Knowing how and when these needs get met is a foundational principle of ADHD management. Some people with different brain types simply take care of these things and/or are not nearly as impacted by them not being taken care of. Not us, however.
If I personally get dehydrated, I get terrible headaches that prevent work, play, and most cognition. It’s really hard to rock an interview for your dream job if you can’t find clean clothes in the morning. And if someone, as the neurodivergent often do, has a food sensitivity, being able to grab food when needed and know that it won’t make us feel awful later is essential. This also applies to dietary preferences. Anything we just simply prefer to eat (or not eat) is just as important as things our bodies reject.
I’ve encountered people that, for whatever reason, feel that these things are somehow a luxury. And in a broad sense, I would agree. Having the ability to go to bed at a certain time and know there will be food in our cupboards and fridges is something not everyone has. One of the ways I express gratitude for these small and commonplace miracles is by taking advantage of them. To the best of my ability, I meet my own basic needs so I can do the more advanced things in my life. Being and doing something great begins with these basic, foundational needs.
5. The correct amount of social interaction
This item touches on the subject of introversion and extroversion. Some people just need to be around people in order to get energy. As valid and wonderful as those people are, they baffle me. I am one of the other kind, who need to be alone to recharge the batteries. However, you can have too much of anything. Being alone can be beneficial to the extroverted and the introverted alike. And even the introverted, such as myself, can get lonely.
Figuring out what social balance looks like for each of us individually might be as much of a challenge as actually managing to schedule people to interact with, in this busy world. It’s a definite matter of trial and error. And it is an essential aspect of ADHD management.
I personally know I need to schedule some social time when I find myself having the urge to tell my clients stories. The occasional anecdote, specifically related to the topic at hand, can, of course, be of benefit to my clients. When I find my brain trying to figure out how to make a specific story relate to the topic, that’s when it’s not helpful. I need to tell that story to a personal friend.
6. Know how money is going to work
This is an extremely challenging area for a lot of us with ADHD, to say the least. And I could not begin to solve someone’s financial struggles with a blog post. The basic idea here is that if a person does not know how their own finances work, they are almost guaranteeing suffering.
I was lucky enough to be taught a lot of very sound financial concepts by my husband. He also handles most of our financial management. And this is another basic concept: things ADHD people are bad at, whenever possible, are handed off to someone else to do, who is better suited to the work. I've said it before, but as one example, paying someone to do taxes can pay for itself and more in reimbursement and absence of late fines.
What are some basic principles of your ADHD management?