ADHD & Organization: Can they co-Exist?

I was working with a client who had recently been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD). She went on to say that she was happy she had ADHD because now she had a built in excuse to be disorganized. Certainly people with ADHD have trouble being organized but is it an excuse?

I have ADHD, do I have to be disorganized too?
Just because you have ADHD doesn’t mean you have to be disorganized. In fact there are many people with ADHD who are incredibly well organized. Being organized has helped them thrive. However, if you have ADHD it is often more difficult for you to get organized and stay that way.

What does being organized mean?
Being organized is not about putting things away and everything being neat and ready for company. It is about how you function in your environment. It means that you control your environment, your things and your time, instead of your environment controlling you. Organization is how you manage your things, your time, and your tasks.

What about ADHD contributes to disorganization?
ADHD involves your brain’s frontal lobe which acts as the “executive functioning” area of your brain. This is the part of your brain that allows you to make decisions, set rules, prioritize, assign responsibilities, help you focus and remember.

So What?
Getting organized involves several steps that are often done in a specific order.

1. Decision Making — Decide what you need and what you don’t need.
2. Setting Rules — Categorize what you have left.
3. Assigning Responsibilities — Assign a place to keep these things and put them away.
4. Focusing and Remembering — Keep everything organized on an on-going basis.

To follow these steps to get organized and then to stay “organized” once you must have systems in place and keep on track while you are performing tasks which are less than stimulating. When you look at it this way it is no wonder that people with ADHD have trouble being organized.

People with ADHD have trouble focusing on routine tasks…is there anything more routine (and boring) than opening mail, paying bills and filing? How about doing laundry and putting away clothes?

People with ADHD have trouble filtering out distractions. Going through old clothes in your closet is just not that exciting. How can you stay focused on the one thing that you are trying to get done when you hear “You’ve got mail!” or the phone rings? Not only do you lose your place on the stack of papers you were working on but you get pulled completely off task. It might be hours, days or even weeks until you get back to that pile.

If it is so hard to be organized why should I bother?
One of the ironies of ADHD life is that the more organized you are and the more routines you have in your schedule and life, the easier it will be for you to function. What organization does is allow you to NOT have to focus on this minutia. Once organizing becomes routine you don’t have to think about where something goes or where to find something that you put away. Once you have a schedule for getting up and out of the house in the morning you don’t have to worry about what to do 1st, 2nd and 3rd or whether or not you will make it to work on time. Once you have schedules and routines you don’t have to hunt all over the house for your bills and when you finally track them all down pay them — late.

So how do I get organized?
• Realize that you are NOT perfect. You don’t have to have a perfect system and there are no set rules to follow. The system you create only needs to make sense to you.
• Be yourself. Don’t try to fit someone else’s mold. Instead, create systems and routines that reflect your personality and make them fun. Remember that one great thing about ADHD is the ability to be creative and brainstorm. Come up with the wackiest way to organize your environment. That will probably the way it will work best for you.
• Learn to say “NO”. Before deciding to take on a new responsibility make sure you have the time and ability to add it to your current schedule. If you don’t have the time decide which activity from your current schedule you will stop.
• Use broad categories for filing and organizing. Depending on how you think you can file all banking things together and all credit cards together. They don’t need individual files unless that would help you.
• Label everything. Remember people with ADHD tend not to remember “unimportant” details like which drawer they put their bank statements in or which refrigerator drawer holds the fruit or which list is for phone calls. Labeling helps you to find things and put them away.
• Create Mini-Tasks. Break up all tasks into mini-tasks that take 10 – 15 minutes each. Smaller tasks are easier to do and to schedule.
• Manage organization energy bursts. Work for 5, 10 or 20 minutes and then, even if you aren’t done, stop. If you have a list of mini-tasks set up you should have a list of things you can accomplish fairly quickly.
• If it works stick with it. When you are faced with organizing something new, look at the systems you have that work and try to figure out why it works. Build onto these systems or create new ones that are similar.
• Use memory tricks. Don’t just try to remember things, use multiple senses. Say it aloud to yourself, tell someone, sing it, write it down and keep the note somewhere that you will really see. If it is a routine or habit you are trying to create make a rhyme out of the sequence of things you want to accomplish, create a sign and post the new habit where you will be doing it.
• Ask for help. Often having someone to keep you company is enough to get many people moving and stay on task. Maybe you can volunteer to keep a friend company if they keep you company?
• Get your kids help. Tell your kids what you are going to do. They love catching parents “misbehaving.” Most people will do anything to avoid being caught by their children.
• Be Flexible. Remember life happens. Sometimes despite your best planning things don’t always work out the way you want them to. There are many ways to be organized — you just need to find the way that works for you.