13 Ways to Get Organized With ADHD
Disorganization is a hallmark of ADHD—but a few simple tricks can help you calm your mind, clear the clutter, and organize your life.
Plan and prepare
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
Before you begin clearing the physical clutter, it’s important to de-clutter your mind and get focused. Take one or two minutes to create a plan. “Close your eyes and tell me what words come to mind,” Holly Hitchcock Graff, CPO, PCC, founder of Clutter Control Angels, tells clients. “Do you see clutter, stressful, overwhelming? Now close your eyes and think about what you want to see—for example, relaxing, a place to read, a place the family can come together.” This will help you slow down, take a breath, and get started. These are myths about ADHD it’s easy to get wrong.
Make to-do lists, not wish lists
To-do lists are great organizational tools, but only if they’re realistic. Don’t overdo it; try to set small goals by jotting down no more than five tasks. The experts at ADDitude, a magazine for those with ADHD, recommend writing on index cards and using big, bold letters. Once you’ve completed those first five tasks, flip the card over, and create a new to-do list. Here are sneaky reasons you never finish your to-do list.
Start with 15 minutes
Setting a time limit for tasks—whether cleaning up after dinner or organizing a cabinet drawer—is a smart time management strategy for anyone with ADHD. Graff also recommends what she calls “staying in the magic circle” to help you stay focused. “Put your hands to the side and imagine a circle around you; that’s your magic circle and don’t jump out for 15 minutes,” she says. For example, if you’re cleaning your kitchen countertop, start by tackling one small area, and don’t move on until it’s done or your 15 minutes is up.
Invest in a good timer
ADHD symptoms often make it difficult to predict how much time has passed, how long tasks will take, and to evaluate where you are and what still needs to get done, Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in West Chester, Pennsylvania. and author of More Attention, Less Deficit, told everydayhealth.com. To the rescue: a good visual timer. Graff recommends the Time Timer, which looks like an oven timer, but has a red disc that covers the face of the clock; the red diminishes as time passes. “Just avoid a timer that ticks—that can drive you crazy,” she says.
Stick with sticky notes
With ADHD, it’s easy to get distracted halfway through and wander out of the room before finishing the task. The solution: stick a Post-It note (Graff loves the six-inch ones!) outside of your door or in the room where you tend to wander to most (i.e. the kitchen). Write, “Has it been 15 minutes? Go back!,” she says. “This will keep you on track.”
Eliminate morning chaos
Getting up and getting everyone out the door (and on time) is particularly challenging with ADHD. Aim to get organized the night before—set out clothes, make lunches, pack backpacks or briefcases, etc.—and place any items you’ll need (keys, umbrella, wallet, cell phone charger) near the front door. You may even consider creating an area or “launch pad” near the door with cubbies, pegs, hooks, and containers. Graff also recommends hanging up a family calendar in a central spot. To make breakfast a no brainer, here’s how to organize your pantry. And an organized medicine cabinet cuts down on bathroom time.
Stock up on supplies
Before tackling a messy closet, drawer, attic, or garage, make sure you have these essentials: heavy-duty black bags for trash (once it goes in, you can no longer see it and change your mind), white bags for donations, and a box for miscellaneous items or those that belong in another room of the house. “How often do we stop what we’re doing to take an item to the bathroom—and then we’re outside washing the car and checking the mail,” Graff says, laughing. Here are things in your closet you can feel free to toss.
Make maintenance a family affair
Every night after dinner, recruit your family to do a 10-minute pick-up. And don’t just tell the kids to “pick up their toys,” Graff notes. Say “pick up all of the matchbox cars and put them in a bin, or pick up all of the books and put them in the basket.” Keep it simple and specific.
Clean in chunks
This is especially true when cleaning out a closet, Graff says. People tend to take everything out of their closet and toss it on their beds—“and then they have nowhere to sleep for two weeks until they get it done,” she says. Instead, start on one side and work in six-inch intervals—and start tossing and sorting—and then you can stop at any point without having a huge mess.
Stop paper before it starts
Don’t let those bills pile up. “Sort, toss, act on, or file,” Graff says. Set up a recycle area and shredder, and immediately dump all junk mail before it ends up on the counter or table. And find a filing system that works for you, she adds, whether alphabetically, by category (medical, auto insurance, mortgage, etc.), or another method that makes sense. Here, other advice professional organizers won’t tell you for free.
Enlist a clutter buddy
This is a friend or family member who is willing to help keep you on track as you sort through the clutter. “Make sure it’s a friend who can help you let go of things—and you also want someone who is nonjudgmental,” Graff says.
Tidy up your desk
Before leaving for the day, take five minutes to toss any trash, organize your paperwork, and straighten up your desk. When you arrive the next morning, you’ll be able to start the day with a clearer workstation and mindset. Here are things you should never keep on your desk.
Keep it simple and easy
Don’t make organizing difficult. Find simple strategies, systems, and tools that work for you—and don’t be afraid to tweak them along the way if something isn’t working. Remember, Graff says, “What organizes your neighbor or your sister might not work for you.”