Getting Organized with ADHD

Having ADHD does not mean you have to live a chaotic life. 

1 / 8
Controlling the Chaos

Getting organized can be a major endeavor for anyone. But if you have ADHD, the thought of attempting to "pull it all together" may feel like a daunting dream. And you need to push past that paralysis, because getting organized is priority one when it comes to managing your symptoms. A few innovative organizational strategies could truly turn your life around, making coping with your ADHD easier for both you and your loved ones.

2 / 8
Collect Your Thoughts

It's nearly impossible to organize your life when your mind feels cluttered. To help collect and sort the things running through your brain, jot down your to-do list and all of your thoughts and ideas. That means writing down not just appointments, phone calls to make, bills to pay, errands to run and other daily tasks, but also your ideas and thoughts, like your dreams for the future, your feelings about your friends or family members or even just your thoughts on the movie you saw last night. Use both a day planner and a personal journal. The more you write down, the more you free up your mind. If you don't have time to write, a digital recording device, like an MP3 player, will work, too.

3 / 8

Isn't it amazing how quickly the papers and clutter gather. Schedule 30 minutes each and every day to sort through old papers, junk mail, magazines and other household items that have piled up. Toss what you no longer need and stash the rest out of sight in color-coded and labeled bins, storage containers or file folders. And twice a year, do a trip to Good Will. To avoid losing or misplacing important items, like your keys and unpaid bills, put them in the same highly visible place every day.

4 / 8
Time Management

When you have ADHD, you know that time management often goes out the window, thanks to distractions or impulsive thoughts that jump from one thing to the next. Distraction also makes it tough to finish things. Solution: Create a structured, daily schedule for completing tasks, and use a daily planner or calendar to keep yourself on track. Set cell phone alarm reminders an hour—or a day—before different pieces of the task are due so that each piece of the project, each appointment, each step in your week stays top of mind. And use that alarm to get yourself out the door well ahead of when you think you need to leave to make appointments.

5 / 8
Set Your Priorities

What's the absolute most important thing you'd like to get done this month? Or this week? Or today? If you haven't thought about it, it's time to figure it out. Because although using a to-do list or daily planner is great, those tools work more effectively if you learn to prioritize the tasks you put in them. Here's a trick to help you do that: Create a master to-do list of both your short- and long-term goals, along with all the steps needed to accomplish each item. Then, rewrite the to-do list, putting the most urgent or important goals and steps at the top of the list. This will help you prioritize your daily, weekly and monthly schedule so that critical things get done in a timely manner.

6 / 8
Break It Up

Facing a big task with lots of pieces can feel overwhelming when you have ADHD. Take every large, long-term project in your day planner, and break it up into small, easy-to-complete, doable steps. Then, make sure to schedule each of those steps in your day planner. Remember not to schedule too many steps in a single day, and always give yourself some flexibility around deadlines. Also, try to focus on—and complete—one step or task at a time rather than jumping ahead to the next one. Finally, track your progress and establish milestones along the way, and reward yourself every time you complete a task or stay on track.

7 / 8
Plan Ahead

Have a busy day coming? Nothing sets back people with ADHD quite like an overwhelming day. Planning ahead becomes critical so you don't end up feeling stressed and scattered. For example, when you know you have a busy day coming up, start getting ready the night—or even two nights—before. Launder and lay out your clothes for the big meeting, get your lunch packed and in the fridge and look for your car keys the night before so you're set and calm on the big day. If you've scheduled a long list of errands to run on a given day, fill up the gas tank the night before and write out a list of all the stops you have to make and what you have to do, buy or pick up at each one.

8 / 8
Consider an Organization Coach

Okay, getting your life organized—it's a lot to do. So, if you're having trouble getting started down that path, consider hiring an organizational coach who specializes in adult ADHD. The right coach not only will help motivate you but also will help you develop your own abilities to more effectively manage details, manage your time, prioritize your tasks, structure your environment and stay on schedule. It can be a wonderful investment because organizational skills may be all that stands between you and that fabulous feeling of being able to look back on a productive day, week or year.

More On

How to help teens with ADHD succeed in high school


How to help teens with ADHD succeed in high school
High school is difficult for any teen to navigate, but a few extra challenges are important for kids with ADHD to address. Pediatrician Tanya Remer Al...
How to Manage Parenting When You Have ADHD


How to Manage Parenting When You Have ADHD
Parenting is always a challenge, but if you have adult ADHD, you may need some extra help to minimize the impact ADHD has on you, your children, and y...
ADHD lifestyle changes


ADHD lifestyle changes
In this video, Dr. Oz outlines 5 lifestyle changes that support healthy and productive living for children with ADHD.
4 myths about ADHD in kids


4 myths about ADHD in kids
ADHD is often misunderstood, from the best treatment to whether people can outgrow it. Pediatrician Tanya Altmann, M.D. clears up misconceptions.
Your child has ADHD? How to work with the child's teacher


Your child has ADHD? How to work with the child's teacher
Children with ADHD benefit from open communication and aid from their teachers and parents. Pediatrician Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D. talks in this Ask t...