ADHD (& executive functioning) info/tips/strategies/resources & questions

some folks have expressed interest in a topic re: tips & strategies for managing ADHD, and the baton was passed to me, so here we are!

i was diagnosed with ADHD in my 40s, and that process of testing and discussing with my therapist at the time highlighted areas of my life that i hadn’t realized were connected. i think my first response to him was “you mean i’m not a f*ck-up?”. i honestly thought that i’d not been able to complete projects, “succeed” in the way that i wanted to, or manage some fairly simple daily living activities because of some deep flaw in my personality. this kind of poor self-concept is a component of ADHD that many people experience, and i want to address this first.

there is nothing wrong with you.

the authorized world, consensus reality, society, etc, was/were created as one gigantic adaptation that enables neurotypical folks (stack other privileges here, too) to fast-track toward whatever version of success is relevant at the time in question. wealth, status, diplomas, etc.

folks with ADHD (and other divergent neurologies) have difficulty intersecting with that world, because it wasn’t designed for them. that doesn’t mean that we’ll never be happy, successful, etc. it just means that we need to create interfaces that enable us to access to the systems that allow us to meet our own needs.

this is an experimental process.

if you’ve gotten this far with ADHD, you’ve already built some of these interfaces. these will reflect your context, personal preferences, autobiographical material, etc. some of these probably work very well for you, some of them probably not so much. what matters at this point is that you realize there’s no one way of doing things, ADHD or no. so the point with tips/tricks/strategies is to try them out with an eye on results. if they work, great! keep them. if they don’t, cool! get rid of them and try something else.

to me, the recipe for success in this matter is: start slowly, be as kind to yourself as possible, maintain curiosity and a sense of play, and be persistent.

some thoughts/tips/strategies:

regular exercise. while i’m not great at maintaining it, helps modulate my mood and attention more than just about anything else i’ve tried.

the main way i look at working with my attention and energy is that i have a tendency to either flow or stagnate, like water, so i need to create structures that channel flow, without much conscious effort at the time. it’s an architecture of fluency that i can simply pour myself into.

some structures:

  • creating specific places/containers for things that i constantly misplace.

my keys, wallet, lighter, and other pocket things all “live” on my desk, when not in my pocket.

  • habituating maintenance tasks on a regular schedule.

honestly, i’ve fallen out of most of these habits due to stress/life events. but when i have a specific day for taking out the trash, a specific time of day for doing dishes, etc, i don’t have to think about it until the whole system is disrupted.

  • creating sequences (or “habit chains”) of tasks i need to repeat regularly.

[example: morning routine on workdays = wake up. smoke cigarette. eat breakfast. take meds. drink coffee. smoke cigarette. meditate. journal. smoke cigarette. play solitaire (analog) + jot notes re: the day ahead. smoke cigarette. brush teeth. shower. get dressed. retrieve “pocket stuff” from the appropriate place. grab backpack (already full of job supplies/materials). leave house.]

  • making a to-do list for every day

no more than 7 items are allowed on the list at a time, or i get overwhelmed, and 5 items is really my sweet-spot. obviously there are usually more things i need to do in a day, so i’ll break it down in various ways: most of my job stuff is habituated, but if there are special cases, i’ll make separate lists for job/personal stuff. if that’s not simplified enough, i make a “master list” with everything on it, and a “HUD list” of just 5 things, that i refer to throughout the day and refresh from the master list when i cross items off.

  • if it’s not on a calendar or to-do list, and it isn’t habituated, it doesn’t exist

i still haven’t found the calendar system that works best for me. i’m leaning toward the bullet journal method of nesting monthly/weekly/daily logs with future logs for overflow. but need some easier-to-read at a glance stuff like a trad monthly calendar, but haven’t identified what i need where. still in process.

thank you for reading this far, and please feel free to add your own tips/strategies, questions, etc! i’ll be adding some more specifics later.

on deck: managing long-term goals, managing overwhelm, managing the terrifying “full stop”…and other things.

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Happy to see this become its own thread! I really find that discussing this here is more beneficial to the community than constraining it to private messages.

One of the things I’ve learnt to accept is the way I work given a large amount of time to complete a task. The vast majority of work happens in the very last sliver of time remaining. Working at a uniform rate is something I’ve never been able to bring myself to do, and agonizing over that is not worth it. I need to be driven by stress to work efficiently. Over time I’ve developed the ability to know my limitations, to know what I can and cannot achieve given a certain amount of time remaining. What I do is stay just far away from the edge of failure to be driven from the thrill while remaining confident I can achieve the task.

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Are you me? This is exactly how I work, which drives people who try to encourage me to not procrastinate absolutely nuts. The Calvin & Hobbes “last-minute panic” strip is basically my life motto, which makes school somewhat difficult.

One problem I’ve run into while operating in the neurotypical world is the 8-hour workday. I find that I can do the work that takes most people a full day in 2-3 hours and then I just build up fatigue throughout the day, because my attention span is shot and I’m bad at looking busy when I’ve already completed my work for the day. Does anyone else experience this, and maybe have some input on how to combat the paranoia that sets in when you’re not doing busywork all day but your peers are? I’ve honestly wondered if maybe freelance work would be more suited to my mental capabilities and working style, but it’s hard to get good freelance gigs if you don’t have extensive industry experience.

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I’ll be following this thread closely. When I was young, I had a number of teachers recommend I get tested for ADD (which is now part of the ADHD diagnosis). My folks chose not to have me tested, but I’ve realized over the years I would have likely benefited from having a diagnosis of sorts. As a full grown adult, I too inevitably wait until the last minute to complete tasks, on the edge of chaos, but never over it.

Among many of the challenges mentioned above, mine often don’t involve any form of hyperactivity. One big challenge of mine is completing non work related projects. Ranging from daily chores, to home projects, to personal endeavors. I don’t know how many uncompleted projects I have piling up in my closet. Recently, I’ve decided to write down projects I need to or want to complete so that I have a record, kinda like the to-do list strategy mentioned by @cour13r5. It works really well. I can categorize my chores, home repairs and hobbies, and have a road map to finishing something. Obviously recording a project album has a much different road map than re-screening a porch. But the important thing is, if I don’t write it down I’ll probably forget it, and be thinking about something completely different in the next couple minutes.

Over the past few years, I’ve thought about going in see if I meet threshold for a diagnosis, but have yet to follow through. To be honest, I’m not even sure where I would start.

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I was also diagnosed in my early 40s. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing a person would want to hear, but it certainly made sense of things.

The thing that is most frustrating for me is this involuntary response to act like I understand things that have just been explained to me when I was not able to focus and process the information. If it’s important/for a job or something I can usually piece it together and figure things out on my own. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember and it makes me feel pretty bad.

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honestly, although there’s a lot of stigma and it felt weird to start in my 30s, I was prescribed Ritalin about 6 months ago and it has helped immensely. sometimes it’s hard to remember to take it, and you still need systems and time management strategies and patience from loved ones, but it’s been a major net positive.

I recommend the book Driven to Distraction for anyone coping with it as an adult, newly diagnosed, or thinking of getting tested. I’d never felt so seen and understood - it validated my entire life experience.

In it, I read that sometimes people with ADD will spend all of their money on a hobby because it gives them an organizing principle for their brain and constant novel stimulus. I believe cars was the example, but it wasn’t too hard to make the leap to music gear.

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Whoa, that definitely hits close to home.

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I remember asking teachers to explain things over again for me and them asking me why I wasn’t paying attention. It was really embarrassing. Pretty sure the behavior stems from that.

I recently found a box of old stuff at my parents’ house and there were a bunch of grade cards in there from middle school. My grades were mostly or close to failing with comments like “doesn’t pay attention” or “doesn’t apply himself.” Brought me to tears seeing that.

I’m sure if I had gone to school 10-20 years later a teacher would have noticed, but I wasn’t disruptive in class and just slipped under the radar.

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I found out I was dyspraxic a couple years ago (I’m 28 now) and can definitely relate to all these issues with executive dysfunction.

(Got diagnosed at uni after seeking help myself, everyone assumed I was just lazy/ditzy my whole life until I saw the psychologist…)

I find to-do lists super helpful, and being kind to myself/giving myself time to process and absorb things. Really helped me get back into making music - I honestly thought I was too stupid to do it when I was younger and gave up, but now I’m back :slight_smile:

I keep meaning to try bullet journaling but I’m terrified of messing up nice notebooks, and I’d probably forget to write in the thing in the first place ^^;

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Me in maths class :frowning_face: (I also have dyscalculia, which I was originally seeking help for).

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the ADHD relationship with time is one of the more…fascinating (and often frustrating) elements re: interfacing with the social/professional worlds. i read somewhere that folks with ADHD are “trapped in the present moment”, which i don’t find especially accurate. but the author (i can’t remember which book this was from) went on to discuss the difficulty of both making steps toward future goals and accessing mistakes and successes from the past. in addition, i find that–when i’m off–i can’t fully engage in the present. so my experience has been one of temporal dislocation.

as far as completing scheduled tasks and meeting deadlines, procrastination can be helpful, to the degree that it doesn’t interfere with other needs (i’m bold-ing certain things in the understanding that a lot of folks are probably skimming). i have a weekly deadline for job paperwork, every friday at 2pm. procrastinating paperwork through the week helps me access the pressure i need in order to actually complete it, and once i’m in the flow, i slay. i’ve tricked myself into shifting the deadline to “before friday morning”, because if i leave it at 2pm, chances are i’ll not meet it, due to mismanaging time/underestimating how long it will take me. sometimes this means that i’m up until 2am friday night, and sometimes that’s okay. but i’m finding that it does interfere with other projects, and my next step is to give myself a half-deadline (probably talking with my supervisor about this, so that i feel the weight of accountability).

freelancing and self-employment present their own difficulties for folks with ADHD (you really gotta get your structures dialed), but i know several folks who thrive in that kind of work. and i’m working toward that, myself.

i’ve finally found a job where my office-time is very limited, and most of my time is either working from home or meeting with clients in the community. this is the best fit i’ve found, to-date, though i’m def feeling other constraints of the job that i need to address.

i have a friend with ADHD who did graphic design and animation for a news station, and he had a similar “i get done with my work in like 2 hours” situation. so he started working on his own projects in the downtime. obviously, one’s ability to do that depends largely on the workplace culture, seating/desk arrangements, etc.

i think the key is to move toward as much agency re: schedule, deadlines, and use of time as you can manage, with the awareness that complete freedom might not be the most advantageous thing unless you’ve got your self-direction/scheduling/structuring skills down.

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i can’t emphasize the benefits of finding a good therapist enough. sometimes that takes shopping around, which can be frustrating/exhausting, but the payoff is worth it.

not only can they assist with the diagnostic bit, but they can help with providing accountability for personal goals, coaching through setbacks, and skill-building to manage problem areas.

a good therapist can also help with the hidden components. depression and anxiety are often linked with ADHD, and there’s recent research that suggests early trauma can play a role in the formation of ADHD. having someone’s help in navigating this mess is priceless.

also, we often need help identifying the strengths and advantages that come with this neurological pattern, and an ADHD-informed therapist is in a great position to do so (not to mention friends/acquaintances with ADHD.)

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hard same.

i managed to get through pre-college schooling pretty well, though my teachers weren’t often happy that i had to be doing at least three things at once in order to pay attention in class (they were always quiet things, though, so again, no disruption).

it was college where i really started to flounder. increase in responsibility and self-direction demands, doing projects/papers that i couldn’t complete in one sitting…etc. it took me 10 calendar years to get a four year degree, and i have absolutely no intention of going back for more.

and it really messes with me, the signals that we internalize from teachers, parents–and other people we rely on for support–who had no idea what we were struggling with. the impact is…massive.

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i strongly recommend giving bullet journaling a try! it’s been incredibly helpful to me (especially when i got comfortable enough with the system to start modifying/personalizing it).

you don’t need fancy or expensive notebooks, at all. i know folks that use cheap-ish sketchbooks, and i use mead flex-hybrid binders filled with all-purpose paper. i can file or recycle as needed, when it’s full, and just refill with more paper.

as far as remembering to write in it goes, making it a habit by chaining it to other habits (as discussed briefly, above) can definitely help. (also, your journal’s not gonna be mad if you forget for a while. it’s a good friend who understands your context) :wink:

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This is a beautiful sentence and I love it. I think I’ll actually try to pick up bullet journaling again soon - the times when I was journaling were also the times when I did best in school, come to think of it.

As I read through all of this, including others who have been recently diagnosed and some who weren’t diagnosed until middle age, this thread is really an encouragement to me, a man in his late 20’s who is trying to push through the executive dysfunction to actually find a psychiatrist to get diagnosis and treatment. You all are amazing and it’s fantastic to find others who share in the same struggle in such an unexpected place!

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This has been the single most important realization of my life so far.

I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD in my early childhood, however, the constant negative feedback and lack of support (especially while going to school) made it very difficult for me to accept this diagnosis.

I basically rejected it completely until my early twenties. It was then when I stumbled upon a book that tried to explain ADHD not as a neurological disorder but rather as a trait that might have been crucial for the survival and evolution of the human species during hunter-gatherer times.

Reading about this hypothesis was the first time that I really started considering the possibility that I might not be stupid/incompetent/lazy etc. after all. That I actually might be just fine.

This was the starting point of a long and slow process of learning to accept, understand and appreciate my non-normative way of perceiving the world.

Its very good to see a thread like this one pop up in a forum that is not primarily focused on mental health and the like. Not just as a place for sharing experiences and advice, but maybe also to raise a bit more awareness about the complexeties of this whole topic. Thanks for starting it.

Some additions to the helpful advice that has already been offered:

Nutrition: At least in my experience, it can make a difference what and how much I eat. Being very hungry or very full definitely impacts my ability to focus. Spoiler: I haven’t found the secret ADHD superfood yet. But I’m sure it can be helpful to pay some attention to what effects different diets might have.

Humour: One of my best friends also has been diagnosed with ADHD and we often laugh together about the strange and sometimes hilarious situations it can lead to. Learning not to take it super seriously all the time can definitely take the edge off and help appreciating oneself.

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A friend once described it as being like watching 10 TVs at once…

It feels like a blessing and a curse all rolled into one…

I don’t have much in the way of hyperactivity…

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Seems like there are quite a few of us.

I was told i had dislexia when i was around 10. That was over 30 years ago and there was not as much information / research as there is now.
I went to some special lessons in the afternoons with other kids that had similar conditions. I remember doing lots of puzzles and many other activities .

Years passed on and as a teenager i discovered substances that would “slow my brain down”. Like if have this non stop engine inside my head that does not switch off and its in control of every thing i do. So for a long time i used and abused and self medicated myself with not great results as you can imagine.

This spiral of abuse went on until i had my first kid, and we were advised in nursery school to seek for help for my son ,who was three and seemed to be showing a adhd pattern.

So we went to a pediatrician and my wife and i sat down at a table un front of a woman. My kid was just going around opening toy boxes and investigating his way trough, when she asked: So who is the one that has adhd? I had no idea what was coming then.

She described the most usual behavior patterns, how we interact with others and our life. I could not believe what i was hearing. She was literally describing who i was / am.

My wife took this a her own little quest, i guess mothers/ lovers do that, and she starting giving me all this information she was reading around.

Its been three mind blowing years in terms of who we are, why we do things the way we do, and its giving her / me a chance to understand how my son behaves and how i have behaved all this years.

Feeling different than others since i was a kid. Lack of concentration. Hiperfocus. Lack of focus at all. A library full of books that only have a few chapters written on. Obsession / Depression. Rejection sensitivity.

I don’t know…li think i would need a few days to put all this down in words, but for us its been a blessing finding out about this things and learning how to live with it.

We are different, but also special. Functional adhd can get also very creative , but frustrating and alienating too.

On my personal case, i have a tendency between to do all or nothing.

If i get into fishing i have to fish from sun to sun. If i have to get into sports it has to be all the way. If i get into soldering, synths coding etc…well its obvious why im here :slight_smile:

Then i found this new thing and get obsessed with it. Its frustrating many a time. I am unable to switch my brain off, sort to speak.

Now that im older and have managed to fail many a time, im trying to find this “balance”

Balance on spending time with my kids, balance spending time in the studio, balance at work etc.

Time is not linear for most of us.

I have been sober for some years now, and its also really helped with knowing who i am and why my brain works the way it does.

I think a key point here is having someone close to you who is willing to understand you and help you out.

My wife said to me once:

“You are perfectly justified to feel this way. Just by having adhd means you are hard wired to feel this way, because the very nature of society is set up for you to fail”

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Ten years ago I got obsessed with To-Do apps, “productivity porn” (ugh, not the classiest terminology), Inbox Zero, and “workflows.”

The biggest thing I learned is the following:

Lists help organize the moments where disorganization can turn into sheer panic but they’re designed to be ephemeral and abandoned. List items themselves are in turn more ephemeral than the lists which host them.

The idea of having a monolithic Things To Do list is antithetical to the ADHD neurotype in the long run. It’s a form of self-imposed authority we all know we don’t deal with well.

So just because something’s on a list somewhere, doesn’t mean it’s still valid. Be aggressive about jettisoning items. “I’m honestly never going to do this, what the hell was I thinking” is the best thing I’ve learned to say to myself.

I mainly use lists now to manage travel, which I have a real danger of seriously fucking up. (No passport? No go.)

I have been managing my household’s grocery list on Trello for at least five years. The Trello might say “Lemons, Milk, Cheese” and I still occasionally come home with “Beer, Haribo, and an expensive LED flashlight” but so it goes.

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yes! all totally important points.

as much as i can fetishize productivity hacks, etc, the key for me has been to find the least restrictive structures that still allow me to get done what i want/need to, more often than not.

if it’s too controlling, i’ll torch it in 5 minutes.

& also recognizing/accepting that there will always be days where i get 0-5% of what i planned (whether that’s items from the grocery or tasks i wanted to complete).

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