*When I first started writing this post, I intended it to be geared towards people who have ADHD or have some connection to this diagnosis. As I typed, however, I realized this could all apply to a far wider audience. Now, titling this: 5 Tips to Help Manage ADHD (But If You Don’t Have ADHD and Just Want Some Tips For Life That’s Ok Too) felt just a tad too long. However, if you don’t have ADHD, but struggle with time management etc, this post is also for you!*
Over the course of my whole 30ish years of life, I have learned to live with certain aspects of my ADHD. Frustrating people with always being late, no matter how much time I thought I gave myself. Forgetting important dates or items. Hyper-focusing on things that interest me to the detriment of all my other responsibilities (I may have almost forgotten to feed the two year old when I was working on this. Oy.). As I got older I learned to acknowledge them, and more recently I finally learned to accept them (you can read more about that here). But the one thing I was still struggling with was how to manage them. When your every day feels like you’re clinging to the back of a roller coaster, just barely hanging on and always a little blindsided by the curves, you tend to live in a constant state of stress and anxiety.
One of the things I resolved on after my ADHD Awakening (mercy, I do love a touch of drama) was learning to be PROactive, rather than REactive. This meant taking the time to be incredibly intentional, and at times painfully honest with myself, about what my days actually need to look like. For instance, I realized that I can’t handle having afternoon appointments for the kids. By 3:00 when my oldest gets home, we are all exhausted from the day, and hauling four kids into a doctor’s office an hour before dinner time is just the worst. I fall apart, they fall apart, my husband gets a rant text message AND a crying phone call, and it’s just not pretty. Knowing that afternoons were now off limits meant that it was easier to schedule appointments (something that had caused me anxiety in the past with my time management problem) and easier to wrangle one or two kids as opposed to four.
As I changed and implemented a few little things, I began to see a very big shift take place in our daily chaos. Most notably was the fact that I no longer FELT like it was chaos. I began to see changes in the way I responded to my kids, in the way they seemed to be more calm because they had a better understanding of how the day was going to go (more on that below) and over all, I started to feel successful at life for the first time in a very long time.
This list is by no means definitive, but I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve been learning in the hopes that it would encourage anyone else struggling with this, as well as possibly give insight for the people in our lives who want to help us succeed!
#1: Pinpoint the Overwhelming– Sit down and really figure out what are the things that cause you to feel overwhelmed. There is literally no “wrong” way to make this list. One funny thing on my list is ‘too much noise.’ People! I live in a house with three boys under the age of ten, the noise isn’t going away for a long time! But acknowledging that too much noise causes me to feel stressed and anxious, means that when I feel tension rising, I know what’s happening instead of suddenly going ballistic on my kids and not understanding why. Understanding that about myself means I can come up with a solution before it becomes a problem. Example: immediately ask them to turn down the tv if it’s too loud instead of waiting until I can’t take it anymore.
#2: Ditch the Traditional– Maybe that is too broad for you, so I’ll reign it in. I finally admitted defeat on ever being able to use a traditional planner. I’ve tried the cute ones from TJMaxx, more formal feeling ones, and one page daily print outs, but I finally realized the one common reason they all crashed and burned: me. None of them fit my specific needs because I don’t fit into the traditional planner mold! I get bored with just one layout day after day, and if there are too many things to fill out I just won’t ever do it. I recently just started my own version of a bullet journal. So far I’m loving it! Pinterest and Google are a wealth of information. Just type Bullet Journal into the search bar and you’ll fall down the rabbit hole of creativity. For me the concept of being able to create my own layout, have the freedom and flexibility to decide what was put into it, and be able to change it on a whim was very appealing. Another benefit for me was being able to structure my day in a time frame that made sense to me. As I have mentioned, time management is a struggle. I will logically know that I need to be somewhere by 1, but it might not occur to me to factor in driving time, or the amount of time it will take to wrestle a two year old into her pants. Seeing it laid out in a way I can process makes a world of difference. My point is, simply because something is the “normal” thing to do, does NOT mean that is going to work for you. And that’s ok. This can apply to many aspects of life obviously, so my main encouragement here is to really focus on who you are, what your/your family’s specific needs are, and don’t be afraid to forge your own new path in order to make that happen.
#3: Make A Plan– I still have my mom’s voice in my head saying “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” As usual, she is right. Over the past decade of parenting, I have figured out the evening routine. Dinner is at 5:30/6 every night, bath time starts at 7, bedtimes start at 8 and our oldest is in bed no later than 9. I got this one down. But the rest of the day? Heaven help us, every day was a giant free for all. The afternoon especially was the time of day that just blew the already simmering chaos into full blown pandemonium. There was zero structure, and try as I might to come up with ways to change it, not a blessed one of them took. Adorable chore charts hung out of sight in the hallway were forgotten, while overly detailed and time specific lists exhausted us all before we even got started. Having an accessible visual, and flexibility were the two big things I recognized needed to change. So one fine day I spent several hours with Microsoft Word, Google clip art and my laminator coming up with three daily routines and some simple chore cards. These have changed our days. Not every single day hits all of the things on the list, but it gave us (ok I’ll be honest, ME) a reference point. As visual learners this laminated system is just what we needed.
#4: Set Yourself Up to Succeed– What are the main priorities for your day? What is a realistic amount of tasks you can accomplish? Or a what is a realistic amount of time you can spend on a task before you start to feel frustrated? A common suggestion from experts on children with ADHD is to break tasks down into manageable chunks, and I find this to be helpful even as an adult. I delight in lists, but when I over-eagerly write down 29 things I need to do, I inevitably feel like a failure when I don’t check them all off. One thing I have recently implemented are what I call my Daily Tasks and my Top 3. In order to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed by the house, I picked three daily tasks that give me a sense of order: make my bed; empty the kitchen sink; do a load of laundry. In addition to those, I also have one set cleaning chore for every day of the week. I found a great cleaning schedule that broke down cleaning in a way that makes sense to me, and modified it a little to suit our life (you can find the original here). After Daily Tasks, I focus on what the Top Three things are that I absolutely need to do for the day. Because I intentionally try to simplify life, more often than not I only have one or two have to’s. When I have accomplished all of those things, I am left with a feeling of success and confidence. Anything I get done after that is a a bonus!
#5: Give Yourself Space– I feel like this one should have gone up at the top. As kids or adults, we tend to get overwhelmed real quick when there are too many things in our day. It’s ok to plan downtime. This does not make you lazy, this does not make you selfish, this helps you to take a step back from the world that is constantly hollering at you, and just breathe. Whether you read or write like I do, do a fun project, or go for a run, whatever it is that gives rest to your soul, DO IT. You can’t give your best to others if you have nothing in your tank.
These things have been a game changer for me lately, and I am seeing the positive results in the form of less negative self talk, more patience with myself and with my kids, and a better sense of self over all. I am not an expert. I have no background in psychology or counseling. I’m just a woman with ADHD, who has 2 out of 4 diagnosed kiddos, knowing first hand what it feels like to wander through life feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Looking back these are some things I wish I would have known how to do when I was struggling as a kid and youngish adult, and I hope you found this encouraging. We were not meant to live life feeling hopeless, or less than our best. We were made to thrive!