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ADHD: Strategies to Stay Organized

by | Aug 8, 2023 | ADHD | 0 comments

The human memory is atrociously, embarrassingly limited. Researchers have estimated that, at best, we can store three to five items’ worth of information in our working memory. The simplest example of this is when we try to remember a phone number: we can keep all the digits in our memory for a few seconds, but if we are asked to recall the number after, say, an hour, most of us would be lost. The example is trivial, but the implications of this limit are immense. If we are presented with too many ideas at once, or information that is not integrated — such as a sentence with jumbled words — it taxes our working memory and, consequently, we end up forgetting some of the information. It is nothing short of a miracle how our brain works with such a limited store of information.

Life With ADHD

People who have been clinically diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — commonly known as ADHD — may experience the constraints of working memory most severely. You may often find yourself perplexed when trying to organize things. Whether you are trying to get organized at work, or simply trying to get your daily life in order, the whole endeavor may easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes, the fatigue from having to make so many decisions may leave you feeling disoriented — as if your brain is short-circuiting and skipping steps.

If the mere thought of organizing feels daunting, don’t worry. Your brain may refuse to be an ally, but there are ways to tame its wild nature. The repertoire of strategies is vast and aims to address a bevy of behavioral dysfunction; pick the strategies that you feel address your issues best and take back the reins from the unruly brain.

How to Get Organized

Learn to Set Better Goals: Setting goals is an art. Goals direct your behavior and help you decide where to allocate your time and resources. If you fail to set reasonable goals, you will find yourself short on time and resources and feel a sense of disappointment lurking beneath the time crunch. Setting effective goals, then, is a path to prosperity and satisfaction. Set goals that are clearly defined and whose progress can be measured. For example, ‘study math today’ is too vague to be effective. When you reframe it as ‘revise important concepts in chapter 3 and practice at least 5 questions’, it becomes much more specific and clearer. In the end, you will know whether you managed to finish the task or if it requires more work or time.

Set Concrete Deadlines: Once you have a precise goal in sight, you need to clearly define how much time you aim to devote to it. If your goal is to prepare a presentation for work, determine how many days or hours you need to devote to it, and put it on the calendar. A concrete deadline will push you to fit the work required in your schedule and help you get things done in time.

Set Reminders: We may formulate the most intricate plan to achieve all the goals we intend to accomplish and furnish it with meticulous details about the tasks. But what good would all that effort do if, in the end, we forget to follow through on our list? The trick is to pepper our day with reminders. If you want to go old school, you can carry a small journal with you that has all your tasks and check it frequently throughout the day, so you know how much work you got done and what is left to do. If you prefer your smartphone, dump all your tasks on the calendar app, and assign the time of day you want to tackle each task. Set up notifications so the phone pings you with reminders. Doing so will make you feel in command of your day and will inspire you to stay on track.

Trim Down the To-Do List: Too many tasks are kryptonite to the ADHD mind. The goal in setting up tasks and goals is to avoid getting overwhelmed. The best way is to start small — with four or five tasks for the day. If you manage to finish them and still have time left over, add another task or two. This approach will help you accomplish more without the added stress or frustration. It will also prevent you from over-committing.

Declutter: A cluttered environment can impede productivity. It would be wise to clean the clutter, both at home and at work. To make things easier, you can sort your clutter into 4 piles: keep, throw, donate, and review. Put all the items you need into the keep pile. Anything you don’t need goes into the throw pile. Items you think are worth donating should go into a donation bag. Lastly, items you are not quite ready to discard just yet should go into a review box. Put a date two to three months from now, and when the time comes look at the items and see if they could go into another pile. You also have the option to ‘renew’ the lease for another three months if it feels appropriate. You should also aim to keep your workspace neat and tidy. A cluttered desk not only eats up time as you grope through the clutter to find what you need; it also clutters your thinking and serves as a distraction.

Simplify your Wardrobe: Decluttering cannot be complete if your wardrobe is a mess. Moreover, each decision that we make depletes our willpower — wouldn’t it be better to save this scarce and critical resource for tasks more significant than picking clothes? You need to first decide what you actually wear and separate the clothes that you wish to discard or donate. Next, try to stack together the clothes that you wear often. You can also arrange your clothes into complete outfits; this way you would be able to find the entire outfit when you need it rather than hunt for each item. The last step is to try and pick clothes for the entire week. You can set aside a day and pick the outfits you’d want to wear throughout the week and arrange them by the day of the week. By doing this, you will save time and willpower since you will have one less decision to make every day.

Drop the Ideals of Perfectionism: Striving for perfection may seem like a benign trait; it could even be mistaken for an asset. But in all its guises, perfectionism is an unhealthy obsession with unattainable standards. Many problems are disguised manifestations of perfectionism. Waiting for the ‘perfect’ conditions or environment to start a task and deferring tasks because they are too demanding or unpleasant to be pulled off ‘perfectly’ are all avoidance behaviors that take away precious time and incite harsh self-criticism. Instead of chasing the unattainable, you must allow yourself to be good enough and ease the self-imposed pressure. It is essential to remember that some progress is still better than none.

When to Seek Help

The strategies for organizing can yield tremendous benefits and help you lead a life of joy and satisfaction and fill you with pride in your abilities. However, in cases where ADHD leads to severe dysfunction in daily life or constantly stymies growth in key areas of life, professional help could be particularly beneficial. A therapist can assist you in rooting out habits and patterns of thought that might be holding you back. Therapy can also teach you the skills to manage issues such as disorganization, lack of motivation, and poor time management. Psychotherapy is also effective in resolving deeper emotional issues and adverse subconscious thoughts. A professional can also assess if your symptoms warrant the use of medication and refer you to a psychiatrist — you could then receive a synergistic treatment where your medications and psychotherapy complement each other.

 

New Dimensions Can Help!

New Dimensions has outpatient counseling programs for adolescents and adults who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.  To learn more about our services, including psychological testing, Partial Hospital Programs (PHP), Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP), and interventions for substance abuse, contact us at 1-800-685-9796 or visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com.  To learn more about individual, family, and couples counseling visit www.mhthrive.com