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10 Ways to Manage Adult ADHD—from People Who Are Living With It

Imagine trying to juggle a full life of work and home demands when focus is almost impossible: That's everyday life for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Here, adult ADHD sufferers reveal their tricks for managing the carnival in their brain.

portraitCourtesy Jessica McCabe

Set aside time for stuff that isn’t urgent

A common complaint of adult ADHD sufferers is that they’re drawn to less important tasks, finishing those ahead of the ones that should take priority. Jessica McCabe, a professional “YouTuber” who deals with ADHD, says she sets aside “blocks of time to work on stuff that’s important but not urgent.”

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portraitCourtesy Marcia Miller

Set lots of alarms

Marcia Miller, director of admissions at a private high school in Maryland who suffers from adult ADHD symptoms, has learned to rely on alarms on her phone to remind herself of literally every appointment and meeting. “This immediacy keeps me more aware so I can be proactive and on top of things,” she says

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portraitCourtesy Mindy Schwartz

Learn your ABCs—always be checking

Mindy Schwartz, an ADHD coach in New York, says “I always check my calendar at night for the next day so I can be certain not to miss important appointments or to-do’s.” The nightly check helps reinforce the important items on her schedule, says Schwartz.

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portraitCourtesy Cary Colleran

Keep your calendar with you

Cary Colleran, another adult ADHD-coping skills coach admits that a calendar isn’t helpful unless you can quickly check it, anytime, anywhere. That’s why she put her complete calendar on her phone, along with auditory prompts for all events. That was a “game changer,” she says.

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portraitCourtesy Katherine Blackburn

Technology isn’t necessary

Katherine Blackburn, a graduate student and research assistant copes with her adult ADHD using pen and paper. “Every meeting I go to, even if I don’t think anything important will come up, I always take pen and paper. This way, if someone asks me to do something I can write it down in the meeting. Then when I get back to my desk, I can transfer the task to my master to-do list. I also create new lists at the end of the day to eliminate tasks I’ve crossed off, focus on any lingering or ongoing tasks, and stay organized. With this system, I can stay on top of tasks and make sure everything gets done.

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portraitCourtesy Amberlee Baccari

Give yourself a break

Adult ADHD sufferer, Amberlee Baccari, an office manager at an engineering firm can get overwhelmed or frustrated by her myriad responsibilities at work, which include payroll, human resources, marketing, and accounting. “Everything except engineering,” she says. “When I can’t remember things or need to focus, I watch a liquid motion timer to help calm me down or get me refocused,” says Baccari.

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portraitCourtesy Caroline Maguire

Let yourself off the hook

No one is perfect, says ADHD and social skills coach, Caroline Maguire, ACCG, MEd. That’s why she lets herself off the hook and banishes the “shoulds”—the things she feels obligated to do. Instead, Maguire focuses on simplifying. One basic choice that makes her life easier: Even though she knows she can save money by buying heads of lettuce and washing her own, she gives in and goes for the bagged, pre-washed stuff, feelings of guilt or laziness be damned.

portraitCourtesy Keith Griffin

Don’t sweat putting things off

Keith Griffin, a life and ADHD coach, says that he enters everything he has to do in a digital time management system and judiciously labels some items as “someday”—as in no firm deadline. “It gets certain demands out of my head and keeps me from becoming overwhelmed by an task list that’s overflowing,” he says.

portraitCourtesy Laura Russel

Use index cards like a boss

Or rather, like this boss: Laura Russell runs a successful business that specializes in helping adults get organized, and her clients are often ADHD patients referred by therapists. To get through a busy day, Russell writes discrete tasks on an index card—one per card—plus how much time in which she has to do the task. She sets an alarm for the allotted time, and off she goes.

portraitCourtesy, Sarah Fahey

Beware the Internet rabbit hole

Sarah Fahey, a student pursuing her master’s degree in architecture, says that she identifies distractions before they happen and eliminates them in order to focus on the task at hand. “Avoid using the internet or your cellphone unless absolutely necessary—they’re a slippery slope to distractions!” she warns. “That BuzzFeed quiz or new Facebook post will still be there when you’ve completed whatever it is you’re supposed to be focused on.”

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.

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