You’ve probably heard time and time again that adding structure to your life can help you manage your ADHD and keep you from floundering — doing whatever catches your attention in the moment. It’s true.
Yet, if you are like many adults with ADHD, when you think of adding structure to your life you probably think, “I definitely need to do that! And I’ve tried… It just always seems to fall part.” So, you resist doing so because, well, it is just too hard and never seems to work.
And you continue to waver between wanting structure and resisting it. Makes sense.
Read on below to learn more about structure and how you can successfully add just enough to help you work with your ADHD.
Why Are Routines For ADHD Adults So Important?
From your own experience as an adult with ADHD, I bet you already know you don’t have a highly organized internal sense of structure, which can lead you to be easily distracted, impulsive and unable to tolerate boredom. And this makes it difficult to reach your goals, right?
Structure is critical to being successful as it makes it easier for you to perform everything from daily chores to demanding work projects by creating the order that does not come naturally.
And, while some general structures I cover below are necessary for everyone, the exact kind you choose will depend on your needs and preferences. So, remember, not every good idea is the right one for you! As you read on, think about what you need and start with one idea.
Why Do Adults with ADHD Resist Structure?
So, if structure is so good for you, why might you resist it so mightily? While I’m sure there are other reasons, one reason for your resistance is your ADHD.
Because of your ADHD, you may:
- find it difficult to persist and maintain interest in a routine.
- get overwhelmed and give up easily because you have challenges managing your emotions.
- literally forget your commitment to the routine because of your memory challenges.
- switch gears suddenly because of your impulsiveness.
- get distracted by all the other stimuli in your environment and just not start.
- seek out novelty at the expense of routine.
I know it sounds a bit like a Catch 22. Adding structure will help you manage your ADHD and your ADHD makes it hard to add structure. Argh!!
The good news is, once you know more about these challenges, you can address them so you can successfully build the structures that will help you build the bridge between your intentions and the finish line.
#1 – Use These 2 Must-Have Tools to Create a Solid Foundation
One of the places to start is adopting and learning how to use both a calendar and a task manager.
You already know you need a calendar to be able to see your commitments over time. But I bet you are not using it as effectively as you could. Check out ADHD and Calendars – What Is Your Plan? to learn what mistakes you might be making and how to correct them.
You also might not be capturing your tasks effectively. Maybe you are keeping some or even most tasks in your head. And, if this is true for you, you might be overwhelmed and anxious because you don’t know what you need to do or when and how you are going follow though.
To have a better sense of your tasks and create an execution plan you need a task manager. What kind of task manager you choose will be dependent on your needs and preferences. It really doesn’t matter as long it works for you.
Using these 2 must-have tools well enough will help you as you add more structures.
#2 – Create Habits for Routine Work
In addition to certain tools, habits are key to helping your follow through.
Yet, there is nothing wrong with doing a task when the mood strikes you, if this is working for you. Because, as an adult with ADHD, leveraging your moods is a great strategy. But, when this does not work, it is time for plan “B” – building habits.
Without habits for routine tasks, thoughts of the tasks will take up your psychic energy and continue to overwhelm you because you don’t know when you are going to do them.
Think about what you need to do on a regular basis but are neglecting. It might be exercising, writing, processing your email, planning, etc. While you keep on saying, “I need to…,” you continue to put it off. Incorporating the structure of habits can helps you:
- to focus your attention.
- get started, as the habit becomes like a magnet, pulling you forward.
- remember your intentions.
- persist as the task becomes automatic.
Yet, I know building habits is hard!
How to Make Building Habits Easier
The strategies below will make it easier to adopt the habits you choose. Take a moment right now to think of a habit you would like to adopt. Got it? Ok, as you read each tip and Zev’s examples, consider how you might use the tip to create your habit.
Zev really wanted to start a habit of weekly planning on Friday mornings. But he kept skipping it in favor of his old habit of getting coffee in the breakroom and chatting with colleagues.
1. Figure out what decisions you could make in critical moments that could support your efforts to drop an old habit that is not working for you and adopt your new habit.
Zev decided not to go to the break room on Friday mornings because it was too hard to resist being pulled into conversations. Instead, he bought coffee on the way to work, went right to his office, and after planning stopped by the breakroom to chat.
2. Create a warm-up routine to make it easier to get started
For Zev, it was simply stopping to get coffee on his way to work on Fridays, instead of going to the break room. It was a break in his normal routine and his cue that it was time to do his weekly planning.
3. Start with something so small and doable you can do it for sure.
In trying to build the habit of weekly planning, Zev started by only reviewing upcoming and previous calendar items (Step 2)
4. Link a new habit with an old habit to make it easier to follow through.
5. Be compassionate and patient with yourself. Allow for imperfection. Think more of progress than perfection.
6. Acknowledge successes. Remind yourself of what you are doing right despite the challenges.
7. Think of it as an experiment, and be curious about the results. Tweak the habit as you go along until it works for you.
8. Enlist the help of an accountability partner. Schedule phone check-ins with a friend who would also like accountability.
Can you think of other tips that will make adopting habits easier?
#3 Schedule Time to Work on Projects
How about those projects sitting on the back burner that don’t lend themselves to a routine? When they do come to mind you think, “I really need to work on that!” But you don’t, and continue worrying about them.
One way to ensure you will make headway on your most important projects (MIPs) is during your weekly review schedule when you are going to work on them. I know this is not easy to follow through on when you are only accountable to yourself, right?
The 3 strategies below can make it easier to honor the time you put on your calendar.
- If you dread the prospect of working on the project, schedule 30 minutes blocks of time to start. Knowing you only need to work on it for a short amount of time may make it seem less daunting.
- Use self-talk to remind yourself in the moment why it is useful to work on the project. “If I put in some time now, I will be that much further along and can stop worrying about when I am going to work on it.”
- Check in with an accountability partner.
And, of course, trust that it is time well spent even if the project is not due for a while and you have so much else to do.
Next Step for You
Imposing too much structure on yourself will inevitably lead to resentment and resistance. Even when the structure seems like a “good idea.”
The trick is to find the right balance for you.