(Originally published May 23, 2016, Updated January 16, 2019)
As an adult with ADHD, you may be prone to distraction, impulsivity and boredom. As a result, instead of focusing and attending to what is essential, you are attracted to many things at once. This lack of a highly organized internal sense of structure can mean your life feels chaotic at times. And this lack of order can make it hard to accomplish important tasks, both at home and at work.
You know all that. The good news is there’s a way to deal with these seeming roadblocks to success.
To address these challenges external structures are critical for adults with ADHD. Structures can help you perform everything from daily chores to demanding projects at work. Tools are one form of structure. And there are some that are absolutely necessary and others that are optional depending on your needs and preferences.
Be careful, though. You may sometimes think, “If I just had the right tool, then I could get organized and get things done!” Other times you may find yourself attracted to the novelty of new technologies, new systems, new strategies… the next “shiny penny.” This novelty, of course, can feed your need for stimulation.
But it also makes the process of choosing the right tool from among the many options even more challenging. My intention in providing you the list below is to help you:
- think strategically when choosing tools so you can be sure you are choosing tools that are a good fit for your needs.
- make the process of choosing the right tools less overwhelming — easier.
- help you to think about possible ways you can use tools to help manage your ADHD symptoms.
While tools are definitely not the magical answer, coupled with the right strategy, the right tool can certainly help you manage your ADHD.
Questions You Can Use To Choose The Right Tool
So you don’t waste your limited time and energy impulsively adopting a tool you don’t really need, first ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do I really need this tool?
If the tool doesn’t fulfill an important need, consider whether it might just be a fun toy and will be a distraction. You don’t need more distractions, right?
2. Do I already have a similar tool?
Consider whether you have the capacity — time and energy — to invest in replacing it and whether your current tool might just be good enough for now.
3. Am I willing to commit the time and energy needed to learn how to use the tool?
Really ponder this question. Because many tools do not work right out of the box, and you may need to spend a considerable amount of time figuring out how to customize it for your own use. So, if you don’t feel you are up for this right now, hold off until you are ready.
Alternatively, if you really do want to learn how to use the tool, think about what kind of help you may need to effectively adopt it.
4. Can I maintain my interest in using this tool on an ongoing basis?
If you can’t, the investment may not worth it. But, if you are concerned you may lose interest and you still want to use the tool, consider what kind of support you need to use it consistently.
For: Remembering Where You Need To Be
In order to reach your goals, of course, you have to, well, show up, right? So, it is no surprise that the first tool you need to create structure is a calendar. In fact, it is one of your most critical tools.
Check out ADHD and Calendars – What Is Your Plan? for more info about calendars.
For: Remembering to Remember Where You Need To Be 🙂
Though if you forget to look at your calendar, you might still forget to show up. I know this has probably happened to you. Setting reminders for date and time sensitive appointments is the key workaround for this challenge.
Here are a few tools you can use that will send you reminders:
- Try a telephone reminder service, such as WakeUpLand to get you out of bed, take your meds or get you to your important appointments on time.
- Calendar reminders are of course great for time-sensitive appointments.
Getting a reminder in the middle of the day to remind you to pick up something after work is not going to be helpful; you will most likely forget it by the time you are able to act on it. So, best to use reminders only for date and time-sensitive tasks/appointments.
For: Help Going to Sleep and Waking Up
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest a greater occurrence of sleep problems in Adults with ADHD than the general population. And without enough sleep, it’s obviously hard to function well during the day. Lack of sleep can also make your ADHD symptoms worse.
For these reasons and others specific to your situation, it’s important to address any sleep challenges you may have. Below are just a few of the many tools you can consider to help with your sleep challenges.
- To help you fall asleep you might consider using a white noise app, such as the iOS White Noise Free or the Android White Noise Free.
- So that the blue light from your electronics does not prevent you from falling asleep, you might also try a blue light filter, such as f.lux or blue light blocking glasses.
- If waking up is your challenge, you might need more than a run of the mill alarm clock. Check out the Sonic Bomb.
For: Scheduling meetings
The back and forth volleying of email needed to schedule meetings can be a real time waster, for sure. Luckily, there are a couple of great tools you can use to make scheduling more manageable.
- If you need people to schedule appointments with you, check out TimeTrade.
- Doodle is a great tool to use when you need to find a common meeting time among several options.
- Event Time Announcer makes it easy to schedule with people across different time zones.
For: Remembering Payoff of Reaching Goals
ADHD Adults often conceive of time as now and not now because of:
- a poor sense of time.
- working and long-term memory challenges.
- difficulty making the connection in the moment between a long-term goal and an associated reward that is too far in the future.
- internal and external distractions.
As a result of the tendency to live too much in the present, it can be a challenge to working effectively toward longer-term goals.
Below are tools to help you remember and make the visceral connection in the moment to the rewards associated with your long-term goals.
- Make a vision board that speaks to your goals and put it in a spot where you will readily see it.
- Carry a small meaningful object with you that will remind you of your goal.
- Put a note in a place where you will see it daily, like on your bathroom mirror, computer screen, car dashboard, or bedroom mirror.
- Write in a journal each day describing how you lived according to your values and what steps you made toward your goals. Penzu is an electronic journal option.
- Imagine the impact of your decisions by using an app like Future Me to write a letter to your future self 1, 5, 10 or even 30 years from now. What will he/she say to you?
- Set an online sticky with a message you see when you go online each day.
- Include a phrase or word with the calendar item. So, when you look at your calendar you can remember the reason you want to execute.
For: Remembering Tasks Associated With Your Goals
Of course, remembering your goals is just the first step. The next step is to remember the individual tasks associated with reaching your goals. Key to being able to do this is having a container — a Task Manager.
First, let’s start with Why Adults with ADHD Need a Task Manager. And then you can check out Tips to Help ADHD Adults Choose the Right To-Do List.
I’m definitely partial to electronic task managers. And, if you are interested in using one, check out How ADHD Adults Use Electronic Task Managers Effectively
And the three-part series below will help you learn how to craft your to do list.
- Part 1 – How to Tame Your To-Do List When You Have ADHD
- Part 2 – How to Craft an Effective Task List When You Have ADHD
- Part 3 – Getting from Task List to Execution When You Have ADHD
In order to choose the right planning tool, you will want to consider the complexity of your planning needs, as well as your preferences.
- PowerPlanner is a unique paper-based planner made specifically for people with ADHD. This is a great tool, if you prefer paper and need more structure in your planning.
- Planner Pad is another paper-based planner. If you are looking for a simple, easy to use alternative, this may be perfect for you. It is a great way to visualize and then schedule your to-dos.
- Web-based task management tools like Toodledo, Todoist and Nozbe are great if you have a complicated work and/or home life and prefer to see your task in a linear way.
- Another web-based task management tool is Workflowy, but much simpler than the three above.
- If you work with a team and want everyone to see the tasks, Asana, another web-based task management tool, is a great option.
Sometimes when you start a project you are not ready to plan sequentially but need a container to hold all the ideas swirling about in your head.
One great way to do this using a mind mapping apps. Xmind is just one example.
For: Managing Your Time on Task
One of the challenges for adults with ADD is transitioning — stopping starting and switching between tasks. In addition, ADHD adults often conceive of time as “now” and “not now.” That is time blindness can be a real challenge in executing, as well.
Different types of timers can help you transition easier and improve your sense of time. Below are some examples of tools to help you manage your time and stay on task.
- The Pomodoro Technique and Timer will help you get started, sustain your attention and estimate time by chunking your tasks and charting your progress. As one client said to me, “This system must be made for people with ADHD!”
- Vitamin R is another application for Mac users that can help you counter procrastination and stay focused by also chunking your tasks. A former client said, “I was astounded by how productive I was. The slices go by so quickly and I had a real sense of accomplishment.”
- If you struggle with being aware of the passing of time, the Time Timer is the perfect tool to help you visualize your time.
- Also, a simple timer can help give you the “jolt” you need to transition to your next task, which can be especially helpful if you tend to hyperfocus.
- Grindstone is another app you can use to track the time you spend on computer related tasks. And, as you become more aware of how long it takes to complete different tasks, you will be able to more effectively plan.
For: Focusing on Your Primary Task
You know you are prone to distractions, both external and internal (thoughts). Obviously, this makes staying on task difficult at times. One of the reasons is it’s just not possible for anyone to focus 100% of your attention on a task. That is everyone has a bit of floating attention (attending to something other than your primary task).
But, it’s probably no surprise to find out that adults with ADHD can have a great deal of floating attention. One way to stay focused on your primary task is to give your floating attention something to do, one or both of the two strategies below.
- Using a tool, such as the Buddha Machine, SimplyNoise or [email protected] to produce music or sounds to keep your brain engaged, is one way to focus better.
- You may also want to try a fidget toy, such as Kinetic Sand or Spinner Ringers.
For: Reducing Computer Related Distractions
Computers, perhaps, more than anything else can be a real time waster. Below are a few examples of apps to help reduce the distractions related to your computer use.
- Use an app, like Instapaper, to save links you find so you can read the page later when you have time.
- And when you need to use your computer, but want to limit your access to the internet try FREEDOM StayFocused or RescueTime.
For: Creating Habits
One of the ways to make it easier to remember and follow through is to make the execution of tasks automatic through the creation of habits.
Sure, building new habits and breaking old habits is more challenging when the executive skills you need to do this effectively are weak. But that just means you need to be a little more creative in figuring out how to do this, right?
Below are a few tools that can help you build habits.
- 42goals has a great user interface to track your daily goals.
- With Beeminder you can plot your progress on a yellow brick road and set it up so they take your money if you go off track. Though you can also use the app without pledging money.
- Fabulous – Motivate Me! comes highly recommended by a client, and you can find here for iPhones and androids.
- Exercise trackers, such as the Fitbit, are another option.
For: Organizing Computer Passwords and Files
You don’t have enough time to do everything you want to do, right? So, spending time looking for documents or passwords is something you’d like to avoid if you could I bet. While it will take some upfront time setting it up, using a tool similar to the ones below will definitely save you time in the long run.
- LastPass, Dashlane and RoboForm are three good options to save and access your online passwords from any device. I happen to use LassPass, and it works great for me.
- Using a cloud storage app for your files will not only give you peace of mind but will also give you easy access to your files whenever you need them. Two good options are Dropbox and Google Drive.
For: Organizing Notes / Reference Material
An electronic notebook is one of my favorite tools. Going on a trip and want to keep all your research in one place? Researching the best car to buy? Want to keep all your meeting notes in one place? Rather than keeping your notes on random pieces of paper or various notebooks, imagine if they were all organized in one place. Nice, right?
Do you try to keep you planning ideas, thoughts from meetings or just random ideas in your head? You know that is a real gamble if you want to remember them later. Three popular options are Evernote, One Note, and Google Keep.
For: Organizing Paper Files
For: Finding misplaced items
While it is a good idea to build the habit of having a home (launchpad) for all your belongings, stuff happens. You can attach the Tile App to your keys and other items you commonly misplace. And locate them easily when you need them.
For: Organizing Your Finances
if one of your goals is to stay on top of your finances so you can be more intentional about what you do with your body and make better financial decisions, there are a few good tools for that.
- If your primary objective is to be able to track all your financial information in one place, Mint is an excellent choice.
- But, if budgeting is your primary concern, then YNAB may be a better choice, though it is not free.
- And, if investment planning is what you are looking for, Personal Capital is a good option.
Now that you have reached the end of the list you may be wondering, “Now what do I do?!” For some people, having a list of tools is enough. They will be able to pick a tool, put it to use and see some positive changes.
What is more common, though, is a feeling of uncertainty and maybe even overwhelm about where to start. My suggestion is that you:
- choose an area where you want to make improvements.
- think through what is getting in the way of making the changes you want.
- determine what you need to do or stop doing to make the changes.
- choose the tool you think might help you.
- then experiment with the tool for a sufficient amount of time, a few weeks, to see if it works for you.
And, remember, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu