I Have ADHD. Here Are 9 Productivity Tips That Really Help Me (2024)

Even before I was diagnosed with ADHD, the question “have you tried writing a list?” would set me on edge. I’m all for innovative productivity hacks, and for well-meaning neurotypical people, getting something done can often be as easy as writing a list, but as Edward Hallowell, M.D., psychiatrist and ADHD expert tells SELF, things aren’t that simple for people with ADHD—which, by the way, includes him: “Most of the organizational strategies we implement fail because they’re boring,” he says. And people with ADHD, he explains, cannot tolerate boredom. That intolerance leads to “supercharged version of procrastination, to the point of jeopardizing work and relationships.”

I use many of these ADHD-specific tricks and strategies to help me overcome the struggles—and also make the most of the benefits—of this neurodevelopmental disorder, but they’re not necessarily just for people with ADHD. You might find these tips more helpful than ever right now as most of us are dealing with some pretty big changes to our routines while we practice social distancing during the new coronavirus pandemic. Given our new day-to-day and work environments, it’s a great time to integrate some tips and tricks that can help you focus.

1. Make the first thing you do each day something relaxing and pleasurable.

Dr. Hallowell describes the dread for many people with ADHD of getting started on work or a project as a “colossal boulder of negative thinking.” The good news, he says, is that “you can turn that boulder into a pebble” with some smart strategies, especially ones that directly address that cycle of negative thinking.

If you don’t already, start your day with something pleasurable to attenuate the dread. It could be a nice breakfast—I like a healthy porridge with berries and seeds—some morning exercise, or a video chat with a friend or colleague to help you get fired up about your project or task. I keep a “Nice Things” folder on my phone, where I paste any kind responses to articles and compliments about my work from colleagues. It’s really useful to read through on mornings when I want to start by reminding myself that I can accomplish anything.

2. Break down your tasks into tiny subtasks.

Once you’re ready to get started, start small. Like, very small. You can make just about any project more manageable by chunking it out into smaller components and setting yourself deadlines for each of those parts.

And I’m talking about setting a really low bar to just get yourself started, so one tiny task can be “open the document” or “do 10 minutes of research.”

You can also lean on apps like Things or Todoist to help you structure your tasks and projects. I use Google Keep’s checklist because it feels satisfying to check things off.

3. And make sure your first tiny task is one that you have a 100% chance of succeeding at.

Susan C. Pinsky is a professional organizer and author of Organizing Solutions for People With ADHD. She recommends organizing your day’s tasks intentionally so that when you need a win, there’s one right there waiting for you. “Try to structure your workday so you do the easiest thing first,” she says. “You’re already giving yourself a success. You’ve accomplished something, and now that big thing that sits in front of you isn’t so overwhelming.” Ceremoniously crossing something off my to-do list gives me a bit of a buzz and helps me move on to the next thing.

4. For every item on your to-do list, quickly jot down why it’s a priority.

The things that motivate neurotypical people don’t always work for people with ADHD. As Dr. Hallowell explains, motivation can be hard to come by, especially for tasks that are intrinsically boring, tedious, or uninteresting. Just because you know you have to get something done doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be motivated to actually do it. One thing that helps me is making sure I know exactly why I need to complete a task. I write a quick note to myself for these kinds of tasks, but you can also schedule a quick catch-up with a coworker or supervisor to give yourself a refresher on why something needs to be completed. My other go-to strategy: I will often condense an email or project brief into bullet points and paste them at the top of whatever document I’m working on so I don’t forget any essential tasks or priorities.

5. Overestimate how long tasks will take.

Having a fundamentally different sense of time—specifically not being able to estimate and record the passing of time—is part of many people’s experience of ADHD. When their perception of time differs from the neurotypical-based deadlines and timelines most people are required to stick to, people with ADHD can find themselves struggling. Dr. Hallowell explains that for many people with ADHD, there’s “now” and “not now.” When, for example, a paper is due next Thursday, a person with ADHD might tag that as “not now” and put it on the back burner until it’s too late to get it done in time. All of a sudden “now” is almost here and you’re panicking.

I Have ADHD. Here Are 9 Productivity Tips That Really Help Me (2024)


I Have ADHD. Here Are 9 Productivity Tips That Really Help Me? ›

Break Tasks into Smaller Goals

You might note things like – order boxes, buy packing tape, pack record collection, or empty the freezer. Set yourself a small, easy-to-achieve goal of packing one box each day or checking one small task off that list. You can apply this method to school or work projects too.

How to increase productivity if you have ADHD? ›

Break Tasks into Smaller Goals

You might note things like – order boxes, buy packing tape, pack record collection, or empty the freezer. Set yourself a small, easy-to-achieve goal of packing one box each day or checking one small task off that list. You can apply this method to school or work projects too.

How to work a 9 to 5 with ADHD? ›

Additional ADHD Accommodations:
  1. Ask your manager if you can minimize marginal functions — such as taking out the trash or making photocopies — that break up the workday.
  2. Put hyperfocus to work. ...
  3. Take advantage of potential coaching or mentorship services offered by your organization.
  4. Purchase a white-noise machine.
Jun 16, 2023

What is high functioning ADHD? ›

Summary. While not an official diagnosis, high functioning ADHD may describe individuals with ADHD symptoms that do not affect their daily activities. Symptoms may include difficulties with focus, time management, impulsivity, and more. These individuals may develop strategies to manage their symptoms.

How to stimulate ADHD brain? ›

Here's what to do when you're understimulated and have ADHD:
  1. Listen to music or a podcast, or turn the TV on in the background while you work.
  2. Find undisruptive ways to fidget (e.g., using a fidget toy, fiddling with stretchy bands, doodling while listening to a lecture, etc.).
Oct 18, 2023

What are the 5 motivators for ADHD? ›

What Is INCUP with ADHD? INCUP is an acronym that stands for interest, novelty, challenge, urgency, and passion. The term was first proposed by psychologist William Dodson, who suggested that these five things are the top motivating factors for someone with ADHD.

What is the best hack for ADHD? ›

One of the best ADHD life hacks is using alarms to your advantage. Setting multiple alarms throughout your day for various tasks is a simple but effective way to help you stay on schedule. Some people even use alarms as gentle reminders to take short breaks.

What is the 30 rule for ADHD? ›

A leading expert on ADHD believes that children with ADHD typically lag behind their peers by 30%, which means that their emotional age is roughly 30% less than their actual age.

What is the 1 3 rule for ADHD? ›

We often use the “Rule of Thirds” to break down the potential outcomes of ADHD cases: 1/3 -> complete resolution. 1/3 -> continued inattention, some impulsivity. 1/3 -> early Oppositional Defiant Disorder/Conduct Disorder, poor academic achievement, substance abuse, antisocial adults.

What jobs does ADHD disqualify you from? ›

7 ADHD Jobs To Avoid
  • Accountant. Working with numbers can be hard, especially for those with ADHD, and the complexity of accounting makes them all the more challenging. ...
  • Event Coordinator. ...
  • Surgeon. ...
  • Air Traffic Controller. ...
  • Customer Service Representative. ...
  • Legal Professional. ...
  • Assembly Line Worker.
Oct 3, 2023

What age is ADHD peak? ›

The symptoms may peak in severity when the child is seven to eight years of age, after which they often begin to decline.

Is ADHD a level of autism? ›

Autism and ADHD are separate conditions that share some symptoms. Any parent or caregiver who is concerned that a child is showing signs of one or both conditions should talk to their doctor.

What is the average IQ of someone with ADHD? ›

For instance, among the 18 studies under scrutiny that did not explicitly state an IQ cut-off point the mean range of IQ among individuals with ADHD reported in the studies is from 102 to 110. Given that lower IQ is associated with ADHD this suggests that individuals with ADHD may be inaccurately represented.

What do people with ADHD enjoy? ›

Being drawn to novelty and creative activities is common among those with ADHD; which makes making time for play and creativity vital. When you have ADHD, your brain is at a dopamine deficit.

What foods are high in dopamine for ADHD? ›

People with ADD/ADHD tend to have low levels of dopamine, so it's a good idea to eat foods that tend to increase dopamine such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs, seeds (pumpkin and sesame), nuts (almonds and walnuts), cheese, protein powders, and green tea.

What is the best exercise for ADHD? ›

challenging the body as well as the brain with complex activities like martial arts, ballet, ice skating, gymnastics, rock climbing, and mountain biking seems to have a greater positive impact than aerobic exercise alone.

Can you still be productive with ADHD? ›

Living with ADHD can make it difficult to stay focused and complete a task. But with the right tools and resources, you can get things done. There are several ways to manage your productivity and organize your to-do list, from bullet journaling to mind-mapping.

How to work full time with ADHD? ›

Adult ADHD Tips
  1. Find peace. Ask to work in a quiet space where you won't be easily distracted.
  2. Buddy up. Work with a manager or colleague who is well-organized and can help guide you through projects from start to completion.
  3. Book it. ...
  4. Write it down. ...
  5. Schedule interruptions. ...
  6. Set realistic goals. ...
  7. Reward yourself. ...
  8. Delegate.
Dec 26, 2023

What do people with ADHD not produce enough of? ›

The overall effect is inadequate dopaminergic activity in brain reward centers. This defect drives individuals to engage in activities that will increase brain dopamine function.

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