33 ADHD-Friendly Ways to Get Organized
Want a clean home? An efficient office? Getting organized with adult ADHD is possible — and straightforward — thanks to organizing guru Judith Kolberg and her 33 top organization strategies for work and home.
How to Get Organized at Home and at Work
Getting organized is a key step toward reaching your goals. No secret there. So why do we put up with chronic disorder at home, at work, and in our personal lives?
Judith Kolberg suggests it’s a matter of perfectionism: We’re unable to do what it takes to get even a bit more organized because we worry that we won’t become perfectly organized. And as Kolberg, author of Conquering Chronic Disorganization, points out, there is no such thing as perfect organization — particularly for those living with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Life is capricious, and get-it-done strategies that work well today may prove useless tomorrow.
The good news, says Kolberg, president of FileHeads Professional Organizers, is that seemingly small changes can bring big improvements in your life — less clutter, fewer hassles, and greater tranquility — and all of us can learn how to get organized.
Getting Organized in 33 Easy Steps
1. Set time limits for decision-making.
Individuals with ADHD can spend days agonizing over decisions that others make in minutes. Speed the process by setting a time frame or a budget cap. If you’re choosing a summer camp for your child, for example, set a deadline, and make the best choice you can by that date. If you’re deciding which new cell phone to buy, pick a price cap and ignore more costly phones.
Always identify the most important factor to consider in making any decision, whether it’s price, convenience, aesthetics, practicality, or something else. Focus solely on that factor when considering your decision.
2. Fight the tendency to over-commit.
For each new commitment you make, give up an old one. If you agree to join the school fund-raising committee, for instance, give up the neighborhood watch committee. Adults with ADHD tend to spread themselves too thin.
3. Keep your to-do lists brief.
Using big, bold letters, make a to-do list of no more than five tasks on an index card. (List any additional items on the back of the card.) Once you have done those five things, refer to the back of the card to create a new to-do list — and discard the old one. You’ll accomplish more, feel less frustrated, and manage your time better.
4. Fight hyperfocus.
Set an alarm clock, kitchen timer, or computer alert — or arrange for someone reliable to call you at a specified time or times. If you tend to lose yourself on eBay for hours at a time, you need this kind of help.
5. Use a “body double.”
This is a friend or family member who sits with you as you tackle mundane chores, like balancing a checkbook, filling out a job application, or reviewing financial statements. Your body double will create a productive atmosphere by sitting quietly and doing an unobtrusive task, like affixing stamps to envelopes or clipping recipes from a magazine.
6. Keep extra medication on hand.
Each time you fill a prescription, write in your planner the date on which you’ll need to renew it (or set your computer to issue an alert or generate an e-mail reminder on that date). Ask your pharmacist if he can call to remind you when it’s time to refill. Your “renew date” should be at least one week before the date on which you’ll run out of medication.
7. Build socializing into your schedule.
That way, your desires to meet new people, have interesting conversations, and keep up with friends are taken care of automatically. Take a class, join a book club or a lecture series, or start a dinner club.
8. Join an ADHD support group.
Support groups provide more than emotional support. For example, the members can get together online when it’s time to tackle boring tasks, like filling out tax returns or filing: One at a time, each person leaves the computer, dedicates 15 minutes to the task at hand, then returns to instant messaging — to joke, commiserate, and congratulate one another.
9. Carry a colorful wallet.
It’s harder to misplace a red wallet than an ordinary black or brown one. The same goes for your checkbook.
10. Buy experiences, not objects.
There’s nothing wrong with a little “retail therapy” to reward yourself for your accomplishments. But think twice before buying some new object (which may become just another bit of clutter in your home). Instead, use your money to buy a pleasant experience, such as a massage or a night out with friends.
11. Stop agonizing over insignificant items.
What to do with greeting cards you’ve received, batteries of dubious power, unidentified cords, orphaned screws, and so on? Toss them into a “ripening drawer.” Once the drawer is full, quickly sort through it. Use what you can, and discard the rest. Then start the process anew.
12. Get a “clutter companion.”
This is a (nonjudgmental) friend or family member who will help you get rid of all the stuff that’s cluttering up your house. A few times a year, you and your companion should sort your clutter into four piles: “keep,” “toss,” “donate,” and “age.” Discard the “toss” items at once — before you have a chance to change your mind. Place “donate” items in heavy-duty garbage bags, and drive them to the nearest donation bin. Place “age” items in a cardboard box marked with a date three months hence. In your calendar, mark the same date as the time to “review age items.” When that date rolls around, give those items another look. If you feel comfortable discarding them, do so. If not, renew the date for another three months.
13. Fight financial-statement overload.
Do you really need to keep monthly account statements? Ask your accountant if you can get by with keeping only quarterly or annual statements—and toss the rest.
14. Don’t let unread magazines pile up.
If the next issue arrives before you’ve read the last one, place the last one in a small basket (measuring no more than six inches high and two magazine-widths across). Once the basket fills up, sift through the magazines. Read what you can, and discard or recycle the rest. (You might drop off the best magazines at a hospital or women’s shelter.)
If you are habitually unable to keep up with the issues of a particular magazine, cancel the subscription.
15. Make use of “wasted” minutes.
Don’t wait to find long blocks of uninterrupted time to tackle organizational chores. In one minute, you can sort mail, remove lint from the dryer, or water the plants. In five minutes, you can empty the dishwasher or write an email. While you wait for your laundry to dry, you can mate socks and gather clothes for dry cleaning.
16. Create a “launch pad” near the front door.
This is the place to stash things that family members need each time they leave the house — umbrellas, school backpacks, briefcases, pocketbooks, keys, scarves, and so on. The launch pad might have cubbies, pegs, hooks, containers — anything that makes it easy to find and grab things as you head out the door.
17. Ditch those receipts.
Each evening, empty your pockets, wallet, purse, and briefcase of all ATM slips and receipts. Put them in with your stack of bills to be paid and financial statements to review.
Too much loose change? If coins pile up on your dresser, get a jar to put them in. At the end of the month, you’ll have an extra $15 or so to spend — a reward for keeping your pockets free of clutter.
18. Simplify your wardrobe.
The more clothes you have, the harder it is to decide what to wear each morning. So continually winnow out extra clothing. If you get a new shirt, for instance, consider getting rid of an old one. In spring and summer, coordinate all your clothing around only two colors, plus white. In fall and winter, coordinate all your clothing around two other colors, plus black. You’ll feel liberated by having fewer outfits to choose from — and you’ll save money on clothes.
19. Pre-assemble your clothes into complete outfits.
Hang them on sturdy hangers in your closet. You’ll get dressed faster each morning, with less confusion and second-guessing. This strategy works for men and women alike, and is especially helpful for organizing business attire. Women can slip a baggie with matching jewelry onto the hanger. For items to help organize children’s clothes and toys, take a look at this days of the week closet organizer.
20. Take it one project at a time.
Having to tackle several big projects at once is stressful for people with ADHD. Set one priority, and get it done, tying up all loose ends before moving on to a new project. For instance, get new eyeglasses before cleaning your gutters. Or take your car in for maintenance before revising your résumé.
21. Use sticky notes to stay on track.
If you’re often sidetracked by interruptions — as many with ADD are — make it easy to return to the task at hand once the interruption is over. How? Keep a supply of sticky notes with you, and jot down where to pick up again. For instance, if you must take a phone call while reading, post a note on the text that says, “resume reading here.” When the call is over, you’ll know exactly what to do.
22. Double up on tasks.
If you can make it a habit to do two small things in concert, you’ll get more done. For example, you might reset your clocks and change the batteries in your smoke detectors upon the end of Daylight Saving Time each autumn. You could change your oil and balance your investments on the same day. Or reorganize your pocketbook each time you water the plants.
23. Organize your garage like a professional.
That means separating your stuff into “zones” of the sort you see at home-improvement stores: “tools,” “painting supplies,” “gardening supplies,” “sports equipment,” “automotive,” and so on. If this job is too big to tackle on your own, don’t be reluctant to ask for help.
24. Rethink your filing system.
Adults with ADHD often have trouble with filing because they create too many categories. Better to keep your categories broad, and use subfolders where necessary. For instance, you might label one folder “insurance,” and fill it with subcategory folders for life insurance, car insurance, and health insurance.
Online retailer www.addconsults.com offers a variety of terrific organizing products, including one designed specifically for keeping track of owner’s manuals, product warranties, insurance policies, and the like.
25. Create a document “hot spot.”
This is a red, see-through folder for important, time-sensitive documents. In this folder, which should be kept on your desk, you should place papers representing up to five different tasks that must be attended to within the next 24 hours — an overdue bill, a client file, a phone message to return, and so on.
Clear out your hot spot daily. Active papers that aren’t yet urgent should be kept in transparent file folders arranged vertically in a file holder. A hot spot is a great tool for dealing with the “out of sight is out of mind” problem.
26. Stanch the flow of junk mail.
Add your name to the “do not send” list maintained by the Direct Mail Association.
27. Process the mail every day.
That will keep you from feeling overwhelmed. Throw out junk mail immediately. The rest of the mail should be kept in one place, with a wastebasket nearby. Bills to be paid should be placed inside your checkbook or — if you use online banking — on the desktop beside the computer. Stick everyone else’s mail into nearby cubbyholes, slots, or shelves with their names on them.
28. Schedule a quarterly review of investments — with yourself.
Write the date and time to review these on your calendar or in your planner, and go over your bank accounts, investment accounts, and retirement plans.
29. Switch to online banking.
How much time do you spend each month writing checks, addressing envelopes, and affixing postage (not to mention mailing the checks)? It’s faster to do your banking online — especially since you can set up recurring bills to be paid automatically — and you won’t have to pay for postage.
If you’re intimidated by the computer work required to open an online account, ask a computer-savvy friend or family member to help.
30. Use a single checking account.
Keep your checkbook in your purse or briefcase and return it there immediately after using it. Keep your check register and a few emergency checks (but not another checkbook!) in another location, in case you lose your checkbook.
31. Keep plastic to a minimum.
The more credit cards you have, the more statements and receipts you’ll have to contend with. Better to stick with one or two major cards and avoid the high-interest store and gas cards. Consider new card offers only if the terms of the card are clearly superior to the terms of your current cards.
32. Get a debit card.
Keep it in your wallet, and use it instead of a personal check whenever possible. Each time you use the card, make an entry in your check register as if you had written a check. That way, your checking account stays balanced.
33. Keep some extra cash on hand.
Put several hundred dollars in a waterproof plastic bag and place it someplace safe but easy to locate (maybe your freezer). That way, you won’t be caught empty-handed if a storm, power outage, or some other natural or man-made disaster makes it impossible to use ATMs. For more on preparing for a disaster, go to www.redcross.org.