25 Great Apps for ADHD Minds
Forgetful? Disorganized? Time-blind? These apps won’t cure your ADHD symptoms, but they can help level the playing field — if used consistently. (And that’s really the hard part, isn’t it?)
ADHD Apps Help Manage My Life
I have always been a tech geek. I have also always been forgetful, disorganized, and time-blind. Being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder — ADHD or ADD — in college, and being prescribed Adderall, was a game changer for me. However, the best things for my ADHD treatment plan have been the smartphone and the apps that run on it — apps for ADHD.
Tapping into apps didn’t cure my ADHD, just like taking that salmon-colored pill didn’t make my symptoms disappear. But using a range of apps has allowed me to evolve from tech geek to productivity geek. When you go through life being clueless about managing any of the details of life, and then you crack the code, it’s hard not to geek out.
Technology is a great equalizer that can level the playing field for those of us with ADHD. But with all the gadgets, gizmos, alarms, bells, and whistles that technology provides, understanding its limitations will help you maximize what you get from it. Setting a reminder to “reply to boss’s e-mail” is not the same as responding with a well-crafted message to explain why the $250 you spent on Super Sticky Post-it notes was a good investment. Writing down “do taxes” will not get your taxes done.
Still, the apps and tools listed here have helped me a lot. I have organized the list to address areas that challenge adults with ADHD the most: managing distractions; managing information; managing time; enhancing creativity; getting more sleep and being more productive. Use these apps and prosper.
(rescuetime.com; PC, Mac, Android, Linux; free to $9 per month, depending on the version)
I’ve used RescueTime for several months. I use the free version, which allows me to see how I spend my time on my computer. If you’re looking for ways to save time, you have to know how you’re spending it.
I have ADHD and I work with people with ADHD. We all need to improve our awareness of time. There is a difference in how long you think you spent doing something and how long you actually spent. While it runs in the background, the Rescue Time app quietly tracks all of your activities. You might be surprised, as I was, to realize that you looked at cat videos for two hours. It allows you to rate each activity from “Very Distracting” to “Very Productive.” You set goals and track your progress.
In the Premium version, which I have used for a month, I have limited my time on certain websites based on my day’s goals. If I want to be on Facebook for only 30 minutes a day, it will block Facebook after half an hour.
(focusatwill.com; iOS, Android, Web; free 15-day trial, then $9.95/month)
Designed to increase your focus and attention, Focus@Will uses specially engineered audio in which frequencies similar to the human voice are removed. Why? We are wired to pay attention to them, and they distract us. I’ve been using Focus@Will while writing this. I’m two weeks into my free trial, and I might spring for the paid membership after it is up. Focus@Will even has a channel called “ADHD Type 1.” I can’t listen to it, but I do like the channel “Alpha Chill,” set to medium energy level.
(freedom.to; Mac, PC, Android; free trial, then $2.50/month)
I first heard about this Internet-blocking program about a year ago. Then I spent 10 months thinking that I should download it. Like many people with ADHD, I have “one-more-thingitus,” especially in the evening. I start my day saying, “Today is the day that I will leave work at 7 p.m.” The next thing I know, it’s midnight. There were many weeks when I didn’t see my wife or three-year-old son in the evening. I finally downloaded Freedom, and I love it.
It’s easy to set up a weekly schedule. Just highlight the times and days you want it to work, and Freedom will block you from the Internet during those times. The only way to sidestep Freedom is by resetting my computer. I have done it, but the task is enough of a chore that I usually stick to the schedule. Android users are especially lucky. They can use Freedom on their phones.
(evernote.com; iOS, Android; free for basic version or $7.99/month for premium)
How often do you ask yourself, “Where should I save this file so I can be sure to find it later?” only to not be able to find it later? Evernote, a cloud-based platform, can fix that. I didn’t start out liking this app. I didn’t like it because I didn’t understand it. But I kept hearing productivity experts say that they initially didn’t like the app, but came back to it. So I did what they suggested. I searched YouTube for Evernote tutorials. I now use the app all the time. Evernote allows you to capture information, categorize it with tags, and store it in “notebooks.”
If you don’t get tagging, you’re not alone. I didn’t until recently, but here is how I think about it now. Say you have an e-mail confirmation for a hotel reservation that you want to keep track of and find quickly. Maybe you could print it out. But then what? Should it be filed under Travel? Reservations? Hotel? Palm Springs? Hyatt? With paper filing, you have to pick one, unless you print several copies and file all of them. Nobody reading this article is going to do that. When you put it in Evernote, tag it with the top three or four labels that you can think of. When you need it, you can easily find it.
Evernote gives you an e-mail account, to which you can forward items. This feature helped me go from 29,000 e-mails in my inbox to zero, with all the important ones saved and filed. If you decide to try Evernote, here are two “ninja moves”: In the subject line, after the subject, use the @ symbol, and it will go directly into that folder in Evernote. Use the # symbol in the subject line to tag it.
(mint.com; iOS, Android; free)
With Mint, you can manage everything about your money in one place: checking and savings accounts balances, investments, and debts. It is surprisingly intuitive, but I highly recommend setting it up on the Web instead of on your mobile device. On mint.com, you can create financial goals, budgets, alerts, and more.
Its graphic layout is made for adults with ADD. I love the bar and pie graphs that help me make sense of my finances. On the website, you can add your own photos or graphics to your savings goals, so you can see what you’re saving for. If your eyes glaze over at spreadsheets, mint.com presents that material in an ADHD-friendly way. The app also alerts you to unusual activity on your accounts, and lets you know if you are paying more for things, such as car insurance, than other people in your geographical area.
6. Google Voice
(google.com/voice; iOS, Android, Web; free)
Google Voice gives you a number that can be forwarded to any phone you use. It will ask the caller to state his name, and you decide whether you want to take the call or send it to voicemail. Google Voice also allows you to receive e-mail or text transcriptions of voicemail messages. The transcripts aren’t perfect — what is, really? — but being able to read a transcript of a voicemail message is easier for us adults with ADD.
7. Boomerang for Gmail
(boomeranggmail.com; Android; 10 messages free per month, plus a 30-day free trial of any premium plan; plans start at $4.99 per month)
You write an e-mail to your boss, but it’s 3 a.m. Just click “Send It Later.” Or you write an important e-mail, and you want to know whether the recipient has received or answered it. Tell Boomerang to let you know if the recipient hasn’t responded, or hasn’t opened it. You decide when you want to know. This is great for managing the dreaded “waiting on” list.
(dropbox.com; iOS, Mac, Android, PC; 2 GB free; 1 TB, $8.25/month)
After losing college term papers and important files more than once due to disk errors, I believe that having your head in the clouds, or at least your files, is a good thing. I store most of my documents and files in Dropbox. You can access them from anywhere. The best part is how easy it is to share big files in e-mail. Forget about uploading the file, just send a link. You can also have Dropbox automatically save your pictures.
9. IFTTT (If This Then That)
(ifttt.com; iOS,Android; free)
As IFTTT’s tagline says, “Put the Internet to work for you.” IFTTT uses “channels” to create action recipes. A few examples of the 160 current channels are: Android Call/Location, Dropbox, e-mail, Evernote, FFFFound!, Fitbit, iOS Reminders, SmartThings, Todoist, WeMo Motion. Click on your desired channel, then create a recipe. For instance: “If I star an e-mail in Gmail, add it to my to-do list.” “If I get a voicemail, then upload it to Dropbox.” “If I miss a call, add it to Todoist.” Or, my favorite, “If it is 9 p.m., turn the lights off using WeMo Switch.”
(unroll.me; Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo! Mail, Outlook.com, AOL Mail, iCloud; free)
Unroll.me is a free service that will clean up your e-mail inbox, unsubscribe you from everything you don’t want to receive, and get all the newsletters, listservs, and e-mails you want rolled into one daily digest. A hundred e-mails are turned into one e-mail. Your inbox has never been happier.
(scheduleonce.com; Web; after free trial, $7.50-$32.50/month)
As a therapist, coach, and podcaster, I would be lost without my calendar. I used to spend a lot of time going back and forth with clients and other people I needed to meet with or call. There was also the human error factor. Since I have ADHD, and so do most of my clients, it is hard to know who made the mistake when a scheduling snafu occurred. After I noticed I surpassed my personal “oops quota” (1 oops per 3 months) of double booking, I decided to move to online scheduling.
I started with vCita, but I found it did not have the flexibility I wanted, such as the ability to add buffer time between appointments. I moved to ScheduleOnce in September, and I love it. It gives you control of your day. And it will send the person you’re scheduled to meet up to three reminder emails. ScheduleOnce integrates easily with Google Calendar.
(3030.binaryhammer.com; iOS; free)
Is it a timer? Yes. Is it a to-do list? Yes. Can you save lists and does it sync across your iOS devices? Yes and yes.
30/30 is a great little app, with an appealing gesture-based interface. During a task, a circular visual timer is displayed at the top of the screen. 30/30 will tell you what time it will be at the end of each task as well as when you complete the list. 30/30 is great if you have a routine task list, and you’re not sure if you have time to squeeze it all in. Just pull your saved list and let the app do the heavy lifting, as in time calculation, for you.
13. Priority Matrix
(appfluence.com; iOS, Android, Mac, PC; free trial, then $12/month)
This app is great for managing multiple projects and responsibilities and, most important, for prioritizing your actions. You can categorize tasks by “urgency” or “importance,” or come up with your own labels. I’ve been using this app to help me break down my big-picture goals into smaller, measurable benchmarks. I’ve also used it to organize specific projects, including overhauling my website and planning my podcast.
I’m a visual person, so I like that fact that Priority Matrix allows me to look at just one project, or all of them, based on due dates. Don’t underestimate the power of an eye-catching icon next to each task, either. You can integrate your calendar and import e-mails into the app, if you purchase a license.
(novniv.com; iOS, Android; $3.99)
Do you ever forget to silence your phone or to turn it back on? AutoSilent helps in a number of ways, including silencing your phone based on specified calendars, geo-fences, or a timer. With this app, you don’t have to remember to turn your ringer on or off. The timer function is great for that quick power nap in the middle of the day. This feature should be standard on all smartphones.
(freakyalarm.com; iOS; $1.99)
FreakyAlarm is as bad as it sounds. If you tend to ignore, snooze through, or shut off an alarm, this app is for you. First, you have to solve math problems to disable it. If your math skills are anything like mine, choose the “easy” category and have a calculator handy, because the annoying sound will make it hard to think.
It will go off every minute. But the best feature of this app is the “Get Out of Bed” option. The app requires you to scan a UPC or QR code to turn off the alarm. This means you have to get up and go to the QR or UPC code that you originally scanned. You can use it for more than just getting out of bed. Do you ever forget to take your medicine? Scan the barcode on your pill bottle, and now the only way to turn off the alarm is by scanning that barcode. While you’re there, take your medicine. Having to scan an item to deactivate an alarm is a great way to use point of performance reminders.
16. Wake N Shake
(wakenshakeapp.com; iOS; $0.99)
Just like the name says, you have to shake your phone vigorously to shut off the alarm. Getting blood flowing to the brain is a great way to awaken the prefrontal cortex. Wake N Shake is one of the hardest alarms to ignore.
(en.todoist.com; iOS, Android, Mac, PC, Web; free, or $3/month for Todoist premium)
If you are looking for an app that will allow you to add sub-tasks to your tasks, and sub-projects to your projects, try this. It has many e-mail and Web plugins to make it work with your current systems. The premium version of Todoist includes location-based reminders, calendar sync, productivity tracking, task additions via e-mail, and more.
(simpleapps.eu/simplemind; iOS, Android, Mac, PC; free, or $6.99 for full version)
I am not a linear thinker, but I love mind mapping. Simple Mind is my go-to app to create the maps. My preference is to use it on my iPad, but I’ve also created some great mind maps on my smartphone and Mac.
19. Dragon Naturally Speaking
(nuance.com/dragon/index.htm; PC, $150-$400, depending on the version)
If your brain moves faster than you can write, voice dictation can be a great tool. I use it any time I have to write. Dragon Naturally Speaking is considered the best software for voice dictation. In my research, it appears to perform best on PCs. The software package for PC and Mac comes with its own headset and microphone. Instead of typing, just start talking, and Dragon will type what you say.
20. Voice Dictation for Mac
If you have a Mac with the Lion, Maverick, or Yosemite operating system, this feature is already on your computer. It is similar to Dragon Naturally Speaking — it types what you say. You may need to enable Voice Dictation in your System Preferences. By default, press fn twice, and your computer will be ready for you to dictate. It is not perfect, but it’s pretty good. I use it often.
(hogbaysoftware.com; Mac; $9.99)
WriteRoom is my go-to text editor. To help those of you who can remember when computers ran off DOS, when WriteRoom is in full-screen mode, there is nothing but a blinking cursor. There are a few color themes. I like the dark gray background with the light gray blinking cursor. It’s as close to distraction-free word processing as you can get. It doesn’t even underline misspelled words. The goal is: write first, then edit.
(unstuck.com; iOS, Android, Web; free)
This well-created app, in both function and design, helps free up your ADHD brain when it gets knotted. We’ve all been there. Unstuck uses cognitive behavioral therapy principles and has an engaging interface. You start by selecting and rating cards that best describe your feelings (for example, you are indecisive, lost, overwhelmed, unmotivated, etc.), then you sort feelings (for example, “I don’t know why this isn’t working”) into two piles: “So me” and “Not me.” Then choose from a list of behaviors, add some additional information about exactly how you are stuck, and it will give you tips to free you up.
23. Sleep as Android
(sleep.urbandroid.org/; Android; free, full version $3.99)
Sleep as Android tracks your sleeping patterns and shows you graphs based on how well or poorly you slept that night. It’ll warn you if you’re running on a sleep deficit, and will tell you that you need to get back to consistent sleep habits.
The app can also record sound in the room while you’re sleeping, to catch your snoring or your talking in your sleep, which can be fun to listen to the next morning. Sleep as Android wakes you up at the best possible time, according to your REM cycle. The app integrates with Android Gear, including the Pebble Smartwatch and Philips Hue Smart Light.
24. Sleep Cycle
(sleepcycle.com; iOS, Android; free)
There aren’t many apps that can change the quality of your life, but this one can. Sleep Cycle uses your phone’s motion sensors to pick up on movement while you’re asleep. The intelligent alarm feature will wake you as early as 30 minutes before your alarm, based on your lightest phase of sleep. The app also allows you to see how daily activities affect your sleep quality.
25. Podcast Players
(iOS: Downcast, $2.99 / Podcast, free; Android: Pocket Casts, $3.99 / Stitcher, free)
If you’ve never listened to a podcast, or you are not sure what a podcast is, it’s somewhere between an audio blog and a downloadable, on demand independent radio. What do podcasts have to do with productivity and ADD? Go to iTunes and search for podcasts using the keywords “ADHD,” “LD,” “self-help,” “productivity,” “parenting,” or whatever your interest is. You will be amazed at how much free and valuable content is out there.
There are also many podcasts that are entertaining. I use and recommend podcasts to help me fall asleep. My brain’s internal chatter quiets down only when I can listen to someone talk. Not all podcasts are good to fall asleep to. You will have to experiment to see what works for you. Make sure to set a sleep alarm, so it doesn’t wake you later in the night.