Home Organization

33 Ways to Get Things Done—Consistently

Getting things done is about more than syncing calendars — it is about proving that ADHD does not rule our lives. Start by letting go of perfectionism. Then use these 33 tips and tools to fight chronic disorganization everyday.

A woman is sorting clothes thinking, "my life is a mess."
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Get Your Life in Order

Feel like your life is a mess? You can't reach your goals if they're buried under a pile of clutter, chaos, and stress. 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 can't do what it takes to get even a bit more organized because we worry that we won’t become perfectly organized—even though there's no such thing! The good news: Seemingly small changes can bring big improvements.

A man struggles to make a decision. 1. Set time limits for decision-making.
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Remember the Big Picture

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 phone to buy, pick a price cap and ignore more costly phones.

Always identify the most important decision-making factor, 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. ADHDers tend to spread themselves too thin.3. Keep your to-do lists brief. Using big, bold letters, make a 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.
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Set Achievable Goals

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 fundraising 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 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.

[Self-Test: Is Your Clutter and Disorganization Out of Control?]

Tired woman turns off alarm she set to stay on task and on time.
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Ask for Help

4. Fight hyperfocusSet an alarm clock, kitchen timer, or phone or computer alert—or arrange for someone reliable to call you at a specified time. If you tend to lose yourself online 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.

A planner is used to schedule Medication and Socialization and get your life in order.
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Schedule Medication and Socialization

6. Keep extra medication on hand. Each time you fill a prescription, write in your planner the date when you’ll need to renew it (or set your computer or phone to issue a reminder alert 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 supper 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 the chat room to commiserate and congratulate one another. Find out more about online and in-person support groups at chadd.org.

[Your Decluttering Mantra: It’s Just Stuff]

A woman carrying shopping bags shopped smart to avoid clutter.
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Shop Smart

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 and phone case.

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.

Piles of paper create clutter in your mind and your life.
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Clutter Control

11. Stop agonizing over insignificant items. What to do with greeting cards you’ve received, batteries of dubious power, unidentified CDs, 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. Place “donate” items in bags and drive them to the nearest donation drop-off. Place “age” items in a cardboard box marked with a date three months hence, and note that date in your calendar. When the 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.

[Free Handout: Clean Up and Get Organized in One Weekend]

A person sorts through a pile of magazines and mail to reduce clutter and chaos.
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Manage Mail

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. Better yet, use online banking to store and access financial statements.

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, women’s shelter, or your local library.) If you are habitually unable to keep up with a particular magazine, cancel the subscription.

Getting Things Done with ADHD
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Your Daily Routine

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 e-mail. 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, shoes, 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.

A woman hags a shirt on a hanger as she sifts through her closet to simplify and reduce the chaos in her life.
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Get Control of Closets

18. Simplify your wardrobeThe more clothes you have, the harder it is to decide what to wear each morning. So continually sift 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.

A pile of sticky notes sits on a desk, ready to mark where to pick back up again when you need to step away from a task.
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Around the House

20. Take it one project at a time. Having to tackle several big projects at once is stressful for people with ADHD. Set a 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, 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. Pair 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.

Lots of papers on a desk can be restricted by placing papers where they need to end up when you get them.
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The Paper Trail

24. Rethink your filing system. Individuals with ADHD often have trouble with filing because they create too many categories. Better to keep your categories broad, and use subfolders where necessary. Online retailer 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 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. Restrict the flow of junk mail. Add your name to the “do not send” list maintained by the Direct Mail Association. Go to dmachoice.thedma.org for more information.

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 your desk beside the computer. Stick everyone else’s mail into nearby cubbyholes, slots, or shelves with their names on them.

Man is managing his financial accounts online to reduce clutter and keep track of his finances.
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Money Matters

28. Schedule a quarterly review of investments—with yourself. Record 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. If you’re intimidated by the sometimes-complicated 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 redcross.org.

[Free Webinar: Organization Solutions for People with ADHD]

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