ADD and housework: A few tips from a first-class space cadet

March 12 | Guest post by Shara Whimsey
What dirty dishes? (Photo by: shira galCC BY 2.0)
I am an un-medicated adult with ADD. I have spent most of my time un-medicated, and thus rely on coping mechanisms. (Note: I totally support chemical assistance, I just haven't had any.) Even though I have an "ADD can be a bonus, not a minus!" philosophy… right now, I'm on the subject of dealing with it as a drawback.

I have a super-short attention span and I suck at getting work done on anyone else's timetable. Or any timetable. Or… at all. And I tend to start a multitude of things and never finish them. And I'm notoriously and comically forgetful. (That "baskets!" moment? That would take me years to remember… or to remember that I remembered it.) I also tend to totally tune out huge parts of the universe. Once that dirty mug has been there more than a few days — it is gone. It is 100% INVISIBLE. "Hey, hon, could you get the dirty dishes from the den?" "Uh… what dirty dishes?" "Uh…" "Oh!" *picks up sole spoon from the middle of the pile*

So me and housework, planning, organizing, and housework have this love/forget relationship… But stuff has to get done somehow. Here's what I have figured out…

Write lists

General lists:

Write ALL OF THE LISTS. Make long-term and short-term lists. Some of them are only wishful thinking lists. Just having the lists in existence can be useful. It means that if I hit a good focus day, I have something to refer back to.

Give them titles:

  • "Jobs I will never, ever get done but it would totally be awesome if it did."
  • "Jobs that might happen when I have an overachieving, organized, unemployed friend over for the afternoon/weekend/fortnight."
  • "Jobs I have to do right now before decomposition causes spontaneous combustion in my bedroom."
  • "Jobs I want to get done today."
  • "Jobs I should be able to get done today that will probably not get done today."
  • "Jobs that I should do to prevent my partner from experiencing spontaneous combustion in the bedroom."

Designate "active" and "passive" lists:

Active lists tend to be items with a specific deadline, or which are regular to-do items. Passive lists tend to be long-term and eventual items and can include wishful thinking.

Specific notes:

When making lists, I think often of Haroun Khalifa, a character from a Salman Rushdie story, who, after a traumatic event, could only focus on anything for exactly eleven minutes. That's me! And eleven is erring on the high side.

So I break tasks down into little pieces. Really little pieces. Maybe even smaller than most would consider manageable:

  1. Throw away trash.
  2. Gather unattended bits of paper into grocery bag.
  3. Gather aluminum cans into a grocery bag.
  4. Place bag full of cans into recycling bin.
  5. Remember #1, and then place papers into recycling bin.

Mark down your accomplishments, even the tiny ones.

Put checkboxes next to your "to-do" items. Check the boxes as you accomplish stuff. This not only helps foster that sense of accomplishment (which, for me, often encourages further progress), it also prevents you from forgetting that you did a task and doing it over again, or worse, finding out that it was already done and getting thrown off course.

If checking off a task feels like its own reward, make it a bonus reward by allowing yourself to check off tasks with different coloured pens, or marking the "done" boxes with little stickers. For big jobs you could/can even draw little pictures in the check box or arrange a points system. (This is probably really good for kids. I'm pretty much a kid and it works for me. People with kids, may it serve you well.)

Write schedules

Schedules have been the most surprisingly useful thing for me, particularly when I have work-at-home-deadlines that I have to follow. (Oh how I hate project deadlines. All they make me want to do is work on anything else.)

You just have to remember that you're making a schedule for YOU. Not for Kryten (who has "drudgework" in his basic programming), or Lulu down the road who has coordinating doilies and placemats. So, when you write up your schedule, try to be very forgiving, mindful of your needs and limitations, and for goodness sake, schedule yourself breaks. Lots of them if necessary.

Give yourself permission to achieve only part of your goals. Remember the "jobs in small pieces" bit from the section above? That applies here. You can schedule yourself down to five minute increments if that will help

Write EVERYTHING on your schedule: Breaks, random jobs, everything.

  • 11:00-11:15 AM: Write schedule, drink morning tea. (Look, you can check these things off already!)
  • 11:15-11:20: Wash breakfast things, boil water for 2nd pot of tea.
  • 11:20-11:30: Pour tea, Locate broom and garbage bags.
  • 11:30-11:40 Start laundry
  • 11:40-12:00 Sweep kitchen.
  • 12:00-12:15 Mess around on the internet, drink more tea.
  • 12:15-12:45 Fill out {x} paperwork.
  • 12:45-1:00 Switch laundry, start second load.
  • 1:00-1:30 Free Play (Productive tasks only)
  • 1:30-1:40: Switch laundry again.

Other ADD-hacks:

Does listening to music help? Get a good pair of headphones, or ear buds if you swing that way. In my experience, music plugged directly into your head blocks out more distractions and therefore works better than ambient noise.

Try to be aware of your focus levels. I can tell a bad focus day because I do things like filling two different teapots at the same time, or turning on my iron and walking away from it until the "you left me on!" buzzer goes off. Don't try to do too much work when you know you are having a "bad focus day."

Buddy up. Find a friend or partner who is aware of your behaviour patterns and can (compassionately) help keep you on task. Already have a buddy? Treat them well. Buy them pizza, or sushi, or a hat. (You know, next time the memory train rolls by that way.)

And don't forget to give yourself an "A" for effort. Every time you finish a task or remember something important, THAT is an accomplishment. You're awesome.
Good.

I am not a housework hero. I still wander off in the middle of tasks, or forget them completely, or walk into a disgustingly messy room that is arse-deep in dirty socks, and then alphabetize the knickknack shelf by color. (Oh yes. This has totally happened.) And these are just tips to add to the arsenal you probably already have.

What are YOUR tips for cleaning when you have ADD?

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  1. I love this. I AM medicated and I still need to do all of these things. Yesterday I thought about making a list as simple as:
    1. Wash face
    2. Brush teeth
    3. Change out of pajamas
    … you get where I'm going with this…
    Some days it just really IS that difficult to remember things that are easy peasy for anyone else. Thank you for helping me feel not so alone!

    12 agree
    • Not ADD but have suffered from depression ranging from mild to quite severe. These lists help because often I would wander aimlessly around knowing I was supposed to do *something* but not even being able to coordinate myself to brush my teeth. Somehow writing it down made me feel less like a failure and more in control. Even if I didn't get to item number 3, I still got something more done than I did the day before. I also put individual items on index cards and stacked them, so I could tackle them in order but one at at time, so the list in it's entirety didn't seem so daunting. Once something was done I could throw it away or recycle it or burn it or whatever, but instead of a long list staring at me, just the next item was visible.

      23 agree
      • As a fellow depression-sufferer (plus OCD), I'm totally with that. I've been in a very bad slump before, so I know how hard even the most basic things become. Most of the time, however, just keeping lists works to make sure I remember to do things.

        I'm a huge fan of the Stickies app on my Mac–I keep it up all the time, so I always have my lists of things to do (multiple lists for that, depending on if it's work-related or life-related, for example), dimensions for random project items, upcoming payments that haven't been written into the checkbook ledger yet, even a list of birthdays for which we need to buy presents (so I can't put it off and have the birthday shopping panic later).

        I need lists to keep myself together. Otherwise, it takes me an eternity to get things done because I forget that I need to work on them–that and there's such a satisfaction at deleting lines from my to-do lists!

        2 agree
      • I really second the use of index cards to tackle items truly "one at a time". I was just looking at the sample list thinking "how can I get that all done!?"

        2 agree
      • I know what you mean; that's actually why I followed this link. I was hoping I'd be able to find something that would help me to focus and get things done. I think the index cards are a good idea, and I would suggest to always do them in a full stack, with the empty ones, so that it's never a "thick stack day" or thin. Maybe if it's thin, then perhaps there's some motivation there. I'm going to try this out, so I guess I'll need to start taking note of what all should be going on here.

    • I am also medicated and still need to do this. I used to chart out a schedule that said
      1. Wake up
      2. Get dressed
      3. Brush teeth
      4. Pack backpack
      etc.
      I hung it over my computer so that when I rolled out of bed and plopped down to mess around, I could see exactly what time I needed to start getting ready.

      I've stopped doing it, but I think I really should start again. I am chronically late. Though now that I've been on meds for a few years, at least I don't just zone out and fall asleep like I used to (I'm primarily inattentive, not hyperactive). Once I started taking the medication, I noticed such an improvement that I kind of forgot about still needing to use coping strategies. Unfortunately, I do still put pots on to boil and forget about them until they catch on fire (true story) or the eggs I was cooking explode (disgusting and smelly true story).

      3 agree
      • I am also chronically late – I suffer from "one more thing-itis." And I can't seem to ever remember how long it takes to do anything. And, while I'm a really good cook, I can't make toast – I completely forget about it and burn it, every single time.

        3 agree
  2. I do not have ADD (or, at least I haven't been diagnosed), but when it comes to anything but surfing the internet or reading I generally cannot focus. These suggestions are very helpful. Thank you!

    1 agrees
  3. My husband and father-in-law both have ADD; I live with my husband, and together we work with my father-in-law managing a campground, the biggest thing I have learned from living/working with them, as the non-ADD member of the group, is that when the focus hits get out of the damn way!

    I used to think my husband was just being a jerk when he would get super intense about cleaning the cars NOW, but I finally figured out that what's really going on is that he wants to get it done before he loses the focus to do, and finish, the job.

    16 agree
    • My coworkers don't quite understand the ADD hyperfocus I get. I've had people tell me soothingly that I don't need to invest so much time in X project right now, because they don't understand that (a) I have invested nowhere near as much time as they think because of hyperfocus* and (b) I can't NOT focus on it, so I might as well reap the benefits of it.

      * Once I came up with a page and a half of solutions to one problem we had in twenty minutes. My boss thought I'd spent all day on it.

      9 agree
  4. Diagnosed ADD, currently unmedicated. When I lived alone, I lived in serious squalor, although it wasn't hoarder territory (but I live in fear of that). This is what helps me:

    1) Episodes of Hoarders on DVR. While I don't like the exploitative feel of the show, ten minutes of watching it is enough to get me to go "OH HELL NO!" get up, turn off the TV, and clean something. (When How Clean Is Your House? was on BBC America, Kim and Aggie got me scrubbing baseboards!)

    2) Podcasts and audiobooks that I'm interested in. I can't do anything that requires mental engagement while listening to them, but puttering around the house doing dishes, decluttering, dusting, etc. works.

    3) Recruiting my husband to clean in the same room I'm in. I don't give in to the temptation to sit down and start surfing the Web if he's there cleaning. (Although once he sits down, I stop!)

    4) Inviting friends or family over for next weekend. This gets me to look around the house, think OH DEAR GOD PEOPLE CANNOT SEE THIS, and start picking stuff up.

    5) Also, dividing chores with my husband so that we each take care of what bothers us the most. He has no problem living in a bathroom with a stereotypical college-boy level of filth in it, but if you leave one dirty cup on the kitchen counter, he can't focus on anything else until it's washed and put away. So he does the kitchen (daily) and I do the bathrooms (not so daily). Likewise, dust is invisible to him until it's formed felted pads on surfaces, so I do that, but he takes the trash out. It's much easier to focus on a chore if you get a direct emotional benefit out of it (I can live for weeks while piling dirty dishes next to the sink! I have no intrinsic motivation to do dishes).

    18 agree
    • 4) Inviting friends or family over for next weekend. This gets me to look around the house, think OH DEAR GOD PEOPLE CANNOT SEE THIS, and start picking stuff up.

      This is me! I laugh because it is so true that I use having someone over as a motivator when I want to clean.

      23 agree
      • SO TRUE!! Sometimes if the house is a mess, I decide I need to invite someone over! Unfortunately, the bedroom door is easily closed, so I don't generally deal with that in the Company's-Coming-Cleanup. It's amazing, however, what can be accomplished in the half hour before my mother (for instance) arrives.

        5 agree
        • For the bedroom issue, I will use that as a reason to ask someone out on a date. That way, in my hopefulness, I will do laundry so I have clean underthings and sheets and I will make my bedroom presentable. Works so well, and makes me less nervous about asking people out because it's IMPORTANT.

          1 agrees
      • My stepsister is really tidy, and when she comes over I always panic-shove things into my bedroom and close the door and just act like I have an unusually empty living room.

        1 agrees
    • YES! I totally relate to each item on your list!!!
      Hoarders, audiobooks, etc all help me.

      3 agree
    • #3 definitely is me. I've always needed a "babysitter" for things that require sustained effort (cleaning up, packing, sometimes writing papers when I was in school). They don't really even have to be doing much, just their presence keeps me from going off to check email or facebook or get a snack or whatever after every 5 minutes of effort because I know I'd be wasting their time. For many years it was my mom, now my husband has taken over that role.

      8 agree
      • Even though I'm a grown woman, I still really benefit from having a "babysitter." When I have a huge mess to tackle, sometimes my mom will offer to come over and help. It is really a huge help to have someone say "Okay, you've finished that task, now do this." Unfortunately, my husband also has ADD, so he can't really play that role for me. We occasionally motivate each other, but it's hard to sustain it, because once one of us wanders off, the other will too.

    • Yeeeeeesssss! Watching Hoarders totally motivated me to clean my shower yesterday!

      1 agrees
  5. Oh my goodness – I could have written this! Thank you 😀
    Lists are brilliant – although if I write lists on pieces of paper I tend to abandon them somewhere and end up finding them between the pages of a book or something 2 months later so I find using a small whiteboard works best as it's a bit more difficult to misplace.

    For housework generally, if the list fails, I try to tidy/do at least one thing in whatever room I end up in. It can mean that I end up doing small bits and pieces in each room of the house throughout a morning/afternoon rather than focussing on one room at a time, but it's all stuff that needs doing 🙂

    Making things really obvious for myself helps too – if I have stuff to go upstairs, but need to finish tidying the living room, I make a pile of stuff by the stairs so that I don't wander off upstairs until I've done what I need to and (theoretically) remember to take things with me when I do go upstairs. It doesn't always work, but it depends on what type of a day I'm having!

    I have to admit having my husband and a couple of friends that can keep me on task without it seeming like they're nagging me really helps!

    4 agree
  6. I think it's interesting that most people with ADD tend to be messy/disorganized, but there are some (mostly women) who hyper-focus or "over-compensate."

    For me it's all about having a routine, which is a lot like a list. When I get up in the morning I shower, then dress, then brush my teeth, then go make coffee. Without fail if I do things "out of order" I forget something.

    Also, everything has a place (usually a BASKET, haha) and I'm constantly doing "mini-organization". If I find something in the living room that belongs upstairs, I put it on the base of the stairs. Then when I'm walking up the stairs, I make it a point to check for things to go up. If my bathroom basket has become a disaster, I spend 5 minutes reorganizing just that basket, so I can find things quickly later.

    4 agree
    • I hyperfocus sometimes, but very rarely on housework. I get crazy focus on design projects sometimes — I remember one time in first-year university I sat on my bed working until well past noon before realizing that I hadn't eaten breakfast or even properly gotten dressed yet. Whoops! Every so often, I'll go into Clean ALL THE THINGS! mode, but those instances are way too few and far between for it to keep my apartment anything like presentable.

      1 agrees
  7. Diagnosed ADD, I have a prescription for Adderall but I try to only use it when absolutely necessary. After I was diagnosed I finally got to go to college and learned some amazing survival skills there that I'm able to apply (usually) to other parts of my life. I love, love, love all of your suggestions. In my own experience, I've learned that on some days approaches just like the ones you mention work amazingly well. On other days, other tactics are necessary. As far as I can tell, ADD is all about being as fluid as you can be while still containing yourself.
    Some other things that might be handy for some folks – pick your top three tasks and write them BIG and post them where you can see them very easily. Set a timer (kitchen, watch, cell phone) to go off every 10 minutes. If you have gotten off track when the alarm goes off, go find your list and do one of those three things – any one of them. When the alarm goes off again in another 10 minutes, if you are off task again, go back to your list and start over.

    I cannot do other things while listening to music. I'm more easily distracted when there is just music, but if the TV is on with something I've seen before, I can focus on other stuff much, much better. I've watched multiple TV series in their entirety repeatedly while doing homework and housework.

    Utilizing the various parts of your brain for doing a task also helps me. Verbally reminding myself what I'm doing/supposed to be doing helps stimulate my brain enough that I can focus a little better. Or moving around while I pay the bills – I usually have my checkbook or balance sheet on one table, the bills themselves on another, the laptop on yet another so that I have to use my body to do the brain work.
    Whoever you live with may think you are a lunatic when they catch you describing every step of washing dishes to yourself or dancing around to pay the electricity bill, so you might want to plan for this one when you have the place to yourself.

    Overall, I've learned that if something isn't working, try something new – anything new. "Just do it" is the most horrible phrase in the book for me as an ADD person. That is the phrase that made me think I was a broken failure for years. Now I know to mentally adjust that to "Just do it differently".

    Thank you so much, Shara for posting this. I constantly try to reach out to our ADD brethren in a hope that someone will feel a little less alone in their struggles with these things! Three cheers for ADD brain!

    8 agree
    • "I have to use my body to do the brain work." There is lots of science and stuff about this exact method being very effective. I even use it to teach things to my first graders (All math facts are done with movements, like jumping jacks, clapping rhythms, stomping, pushups, etc, for example.) This is a very good tactic not only to hone focus but to enhance memory and overall brain function. Research has shown that using two or more senses in conjunction strengthens the brain in very beneficial ways. ADD diagnosis or not, many people can benefit from this sort of thing! Multi-sensory experiences, procedures and adaptive techniques are great. =)

      3 agree
    • Ho YES!!! I totally got distacted while writing this and forgot to add the "Get an Annoying Timer!" paragraph. My partner is not a fan of the timers (As I am wont to set up to 4 at once) But thy do usually get results.

      1 agrees
  8. I forgot to mention before, re: cleaning stuff – I only have a part time job and have found a way to have a housekeeper. She's really good, and really, really cheap and it took a while for me to justify it, but once I realized the house WILL NOT GET CLEAN otherwise, it was a no-brainer. Plus it forces me to put things "away" (in a closet, in a pile, whatever…) every other Tuesday before she comes to clean. We are in no way well off, but my husband works 80+ hours a week and it was just not getting done. Now it happens as if by magic. And it's one fewer list for me to make and never cross anything off!

  9. Neither my dude nor I have been diagnosed with ADD but we are not good at keeping things tidy. My dude is totally on the list of unable to see things. We're still working on figuring out how to hack our situation. For me it's been about breaking it down into manageable tasks and recognizing how little time some things take. If I do the dishes regularly, it does not take me 40 minutes. It takes me 10 (or maybe 20 but we don't talk about those days).

    My dude finally told me that he needs a concrete list. So I wrote him one. While it had a number of items, I also noted how much time they should take. Nothing over 10 minutes and most around 2-3 minutes. The total was about 32 minutes. He's gotten it all done although it took him 4 days to fit it in. My dude doesn't function well with set schedules so as long as I lay out the list and accept that something is going to come up it and it will take him a bit to do something, he will get to it.

    We also put up a bulletin board/white board in our kitchen (inspired by this post). It has a list of cleaning tasks, space for "to do" lists for us both, a space for notes in case one of us needs to remember something, a grocery space, and a marker clipped on top. There are also cute magnets. When a task is accomplished, we get to put a cute magnet in that square. It's a nice visual reminder that we were productive and that we're each doing stuff. Also helps since he sometimes forget to tell me that he's done something. If I can't tell that he's done it, I have no idea. (Like the mouse trap that he set and the mouse actually wrecked. I never saw it and had no idea he'd tried setting it and been defeated.) I also noted the week at the top of the board so we start again each week.

    1 agrees
  10. This is what works for me: Everyday I clean/ put up 100 points worth of things. Putting up 1 thing is worth 1 point but the cleaning is worth as many points as I feel it is. On a normal day doing the catbox is worth like 10 points, but on a day I'm overwhelmed I can make it worth 25 or more. I find this method had the right balance of fluidity and structure.

    Structure: Every day I have to get 100 points no matter what. So I have to look for things to do like cleaning the bathroom sink or sweeping up loose dog food. (This also solves the invisible mess issue for me since I have to actually make an effort to look for things that aren't where they belong.)

    Fluidity: I don't do well with checklists. I just have some kind of mental block for them. By letting the cleaning be worth multiple points according to how much effort they feel like, I get some things done and on my schedule.

    9 agree
  11. I have a son with ADD, plus 2 step-kids on the autism spectrum. My son (17) finds that household tasks are almost impossible to complete without a list. And it needs to be broken down into simple one-step processes, otherwise he WILL get sidetracked. The other thing that is essential for him (and has been beneficial for my step-daughter too) is to focus on ONE task at a time. He can't think "While I'm going downstairs, I'll take this, because it's also on my list of things to do" (which is how I tackle my to-do list). If he tries to do more than one thing at a time he WILL get sidetracked and get NOTHING done.
    It took me a while to get used to "his" way of doing things. I would think "Gah! You're walking right by the next thing on your list! Just do it while you're there and be done with it!!" Now I realize his way works for him, and he really does end up getting the stuff done. Best of all we don't argue about it (well, not very much 😉 he is a teenager).
    Hopefully these are skills he's learning that will stay with him as he grows up and moves out on his own in a few years. Here's hoping!

  12. disgustingly messy room that is arse-deep in dirty socks, and then alphabetize the knickknack shelf by color.

    Ahhh, I love hearing about other people who do stuff like this.

    I already do a lot of this stuff, to some degree, but often only after the denial phase where I pretend I'm a proper adult who can just do things without needing tricks and stuff. Then I end up wandering around in a circle, confused, until I give in and make a list. I like this post for reiterating some things I need to try to keep in mind, especially giving myself permission to only accomplish small things. I tend to not feel okay about something until it's DONE, so I can spend all day cleaning a room but if it doesn't get completely done, I feel like I've gotten nothing accomplished. So breaking things up into smaller things definitely helps me.

    My kitchen has a ton of counter space – basically a big rectangle of counters – and it gets really cluttered, really quickly. The only way I can get it clean is by dividing it into "zones" and concentrating on one zone at a time. It feels goofy and I hid the "zone blueprint" I made from my husband, but it did help.

    5 agree
    • My therapist said that I have some ADD. I also divide my counter into zones to clean it. I also force myself to clean one room at a time.

  13. This is a great post, I'm so adding tea drinking to the schedule. I keep boiling water and forgetting it's there. I do a lot of things already however I like your refinement of the to do list. I'd been using the one giant list approach with Macro tasks then distilling that into a list of what gets done today with the level of breakdown you've described.

    Interestingly reading the above descriptions of your thought processes make me think I have ADD

    I'd like to recommend http://unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com/about for people like me who a blind to messes. I have the app and you get challenges like pick up 5 things that don't belong and put them away or pick a room and a time limit and it will give you a task to do. Bite size tasks is the key. Our apartment has never been cleaner.

    ….

    4 agree
  14. Man…I could've written this. Except my problem is that I have too MANY lists, and lists of my lists, and I forget to look at the lists, and then just go do what I want and ignore everything else. I have often wondered if I have a bit of adult ADD- my memory is terrible and I am amazingly good at tuning things out, much to my husand's never ending chagrin… I was just thinking I need to schedule a day this week to clean the heck out of the house because it's finally reached a point where even *I* notice the mess.

    3 agree
  15. Thank you for this… not sure why I never thought to apply lists to cleaning when they keep me on track with things like grocery shopping and work. I'm horrible at getting cleaning done, and if I have help, I stay focused. Now to start making lists for cleaning and hope it works as well as it has for work!

  16. Love this! I am the same- but add depression to the ADD, like so many others have posted.

    For me and my list-making, Evernote has been a huge saviour for me. I have the app on my phone, and log in on my mac in the living room.
    So if I'm lying in bed and I think "Damn, I really need to soak that stained shirt", I add it to my Evernote To-Do List, and then I can check it from anywhere.
    Hope that helps someone!

  17. … alphabetize the knickknack shelf by color….

    I spent all of dinner contemplating exactly HOW one would alphabetize a knickknack shelf by color. I mean, first there's the question of how you categorize multicolored knickknacks — do you go by the color that most of the knickknack is, or use a list in order of coverage? And then there's the question of your list of colors — is it just basic stuff like brown, black, red, and blue, or do you include colors such as teal, fuchsia, and chartreuse? (I'm probably way over-thinking this…)

    7 agree
  18. I have not been diagnosed with ADD. Until recently, I never even knew there was a possibility that anything could actually be different about me. I just thought I was hugely disorganized and the queen of procrastination. I used to joke that "I'm easily amused, easily pleased, and easily distracted." I never thought that there might be something behind it. Although reading this blog, and a lot of ya'lls posts who do have it…well it all sounds really familiar. Creepily familiar. A coworker of mine mentioned that a lot of the issues I have at work (especially deadlines and remembering to do things once I've gotten home) sounds a lot like issues his brother had before being diagnosed with ADD. I thought he was crazy until he sent me a site with symptoms and describing what life with ADD was like. They even had a little test (which I forgot about until like a week ago, when my coworker asked me about it again). I would like to go see someone and see if I really have it and get diagnosed. I'm not even sure who you would go see or how to go about that (so if any of you know, that would be a big help).

    But in the mean time, I'm gonna try some of ya'll suggestions with how to get stuff done. Because although luckily I have a really patient fiance that doesn't mind reminding me to do everything from basic chores (including remembering to brush my teeth), to taking my vitamins, paying bills, etc. Work is a little less forgiving. And A LOT of my work is correspondence and do stuff from home (which, you can imagine how well that all works out).

    2 agree
    • I wasn't diagnosed until I was 21 years old. When I finally went to my doctor, concerned that something was really wrong with me, he said that he'd thought for a long time that I might have ADD. Why didn't he tell me? I'd managed to squeak by all my life because I had my super-organized, super-on-top-of-things mother pushing me. I was still always messing up, but it got out of control once I was in college. I remember telling a friend that I felt like everyone else was working off a script that I didn't have. Making lists is a good way of writing that script that most people tend to carry internally.

    • You should start by talking to your primary care physician. Usually they can give you the test and give you a diagnoses. If not, they will at least be able to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist. I prefer psychologist because they usually take the time to get to know you and help you learn coping skills. The draw back with them is that they cannot prescribe medication, but once you've been officially diagnosed, you shouldn't have a problem getting a prescription from your primary care Dr. A little more effort, but worth it I think. Psychiatrists, are able to prescribe medication, but, in my experience, that's all they wanna do. They don't seem to care about coping methods, they just wanna see you once a month to check your vitals, ask how the medication is working, adjust accordingly, and get you out in under 15 min so they can move on to the next customer…err… patient.

  19. When I was small, my dear mother would try to motivate me on whatever task (get ready for bed/put toys in toy box/make your bed) by winding up a music box. Worked great because you could hear it start to slow down (thereby making you move faster) until you accomplished the task in the allotted time. Now, I still do this. I make my check list and write a goal number of how many "songs" I think it will take me for each task. Then I put on iTunes and race myself for each task, noting how many songs each task actually took. If I have some songs left over after finishing, I use that time for a dance party. Or sit down. Yeah, usually sit down. And eat ice cream.

    5 agree
  20. And another thing!

    A. I completely failed to mention what I call "Octopus brain" or "Sun Rays Brain" Many of the hacks above are meant to bypass this dilemma, wherein I wake up/get home and think of about 400 different things that need to be done RIGHT NOW! FIRST! ALL OF THE THINGS!
    The names I use come from my visualization of the situation: M, standing in the middle of an intersection with a zillion paths stretching away on all sides. Since all of the things have to be done first, I get stuck; when you try to go in multiple directions at the same time, you stay completely still. (Then you freak out because you're not accomplishing anything. It dodes not go well.) The one that usually busts me out of that is the "Do the Gross Job" option, or the (And this one is somewhat dubious) "Create an as-yet-unmentioned-and-not-urgent-job-and-then-do-it" This is how I gt a lot of work tasks done: "Okay. I have to hem the skirts, ion the hat fabric, and dye the belts…. So…. Button-holing it is!!!"
    – >One of the comments above suggested making notecards. Maybe making a "Do Stuff" grab bag would be a good hack here…

    2.I totally also am more successfulwith a babysitter. My partner is a cleaning hero. I stand in awe at haps and heaps and scads and piles of dishes being washed in (what is to me) the blink of an eye. Emptying a oom of yuck ***without getting distracted by the pattern on the floor!!!*** It's like watching a circus act, to me.

    III. Let's ride bikes!

    2 agree
    • I know it's just a typo, and incredibly off-topic but "Oom of Yuck" sounds like a fantastic fantasy-genre story.

      3 agree
    • "Octopus brain" is called "paralyzed by indecision" at our house. I. Cannot. Figure. Out. What. To. Do. First. So I do something totally different that wasn't on any list, and end up feeling like I got nothing done. I feel so badly that you all suffer from the same … crap… as I do, but I feel so much better knowing other people get it!

      7 agree
      • This is absolutely me. If I have too many things to do at once, or I have to do something really big like declutter an entire room, I just shut down and stare. It's not helpful.

        1 agrees
  21. "walk into a disgustingly messy room that is arse-deep in dirty socks, and then alphabetize the knickknack shelf by color."
    Landlord inspected my apartment last week. In preparation, I rearranged the furniture in my living room – and completely forgot to clean the bathroom.
    *sigh* lol

    The real question, though, is how can you remember about your lists? I have both ADD and Bipolar Disorder, and if one doesn't have me forgetting where I put… that thing… the other one has me forgetting what I'm even supposed to be… hey, I haven't seen this in ages. (Yes I'm medicated, but that can only take you so far.)
    Unfortunately lists seem to be a huge blind-spot for me. I am totally the person who remembers they had a shopping list on the way home from the store.
    So, creative disorganized types, any suggestions for actually using helpful lists, and not just writing them?

    2 agree
    • Hmm… For note acknowledgement and recognition:Put it in a weird place. Like, a really, really, weird place. Like tape it to the bottom of a faucet. or staple your milk carton shut with it. Float it in a b owl of water. Or tuck it into your underpants. (If you wear underpants.) You'll wind up going "Hafawha? Nani!?" and HAVE to look at the note.
      When I have (for the umpteenth time) pulled into the driveway with the "low fuel" light on, and I know that I won't remember it (You know, like, all the time…) Paticularly when I know I'll be groggy or frantic, I tie a sting across the steering wheel and down to the gear shift and attach a sticky note saying "BUY GAS" or somesuch. I can't ignore the note, because it is physically limiting my driving.
      Tuck a note in your underpants, esp if you write it on something noisy or itchy, and you won't lose it.

      3 agree
      • That actually sounds like a really good idea. That way I physically can't ignore it or forget it. Now to remember to do this once I get home in two weeks…

      • "Or tuck it into your underpants. (If you wear underpants.)"
        Strike that idea then. lol

        I'm rather notorious for moving things out of my way and then promptly forgetting that I've done it, but putting things in Really Obvious Places can work – if I have to take something out with me I'll put it under my keys (which are always in the same place because I got tired of losing them). This works probably 80% of the time, but, for some reason, on top of the keys is less successful.
        I suppose I'll have to experiment a bit to find the thing that works, because the Type A person who's trapped in my Swiss-cheese brain really likes lists.

  22. "walk into a disgustingly messy room that is arse-deep in dirty socks, and then alphabetize the knickknack shelf by color. (Oh yes. This has totally happened.)"

    Yes! Reassuring to know that it's not just me… 🙂

  23. This falls under a "principle" rather than a tip, but I find it particularly helpful for my ADD-self. (I am medicated, but I'm also balancing work, dissertation, home, and baby, so the meds just hold the line!)

    There is some interesting research that shows that *making a decision* requires mental energy. Furthermore, it comes from the same "pot" as willpower. So if you've ever had a day where you worked all day at either making decisions OR making yourself do something you didn't want to do, then you were so wiped you couldn't decide what to do for dinner? That's why. In my experience, that also leads to the situations Shara described in an above comment as octopus-brain.

    … So what I have learned to do is make my decisions when I'm fresh. And I mean as many decisions as possible. All The Decisions. My plans have to include times to work on things and specifically what I'm going to do then. Otherwise, if I just leave a block of time labeled "dissertation" or "housework," then I get to that time and get paralyzed with how to start, especially if that block of time is late in the day. I plan in advance, not because I like to plan or am a natural planner, but because it's the only way I get anything done. I also use a lot of habits or systems because then those decisions are already made. 🙂

    The thing about decision and will-power energy appears to be universal, but I seem to feel the effects more than my husband or other people I've discussed it with. I don't know if the ADD (or something else) is specifically affecting the decision-making part, but I suspect it's more to do with the extra willpower it takes for me to do a lot of little normal things.

    1 agrees
    • Decision-making is a major problem for me as well. If faced with too many decisions or too many tasks, I get overwhelmed and decide nothing and do nothing. That's interesting that decision-making and willpower might be related, because both elude me. I might see if making time to make decisions would help.

  24. Is it too gratuitous ot say that i LOVE LOVE LOVELOVELOVELOVE LOVE the fact that people tend to bring all kinds of relevant science and research to the table in the comments? It's awesome.

    1 agrees
  25. I had a pretty severe car accident years ago…actually, I was t-boned by a dump truck. No big whoop, really. 😉

    The most severe injury I had was a traumatic brain injury, so needless today, I can relate to much of this! In the last year, I got married and bought a home with my sweetie. It's been a long, long road for me, and living in a big home with another person and three dogs has been challenging in a lot of ways!

    I have people to help me with a lot of things, from organizing, to making my home functional for me physically. I find this post helpful, and I'd like to add a few points…

    Having a space be functional for me physically has also helped me be far more organized. We recently had a laundry room built on the main floor. The storage, folding table, shelf height, etc, has made doing laundry SO much easier, and therefore something that I don't avoid. While it is a physical issue for me, functional spaces also help people who are disorganized in that things become logical. I can't believe that I'm going to admit it…I actually enjoy doing laundry now., and I complete the task start to finish. Who knew!

    I too make lists in the morning. Often it's just in my head, goal setting. "Today I want to…" I have learned that setting realistic goals is important. Also, not setting too many. If I have too many expectations of myself, I get overwhelmed and do nothing. It's silly, and a vicious circle, but so it goes. If I have two or three goals planned, I can accomplish them fairly easily, then look back on my day and say to myself "that was a productive day!"

    External pressures are a tricky thing in that it causes so many people, I think women especially, put such high expectations on ourselves. My friends who do not have ADD or head injuries still relate to these things. I'm sure many do!

    1 agrees
    • I also have a brain injury, and while I don't have the physical things you're speaking of, I do have cognitive problems as a result. People like myself have ADD-like symptoms; I also have epilepsy and take medication for it that works by slowing down the brain–making it even harder to focus/stay on task/process information. This thread's given me some great ideas. I'm a huge proponent of Lists and Sub-Lists (groan…)–but thank you for your idea of putting just two or three items on my list-I too am easily overwhelmed by it all. Someone upthread mentioned Habitica (https://habitica.com/static/), which is supposed to help one form habits. I think I'll give that a try, along with the one chore index cards, and see if that helps manage life a little better.

  26. My mister is undiagnosed ADD, but poster child (adult?) for it anyway. I'm not ADD, but I have chronic pain and such, which a lot of these tips are also good for managing that.

    I am the list maker anyway, but what we have figured out works is that even on my worst days, I can add stuff to a list and check them off. So I'm in charge of the white board, which has our schedule, meal plan, and to-do lists on it. (Not trying to pimp my blog, but my name links there and you can see pictures if it suits you.) I have a master list on Toodledo that I can access on my phone, but the one he sees on the white board is the short, prioritized list that we've scheduled together according to our plans for the week. Not the one with 300+ tasks in it.

    We have figured out that having a House Chore to do every day really helps keep the mister on track. He knows there is always a chore to do, the only question is which one, so there's a bit of routine there. Plus it means that if the day comes to do a chore and we are otherwise busy or having a bad day, it doesn't take much to get caught up–or at worst if it gets skipped entirely, it's probably not for more than a week.

    Where I struggle is not being able to recognize (and neither can he) when the Good Focus Days are and the Bad Focus Days. As an outsider I'd like to be better able to identify them so I can be more compassionate instead of annoyed, but I'd also like him to be more aware so he can help manage his own coping mechanisms–even if the best he can do is SAY, "I can't focus today." I don't mind reminding him to check timers and checking in every little while to see that he's on task, but I have to know to do that.

    One thing I also found helped him: setting realistic expectations about how long things should take and how long has has to do them. In one regard, our lives getting busier actually helped with this. It was taking 3 hours to clean the two bathrooms, and they were only getting half done. I know some of that was taking breaks, getting distracted while changing music, etc. But some of it was doing things out of order even so that he had to sweep the floor three times, for example. So I made a list of the things you need to do to clean the bathroom, in the order you need to do them, and we agreed on a 30 minute limit for each bathroom. Most days he finishes them both in 45 minutes, but at least if it's a bad day it's not much more than an hour (and if I'm having a good day and can help, it's closer to 30 minutes for both). I'm happy it's not taking 3 hours, we're both happy he's being more efficient, and now he gets to read Facebook in a nice comfy chair rather than sitting on the edge of the tub. He doesn't even use the list anymore, but it's there if he needs it.

    Kitchen cleaning day is the same, we have a list of everything to do, in order. He's not so great at getting it done in order, but it's there to reference when he gets off track. The white board has a list of things that get done every week that day, plus room for a couple "projects" like laundry day and food prep day (which shift according to work schedule), and heavy yard work day or change central air filters which come up less often. Seeing it all spread out makes us both feel like it's not so big, and it also helps me make sure I'm not overloading one day. If he has a long shift or if the day is just packed as full as it can get, I put an X in the to-do list for the day–NO MORE STUFF can be added! Bonus, if it comes down to realizing that everything won't get done, we can easily move them around, and he LOVES the feeling of accomplishment of erasing tasks when they're done.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  27. I am not diagnosed ADD, but have a hard time concentrating on jobs, and / or keeping my home(s) clean. At some point I got so desperate that I actually googled 'how to get my home clean' or at least something like that. I happened onto flylady.net. It's been a blessing for me because this person says exactly that: list the jobs that need doing, put check boxes, put the lists in a plastic document protector. Then use a dry erase marker to check the boxes off, and when you need to get back to these jobs, wipe it clean… This has really helped me. And YES: she even has you make a list of things to do when you get up in the morning (shower, brush your teeth, get dressed,…) That is one I've never needed though.

    This and using a timer and concentrting on doing ONE thing for three minutes at a time.

    That said, I don't always agree with the rest of the things FlyLady and her team preach (the GOD stuff, and the homemaker-focus don't fit my life very well) but I do profit from the 'Crisis Cleaning 101 podcast' 😀

  28. I've been diagnosed with ADD but I'm not on medication for it. I am on medication for anxiety, and when I'm in freak out mode, NOTHING gets done! Thank you so much for this post, I will start making lists to make my life easier.

  29. My diagnosis is dyspraxia and, again, identify with so much in this article – thanks you!! I've got the lists of lists. I get frustrated when I'm tidying and I know it won't be Homes and Gardens-perfect when I'm finished and loose motivation. A huge declutter took place at the weekend, my lovely man-friend helped me – a 'buddy' often works and helped when I was writing essays for Uni years ago – even if they were just pottering around in the background, making sure I was working! I used to keep a basket at the bottom of the stairs for things that would go with me when I went up next time but that soon overspilled as I forgot each time I went past it. With a clean slate I'm going to try again – the inside of my door is also a blackboard to maybe a massive arrow will help!
    I need to get a filing systems in place – that's my fella's next project with me! – as I'm self-employed for part of my work, and hopefully for more very soon!
    I also have too much stuff – craft stuff, clothes, etc. and if it's not on display I forget I own it and it lives in a drawer for months so I have lots of things – vintage china, clothes, etc. – out, to the point that it becomes invisible anyway!
    I'd love to try a seasonal approach and make over my house every so often with stuff I love and store away for the rest of the year, keeping it fresh and rotated without having to permanently get rid of it.
    Thank you, this article is something I've been hoping to find on here since I found it.

  30. How did you get in my head? This resonates so completely with me. Definitely did the dishes last night at 11:45 pm under "Jobs that I should do to prevent my partner from experiencing spontaneous combustion." Meant to do them about 6 hours earlier, but my kitchen was cold, so I made some tea. Then while the tea was steeping I somehow began a Downton Abbey marathon, which led to searching the internet for springtime dessert recipes. Lemon Ricotta cookies anyone?

    1 agrees
  31. hahahahaha….haha….ha…this is so refreshing!!! I am so the same. This week I have gone into an organizational mania and have "organizational projects" going in every square inch of the house, which means everything is all over the place. Somebody dropping by would never guess in a million years that what I am doing is organizing. The last time I had the bug to go on such an organizational binge was 7 years ago, so I have to strike while the iron's hot. I just hope I finish, because otherwise…disaster for the next 7 years….

  32. THANK YOU from a mom with a child who has been diagnosed with ADD. Although he is medicated, I am absolutely determined to give him the tools to manage his life as he grows. We're still learning, as the diagnosis is less than a year old, and we've had as many successes as misses, but… I like some of the ideas I've read here. Love the list idea, agree with the scheduling (which is massively hard for me, because I'm not a scheduler, and he's going to have to be, I think), and I am TOTALLY stealing the Points System… My Boy is a gamer wanna-be, you see, and I suspect that the idea of earning points for his chores, and having silly little prizes that go with the points and bonuses will get him moving and he won't even realize he's learning!

    So thank you all for the great stuff.

  33. I have self-diagnosed myself with ADD and this is me to a T! If only I could get myself to write these detailed lists more often..I'd rule the world!

  34. I literally could have written this! It makes me feel so much better about how far I've come managing my ADD. There is only a couple things I feel like I can add. One is to write your do to list the night before. In the morning I'm not awake enough and I feel overwhelmed trying to remember everything I need to do. It's nice to wake up and know you have a list detailing the day ahead! Also write your lists on your phone! I ALWAYS lose or forget paper notes. Evernote is a good app and you still have the ability to use the satisfying check mark. I have my grocery list, to do list, cleaning list, packing list and more wherever I am!

  35. My son and I both have ADD, while my husband and daughter both have ADHD. Needless to say, we live in a constant state of chaos. My husband is amazing at keeping everyone on task, (when the mood strikes him). He's like my housekeeping babysitter. I can't sit down and take a break if he's still working. Even when he's outside doing yard work, I still feel motivated to stay on task so I have something to show for my part of the households duties. And my kids know he's gonna check on their progress a lot more frequently than I do. However, those days usually only come around one in a while, and that's just when he's home. He's in the army, so between deployments, unaccompanied tours, and various schools, classes, and FTX's, he's literally only home half the time. But fortunately he knows us well enough to never expect the house to be clean when he comes home, and that at the very least, there will be a sink full of dishes waiting for him to clean (but he loves us anyway)
    We tried living the unmedicated life for 12 years, but when our son got into middle school and nothing seemed to help him with school, and our daughter was starting to struggle with getting school work done for the first time in her life, we decided to all get on medication. It's been 2 years on the medication now, and the kids are thriving. My son is a freshman in high school, and getting straight As for the first time in his life. While my daughter is in 6th grade and taking all pre AP classes AND getting straight As. However, the house is still a disaster. These are some excellent tips. We will definitely have to try the simple lists!!!

  36. Currently unmediated due to pregnancy and lists are my life. We need to find that sense of accomplishment that most people get naturally somewhere otherwise our brains are 'what's the fucking point?' Checking off an item on a list works wonders for me. Even if the first item was '1. Write list' … … …..

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