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

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.

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?

PS: If you loved this post be sure to check out:

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

  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!

    • 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.

      • 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!

      • 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!?”

      • 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
      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).

      • 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.

  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!

  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.

    • 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.

  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).

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

      • 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.

    • #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.

      • 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.

  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!

  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.

    • 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.

  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!

    • “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. =)

    • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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 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.


  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.

  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…)

  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).

    • 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.

  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!

    • “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!

      • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

      • “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.

    • 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.

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