Spend a little time on social media and you’ll be sure to come across a post that tries to diagnose you with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As we’ve covered previously, the trend of pathologizing every little behavior is a dangerous one, and it should go without saying that ADHD is not simply being absentminded, forgetting to call people back, or having a perpetually messy car. Still, I know I’m one of many Instagram and TikTok users whose feeds are desperate to convince me that I’m living with undiagnosed adult ADHD.
While I’m fairly certain I don’t have ADHD, I do find I benefit from many of the time management tips and coping mechanisms used by those with the disorder. I’m always looking for new ways to tackle my struggle with productivity (even if that means overcoming my productivity dysmorphia). After all, I don’t not struggle with many symptoms of ADHD, and I’ll take all the help I can get in order to work around my overactive mind and keep my focus on days when my brain is simply not cooperating.
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD, consider implementing the following strategies to get the most out of your work day.
Productivity tips for people with ADHD
According to HelpGuide, adults with ADHD often struggle with impulse control and find themselves bouncing between tasks or accidentally fixating on the wrong ones. Here are some ideas to manage and even overcome your struggle to stay on task.
Decide what to tackle first. In order to focus on what you need to get done, the first step is to assign priority to different tasks. Ask yourself, and then write down which to-do list items are the most important or pressing. To help ypu approach this, consider using a “decision matrix” to help you prioritize different tasks.
Break down bigger tasks. The American Academy of Family Physicians explains that organization isn’t just about your physical space; it’s about organizing large projects into smaller, manageable tasks. Instead of looking at a project as one daunting task, look at it as a number of steps. Don’t be afraid to make the tasks as small as you need. For instance, “send an email” can be broken down into “sign into your account, open a draft, write a subject line…” until you get the job done.
Use lists. This could mean writing things down in a daily planner, organizing your notes app of choice, or color-coding Post-Its—as long you find a system that works for you. One part of this tip is about tackling forgetfulness; what might be less obvious is how writing things down will help you take abstract tasks and make them seem more concrete and do-able.
Work in small increments. Taking the first step to start on a task can be the hardest part of the battle. Here’s a great free app to help you implement the famous Pomodoro time management technique. You could also try this (10+2)*5 method to incorporate breaks as a motivational hack.
Incorporate exercise breaks. Anyone with ADHD has probably been told about the benefits of exercise to help increase focus and attention. Taking breaks to move your body can also help you decrease excess energy, which might be one of the reasons you’re struggling to focus on the task in front of you.
Write down off-topic thoughts. As explained in Healthline, sometimes people with ADHD find themselves in a “free-flowing thought spiral.” These big idea storms can be great for creativity, but a disaster if you’re in a meeting with your boss. Rather than wasting time and energy to push those thoughts away, make a deal with yourself to take a break and write them down as quickly as possible. You’ll know that you won’t forget these off-topic thoughts, and that they’ll be there waiting for you once the meeting is over. You could even schedule a designated time at the end of the day to go through all the notes you made while focusing on more important tasks.
Create a productivity playlist. Have fun conditioning yourself with music you use specifically to focus on your work. Even if this one is more placebo, I know many creatives who swear by it.
Don’t wait for a diagnosis (but get diagnosed)
If you think you’re struggling with undiagnosed ADHD, it’s important to seek out an evaluation sooner rather than later. A professional will help you determine whether or not you could benefit from more serious treatment.
Until then, you don’t need to wait around for an ADHD diagnosis to try out different management strategies and figure out how you can work with—rather than fight against—your overactive mind.