Thursday, December 13, 2012

3 Ways Adults with ADHD Can Become Better Organized

From Order to Chaos

I'm not sure how it happened. People tend to think I'm organized. Well, not people who actually know me, but still. People.

Perhaps it is my neatness that impresses them, or my task lists and follow-ups. Perhaps it is the way I can talk about my problems with such laser focus. (See Four Shortcuts to Taming Your Inner ADHD Worrywart to see why I'm usually so good at that.) Or maybe they're just deluded.

What they don't realize is that I have a fatal flaw.

As a graphic designer and artist, I organize two dimensions with skill. Even in the third dimension I excel at enforcing order over chaos—or should I say I anticipate chaos and plan accordingly. For example, when I move to a new home, all my boxes are color coded and numbered. I have a two dimensional list that summarizes all their contents, and the colors let me know which room to tell the movers to place the boxes in the third dimension. Some may not call that organized; they may think it's obsessive compulsive. I have no complaints because it works fine for me. I cruise along the second and third dimensional highways with the sunroof down and the wind blowing in my hair. But slip me into the fourth dimension and I am anything but impressive. On the Highway of Time, I am instant roadkill.

Hallowell and Ratey placed disorganization at #2 in their list of ADHD diagnostic criteria:

2. Difficulty getting organized.
Disorganization is a hallmark ADHD quality, but it's a colossal problem despite the succinct summary. Truth is, I couldn't be on time if you filled my socks with clocks. One of the difficulties of diagnosing adults with ADHD is that there are so many varied ways these hallmark qualities manifest themselves. Somewhere out there is an ADHD soul who unlike me can get to work on time with no issues, but whose closet is a black hole of lost projects and mismatched sneakers.

We're all different. That's why it is so important to analyze which aspects of ADHD disorganize affect you least and build on them as strengths. I often find my skill with lists crosses over with organizing spaces. Lately, I've been using those 2D skills to manage my calendar to organize time blocks better.

  1. 2D Task Lists: I write about these all the time. They are the best way to offset ADHD forgetfulness. Learn to prioritize and they can be extended to help organize your time.
  2. 3D Organized Environments: I've found that organizing clutter helps organize my mind. So I try to keep working piles under control. Then again, you haven't seen my garage. Still, using task lists, I prioritize which piles need to be worked on first. Otherwise, I move from pile to pile depending on panic and whim.
  3. 4D Time Management: I've already pointed out that lists can help organize your time if you develop the ability to prioritize. Start there. If you find your mind cluttered, try cleaning a pile. Even a spot on your desk. If that doesn't work, try setting a timer. Alarms on your smart phone can also help you remember events and keep track of time as it passes.
I have found getting in control of my time to be one of the greatest ADHD challenges for me, but I've made excellent progress in recent years. I still find time slips by me while I'm distracted or hyperfocused, but overall, I'll take my improvements and be glad about them. I may not be cruising along the Highway of Time, but I've got the window rolled down and I'm lurching along.

Now, if only I could do something about all those distracting pitstops.

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