My Best Life Hacks for Living With ADHD

E. Ben Gabriel
Rear view of businessman sitting on sofa at home and planning his work

I want to preface by stating that this list of hacks is supplemental to the treatment plan that I have designed with the input and guidance of my doctor. The hacks here are not intended to replace the plan that you have in place with a doctor, and you should never make significant changes to your treatment plan without the guidance of a doctor.

  1. Zero notifications policy: Yes, I have a zero notifications policy. I’m active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and I have the Gmail app on my phone in case I need to check my email while I’m out and about. But there is always the option to disable notifications for such apps, and my no-exceptions policy is to do just that. Having notifications pop up on my phone throughout the day is a sure way to lure me into the ADHD whirlwind! This strategy allows me to decide when it is appropriate for me to interact with social media. When I choose to open the apps, I can simply check my notifications.
  2. Master calendar: My life changed for the better when I started using Google Calendar for everything. This includes things like appointments and social engagements, but it also includes my work and class schedule, along with week-before reminders about upcoming test days, project due dates, and credit card payment deadlines. Literally, the first thing I do when I find out about something is add it to my calendar. Everything school related is one color, work related items are another, and appointments or meetings are their own color, while social engagements are yet another one. Having this visual schedule at my disposal every week is extraordinarily helpful for me when it comes to time management and organization — not to mention, it stops me from getting so overwhelmed from that feeling of dread that you get when you know you are supposed to be doing something but you just can’t remember what that something is!
  3. Muting text conversations: When I am in group texts that involve frequent communications, usually they are lovely but not urgent. I don’t know about you, but for me, when a text notification pops up, I feel I have to check it right away! It is like a conditioned response — usually, I don’t even stop to think, “Should I be engaging with text messages right now, or will this just be a distraction?” We need to realize that, as people with ADHD, we may be more susceptible to that little “rush” of neurotransmitter activity that is associated with addictive behaviors. What this means is that even things that are not “rewarding” for other people can feel almost intoxicating to us. By muting the texts, I take control over my own response. I’m not looking because I have to, but because I want to, and because I have the time and space to do so. I can choose when to look and see if I have new messages when I know I have time, and will be able to reply thoughtfully.
  4. Communicating boundaries: Letting friends and family know that I might not always respond right away when they contact me by text, email, or social media. This one has been big for me when it comes to significant others. A lot of people like their boyfriend/girlfriend to text them all day long and reply right away. I find that really stresses me out. So I explain early on that I am not able or willing to do that, but that it is not an indication that I am being distant or losing interest in them. I find that reassurance really helps them, and even helps to foster a communicative and honest relationship! There is nothing wrong with explaining that you need to have notifications off, or just simply telling them that it causes you stress to feel like there is pressure to be in a constant side conversation throughout the day. Whether you frame your explanation in terms of having ADHD, or say something more general about how you like to try to be “present” and not distracted by your phone is your choice.
  5. Technology fast days: Having a day of the week where I “fast” from social media and texting is a huge relief. OK, I know a lot of these hacks are technology-focused, but, if you are reading this and also have ADHD, it’s probably not that hard for you to understand why that is! We live in a time where we are inundated with distractions, and besides our differently-wired brains, our phones and computers are the main culprits. It is really hard for me to take time off social media, but that’s how I know I need to. Addictions are doubly tempting, and doubly problematic for people with ADHD, so I give myself a day off and I try to look at it as a gift. Sometimes it feels like I’m fighting the urge to check, but other times it really does help me to feel more present, focused, and relax, and that makes all the other times so worth it, I promise! I have even extended these fasts for a week at a time, and by the end it is easy as pie.
  6. Meal prep: Preparing meals ahead of time is a great way to prioritize your health while cutting stress from your schedule. Some days I have very little time in the morning before I have to be somewhere. On those days, I find that packing a lunch and a few healthy snacks ahead of time is really helpful for two reasons I know other ADHDers will relate to: #1 it helps me to remember to eat throughout the day if I have food with me; #2 It reduces my stress in the morning and makes it more likely that I will be able to arrive on time (I know I am not the only one with ADHD who struggles with arriving on time). When I’m really on top of my game, I will make a bunch of food on Sunday and have it for the week.
  7. Online savings account: A lot of people with ADHD have trouble with budgeting and saving money. One of the impulses many people have is to buy things without thinking. While I do not have much of an issue with this personally, one of the ways I help myself keep track of my money is by utilizing an online savings account. The account I use has several advantages in addition to the fact that it collects more interest than any physical bank offers a savings account. For one, it has no ATM card associated with it, and it limits the number of transactions to six per month (there is a penalty fee if you exceed that number). Any time I transfer money into my checking account, it takes several days for that money to post. This means that I am awarded financially for leaving more money in the savings account, and if I do transfer money out with the intention of spending it on something, it gives me several days to think it over and deliberate on whether I really need to spend that money, and to research if there are less expensive alternatives.
  8. Decompression routine: For people with ADHD, it is vital to have ways in which we intentionally de-stress. Our brains are constantly working in overdrive to function in a world that places high and unnatural demands on them. The pressure to conform, combined with the stress and anxiety that comes from the struggle to do so can leave us feeling tense and sleepless. That’s why I think the perfect time to implement a decompression routine is before bed. For me, this includes meditation, prayer, and journaling inside my closet. I physically have to go into a small space with no distractions in order to get the benefits from this practice, but it works for me. It is important that individuals with ADHD do the work to figure out what kind of practice is best for them. It may be that weight-lifting or running is better for someone else. Maybe drinking tea and reading a book or coloring could be your thing. The point is, find out what helps you to relax, and be intentional about doing it regularly as a means of self-care. You will be surprised how much of a difference it can make!

Related:How Using Lists Can Help Improve Executive Functioning

Let me know what you think in the comments! I want to hear if you think it will be worthwhile for you to give any of these life hacks a try, and I want to ask you: What effective ADHD life hacks are you already using that you would suggest others should try?

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