THE BLOG
12/21/2011 11:39 am ET Updated Feb 20, 2012

10 Organizational Tips for Managing ADHD

Organizational skills are a vital component to a happy and successful life. Many people with ADHD have added difficulties with organization, often because they fear they won't become perfectly organized. If you are someone in need of support to become more organized, the following tips may help:

1. Limit Your Lists

Compiling lists with endless projects tends to lead to jumping around between tasks without ever finishing any one of them. Keep no more than five tasks on your to-do list at a time. Once those five tasks are finished, start a new list. You will feel more productive, less overwhelmed and manage your time better. Worried you'll forget something if you don't write it down? If it is really important, you will remember the task and can add it to your next list once your current list is finished.

2. Reward Yourself

Making changes to organize your life won't happen overnight. And just the same with any project, ADHD causes many people to lose motivation while endeavoring to make new organizational practices a habit. To avoid pitfalls, set up a reward system to keep yourself motivated. For example, every day you wash the dishes after dinner -- instead of letting them sit in the sink for days -- you earn a point. Once 10 points are earned, you treat yourself to a manicure or that fancy cup of coffee you reserve only for special occasions.

3. Give Yourself Deadlines

Don't spend days agonizing over decisions. Set a time and date to make your decisions by and stick to it. Remember, there is no "perfect" choice when tough decisions need to be made. And endless pro/con lists only further complicate the decision-making process. Make the best choice by your deadline and move on.

4. One Step At A Time

Trying to tackle multiple steps of a large project all at once often leads to failure, or at least to major frustration and burnout. To counter this, take small steps to finish a large project. For example, when faced with an upcoming presentation at work, construct a roadmap of easy-to-complete steps, then schedule one or two tasks each day leading up to the presentation. You will minimize your stress and maximize your chances for success on presentation day. View the completion of each small step as a major success, and reward yourself in little ways along the path to stay motivated. And remember to focus and complete one step at a time before moving on to the next; jumping ahead is counterproductive.

5. Schedule Everything

Successful organization requires good time management, which can be a major challenge for people with ADHD. Avoid distractions by using a daily planner to structure your time each day. The more you write down in your planner (including time(s) you need to leave, travel time expected, etc.) the more organized you will become. Schedule your day the night before and set cell phone or computer alarm reminders before each appointment or responsibility. And try to allot at least 15 minutes more than you think you need for activities with longer timeframes.

6. De-clutter Your Keepsakes

Keepsakes serve as an emotional reminder of good times past, which are important. But, holding on to every sentimental object will clutter your home in a hurry. Set aside an hour every Sunday to catalog a few of your keepsakes at a time by photographing them and scrapbooking the photo with a descriptive paragraph about why the item is important to you. Then donate the items each week. You will hold on to all the memories in your Memory Book, and rid yourself of the clutter.

7. Give Your Keys a Home

After you have begun to de-clutter, take your organization to the next level by assigning a special place for your most-used items, such as keys, wallet, mail, etc. Your days searching for lost keys will be over if you designate a spot and place them there every time you are not using them. You will have quick access to your most used and important possessions and save yourself the time and stress of searching for them while you're running out the door.

8. Use Your Crystal Ball

We can't predict the future, but we can plan for it. An overwhelming day can incapacitate and impede the progress of even the most successful people, and especially those with ADHD. By planning ahead, you can set yourself up for success and avoid feeling the stress and exhaustion of an overwhelming day. First, adjust your expectations for the challenging day ahead by acknowledging it will be difficult and you may feel overwhelmed at times. Then, give yourself a break throughout the day by reminding yourself that you are doing your best. And lastly, if you know a busy day is ahead, lay out your clothes the night before, pack your lunch and store it overnight in the fridge, and lay out your car keys and wallet/purse by the door. You'll be calmer in the morning and feel more confident because you prepared the night before. Your day may not be perfect, but you'll set yourself up for success by organizing as much as possible beforehand.

9. Streamline Your Finances

Pick a time and date each month to review information regarding your bank accounts, investments and retirement plans. Switch to online banking and have access to your account information 24/7. You will also be able to deposit checks from home electronically, saving valuable time and energy. Use a single checking account if possible, allowing for easier access and management of your finances. And keep credit cards to a minimum, limiting your open credit accounts to two or three total.

10. Employ an ADHD Therapist or Organization Coach

Few of us like asking for help, but sometimes the best way to organize ourselves is to elicit the help of a professional. Working with a therapist or organization coach will put an ally in your corner who can support you in becoming organized and successful. They will motivate you to stay on the path, while encouraging you to develop skills to more effectively manage your time, incorporate a structured schedule, prioritize what's most important to you, and maintain a successful organizational life. You will have to invest time and money, but in return you will find yourself feeling better about your organizational life and even improve your relationships and overall self-confidence.

To find a therapist or coach in your area that understands ADD, I recommend going to CHADD's website or Therapy Finder (from Psychology Today). Or, if you are in the New York City area, feel free to contact the Sachs Center at 646-807-8900 for an evaluation.

George Sachs, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in New York City and director for the Sachs Center. The Sachs Center specializes in the evaluation, testing and treatment of children, teens and adults with ADD and ADHD.