10 Realistic ADHD Life Hacks

Information around ADHD, especially in women, is wildly stigmatised and misunderstood, and many people simply aren’t aware of how ADHD works and all of its symptoms. Unfortunately, even the majority of mental health professionals are neurotypical and haven’t had that first-hand experience of life. When you’re explaining to someone with a neurotypical brain that you have trouble switching on, switching off and completing tasks, you’ll often be advised to stick with a schedule. It can be really discouraging when they can’t understand that ‘try harder’ or ‘just do it’ isn’t realistic or sustainable advice for you.

I am by no measure a mental health professional, but I do have that first-hand experience. I know that ‘stick to a schedule’ is not a good enough coping mechanism. So this is a list of the tricks and tips I’ve developed to manage my own health and day-to-day life. They may not apply to you, and I’m definitely not qualified to give genuine advice, but I’m sharing this hoping that some of it will be helpful to someone.

Work with your brain, not against it

I was in a class on discord last year, and we were talking about an assignment that I hadn’t started due to a lack of motivation. “Maybe it’s Maybelline, maybe it’s ADHD”, I said. I didn’t expect him to take me seriously and offer advice. The awkward silence from the class would have been so profoundly embarrassing had it not been such great advice. He told me that I should allow myself to become distracted, and eventually, my brain will come back around to the task at hand. Fighting that urge only leads to procrastination, guilt, burnout and task paralysis. Half the time, task paralysis results from over or under-stimulation, and the other half is because of your anxiety. You probably have an underlying fear of failure that’s almost immobilising, and if you take the time to relax before completing difficult tasks, it’ll be more manageable. Have some patience with yourself, and re-define productivity on your own terms so that you can conquer it.

Out of sight, out of mind; so ‘IN’ sight, ‘IN’ mind

People with ADHD have problems with object permanence and forgetfulness. If something is in the back of the fridge, you’ll probably forget that it’s there. If you close a drawer, you’re likely to forget what you put in it. So it’s simple if you want to remember something, put it somewhere that you’ll definitely see it. If I want to remember to bring a drink bottle to work, I put it next to my keys. If something in the fridge is close to the use-by date, put it at the front of the refrigerator. If I need to remember to do a task, I write it on a sticky note and put it on my wall. At the end of the day, I take all the jobs I’ve completed off my wall, and I can physically see how productive I’ve been. It’s a great system; try it out!

Take magnesium every day

There are a bunch of symptoms of ADHD that aren’t talked about nearly enough. We all know people with ADHD as distractible or forgetful, but the condition also comes with a handful of unexpected consequences. You might struggle with anxiety & depression, disrupted sleep, and chronic pain. Magnesium helps with all of these symptoms, and I can’t recommend it enough. Before I started taking magnesium, I can honestly say that I’d slept through the night less than 10 times in my life. I get pretty consistent leg pain just by living my life, but magnesium helps my muscles regenerate more quickly. Decent sleep and pain relief obviously helps you feel more balanced emotionally, too, so you’re not as likely to feel anxious or depressed. As I said, I cannot recommend it enough.

Loosen your shoelaces AFTER you take your shoes off

I’m sure we’ve all been roused on by our mums for not undoing our shoes before taking them off. For some of us, namely me, that lesson never stuck. I will probably always use the ‘step on the back of my shoe and pull my foot out’ method. However, until this year, I avoided wearing shoes with laces at all costs because I’m impatient and putting my shoes on before leaving the house seemed like more effort than it’s worth. I’d brave the bindis and drive barefoot and pray that I didn’t step in dog poop. That sounds silly, but lacking executive dysfunction means that understimulating, mundane tasks feel much more complicated than they are. So make the simple tasks as easy as they can be. After you take your shoes off, loosen the laces, so they’re ready to go next time.

Another tedious task I struggle with is doing my washing up after dinner. So I try to clean as I cook. If my meal is finished cooking before I’m done cleaning, it motivates me to get the cleaning done before eating. I know that I won’t want to do it after dinner, so it’s easier this way.

Use music as time marking & noise filtering

If you have ADHD, you might struggle with keeping track of time. It’s also probable that you experience some sensory issues. You might get headaches as a reaction to a sound you don’t like, or you might feel under-stimulated, dissociative or depressed after long periods of silence. You might find yourself hyper-fixating on irritating sounds that everyone else can tune out. For example, you’ve probably been annoyed by the buzzing noise that most electronics make. You might experience sensory overload in moments of stress. Luckily, I’ve found an enjoyable solution to this problem.

Music is structured sound, and most of it follows the same time signature. Most songs are around three minutes long and relatively pleasant to listen to. So it definitely helps me keep track of time. If I hear the same song on a playlist a second time, I know that I should probably take a break from what I’m doing. I know it takes about three songs to get to work in the morning. When I work out, I usually time my movements based on the music I’m listening to. Plus, it helps me tune out unpleasant sounds, which in turn helps me relax. If you’re in a good mood, you’re going to produce better work more efficiently.

Eat regularly & keep water around

During my gap year, I basically only ate dinner and maybe a snack sometime in the day. I was doing ten-hour days, speed walking around as the only person in the Woolies online department, and physically I felt fine. But mentally, I was checked out pretty often. When I started university, I found it hard to focus on the work. Now I realise that I need to be eating regular meals to sustain my mental energy. Plus, I have a tendency to hyper-focus and burn myself out by spending hours on the same task, and meals are an excellent reason to take a break and recharge.

I keep a bottle or glass of water on my bedside table and a bottle of water in my fridge. Water is vital to your brain function, and taking a sip of water between tasks is a great tactic. I’ve made drinking water a part of my bedtime and morning routine. I have water on me almost all of the time. It’s another “in sight, in mind” thing.

Break big tasks into little ones

As I mentioned before, I have a tendency to hyper-focus and burn myself out. I’m working on it, but I use a few beneficial tactics when I have a significant project to complete. For example, I have a scheduling plug-in called Co-Schedule. It helps me organise and plan my blog and social media posts and act as a general calendar. It also allows me to create a checklist of smaller tasks that need to be done to create a blog post. One day, it will tell me to research, the next I write or plan, the next I do the tags and feature image…so on. The more tasks you tick off, the closer you are to your end goal. The smaller tasks are a lot more achievable than cramming all of the work into one session and ending up burned out.

Short meditations

You need to switch off and resent sometimes, and your brain probably struggles to do that on its own. Meditation and breathwork are a great way of doing this, but you’ll probably get bored and under-stimulated doing that half-hour long guided meditation. If you don’t need that whole half hour to centre your breath, you don’t have to do that. You can quit when you’re feeling reset, but that will probably feel like an open tab in your head. There are plenty of five-minute meditations available on the headspace app or even YouTube or Spotify. If you like, you can start off with these short meditations and work your way up when you have more focus power. Here’s my go-to:

Spotify: 5 min Breath-Work Meditation for Sleep (Intermediate)

Body doubling

One of my friends who has ADHD told me about this. It’s not always effective for me, but when it works, it really works. And I know that it works for a lot of neurodivergent people. Basically, you’re more likely to get it done if you have someone else in the room while you do your work. The other person’s presence can provide extra stimulation, motivation and accountability. You’re less likely to get off task. I don’t quite understand how and why it works, so here is a more credible article to explain it.

Talk to yourself

I used to think people who talked to themselves were insane. In the best-case scenario, I thought it was annoying. My sister used to do it when we were kids, and it drove me crazy. But I was cleaning my room one time, and I really didn’t want to clean it. For some reason, I started listing the small chunks of tasks that add up to a clean room. While I was picking up my clothes and putting them in my washing basket, I said so, even though no one but me was there to hear it. I don’t know why, but it helps you get stuff done.