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Life Hacks: Lessons from Living with ADHD

My experience navigating life with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been an incredible journey filled with challenges, triumphs, and invaluable lessons. Along the way, I've discovered strategies and approaches that have not only helped me manage my condition more effectively but have also enriched my overall well-being. While I don't always get it right and it will be a lifelong journey, I'm grateful to have found some coping tools that work for me. Let me humbly share with you the insights I've gained through this transformative experience.

colored pencils in an satisfying jagged formation

Photo: Jess Bailey/Unsplash


1. Time Management: I break down tasks into manageable steps and in doing so, I try not to overthink it. This prevents me from feeling overwhelmed and allows me to make steady progress, even on days when I struggle. I utilize timers and reminders to keep me focused. (Have you used the pomodoro method? Totally applicable here.) I prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. It's not a perfect system, but it has been a game-changer for me.


2. Journaling: Keeping a daily journal has been an incredibly therapeutic practice. It provides a safe space for me to organize my thoughts, celebrate my accomplishments, and reflect on challenges. This written companion serves as a personal coach, cheering me on every step of the way, even when I feel like I'm falling behind. It also helps me to remember more because it helps keep my brain sharp. I like to journal first thing in the morning, right after my meditation practice because it empties my mind right away and that makes room to put into it what I need to throughout the day.


3. Meditation: I've tried a lot of meditation practices and I can't say what's best but I can say what has proven to be best for me. I incorporate TM (Transcendental Meditation) twice a day for 20 minutes, once first thing in the morning and again about six hours later, in the afternoon. This mindful practice helps me improve my focus, reduce stress, and approach tasks with a clearer mind. It may sound like a lot of time- 40 minutes a day- but it literally saves me hours of waning focus and thinking, "what was I going to do?" Taking this time each day to practice mindfulness has made a noticeable difference in my overall well-being and productivity and I even eat better! I think it's made me a better person, too. TM is definitely an investment to learn properly from a teacher but it pays for itself in hardly any time if you keep using it. I've been meditating for a little over 6 years now, with only a few short gaps in my daily practice. If cost is a barrier, I encourage you to inquire about options. I learned from Jeanne Ball at Asheville TM Center. (In the evenings, to settle down, I often do a self-treatment with Reiki or use a meditation technique I learned at Psychic Horizons but I had to establish the two "bread and Earth Balance" meditations first.)


4. Note-Taking: I color-code and use visual aids in my notes. It's not just helpful; it is fun, too. I learned this trick from a VHS tape that my mother, a guidance counselor, had when I was about 12 and had been recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. This has made studying and retaining information much more accessible. I summarize key points in my own words. This reinforces my understanding and makes studying a more effective and engaging process. It's a technique that has really worked for me, even if I sometimes struggle to stay organized. (Now, a pre-cursor to doing this was working for years on making my shorthand legible to my own eyes. Back then, I could either write quickly or legibly. Today, I'm not going to win a race for words per minute, to be sure, but my pace and readability are strongly matched.)


5. Sleep Schedule: I try to keep an established and consistent sleep schedule. This has been crucial for managing my ADHD symptoms, but it's also an area where I sometimes falter. A bedtime routine helps me wind down. Limiting screen time before bed improves the quality of my sleep. Waking up at the same time every day helps regulate my body's internal clock, setting me up for a productive day ahead, when I can stick to it. (Tip: using a "happy light" has been a great help when I fall out of my routine. I turn it on as soon as I jump out of bed and it works alongside my will-power to get my circadian rhythms back on track. Even in summer, using it for 5-10 minutes as I get moving helps bring me back to my sleep-schedule quickly and easily.)


6. Daily Routine: I have created a structured daily routine. This has been a game-changer for me, but I'll be the first to admit that I don't always follow it precisely. It provides a sense of stability and helps me stay organized. For my routine, I have interchangeable elements as well. My goal is to meditate and journal every day, first thing, but then, I have a little time to exercise, play guitar, do something crafty or video-share to my 12-Step program group of fellow ACAs. That way, I get to decide that on a whim for whatever feels right for me in that moment. Incorporating meaningful breaks and transitions between working and tasking keeps me energized and focused throughout the day, on the days when I can maintain that routine.


7. Nutrition: I pay attention to my diet and do my best to eat healthily for my body and brain. I am still learning a lot about food and nutrition! And I need to be discerning about cost versus staying power and all those things but it's been fun to experiment and develop some systems around that, too. Even my intentions around this have had a noticeable impact and certainly, hacking nutrition has benefitted my mood and energy levels. I still have room for improvement and I actually like that. Eating a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients and staying hydrated helps my mind stay sharp and my body stay healthy, enabling me to tackle each day with as much vigor as I can manage.


8. Self-Care and Support: I prioritize self-care activities like exercise, hobbies, and relaxation techniques. (As you might remember from up there, I prioritize them in the morning, before I mess with my phone and let the world in.) This has been essential for my overall well-being. I have learned it's not optional to fill my own cup in the morning. It is mandatory! Part of that is operating my business and part of that is having ADD.


Additionally, I seek support from loved ones, therapists, and support groups. This has helped me navigate challenges and celebrate successes along my path. I'm grateful for the support system I have, and even on the days when I struggle to reach out, I challenge myself to lean into connection with others. I'm alone a whole lot- a symptom of self-employment- but we have so many modes of connecting these days, I rarely feel isolated or lonely.


So, each of these numbered points has been incredibly helpful to me. And there are plenty other honorable mentions like doing my best not to take on too much, having realistic expectatios about what can be done in a day (or a week), and planning most days the night before. Honestly, I want to stress that the foundation under all of it is ACCEPTANCE.


Having Attention Deficit Disorder (or ADHD, the current diagnosis) is not a punishment or a reason to lose hope. If you've recently received this diagnosis, give yourself space to feel all the emotions - punch some pillows, shed some tears, it's good to process this new reality for a few days or a week. But then, remember that living with ADHD means viewing the world through a unique and powerful lens. With ADHD, you make connections that others don't, your senses are heightened, and you absolutely can be successful in whatever path you choose to pursue.

In my humble experience, the term "Attention Deficit" is a bit of a misnomer. It's more about the processing piece than the attention piece. Those of us with ADHD don't lack the ability to pay attention - we pay attention to everything around us all at once! Our strong minds take in so much stimuli that the processing takes more time. Who could process all that in a split second, anyway?


While I don't always get it right, and it will be a lifelong process, I'm grateful to have found some coping strategies that work for me. By incorporating these approaches into my daily life, I've been able to manage my symptoms more effectively and live a more fulfilling, balanced life. I approach each day with humility, knowing that I'll face obstacles, but also with a proactive mindset, determined to keep learning and growing. I encourage anyone navigating a similar path to embrace the lessons that come their way, be kind to themselves, and celebrate every step forward, no matter how small.


Let me know what strategies are helpful for you in the comments below!

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