Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may make it more challenging to stay organized. Various tools and techniques can help people better manage their time and stay more organized.

ADHD changes the brain’s ability to retain and store the information necessary to plan and carry out tasks. As a result, this condition can negatively affect organization.

This article explains how ADHD may affect organization and provides tips to help adults and children with ADHD stay organized.

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People with ADHD may have difficulty with organization as a result of deficiencies in executive functions, a set of skills relating to memory, planning, and carrying out tasks.

According to a 2020 study, problems with working memory are a key symptom of ADHD and can affect organizational skills.

Working memory is an executive function that helps people retain and process temporary information, such as when remembering directions or completing homework.

Other features of ADHD may make it more difficult to be organized. For example, people with ADHD may need more motivation and stimuli to engage in a task.

Organizational skills may require motivation and an immediate sense of reward for people to maintain the behaviors. If these are lacking, a person may find it hard to stay organized.

Below are some strategies people with ADHD may find helpful in staying organized.

Use external reminders

Working memory allows people to hold information temporarily in their minds while carrying out other tasks. People with ADHD may have impaired working memory, which can make everyday tasks more difficult.

Remembering multiple details and to-dos while carrying out tasks may feel overwhelming. However, external reminders may help reduce the information the brain has to hold on to and help people stay more organized.

Types of external reminders include:

  • calendars
  • phone alerts
  • apps
  • planners
  • sticky notes

Play to individual strengths

According to a 2021 research article, people with ADHD may be more creative than people without ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity and impulsivity.

People with ADHD may be more likely to develop original, useful ideas in response to a task. Making a task more interesting or enjoyable can fuel this creativity and may help people feel more motivated.

Setting a timer and seeing whether a person can complete a task in the allotted time may add an element of competition or make the task feel like a game, which may help increase motivation.

Rewards or positive reinforcement may also help. After completing an organizational task, people may want to allow themselves to take a break or do an activity they enjoy.

Learn 6 strengths of ADHD.

Focus on the positive

People with ADHD may experience a strong emotional response to the perception of failure or disapproval due to failure.

Instead of dwelling on times when others may not have viewed them as being as organized as they had hoped to be, people should focus on the now as a clean slate.

This may help them feel more motivated about organization.

Use a time-management system

Finding a straightforward time-management system that works for each person may help them keep track of tasks.

People can make a to-do list or schedule each item into a calendar so they know when they need to focus on each task. People may want to use different calendars or a color-coded system for work, home, and other engagements.

Many people with ADHD experience hyperfocus, which means they can become fully absorbed in a task and tune out distractions.

It may help to block out periods of time for longer tasks and batch similar items together instead of jumping from one task to another.

Organize surroundings

Cluttered environments may increase levels of stress and anxiety and reduce productivity.

Keeping the home and workspace organized may help people with ADHD find things more easily and feel less overwhelmed and may help improve their mental health and productivity.

Organization tips for the home and workspace include:

  • using clipboards to display current projects as a visual reminder of tasks
  • keeping folders of paperwork labeled, in sight, and easy to access
  • keeping categorized file boxes on a shelf and easy to see
  • assigning a specific place to keep keys and other everyday items

According to the Child Mind Institute, people may be able to use the following strategies to help a child with ADHD stay organized:

  • using color-coded calendars to note all school assignments, social events, and after-school activities
  • copying everything into a digital calendar, which can provide notifications as reminders
  • keeping backups of things the child often loses, such as keys and items of clothing, as well as making digital backups of schoolwork
  • establishing a routine for homework, with regular breaks and healthy snacks
  • creating a quiet space with no distractions in which the child can work
  • using a color-coding system to highlight items in order of priority, such as pink for high priority items and green for lower priorities
  • using timers for chores and schoolwork to show a child when they can stop and to add an element of fun or competition to daily chores
  • playing white noise in the background to help reduce distractions
  • getting the child involved in physical activity they enjoy, as exercise can help improve focus

If a child with ADHD has difficulty with organization at school, parents and caregivers can speak with teachers to establish additional support.

If a person with ADHD is having difficulty staying organized and it is negatively affecting their everyday life, talking with a healthcare professional or mental health professional can be beneficial.

A counselor or therapist can help a person learn techniques and tools for staying organized.

Parents and caregivers can talk with school staff and healthcare professionals for advice on implementing strategies to help a child with organization.

ADHD can cause difficulties with executive function, making it more challenging to stay organized.

Strategies such as using phone alerts, scheduling breaks, and focusing on personal strengths may help people stay organized. A healthcare professional can also suggest tools to help people become more organized.

Parents and caregivers can contact teachers if a child with ADHD is having difficulty with organization at school.