How to Get Organized When You Have ADHD

Simple strategies can help you get started on spring cleaning and keep items organized so tasks don’t become too overwhelming. Photo © Microsoft

Spring is here. The weather is warmer. The trees and plants are budding. Daffodils are blooming. Spring cleaning is beckoning...spring cleaning? Does anyone really like to spring clean? With all the other areas in our lives that we have to organize, cleaning and clearing clutter can easily take a back seat. For adults with ADHD, the task can feel even more insurmountable. Luckily, you can implement some simple strategies to get yourself started and keep items organized so tasks don’t become too overwhelming.

Rosemary Chieppo, known as the Organizing Guru and author of Clutter, Chaos and the Cure, provides tips that are especially helpful for those with ADHD.

Determine The Goal

First decide on the specific task you want to tackle, then prioritize. When things get busy, the ADD adult often loses perspective. Transitions can be difficult. Mini-breaks can help ease the transition.

Determine What Works For You

Notice how and where you work best. Let yourself work under whatever conditions are best for you. If necessary, eliminate distracting noise with headphones or a noise machine.

Think “One Bite At A Time”

When you have a big job looming, break the chore down into manageable "bites." List every part of the job, no matter how small, so you can get a feeling of accomplishment at crossing things off and seeing that you’re really getting somewhere!

Use Timers

Set a timer to go off in 15 minutes and stay with the task for those 15 minutes.

Don’t drift off and do something else. And reward yourself after it is over.

Write Things Down

Don’t rely on memory alone; you run the risk of letting tasks fall through the cracks. Use a notebook/planner to stay on track and keep it close by at all times. Write down any intrusive ideas or thoughts, so you can get back to the task at hand.

You won’t forget what you were thinking about and can act on it later. Another tip: Notebooks are more difficult to lose than scraps of paper!

Build In Extra Time

Allow more time than you think you’ll need for a task. Keep a comfortable margin for the unexpected. Leave time between engagements to gather your thoughts.

Use Tools Like PDAs

Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) like Palm Pilots are a big help. A program for PDAs called “Handyshop” lets you organize lists for different stores, items you need, coupons, quantity and aisle. It takes a little time to put items into the categories, but once it’s there you can just check off which items you need and use the program over and over.

Another Palm Pilot tip is called “Bug Me!” It lets you write notes to yourself and set alarms throughout the day or week at regular times. This type of prompt is great for medication reminders and appointments.

Use Your Answering Machine

An answering machine is a great reminder tool. Do you have something important you have to do later in the day or when you get home?

Call your phone number and leave a reminder message. When you see the message light, you’ll remember your chore.

Use Color

Many people with ADD are visually oriented. Virtually anything can be made more memorable and attention-getting with color. Use brightly colored Post-it notes or index cards.

Everything In Its Place

Don’t end the day without putting stuff away. Take time to put things back where they belong. Try to put things back immediately after you’re finished with them.

Self Care

Don’t forget to de-clutter your mind. Get plenty of rest. Eat a healthy diet. Exercise. Relax. Meditate.


Rosemary Chieppo. Personal correspondence/interview. 21 Feb. 08 and 26 Feb. 08.

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