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Strategies and Techniques to Manage ADHD

What is ADHD


Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that can result in challenges with attention, memory, and a number of executive functions such as organization and time management. Although some people think ADHD is only present in children, this is a misconception. ADHD is present in up to 2.9% of Canadian adults and often has lifelong symptoms. As a result, the symptoms of ADHD can have important implications for your work and personal interactions, shaping how you go about your daily life. With that in mind, some symptoms can make many parts of life challenging, from maintaining attention during a meeting to resisting the impulse to go on your phone while working. Several actionable ADHD management strategies can be implemented into your day-to-day routine to improve overall symptom management. So, what are some of these ADHD management strategies and techniques, and how can you put them into action?

Getting organized


Are you someone who finds it difficult to keep track of appointments or impending deadlines? Do you find yourself misplacing items (e.g., cell phone, keys, wallet)? Finding an organizational tool that works for you can be invaluable. Some tools that can be very helpful include:

  • Using a calendar to keep track of important dates. This could be a virtual calendar on your phone/computer (e.g., Microsoft or Google, for example) or a physical hard-copy calendar that you keep on your desk.
  • Utilizing your phone/tablet/computer and setting reminders that will alert you when an important deadline is approaching.
  • Planning timelines for large projects and smaller tasks can help you organize your resources and improve time management.
  • Use apps to organize lists. Do you have many things you need to pick up at the grocery store? Consider putting them into a list.
  • Having a clutter-free space and keeping items in a designated spot at home can reduce the chances of misplacing them.
  • Technology, such as locater devices (e.g., air tags), are great tools to keep tabs on important items.


Creating a routine


Sometimes it can be challenging to shift attention to different tasks throughout the day, especially on those days when your calendar seems to be busier than normal. Creating and following a daily routine that is in line with your goals can reduce any extra stress, allowing you to successfully manage your commitments. Some techniques that can help with routine creation and implementation include:

  • Using a calendar or schedule that has your daily routine written out can help with task initiation until the routine becomes automatic.
  • Building a routine for those tasks that you might procrastinate doing or don’t enjoy can be helpful. For example, is there a particular work task or school assignment that you put off until the last minute? Can you break that task or assignment down into some steps and do them at a particular time of day or week?
  • Making physical activity a fundamental part of your routine can enhance cognitive abilities such as memory and attention. Finding a type of exercise that you enjoy will make it more likely that you’ll keep at it. The current Canadian physical activity guidelines recommend that adults accumulate a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Remember, some physical activity is better than none!


Getting enough rest


Adequate sleep is a key factor in optimizing various cognitive functions and helps to avoid fatigue. Some tips to ensure you’re achieving that can include:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep routine can be key. This means going to bed and waking around the same time each day.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day. A general rule is to avoid having caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea within a minimum of eight hours of going to bed. Research has found that caffeine three to six hours before bed can cause significant sleep disturbances.
  • Be conscious of your screen time. Excessive screen time is associated with insufficient sleep quality. Additionally, excessive cellphone use can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and social anxiety.


Making big (and small) tasks more manageable


Many strategies can transform big, often overwhelming, projects into more manageable tasks. After all, Mount Everest isn’t climbed in one day – it’s often small consistent efforts that are performed over time that lead to meaningful change. Some of these strategies can include:

  • Breaking tasks into small, yet structured, steps can help to transform those big projects into manageable ones that you can confidently tackle.
  • Creating standard operating procedures (SOPs), which break down tasks that you do repeatedly into individual steps. This can make even major tasks seem much more manageable.
  • Think through and create a plan for each phase or step in your larger task or idea.
  • Consider incorporating visual aids in your planning, as they can help with task initiation and prioritization, making things feel more manageable. Some examples of planners might include The Productivity Method/Planner (physical hard-copy and virtual), Microsoft To-Do (virtual), Asana (virtual), and Todoist (virtual).
  • Sequencing tasks you enjoy with those you don’t is one way to manage your to-do list. For instance, do you enjoy creating but avoid administrative work? Try pairing a creative task (e.g., writing, drawing, etc.) with a necessary administrative one (e.g., scheduling, emails, charting, etc.) afterward.


Minimize distractions


Creating an environment with minimal external distractions can enhance attention and focus. Although this can be challenging at times, given that the world around us always seems to be on the go, here are some ways that you can minimize distraction:

  • Putting on music/sound through headphones to quiet any distracting conversations around you.
    • Minimalist and classical music or nature sounds can be particularly good for this.
  • Putting your cell phone or social media on do-not-disturb during work or study blocks.
  • Work somewhere with limited visual distractions (e.g., not in front of a window).
  • Closing your office or room door if possible.
  • Communicating with your colleagues, friends, and family if there are certain times or hours of the day when they should avoid distracting you.


Be conscious of and respect your limits


We all have many things (e.g., work, hobbies, relationships, etc.) that require our attention, time, and energy. It’s important to learn your limits and how to leverage your resources to invest them in the way that is most valuable to you. Whether you’re balancing multiple work deadlines or trying to create a work-life balance, here are some strategies that can help.

  • Taking frequent breaks to recharge your attentional capacity. Breaks don’t have to be long, even a few minutes can help. Breaks that include some kind of physical activity (e.g., an outdoor walk or brief stretching session) are particularly helpful for improving focus.
  • The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity tool for minimizing distractions while simultaneously optimizing your attentional limits. The technique typically involves 25-minute work blocks, followed by a 5-minute break. After 4 consecutive cycles, a longer break is implemented (e.g., 10 – 30 minutes). Timers, such as the one on your cell phone, can be used to keep track of the blocks and there are even phone apps that are designed specifically for this.
  • Do you prefer to have new information presented verbally, visually, or both? Different kinds of learning styles can include visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic learners. Acknowledging your strengths and designing your learning strategies around them can be helpful.
    • Multimodal/multisensory presentation of information is one way that can enhance the comprehension of new information.
  • Do you feel fatigued in the afternoon? Consider scheduling tasks that rely on your working memory in the morning or periods of the day when you’re more alert.
  • Prioritize your wellness. This might mean scheduling in time for a workout, meal-prepping nutritious food, or socializing with friends.
  • Be conscious of your breathing. Incorporating a “physiological sigh” is a stress management technique that you can do practically anywhere. To do this, take one deep inhale, followed by a shorter inhale, and then a long exhale. Repeat this a few times.
  • And finally, let’s not forget to learn when to ask for help. Communicating with others when you need assistance or setting boundaries can help you respect your limits.

It’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different, and an ADHD management technique that works well for someone else might not be ideal for everyone. We suggest that you find what works best for you!

What of these ADHD management strategies can you implement in your day-to-day?

Additionally, psychological treatment, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), can be beneficial for learning and practicing techniques to improve many challenges associated with ADHD. This includes symptoms related to executive function, inattention, and hyperactivity.

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About the Author

Heather McCracken

Dr. Heather McCracken possesses extensive experience working with individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and has a passion for supporting them in their daily lives. Her diverse background spans several age groups and includes working with children, youth, and adults. She has performed scientific research to better understand adult ADHD and implemented adaptive sports for youth. This background gives her unique insight into the experiences of those with ADHD, including its implications in occupational and educational settings. Coming from a lifetime of involvement in sports and physical activity, she possesses a deep understanding of the application of physical activity to support well-being. This led Heather to become a Certified Exercise Physiologist (CSEP-CEP). Heather’s favourite ways to spend her time include resistance training and hiking outdoors with her dogs. Education: Heather holds a Ph.D. and Master’s degree in Health Sciences, where she specialized in neurophysiology as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology.