In a previous post, we talked about 10 symptoms of ADHD including: impulsiveness, forgetfulness, short attention span, executive dysfunction, hyperfocus, and hyperactivity. These symptoms impact our daily lives in many ways whether or not we notice them happening.
Before I even knew I had ADHD, I was already searching for ways to be more productive and work around the things that caused me to be unable to accomplish my own tasks and goals. Things like timers, body doubling, lists (SO MANY LISTS), patterns, and putting things where I would see them (because ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a REAL thing for us!).
Even if you don’t know all of the fancy words for these solutions, you’ve probably already been using several of them on a daily basis. I had no clue what the term ‘body doubling’ meant or ‘ADHD time blindness’. And was a doom box for ADHD or was it a box that was about to explode and bring doom to everyone and everything it touched??!
Keep reading to learn my favorite tips and tricks and learn what all of these terms mean!
How can I fix my ADHD without medication?
That is a very loaded question. First of all, I don’t think there is a ‘cure’ for ADHD. It’s not a disease that we have caught. It’s not a terrible evil that must be vanquished. It’s simply a brain functioning difference. Some of the chemicals in our brain are produced at a lower level and our mind processes information differently than our neurotypical counterparts. I talk about this more in my FAQ section of The Ultimate ADHD Guide.
The purpose of these solutions are to help you reach your goals in life on a day-to-day basis. Instead of feeling like you’re spinning your wheels or always following the newest shiny object that makes our brains so incredibly happy. I want you to end each day feeling like you accomplished something, and be satisfied and content within yourself.
These solutions are not the end all, be all, but I hope some or all of them will help you! I do recommend seeking out professional help (and possibly medication) if you are struggling so much that you need outside help. That is okay too!
I want to offer this list for those of us without the resources or ability to seek professional help. Or maybe you’re in a similar boat to me, and the process of getting an official diagnosis and asking for medication is SUCH an overwhelming task that just starting feels like climbing Mount Everest. I also offer this list as an add-on bonus to other medical solutions.
Body doubling – Executive functioning
One of the biggest thing I’ve discovered that has helped me tremendously is this little thing called body doubling. It has nothing to do with actors and actresses who find identical people to do stunts for them, although that’s what I first thought when I heard the term (i.e. stunt doubles). It also has nothing to do with identical twins.
What is body doubling?
Body doubling is when you are able to accomplish tasks and focus better simply because there’s another “body” (person) nearby. Even if that person isn’t doing what you’re doing, simply having them there in the area helps motivate you to work.
I was skeptical at first, because how can having someone there with you help you accomplish tasks? Wouldn’t it be more distracting? Wouldn’t you feel pressure to meet certain social norms and interact with them thus distracting you from the task on hand?
I’ve tried it out and now use this solution all the time! I am able to start tasks that had previously overwhelmed me to the point where I was unable to start them (hello executive dysfunction). Body doubling can be used for literally any task you are struggling with.
Unable to start a regular exercise routine?? Try body doubling! Need to focus and clear out your 20K email inbox? Body double! Are dishes piled sky high in your sink? Body. Double.
It works like magic for me. Literal magic. Before this year, I was never able to accomplish any sort of fitness goal. I am in my late twenties and I had never purposefully exercised on a regular basis. Not once. The entire topic of exercise scared me. I didn’t know where to start and my executive functioning took over and said no.
But because of body doubling with others, I’ve now been exercising on a regular basis twice a week for the past 4 months! I can already feel the difference in my body and my flexibility (I always said ‘I’m not flexible’).
Why does body doubling help?
Body doubling helps on several levels. For me, it helps ground me. When there’s someone else there (physically or on a screen live) I am able to focus better and not be so easily distracted by all the things. It adds a layer of accountability into whatever activity I’m doing.
Another reason that body doubling helps is because of a thing called mirroring, specifically ADHD mirroring.
What is ADHD mirroring?
Mirroring is when you see someone doing something and you start making your body move to match theirs. It doesn’t even have to be a person. It can be a bird. When I walk into a grocery store and there are crows cawing at each other from on top of the light posts, I have this irresistible urge to caw back at them.
Do you know why yawns are ‘contagious’? Because of mirroring! Mirroring isn’t just an ADHD thing, it’s something everyone does to some extent. But for people with ADHD who lack impulse control, are easily distracted, and are searching for dopamine it is incredibly hard to resist the urge to mirror.
We can take advantage of this by body doubling! Because of ADHD mirroring, having a body double helps us because we see the other person doing a similar task and our brain automatically wants to copy!!
I would like to note that body doubling may need to be adjusted depending on your specific needs. For some neurodivergent people, body doubling can be distracting unless it meets certain requirements. For example, you might need your body double to be a person you trust and feel open enough with to feel safe and comfortable working while they are around. For others, like myself, it doesn’t matter who the person is as long as they are non-judgmental of whatever tasks I am choosing to accomplish.
There are two main apps and websites that I use to body-double in every day tasks. One is Focusmate (compatible with any device that connects to Wi-Fi/Data) and the other is Marco Polo (phone only).
How does Focusmate work?
Focusmate was created by Taylor Jacobson because he wanted to find a way to be accountable and accomplish tasks instead of procrastinating. He discovered the need to be held accountable and realized with his busy schedule that he couldn’t always rely on one friend or accountability partner.
To bump up the accountability even more, we agreed to specify each task to the other as we workedTaylor Jacobson – ‘How We Got Here: The Personal Story Behind Focusmate’
So Focusmate was born as a way to match up ‘focus mates’ with each other and give them a platform where they could hold their partner accountable while simultaneously accomplishing their own goals.
When you set up a session in Focusmate it asks you 3 required questions and 2 optional ones. You’ll need to pick the date and time you plan on focusing. You’ll also need to pick a 25-minute session or a 50-minute session. As an optional bonus, you’re also able to include your personal goal for the session (no one else will see this, only you). You can also choose to set up your session as reoccurring.
The Free Focusmate account allows you to schedule 3 sessions a week for free (you can choose for each one if it is the 25-minute or 50-minute session). The paid version costs $5 a month for unlimited sessions.
When your session starts, and you join (usually with audio & video), you will see your focusmate partner for that session. You both greet each other and find out what your goals for the session are. Then you (typically) mute and accomplish your goals with your camera on. There is also a chat option inside the session. At the end of the session a bell rings. You check in with your partner and share your accomplishments.
You are able to schedule sessions with friends/previous focusmate partners if you’d prefer to be matched with someone you already know. I use Focusmate to exercise with the same person twice a week.
Tip: Use the 10 minute window of time between two Focusmate sessions to accomplish a quick mundane task. I like to: switch loads of laundry, empty the dishwasher, check the mailbox, drink water, and empty the trash can.
Using the Marco Polo app to Body Double
The Marco Polo app was created to “bring you close to the people who matter most.” This was especially helpful when COVID-19 kept us from leaving our homes and shut down most in-person gatherings. It is a video messaging and hosting mobile app.
While you may be wondering how this can be used to body double, let me explain. The app itself allows you to record videos of yourself and share them with your contacts. They can either watch them live or watch them later.
If you have a paid subscription ($10 per month, or annually for $59.99/$5 month) you can also send voice and text messages as well. I use the free version and it works for what I need. There are some extra bells and whistles that come with the subscription as well, but you don’t need those to use the app to body double.
I am connected via Marco Polo with several family members and close friends. I often have long conversations with my best friend. When she is sending me videos, I listen and accomplish tasks (like washing dishes, meal prep, folding laundry, or cleaning the litter box).
This method works best with friends and family members who you trust. People who understand that you are accomplishing tasks while keeping up with them. I know it’s not for everyone, but it has helped me tremendously and maybe it can be a tool in your toolbox!
Timers are a big one for me! My sweet husband gets to hear my alarms going off allllll the time – especially when I snooze them for hours because I’m ‘not quite ready to do the task yet’. In fact, that is the main weakness to timers. The snooze button.
How do you use a timer with ADHD?
I use timers for several different functions. First, I use reoccurring timers for mundane tasks that I might otherwise forget (for example, I have one set on Tuesdays that always reminds me to take the trash can out to the curb for Wednesday trash pick up). These are the easiest timers to set up and they help free up space in my brain for other thoughts and ideas.
Second, I use timers for getting up and ready for work each day. It only takes me about 10-15 minutes to get ready for work so I set one timer for fifteen minutes before I need to leave and the other one for when I need to be in my car pulling out of my driveway (the second timer gives me an extra 15 minutes of wiggle room to arrive at my job, walk in, and get situated before clocking in).
Somehow I manage to never ignore, snooze, or sleep through my wakeup/work alarm. I don’t know how though. I realize that’s not the case for everyone. There are some timers out there that may work for you if you easily ignore the classic wake-up alarm. If you struggle with alarms and waking up, check out sunrise alarms, flying clocks, alarm clocks on wheels, and even one that requires you to stand on it before it will turn off.
The third thing I use timers for is to help with my time blindness. These alarms remind me what time it is and how much time has passed.
What is ADHD time blindness?
ADHD time blindness, or rather, ✨Time Optimism ✨ as I like to call it, is where we get so caught up in things that we completely ignore the passage of time. We often over or underestimate what we can do in a certain amount of time and that leads to all sorts of struggles.
For me, I struggle to properly estimate how long tasks will take me. So I tend to overbook myself and over commit because I think that I’ll be able to finish everything much quicker than is actually possible. Also, when I become hyperfocused on something, I forget that time is passing at all. Which means when I finally look up, hours have passed in what felt like mere minutes to me.
Timers help me keep track of time passing and also allow me to document and learn how long repeated tasks actually take (but more on that later!).
There are some focus apps that you can use for set amounts of time that motivate you to be productive. SelfControl is a free app for Mac users that blocks distracting websites for a specified length of time. When I was in school, I used this app to block Facebook and YouTube so that I could convince myself to write papers and study.
If you find rewards a better motivator than blocking specific websites, perhaps the app Forest will work for you. I use it on my phone. When you set a timer and don’t open your phone during that time, you grow a plant in your ‘forest’. However, if you break the rule and get distracted by other apps on your phone, the plant you were growing withers.
I mostly use the Forest app when I’m getting into bed to fall asleep. It is so tempting to pick up my phone “one more time” or “for just a quick second to search for something” instead of allowing my mind to calm down and be ready to sleep.
Lists & Planners
I can already hear the groans. I realize that there are a lot of ways in which lists and planners do not help someone with ADHD. However, for some of us, they can still be incredibly helpful. Lists can be digital, on paper, or on a whiteboard. I even have a poster on my kitchen wall that has a visual list of birthdays categorized by month so that I never forget someone’s birthday.
For home organization and daily life, I like to use lists in places where I’ll see them every day. In my kitchen, I have 3 whiteboards. One is a weekly chart that I can write down all of my meal/food ideas. The second is a paper and pencil list on the side of my fridge listing every single item that is in my freezer. The third is a whiteboard monthly calendar that appointments and work schedules get written on.
One of the biggest struggles for an ADHD person is that things that are ‘out of sight’ are truly ‘out of mind’ (see the next topic for more on this). That is why I had a friend come over and help me go through my freezer and write down every.single.item. Your lists need to be in plain view or you will forget about them.
I also recommend picking a master list planner or notebook, or have a few that are themed. For example, I have one notebook where I put down all things financial. It has my budget, my monthly & annual bills, etc. Another notebook has all of my to-do and do-not-forget lists.
Sometimes lists can feel overwhelming. But other times, having all of my thoughts and plans down in one succinct place gives me peace of mind. If my mind is swimming with what feels like an endless list of things I need to accomplish, then writing down an actual list calms me.
One of my most important planner/list combos for the past 5 years or so has been a dotted bullet journal. I make a spread each month that allows me to put in symbols for daily tasks and tracks important health info as well as appointments and special events. When I was taking antidepressants, I also used a page to check off every day when I would take my meds.
The dotted bullet journal provided me the visual reminder that I needed each day that I used it. I also use this same journal to track what books I’m reading, movies I’m watching, savings goals, income, etc. It’s even got a few pages of positive comments I’ve received over the years that I read through when I’m struggling.
Do planners work for ADHD?
Yes and no. It’s complicated. It’s very complicated. Our brains like new things. But we also jump from thing to thing at the drop of a hat. Planners are a shiny thing that my brain gravitates to and longs for but sometimes I self-sabotage and forget to use.
There are so many different types of planners and I’ve tried so many different variations over the years. When I was in college, I used a daily/weekly planner to keep up with homework assignments and upcoming tests and exams. Now that I’m no longer a student, I use my whiteboard calendar to keep up with appointments and work schedules and write out individual daily lists/plans in a notebook or on my phone.
What type of planner is best for ADHD?
It varies from person to person. What are your goals for your planner? What motivates you and works best with your learning style? Do motivational quotes or phrases inspire you? Do you need a bigger picture view or a close up hour-by-hour view? Or both? Do you need a list inside your planner that you can check off as you accomplish tasks? Do you like to have your day planned hour by hour or day by day?
I recommend asking yourself those questions and answering them honestly. Then look for a planner that has an appealing cover, and ticks off all the boxes of things you need to motivate you. Also, be willing to switch planners every year or two if your brain adjusts to it and needs something new.
Why do I always make lists?
Great question! Although my brain is fairly chaotic and all over the place, I still crave organization. I also know that I have a short attention span and am very forgetful. So writing something down onto a list makes me feel like I no longer have to actively remember it. This saves me energy and time. And it makes me feel better because I don’t have to stress about what I’m forgetting that was important.
I am always coming up with new ideas and thoughts. So, I make a list! It also satisfies part of my brain when I get to check off things on my list. I’ll often include things like “wake up”, “eat lunch”, and “go to work” simply because I know I’ll get to check them off even if nothing else on the list gets done that day.
Everything in its place
One of the reasons I have to keep my lists is in plain view is because I often forget that something exists if I can’t see it. That might sound silly to you if you’re neurotypical, but it’s actually quite common for us. Visual cues are something I rely on for many things in my day to day life. For example, I place my night time vitamins next to my bed out in the open where I’ll see them.
Habits are very challenging for me to build. I can do something daily for months and then just stop doing it. My brain has the memory of doing whatever the task is (for example, brushing & flossing my teeth before bed) and so it doesn’t know if it did the task today or not. I have to write down every time I brush my teeth or I won’t remember ten minutes later that I did in fact brush them.
I’m sure you guessed by now, but I do in fact keep a whiteboard sticker on my wall in the bathroom to check off brushing my teeth (& flossing) every day. Sounds silly, I know, but it works! Without that list, I would almost never brush my teeth even though I know I should.
Another trick I’ve learned to combat forgetfulness is to assign every day objects a permanent place. My keys always go in the little basket by the door. Always. It’s a rule I made for myself. I stick to it. If I don’t, I will almost immediately lose my keys. Without fail, I lose objects that I set down outside of their place.
Doom boxes are such a neat concept because they sound so dangerous and explosive, but in reality they are just a way for us to temporarily organize stuff that will need to be processed better in the future. It takes all the chaos and hides it away. When I put my stuff in a doom pile, doom drawer, or doom box, I am giving my brain space to focus and not become overwhelmed.
I’ve been making doom piles and doom drawers ever since I was a kid, I just didn’t have a name for them. I also didn’t realize it was a common thing that other neurodiverse people do. When I’m trying to organize my space, I eventually have to stop to do other tasks. When I hit that stopping point, that’s when I place whatever is not yet organized into a doom box.
Why is it called a Doom box?
It’s actually an acronym. Didn’t Organize Only Moved. It explains that you moved something into the box but you didn’t actually organize it yet.
What is a doom bag, doom drawer, and doom pile?
Doom bags, doom drawers, and doom piles are all variations of a doom box but in a different container. My purse often becomes a doom bag that collects old receipts, unused napkins, that snack I packed but forgot to eat, and random notes and reminders.
A brain dump is exactly what it sounds like. You take a piece of paper and you write down everything and anything you’re thinking about. It’s like a brainstorm session, but messier. There doesn’t have to be an end goal in mind when you brain dump. It doesn’t have to be around a specific idea or theme. Anything goes.
If you aren’t a paper and pen person, then you can also do a brain dump on your computer, tablet, or phone. It might even be easier to re-find ideas if you have them digitally because you’ll be able to search through them (especially if it’s in a document like Word or Google Drive).
Do brain dumps before bed
Why? Because if your brain is hyperactive like mine is, then you probably struggle to fall asleep at night. If you dump all of your thoughts out onto paper that frees up your mind to relax and stop stressing about forgetting a cool new idea or thought.
In a future post, I will dive deeper into brain dumps to explain their purpose, how to write/make one, how to organize one, and apps that can help with all of the above.
Toby & OneTab
Y’all. How many tabs do you have open right now on your computer? How many tabs open on your phone’s browser? If you’re anything like me, that number is usually so high that the counting mechanisms quit and just put a smiley face in the number box. 🙂
Why do people with ADHD open so many tabs?
I think that we open so many tabs because we are constantly being distracted or having new ideas. I just checked, and while writing this post, I had 18 tabs open – mostly with research and resources to include here. Sometimes it gets overwhelming so I open a new window and minimize the previous window that has 10+ tabs open. That’s not a long term solution however.
What happens if you have too many tabs open?
Nothing might happen. Or your computer/phone may crash. Or your computer/phone will start to run very slowly. One of the amusing things that happens on my phone’s Chrome tab is that after about 90 open tabs the counter revers to a smiley face and no longer keeps count. When I hit that point, I know it’s time to do something!
If you use Google Chrome, there is this amazing extension called Toby. It allows you to save and organize all of your tabs into spaces and collections. I just started using it a month ago and am never looking back!
Another similar app that works for both Chrome and Firefox is called OneTab. OneTab helps reduce the amount of memory your computer is actively using when you have so many tabs open. It saves all of your tabs into a list and you can then choose to open individual links from the list or restore all of them at once.
It often depends on what mood I am in, and what task I am doing, but I have found that music, podcasts, and audiobooks can help my brain.
Sometimes they help me learn. Sometimes they help me relax (especially helpful right before bedtime!). Sometimes they help me hyperfocus. Sometimes they help motivate me to accomplish tasks I would normally be too overwhelmed to start.
These options are going to work vastly differently for each person, however, I do believe that there will be at least one method that can help you.
Some of the music apps I like to use are: Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, and iHeartRadio. These are all free to use, with some upgraded and bonus features (along with no ads) if you subscribe to them. For podcasts, my new favorite app is Podbean.
I always loved reading as a child, but as an adult I find it almost impossible to sit down and focus long enough to read a physical book. So I’ve switched over (almost entirely) to audiobooks! I love them because I can listen when I’m driving, exercising, crafting, and completing household tasks.
If you have a library through your local library (or even old cards from previous libraries!) you can log in with your library card in the Libby app. Their catalogue has thousands of audiobooks and ebooks that you can immediately access or put on hold. There are also other apps such as Overdrive, Hoopla, and Audible.
I use Audible for any audiobooks that I cannot find through my library system. Also, I have many books that I re-listen to and it’s nice to own them and always have access. Any audiobooks you purchase through Audible will always be available to you even if you discontinue your monthly or annual subscription.
Last, but certainly not least, we have fidget toys!! These things are absolutely amazing and help me in so many ways! And as a bonus, there are so many different designs and fidget toys to choose from and play with!
In some situations, it is not (yet) culturally acceptable to move about when you need to fidget. So, instead, you have to find other ways to move. One of the main solutions to this NEED to move is a fidget toy. It enables our brains to focus better because it keeps our fingers or toes moving. This alleviates the hyperactivity and allows our minds to function much better.
Are fidgets good for you?
Yes! Fidget toys help you focus, come up with creative ideas, and regulate emotions. They can also help with stress and anxiety.
Do fidget toys help with focus?
Fidget toys do help with focus! They provide enough stimulation that the mind is able to then focus on the task at hand instead of spending extra energy seeking more dopamine or sensations.
When fidget toys were first becoming popular in 2017, they predominantly focused on fidget spinner toys. I am a clumsy person by nature and didn’t find that particular toy very appealing. However, in 2021 a different type of fidget toy – pop its – were made widely popular through TikTok users.
I bought a colorful rainbow pop-it fidget toy off of Amazon and it quickly became my favorite fidget. I also found a keychain version of the toy that only has 2 bubbles on it but goes with me everywhere. Some of my other favorite toys are: fidget cubes, fidget tangles, and fidget sparkle globes.
Which solution is your favorite?
I know that I cannot really pick a favorite solution. I use many of these every day at home, at work, and when I’m out with friends. I am able to function as a neurodivergent adult because of each one of these. I hope that you’ll be able to try some of these ideas for yourself and discover something new that works for you!