10 Productivity Tips for Someone with ADHD

Working with ADHD can be challenging. But not impossible.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Productivity tips for people with ADHD

Though an estimated one in five people exhibit some type of neurodivergence, we still live in a world of neuronormative standards. This means that these individuals are often forced — explicitly or indirectly — to mask their behaviors in order to “fit in”. This can cause serious harm to people’s sense of self-worth, increasing their chances of experiencing poor mental health.

However, as science advances our understanding of this aspect of human diversity, the road toward inclusion becomes less obstructed over time. At the same time, treatment becomes more effective and accessible.

Though not intended as a substitute for professional counseling, our list of productivity tips can help make day-to-day tasks appear a little more doable. Here are our top productivity “hacks” for people with ADHD.

1. Create a clear plan of action

Creating two separate to-do lists (one for the day and one for the week) can help you structure the days ahead. Using post-it notes or a magnetic board can help you create a visually stimulating plan of action, which you can also easily reorganize.

To begin, you would shift around tasks from your weekly to-do column to your tasks for the day. A third column can be created for any tasks you complete. Your daily tasks can also be ranked by priority, with the most urgent ones at the top. Alternatively, a productivity journal or printable list could also work.

2. Divide your tasks into smaller tasks

Any complicated or time-consuming task can appear daunting at first. And when you’ve got a Loch Ness Monster of a task in front of you, turning your back and calmly walking away may seem like the reasonable thing to do.

That’s why breaking up your tasks into smaller, more achievable steps helps. A 2,000-word essay, for example, has multiple components: an introduction, the main arguments and a conclusion. Start by creating an outline for each component and doing a bit of research to come up with ideas for each paragraph. Having a clear, easy-to-follow guide makes things easier.

3. Start with the easiest tasks

Gaining a sense of accomplishment early in the day can give you the much-needed motivation you need to keep going. That’s why it’s good to start with the less daunting stuff on your list.

This is particularly helpful when dealing with smaller subtasks that add up to form one larger entry on your to-do list. Crossing each little bit out can be extremely satisfying — and it will be even more energizing when you’re achieving it while preserving brainpower.

4. Write down some priority reminders

Some days, several tasks on your list will appear urgent at once. However, you won’t be able to simultaneously pay attention to every single one — and that’s okay.

In times like these, it can be helpful to note down the following next to each task: when the task is due, and why it’s important that you complete it. For example, if a coworker or classmate is waiting for you to do your work, unable to get on with theirs in the meantime, taking note of this can give you a push.

Quick, to-the-point reminders like this can make prioritizing quicker and help you stay focused.

5. Create a distraction-free workspace

Whether you’re revising at home or working at the office, it’s good not to have too many gadgets or trinkets lying around on your desk. Sometimes, when stress-inducing deadlines are looming over you, nearby objects may begin to appear extraordinarily fascinating. You may find yourself more inclined to studying your glitter pen than putting a single word on paper.

Getting rid of the extras can do wonders. So can a pair of noise-canceling headphones, especially when you’re working in a noisy environment.

6. Overestimate how much time you’ll need

Do you ever find yourself thinking “I have plenty of time for this task; no need to sweat it”, only to find yourself scrambling to get it done at the last possible moment? Though the task itself could, in theory, take a short amount of time, the process of putting it off usually takes longer.

So, if your task could be completed in 30 minutes, tell yourself you’ll need one hour for it. By reserving longer slots for your to-dos, you’ll run out of “available hours” faster, which can help induce that valuable sense of time pressure.

7. Work in timed intervals

Setting a timer before getting started with your to-do list can help you stay on task. If you’ve never worked with a productivity timer, you can begin with the Pomodoro technique.

This popular method of working or studying in intervals involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, trying to stay focused until the time is up, then taking a 5-minute break. Once you complete four ‘pomodoros’, you can take a longer break of up to 30 minutes.

The method is thought to be effective because 25-minute intervals can discourage multitasking, as they’re quite short, thus improving concentration.

8. Do strategic brain dumps

It can be hard to stay focused when your mind likes to wander. You could be working on one thing and, with one thought leading to another, suddenly find yourself pondering all sorts of unrelated questions, like how many spots the average ladybug has.

Instead of pausing your work for a “quick” Google search (we all know there’s no such thing), do a brain dump. In other words, write down the various questions or thoughts that pop into your head, and go back to them later for further exploration.

I prefer to distinguish ADD as attention abundance disorder. Everything is just so interesting, remarkably at the same time.

Frank Coppola, ADHD coaching expert

9. Find an accountability buddy

Having a clear deadline can be helpful in getting us to mobilize our efforts. While “you have to or you’ll fail the class” isn’t the greatest of motivators, it’s enough to push us into getting an assignment done.

However, not everything in life comes with a deadline. But if it helps you to be held accountable, ask a friend to assign you with one. If you’ve been putting off doing your taxes or applying for a new job, ask them to sit with you while you do it. This can always be done via video call if they don’t live nearby.

Alternatively, ask them to send you reminders as often as they can, and have them set a strict deadline for you to complete your task by.

10. Set to-do-less days

Procrastination can get worse when we feel overwhelmed. And in the age of self-replenishing to-do lists, where everyday tasks often feel unpleasantly demanding, anxiety can become a constant. This is especially true for people with ADHD, who are likely to also suffer from anxiety disorders.

Scheduling in downtime at regular intervals can help recalibrate your mind. Depending on your schedule, you can allocate a certain hour in the morning or evening, or a day in the week, to being intentionally free of to-dos.

Final thoughts

Though we still don’t know the exact causes of ADHD, scientists have come a long way in understanding the disorder since it was first identified in the 18th century. Treatment for ADHD now spans beyond medication, allowing for more personalized interventions.

A review of recent research tells us that exercise is effective in improving the attention span and working memory of individuals with ADHD. Cognitive behavioral therapy and emotional therapy have also been shown to help. Additionally, there are some great books for teaching adults how to manage the disorder, with research-backed advice.

To conclude, with the right support, we believe that anyone can thrive — regardless what self-doubt might be telling us. As for the productivity tips we covered in this article, remember to:

  • Break your tasks into smaller, doable bits, and start with those.
  • Minimize distractions and use brain dumps to maintain your concentration.
  • Try to turn boring things, such as writing to-do lists, into more stimulating activities.
  • Turn to friends for support if working alongside someone helps you focus better.
  • Remember to schedule in time off to recharge.

Have you discovered any other strategies that work for you? Let us know in the comments section.