When you have ADHD, creating structure might seem impossible. Maybe some of these tips will help you
For a large part of my life I have hated structure and everything to do with it. I kept trying and failing to become more structured with my time and my living space. I had no idea where to start or how, and people seemed to be unable to explain something as simple as how to regularly clean up my room in a way that worked for me. I also felt a lot of pressure from society to stop complaining. That it wasn’t that difficult and I should just get over myself. Of course, as people with ADHD know, on many days creating structure seems to be the most difficult thing I have to do. Fortunately, I have been more successful in resent years thanks to many tips I got from others and things I found out by myself. With these tips I hope to help you become more successful in creating structure in your own life. As the list of tips and suggestions I have is quite long, I will give half of the suggestions today, and the other half next week.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Maybe you have already found someone who is helping you with your struggles in a way that works well for you. If not, there is no shame in asking for help. Everyone needs help from time to time, and getting help from a coach or therapist is a great way to learn to deal with (practical) problems, such as structure. Such a person can also give you a more realistic idea about what is achievable in the short run, what will take more time to learn, and which things are not realistic, at least for the foreseeable future. A coach or therapist also knows a lot of techniques and exercises to practice with solutions to your problems and to find a way that works for you.
Use a bullet journal as a diary and check it every day at the same time
As described in my last post, using a bullet journal is the only way so far in which I have been successful when keeping a diary in the long run. Check out my post from last week to see how I make this work. I have found that using a bullet journal actually is the basis for being more successful with structure in general. Not to say that that will be the case for you, but it really is worth your time to try using a bullet journal.
Create a morning routine
By creating a morning routine you will have a stable way of starting your day without having to think things through every morning. My morning routine consists of getting up at around 7.00 AM, meditating, drinking approximately 1 liter of water while journaling, and eating breakfast. That way it becomes easier to drink enough during the day, I empty my head, decreasing the stress I normally wake up with, and I never skip breakfast. This might seem like quite a lot as the start of your morning, but the point is that for me this works and helps me overcome certain other problems I used to deal with every day. Your morning routine can be as simple as getting out of bed and having breakfast every day at the same time. Just try out what works for you.
Use some daily tasks as an anchor
This one is a companion to the morning routine. Using certain tasks as fixed points in your day will make it easier to keep a structure. I use this as a framework to build my day around. In my case I use coming out of bed and going to bed, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner as fixed time points. Generally, each of these takes place at the same time each day, both throughout the week and during the weekend. I have found that using time points like these decreases stress because the day becomes less overwhelming. It is also easier to plan for the day ahead, because you know there are certain fixed points throughout the day between which you can plan all your other tasks. An extra benefit is that it also becomes less likely that you forget one or more of your meals. Just as with the morning routine, try what works for you and don’t give up too quickly. It takes time to get used to things like these, so give yourself that time.
Be kind to yourself
This is one point that I will be repeating again and again. Not just for people with ADHD, but for everyone who keeps getting angry at themselves when failing or not living up to expectations that are sky-high. Everyone has unique struggles and challenges. And they all become 100x more difficult if you are unforgiving to yourself every time you do not succeed. You are trying. That should be enough. If you are reading this post, I assume you want to learn to become better at creating structure in your life. It is great that you are taking the effort to try to become better at something, and you should be proud of yourself for that. If you try my tips and nothing works, that doesn’t say anything about you, it just means that you haven’t found the right information jet.
Doing something boring can be relaxing
This is something I only found out in the last 6 months, and if you had said it to me before that time, I would have laughed in your face. Mundane tasks often feel like a nightmare, because they are boring and many a time require you to use some kind of structure. What I found is that when I am overwhelmed by my day because I want to do too much at the same time or suffer from an information overload, doing something simple and structured actually relaxes me. Whenever I feel overwhelmed and feel like I am stuck doing nothing because everything feels like too much, I just start with a simple task, like doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom. My goal isn’t that in this way I tackle those things (although it is great that I get them done). My goal is to deal whit the feeling of being overwhelmed. Doing something that requires no thought and has no emotional attachments helps me to get over the overload. This way, I do not waste a whole day feeling incapable of doing anything at all, and I actually use structure as a way to calm myself. If you find doing chores too stressful, try out other activities to see if there is something else that will help you feel more calm and in control of your day. Most people have some small, simple tasks they have to do each day, and by choosing one of those when you’re overwhelmed, it also gives you a feeling of accomplishment.
Keep it simple
Just as with keeping a diary, creating structure is something that can become very complex very quickly. It might be tempting to try everything I have written in this blog, but that might cause you to give up on the whole thing because it is too much in one go. It has taken me years to discover and use all these techniques, and some of them I have stopped using again. But the most important goal isn’t to use it all at the same time, the goal is to get more structure in your life, and by trying out different things I have become more and more successful at it. It still isn’t perfect, but that’s OK. So just try out different things on this list, and see what works. If you find something that does work on some level, but not on another, see if you can change it and in that way make it work for you. Do not give up too quickly. If getting a structured life was easy, you would have figured out how a long time ago and it would never have been a problem.
Do things that you find difficult in blocks of 10 minutes
For a long time my E-mail account was a big mess. There were days I didn’t check my e-mail, I was subscribed to way too many newsletters and such, and at the worst point I had more than 10,000 unread messages. I don’t want to know how many there were in total. I tried to empty my inbox several times, but never successfully. Until someone told me that I should use just 10 minutes per day where I worked on emptying my inbox, no more and no less. I was skeptical. I would probably start quite successfully and keep it up for a week or so, after which I would give up again. But to my surprise this turned out to be the perfect way for me to clear out my e-mail. After a few weeks I was done, and went on cleaning up other digital spaces that were mess, such as my hard-drive. And although my e-mail account has several times become messy again, it is never as bad as is used to be and it is a lot easier to clear up. The trick is that you only do such a task for 10 minutes and no more. I have a tendency to think that 10 minutes really isn’t enough time and increase it more and more, until I loose my motivation and then just quite. But by doing a task like cleaning up your e-mail account for only 10 minutes, it’s not just easy to keep doing it, often you can do it quickly between two larger tasks, making it easier to plan.
Create your own deadlines
This is something that I discovered not that long ago. As long as there is the pressure of a deadline, most people with ADHD can be very productive. The problems start when there is no such thing, and people still expect you to be productive anyway. For some tasks that do not have a deadline, it pays off to create your own. My clearest example is keeping this blog. I have agreed with myself, and told several people around me, that I will post something every Monday. That way it is a lot easier to start writing. Even though there are no consequences to me not posting anything, the idea that I would not keep my promise is enough to motivate me to start with the first draft on Saturday. Someone else wanted to remodel their kitchen. They started with the kitchen and then invited people over for the Christmas holidays, which were about two months away at that point. That way, they had no choice but to finish the kitchen, and did so successfully. So if you want to do something but keep postponing it because there is no deadline, tell people about your plans and when they can expect certain parts of those plans to be done.
Creating structure can be a real nightmare if you have ADHD and no idea how or where to start. In this blog post I hope to have given you some useful information. Or maybe you have found a completely different way to deal with structure. I would love to hear what has worked for you.