4 Productivity Strategies That Actually Help Me as an Adult With ADHD
If you have ADHD, you probably know that the bulk of the productivity advice online is not very effective for our particular brains. Making to-do lists, blocking social media, scheduling your day in chunks of time: popular strategies like these may have limited results, but far too often our minds find a way to subvert even our best attempts to keep ourselves on task, leaving us frustrated and desperate for some way to achieve what we want to get done with minimal procrastination and tears.
I won’t pretend I never get sidetracked or distracted anymore, but in balancing being a full-time student with doing freelance work on the side, I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error and have taken away some strategies that actually work for me.
1. Body doubling
Have you ever noticed that you stay on task more effectively just by having someone else in the room, regardless of what they’re doing? I certainly had before I even learned a name for this as a productivity technique: body doubling.
Study groups are an ideal way to take advantage of this — there’s a certain sense of accountability when you’re in a group where everyone is expected to be doing one particular thing. I’ve also had homework sessions with my sister, my friends, and even strangers in ADHD support Discord servers. Another variant of this strategy is doing work in public, such as in a library or a coffee shop.
I first learned about body doubling from this video from How to ADHD, so here it is as an introduction:
Meditation is part of my spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to be part of yours to benefit from it. It doesn’t even have to be a regularly scheduled practice — we all know how hard it is with ADHD to convince yourself to do something that will take sustained mental effort, let alone do that at the same time every single day. For me, it’s more like a medicine I take as needed.
An easy application for meditation is for “bedtime resistance,” as I have heard it called. Some nights, I know I should be sleeping, but I can’t resist falling into a YouTube rabbit hole. In this situation, I can pull up one of the many guided sleep-inducing meditations available for free on the website. These never fail to put me into an extremely relaxed state, if not completely asleep before the video ends.
Meditation also helps me refresh my mental energy when I become restless and fatigued during a long, sustained task, such as a writing exam. By closing my eyes, clearing my mind, and focusing on taking 10 long, deep breaths, I can then open my eyes and carry that feeling of focus and clear-mindedness into my task.
It’s good just to take a couple minutes whenever you can, too — squeezing in some focus on the breath during idle times, such as during my commute or while waiting for someone, has improved my general functioning by keeping me more centered and mindful.
If you also have excess physical energy you need to vent, tai chi is another great option — essentially, it’s moving meditation. I always find I sleep better when I practice tai chi in the evening for even five minutes. I had a good experience starting out with Taiflow’s Tai Chi 5 Minutes a Day series.
3. Ordering (not scheduling) my day
Traditional schedules that fit activities into strict time slots have proven ineffective for my ADHD; in fact, difficulty estimating the amount of time an activity will take is a common symptom reported by people with ADHD. When I have tried it in the past, I inevitably found myself running late on my own schedule, stressing over my delay, and eventually giving up on the schedule altogether, feeling as if it’s too late to recover.
But there’s also this phenomenon most people with ADHD can relate to: you have a task to complete, but it never feels like the right time, so you can’t make yourself initiate it. What I’ve found helps me get around that is laying out the order I will do tasks in at the beginning of each day. This creates an automatic “right time” to start that task I’d been meaning to get done by tying it to the completion of a previous task. It especially helps to tie important tasks to things I do habitually every day, like my morning coffee or my lunch break. As long as I keep that order in the back of my mind, the transition into the next activity will feel much smoother than if I had no plan and just sat around trying to figure out what to do next.
I’ve tried traditional written planners and to-do lists, of course. The issue is that I need to take it everywhere with me — if I forget it (and of course I will), I’m out of luck for keeping track of my tasks for the day.
My solution? Todoist, a functional yet simple planner that comes with me on the things I’m already bound to have at least one of next to me at all times: my smartphone and laptop. It syncs between my devices, so if I’m not immediately near my laptop, I can pull out my phone and put my task in right away, and then see it from my laptop later when I’m ready to get to work.
Whenever I start a new course or work project, I immediately break down all the individual assignments or sections and input them into Todoist so that I meet the deadlines with a few days to spare (to account for the inevitable times I don’t get everything done in a day that I meant to). I can then rest easy knowing the app will tell me exactly what I need to get done every day to stay on track.
I don’t gain anything from this endorsement; it’s just been the single most helpful external tool I’ve tried to keep on top of my tasks and I would love if it helped someone else. You can install the free desktop, mobile, and/or browser apps from here: https://todoist.com/downloads
Living with ADHD isn’t easy, but these four strategies have helped me tremendously to succeed in both my classes and work. I’m also always happy to try new ideas that have worked for others, so feel free to share any other strategies that have worked for you in the comments.