How to Function with Adult ADHD

Four Methods:Functioning at Work with Adult ADHDFunctioning at Home with Adult ADHDSeeking an Adult ADHD DiagnosisMinimizing the Symptoms of Adult ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often mistaken as a disorder that affects only children and is characterized by a simple inability to “sit still and pay attention.” However, this is not true. Around five percent of adults also meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis. ADHD affects your ability to use the executive functions of your brain, causing things such as time management, organization, and task completion to be difficult you.

Method 1
Functioning at Work with Adult ADHD

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    Plan ahead and organize yourself. If you have ADHD, organizing is difficult. This spans from keeping a tidy desk to keeping track of tasks that need to be completed. It helps to plan ahead of time so that you know what tasks you will be doing today and write it down. Three helpful tips for staying on track for the day are:[1]
    • Make decisions in a reasonable time. This might even mean setting a timer.
    • Keep your to-do lists short. Once you finish all of the tasks on your list you can start another one.
    • Remember that your time is a finite resource. Do not try to take on every project or responsibility that is offered to you.
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    Get started on something. Task initiation is another executive function that is affected by ADHD. This means that it is difficult to get started doing ― well anything. Some find it helpful to start with easy tasks to build “flow” and then tackle harder tasks. Alternatively, some people with ADHD find it easier to tackle the hard task first, when you have the most available attention span. You should explore both methods and see what works for you.[2]
    • For example, if you find it easier to tackle small tasks first, then try answering some emails or taking care of some quick paperwork. If you find it easier to tackle big tasks first, then start your day by putting in some work in on a major project or upcoming presentation.
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    Watch the clock. Everyone has had the experience of starting a project and being so consumed that it takes twice as long as you expected. If you have ADHD this can easily be every project if you aren’t careful. Avoid getting too caught up in the details and allot yourself a specific amount of time to do each task for a day ahead of time.[3]
    • You might also underestimate the amount of time that it will take to do a task, so allot yourself more time than you think you’ll need. This way the goals you set will be attainable. For example, if you think you will need about an hour to complete a task set aside an hour and a half.
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    Finish something. Ironically, you may find it hard not only to start a task, but also to finish one. Once a task is too mundane or too difficult, you quickly lose interest and move on to a more entertaining task. Do not fall into this trap as it leaves you with several “loose ends” and nothing actually completed at the end of the day.[4]
    • One good way to complete boring tasks, such as folding clothes, is to have a “body-double.” This is another person who is doing some other task alongside you, but not talking to you or distracting you. The fact that they are working diligently will help keep you focused.[5]
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    Minimize distractions. With words like “attention deficit” in the name, it is easy to see that you might be distracted easily. Turn your email notifications off and check it at designated times and put away your phone if possible. You should also consider using noise cancelling headphones or another means of “tuning out” the outside world. This will help you avoid being drawn to every little noise or source of possible entertainment.[6]
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    Move as much as you can. Exercise is a great way to burn energy and to release endorphins that make your brain “happy.” This will help you concentrate when you need to. It is also a good idea to move to an empty conference room or other private space in the office so that you can stand up and move around the room a bit while you work.[7]

Method 2
Functioning at Home with Adult ADHD

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    Make room for flexibility in your schedule. With ADHD, there is a fine line separating a rigid schedule from chaos. This can often mean that it is difficult to make time for family members in a spontaneous way. Such a lack of flexibility can cause non-ADHD family members to feel like they are not important or that you are more worried about your plans for the day then their feelings. You can often build time into your schedule for this kind of flexibility by allotting more time than you will actually need for each task.[8]
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    Keep social boundaries in mind. If you tend to stand a little too closely or talk a little too loudly for everyone else’s comfort, you will need be be conscious of these social boundaries. Keep these boundaries in mind by being aware of how close you are to someone and how loud or active you are compared to everyone else in the room. It can also help to communicate your needs to others.[9]
    • For example, if it is hard to sit down for an entire conversation, you could mention to your friends or family members that you are paying attention to them but are too restless to sit for an hour or two at a time.[10]
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    Schedule in social events. You might find that you often get so consumed in what you are doing that you avoid or forget to be social. It is important to surround yourself with people who appreciate you. It is also important to show people that you appreciate them by making time for them.[11]
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    React appropriately to things that excite you. This is especially important when things upset you. You might react more intensely than most others, and this can be hurtful and confusing to partners and family members that do not have ADHD (and those who do, too). Before you react, you should consider the impact of what you plan to say or do. If necessary, leave the room and collect your thoughts before responding to an emotional situation.[12]
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    Take initiative to do housework. This is very important to avoid developing a “child-parent” relationship between a spouse with ADHD and one without. You probably often overlook boring chores like putting away the dishes and have to be reminded (or parented) by your significant other without ADHD. Make a checklist for each day’s chores and make sure that you are taking the initiative to do them without being reminded too many times.[13]
    • The parent-child dynamic is very damaging to most relationships and is one of the primary reasons that people with ADHD tend to have relationship problems.
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    Keep your thrill seeking in check. Since the ADHD brain struggles to reward itself internally, you may feel the need to seek external thrills. It is okay to satisfy your needs for stimulation ― carefully. For example, booking a skydiving trip might be a great thrill. Flirting with your spouse’s best friend, well, that’s not such a good idea.[14]
    • It is also good practice to be open with your partner or spouse about your needs so that you can work out ways that you are both fulfilled in the relationship.[15]

Method 3
Seeking an Adult ADHD Diagnosis

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    Recognize ADHD symptoms. It is common for people to dismiss ADHD symptoms as other things, such as simply being forgetful. If you consistently forget things, have trouble organizing, and struggle with impulse control then you could possibly have ADHD. Start reading about ADHD, and if you identify with what you read, schedule a consultation with your healthcare provider.[16]
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    Have a consultation visit. Schedule a visit with your healthcare provider to discuss ADHD. The discussion will allow your provider to understand a little about your habits. This gives them a context for any diagnostic testing that comes later. Many doctors consider this the most important part of an accurate diagnosis.[17]
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    Bring someone to the consultation. Since you are used to living with your ADHD symptoms, you may underreport them.. It helps doctors to talk to a close friend or family member to have additional perspective on your habits and daily life. It is best to take someone who spends a good deal of time with you.[18]
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    Complete any checklists. Checklists are a tool often used by doctors to diagnose ADHD. Along with background information about the patient, the checklist can identify exactly what symptoms are present. This can help in the diagnosis and also in identifying a treatment that is likely to work.[19]

Method 4
Minimizing the Symptoms of Adult ADHD

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    Use prescribed stimulants to control Adult ADHD. Stimulants such as Adderall and Vyvanse can help regulate the neurotransmitters (chemicals in your brain) in the part of the brain affected by ADHD (the prefrontal cortex). Regulating these chemicals can lead to a considerable reduction in symptoms for some ADHD patients. The downside is that you will often have to try several medications and dosage strengths to find the right treatment for you.[20]
    • You should avoid other stimulants, such as caffeine, as they tend to make symptoms worse.
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    Take a reuptake inhibitor. Reuptake is the process by which neurotransmitters are drawn back into your brain cells. By slowing this process down, you can allow your brain to regulate the “happiness” sensation that is gained by these chemicals being released. Reuptake inhibitors generally take longer to start working than stimulants, but some people prefer them. Like stimulants, you will need a prescription for this treatment.[21]
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    Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Things like caffeine and sugar can wreak havoc on your ADHD brain. It is best to aim for a diet that is low in sugar and carbohydrates and higher in proteins and omega-3 fats. Basing meals around lean meat and fish along with fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to start.[22]
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    Exercise your body regularly. A regular workout routine will give you a break from trying to “contain” yourself as well as boost endorphins. Choose a sport or routine that you enjoy. If your workout is a chore then you will likely skip it.[23]


  • Keep key people informed as to how you are feeling on a given day. This will help you both be aware of your symptoms.
  • Keep a journal of your symptoms. If you notice a trend that makes them worse or better (such as a morning coffee) then use that to your advantage.
  • When you make an “ADHD Mistake,” own up to it instead of placing blame.


  • Self medicating with over the counter stimulants can make symptoms worse.
  • Self medicating with illegal drugs is dangerous and, well, illegal.
  • Do not use an ADHD diagnosis as a crutch or an excuse. Someone with ADHD can be very competent if symptoms are understood and managed.

Article Info

Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders