Midlife ADHD? Coping strategies that can help – Harvard Health Blog

Cluttered desk top, many sticky notes, distractions; concept of ADHD, trouble focusing at work

Trouble staying focused and paying attention are two familiar symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a common health issue among children and teens. When ADHD persists through early adulthood and on into middle age, it presents many of the same challenges it does in childhood: it’s hard to stay organized, start projects, stay on task, and meet deadlines. But now life is busier, and expectations from work and family often are even higher. Fortunately, there are lots of strategies that can help you navigate this time in your life.

Staying organized

Organizational tools are a must for people with adult ADHD. They’ll help you prioritize and track activities for each day or the coming weeks.

Tools can include a pen and paper to make lists, or computer or smartphone apps to set appointment reminders, highlight important days on the calendar, mark deadlines, and keep lists and other information handy.

Set aside time each day to update your lists and schedules. Don’t let the task become a chore in itself; think of it like a routine task such as brushing your teeth, and do it daily so it becomes an established habit.

And a word of caution: smartphones and computers can also turn into a distraction. If you have adult ADHD, you may find yourself spending hours looking at less useful apps or sites. If that’s a frequent trap for you, set a timer for each use or keep the phone off or in another room when you are trying to work.

Staying focused

Just being organized doesn’t mean your work will get done. But a few simple approaches can at least make it easier to do the work.

  • Declutter your home and office. Give yourself an appealing work environment and keep important items easily accessible.
  • Reduce distractions. This could mean changing your workstation so it doesn’t face a window, moving to a quieter space, or just silencing your smartphone and email alerts.
  • Jot down ideas as they come to you. You may have an “aha” moment for one task while you’re in the middle of another. That’s okay; just write down that thought and get back to it later, after your more pressing work is finished.

Meeting deadlines

Deadlines pose two big challenges when you have adult ADHD. First, it’s hard to start a project, often because you want it to be perfect, or you’re intimidated by it so you put it off. Second, when you do start a project, it’s very easy to become distracted and leave the task unfinished.

How can you avoid these traps?

  • Put off procrastinating. Put procrastination on your to-do list — like a chore — and fool yourself into actually starting your work.
  • Deal with emails, phone calls, or other matters as soon as you can. That way there will be fewer things hanging over your head and overwhelming you later on.
  • Be a clock watcher. Get a watch and get in the habit of using it. The more aware you are of time, the more likely you’ll be able to avoid spending too long on a task.
  • Take one thing at a time. Multitasking is overrated for everyone — and it’s a nightmare for people with adult ADHD. Focus on completing one task, then move on to the next.
  • Be realistic about your time. This can mean having to say no to new projects or other commitments.

Get more help

The ideas listed here can help you start coping with adult ADHD, but they may not be enough to help you overcome adult ADHD’s challenges.

Consider hiring an ADHD coach who can provide more strategies and give you additional tools to cope with your condition. Look for an ADHD coach who is a licensed mental health professional who specializes in treating ADHD, and may also have a certification in ADHD coaching from the ADHD Coaches Organization.

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