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ADHD Routines: 5 Strategies to Keep Yourself on Track

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Late again, you quickly brush your teeth as you head to the lounge, open your laptop, and press enter on the ZOOM screen. Phew! It's getting harder and harder to avoid being late for these meetings, and it's not as if you can blame traffic. Zoning out on what is being discussed, you look longingly at your coffee pot, wondering when it's appropriate to get up and make yourself a cup. Meeting done, you quickly note down tasks and get started, but just as quickly you find yourself distracted. Moving between tasks aimlessly, you check social media and struggle to find the momentum you need. Why does this keep happening!

For many of us with ADHD, COVID-19 has shaken up the routines we developed (Oddo et al., 2021). Or maybe even before last year, you struggled to find a consistent schedule you could maintain for more than a few days. Research has found that ADHD can make keeping routines difficult (Ek & Isaksson, 2013; Harris et al., 2014; Wennberg et al., 2018, 2021). Executive functioning issues such as time blindness, working memory struggles, and a need for novel stimulation can all make following a structure more complex.


However, there is also evidence that when ADHDers find ways to set up routines that work; these can positively affect our day, helping us feel more productive and reducing executive dysfunction's effect on completing tasks (Canela et al., 2017; Geffen & Forster, 2018; Harris et al., 2014; Wennberg et al., 2021). So if routines are both a crucial part of ADHD support and hard to maintain, what strategies can we use to help build them effectively?

This article will outline five tips that can help us develop and utilise routines for our neurodiverse brains. At the end of the article, I will also include a link to group coaching sessions available for those who would like to join a community of other ADHDers learning about these strategies and putting them into practice.

1. Keep It Simple

When we think of routines, we often imagine some of our favourite celebrities or entrepreneurs' extravagant setups. Journaling, meditation, getting up at 6 am to make a meal from scratch; these are all expectations we can have for how a routine looks. However, diving in headfirst and creating schedules that incorporate everything will often leave you feeling overwhelmed. It can also make it more likely you'll give up (Geffen & Forster, 2018). Instead, start simple and focus on what you need to do to have a good-enough routine. You can always add bigger goals in after a month or two.

2. Don't Forget About Dopamine

One essential element of an ADHD routine is adding dopamine supporting activities to make the whole process more re-energising. Whether we've just woken up, we're heading to bed, or sitting down to engage in work, being bored can make it challenging to get started. Adding a fun dopamine boosting element to each routine helps you avoid that tedium. Examples include listening to podcasts while you get ready, taking a quick walk with a friend, sitting down with a cup of something, or watching an episode of your favourite show with breakfast.

3. Use A Body Double

Some studies have found that people with ADHD find it easier to work alongside others also completing a task (Anhalt et al., 1998; Carbone, 2001). This knowledge can be used when following routines. For example, if you know you need to clean the house once a week, doing that task with another person might help you focus your attention and get more done. It doesn't have to be offline either. Online apps such as Focusmate have popularised the use of body doubles while working.

4. Use Technology

One of the more researched supports for ADHD routines is the use of electronic assistance (Adolfsson et al., 2016; Chen et al., 2012; Ek & Isaksson, 2013; Moëll et al., 2015). Whether it's your phone, smartwatch, or an egg timer, setups like these can help you externalise how much time is passing and outline what you need to do next. You can find out more about timers here.


5. Have An Accountability Partner

Getting started and being consistent can be a challenging part of developing a routine. That's why it can help to have somebody who knows about your goals and is holding you accountable. This can be someone in your household, a friend who texts you every day, or an ADHD coach. If you think you might struggle to get started, reach out to someone who can give you the push you need.


Although routines can be difficult to begin and maintain, they form an integral part of supporting ADHD. Hopefully, these tips provided you with some support to help you navigate getting started (or restarted) your routines.


If you'd like additional support, I'm running up to four weekly group coaching sessions focused on creating and maintaining routines with ADHD. The groups will be limited to 9 people and include 8 weekly ZOOM sessions to develop and test your routines. There will also be a secret Facebook group where you can connect with fellow ADHDers, hold each other accountable, share your struggles, and ask questions throughout the week.


Talk to you next week,


Skye.


Feeling stuck and want to develop effective ADHD strategies?

Click here to book a free 20-minute consultation with Skye.

We are a team of coaches who have lived experience of ADHD and are passionate about providing you with strength-based, research-backed ADHD strategies and support.

Or click here to find more ADHD resources.

References

Adolfsson, P., Lindstedt, H., Pettersson, I., Hermansson, L. N., & Janeslätt, G. (2016). Perception of the influence of environmental factors in the use of electronic planning devices in adults with cognitive disabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 11(6), 493–500. https://doi.org/10.3109/17483107.2014.989418

Anhalt, K., McNeil, C. B., & Bahl, A. B. (1998). The ADHD Classroom Kit: A whole-classroom approach for managing disruptive behavior. Psychology in the Schools, 35(1), 67–79. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1520-6807(199801)35:1<67::AID-PITS6>3.0.CO;2-R

Canela, C., Buadze, A., Dube, A., Eich, D., & Liebrenz, M. (2017). Skills and compensation strategies in adult ADHD – A qualitative study. PLOS ONE, 12(9), e0184964. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184964

Carbone, E. (2001). Arranging the Classroom with an Eye (and Ear) to Students with ADHD. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 34(2), 72–82. https://doi.org/10.1177/004005990103400211

Chen, H., Yang, H.-I., Hooks, H., Lee, J., Satterfield, D., Wong, J., & Chang, C. K. (2012). Medbuddy: A Mobile Medicinal Management System for Children with ADD/ADHD. In M. Donnelly, C. Paggetti, C. Nugent, & M. Mokhtari (Eds.), Impact Analysis of Solutions for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management (pp. 286–290). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-30779-9_46

Ek, A., & Isaksson, G. (2013). How adults with ADHD get engaged in and perform everyday activities. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 20(4), 282–291. https://doi.org/10.3109/11038128.2013.799226

Geffen, J., & Forster, K. (2018). Treatment of adult ADHD: A clinical perspective. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 8(1), 25–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125317734977

Harris, A. N., Stoppelbein, L., Greening, L., Becker, S. P., Luebbe, A., & Fite, P. (2014). Child Routines and Parental Adjustment as Correlates of Internalizing and Externalizing Symptoms in Children Diagnosed with ADHD. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 45(2), 243–253. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-013-0396-4

Moëll, B., Kollberg, L., Nasri, B., Lindefors, N., & Kaldo, V. (2015). Living SMART — A randomized controlled trial of a guided online course teaching adults with ADHD or sub-clinical ADHD to use smartphones to structure their everyday life. Internet Interventions, 2(1), 24–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.invent.2014.11.004

Oddo, L. E., Garner, A., Novick, D. R., Meinzer, M. C., & Chronis-Tuscano, A. (2021). Remote Delivery of Psychosocial Intervention for College Students with ADHD during COVID-19: Clinical Strategies, Practice Recommendations, and Future Considerations. Evidence-Based Practice in Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 6(1), 99–115. https://doi.org/10.1080/23794925.2020.1855614

Wennberg, B., Janeslätt, G., Gustafsson, P. A., & Kjellberg, A. (2021). Occupational performance goals and outcomes of time-related interventions for children with ADHD. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 28(2), 158–170. https://doi.org/10.1080/11038128.2020.1820570

Wennberg, B., Janeslätt, G., Kjellberg, A., & Gustafsson, P. A. (2018). Effectiveness of time-related interventions in children with ADHD aged 9-15 years: A randomized controlled study. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 27(3), 329–342. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-017-1052-5