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Getting Help With ADHD and Routines

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

With ADHD, we can often struggle with feeling overwhelmed or like time is running out. Creating routines that provide structure and take into account ADHD behaviour is something researchers agree can be helpful for both ADHD children and adults [1]–[7]. Whether it's getting up in the morning, focusing on boring tasks, or winding down for bed, routines help us develop positive habits to face executive functioning difficulties.

But, when implementing these structures, it's important to consider how routines support your ADHD struggles, including working memory, transition time, and dopamine [8]–[11]. Hopefully, this article will help answer some of your common questions about ADHD routines.

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Why Is a Routine Important For ADHD?

ADHD, generally, includes a number of executive functioning struggles, such as working memory, time blindness, and difficulty with transition times [8], [9], [12], [13]. Several studies have found using regular routines can be a great way to help ADHD adults feel less overwhelmed and more in control of their day-to-day tasks [1], [14].

Why Do ADHD Adults Hate Routine?

ADHD adults often hate structure and routine because the only systems we've been taught have been optimised for neurotypical people. Researchers found that adults with ADHD and neurotypical adults can have very different ways of seeing the world [1], [5]. For example, starting a task with ADHD can be difficult, but moving through a task (once focused) might take far less time.

As a result of these differences, it's important that the habits ADHD adults use are optimised for us. Otherwise, a routine can feel unsupportive and unusable, like trying a tool meant for the opposite hand. This article will highlight that it’s often not the routine ADHD adults can dislike, it's how the routine is built.

Do ADHD Adults Need a Routine?

Although many ADHD studies are conducted on children, research with adults suggests we do also benefit from implementing routines [1], [5], [14]. Creating a daily structure optimised for time blindness and working memory struggles that include enough stimulating activities to support dopamine dysregulation can provide a supportive framework for ADHD adults as well as children.

How Can I Be More Consistent With Routines for ADHD?

One of the struggles ADHD adults can experience is developing a habit that feels like it works but quickly abandoning it and returning to previous behaviours. This starting and stopping is one of the reasons we can sometimes be viewed as inconsistent. This often because, the routine we're using was created by neurotypicals and is therefore not optimised for ADHD psychology and behaviour.

Instead, developing a routine specifically for ADHD can help us be more consistent. For example, if the routine included 25 small separate tasks outlined in an unstructured manner (make lunch, check on the kids, feed the dog, call the dentist, finish making lunch), it’s likely that as ADHD adults we would forget steps, struggle with visualizing time, or take too long to transition. Similarly, if the tasks are all well organised but feel boring (brush teeth, dishes etc.), it might feel difficult to get started.

Chunking similar tasks together and adding more stimulating activities to form habits can help add dopamine to routines and make them more supportive of ADHD psychology. Doing this will help encourage more consistency and make the habits more useful. If you'd like to learn more about how to develop consistent routines, you can check out our online ADHD course options here.

How to Create an Effective Routine for ADHD

The key to creating an effective routine with adult ADHD is remembering to treat the act of developing the system itself as a boring task that requires dopamine. To help support this positive behaviour change: first, take yourself on a date; maybe to a coffee shop, maybe a picnic, or turn on your favourite background music, or video, and grab a beverage. Then once you're in a stimulating environment, you can begin to plan and structure your routine. You can do this by experimenting and then troubleshooting.

Start with a plan based on your priorities as well as research into adult ADHD behaviour and executive functioning. Test your routine for a week and make changes based on what worked and which executive functioning struggles you found had a negative effect on your behaviour.

Change in Routines for ADHD Adults

Picture this. You wake up, check social media, realise you're late for work, quickly get dressed, and head out the door to the office. For many people, this is the essence of their morning routine. But what if we changed it to add some behaviours that can support ADHD psychology?

For example, what if you added some dopamine and included natural timers by waking up, turning on some music, heading to your dining room table, making yourself a coffee, sitting in the sun, and checking social media? Adding in these changes can all help us to develop daily routines that are more supportive for adult ADHD. Understanding dopamine can really help with this, as can developing your own dopamenu.

Typical ADHD Morning Routine for ADHD

Often with ADHD, there are a few times of the day that are a particular struggle. One common experience is difficulty getting up in the morning. Here at Unconventional Organisation, we recommend using what we call a stepped dopamine path. This system involves building in daily habits that slowly increase or decrease your stimulation from one task to another. In a morning routine, this might work by starting your day with a stimulating activity to help you get out of bed.

It's different for everyone, but these systems might include checking social media on the couch rather than the bed (bringing your blankets is encouraged on a cold day), making a coffee and sitting in the sun, or putting on a podcast you enjoy and playing a quick game. The key to the stepped dopamine path is to find something stimulating enough to make moving to the next task easier. From there, it can be a case of trial and error to find the right types of dopamine to move you through the other parts of the morning routine, such as movement, eating, getting ready, and preparing for the day.

Below I've outlined an example of a morning routine I go through in our ADHD Online Course that includes some of the ADHD support we've discussed. Remember, this is all very individual, so feel free to adjust the structure to something that works best for you.

Example of an ADHD morning routine:

● Wake up and immediately turn on a motivating podcast/music.

● Toiletries and head to a sunny part of the house.

● Make a beverage and watch YouTube/read/check social media.

● Drink your beverage and plan out your day while sitting in a sunny spot/ your favourite spot in the house. If you like breakfast, this might be a good chance to make something/grab a snack.

● Do movement such as yoga/walk in the backyard/ stretches or even walking around your house while brushing your teeth. Add stimulation like a podcast or music.

● Get dressed and grab what you need from your landing pad.

● Head out the door or to your office space.

ADHD and Daily Checklists for Routines

Once you've developed a routine, where are you going to put them? When building a daily structure with ADHD, it's important to make sure the routine itself is set up in a way that's easy to utilise and supports working memory. When you're first developing a routine, this might be as simple as placing a note on your bedroom door that you can read as you leave the room. But as you develop more routines, it can be helpful to work them into your planner. In the article at this link, I work through some of the most useful planner systems for ADHD. Which one could you include your routines in?

Hopefully, this article helps to answer some of your ADHD Routine questions. Trying a new routine as an ADHD adult can be a reminder of past failures. But with some ADHD specific supports in place often we can move to develop sustainable consistent systems that help to reduce that daily feeling of overwhelm.

Talk soon.



Skye Rapson is an Academic, ADHD Coach and the Founder of Unconventional Organisation. She has worked in the field of adult education for over seven years. Skye has studied in various fields, including Psychology, Sociology, and Public Health, and is now a Doctoral Candidate in Population Health. You can read more about Skye on our Home page here or connect with her on LinkedIn