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Getting Help With ADHD and Routines

Updated: May 28

Picture this. You wake up, check social media, realize you're late for work, quickly get dressed, and race out the door to the office. Once there, you look at your supervisor's frowning face and get a sinking feeling as you realize this is definitely going to be part of your performance review. For many of us, this is the essence of an ADHD morning routine. But what if we changed our habits by adding behaviors that can support ADHD psychology?

For example, what if you added some dopamine and included natural timers? Instead of rushing, you wake up, turn on some music, head to the kitchen, make yourself a coffee, sit in the sun, and read an article in peace. Adding in simple changes can help us develop daily routines that are more supportive of our ADHD. [1]–[7]

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?

Those of us with ADHD often hate structure and routine because the only systems we've been taught have been optimized for neurotypical people. Researchers found 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 optimized for us. Otherwise, a routine can feel unsupportive and unusable, like trying a tool meant for the opposite hand. It’s often not the routine ADHD adults dislike; it's how it's built.

Do ADHD Adults Need a Routine?

Research with ADHD adults suggests we benefit from implementing routines [1], [5], [14]. Creating a daily structure optimized for time blindness and working memory struggles that includes enough stimulating activities to support dopamine dysregulation can provide a supportive framework for ADHD adults as well as children.

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 behavior change: first, take yourself on a date; maybe to a coffee shop, maybe a picnic, or turn on your favorite 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 behavior 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 behavior.

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 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 your phone 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 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 messages

● Drink your beverage and plan out your day while sitting in a sunny spot/ your favorite 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.

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 behaviors. This starting and stopping is one of the reasons we can sometimes be viewed as inconsistent. This is often because neurotypicals created the routine we're using and is therefore not optimized for ADHD psychology and behavior.

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 organized but feel boring (brushing 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.

ADHD and Daily Checklists for Routines

Once you've developed a routine, where are you going to put them? When building daily structure with ADHD, it's important to make sure the routine itself is set up in a way that's easy to utilize 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.


P.S.  Whenever you’re ready... here are 4 ways I can help you reach your goals with ADHD:

1. Download our free How to Set Goals With ADHD Playbook

It’s a step-by-step guide to finding focus and direction in a way designed for your ADHD brain –

2. Join the ADHD/ADD Strategies Support Group and connect with other ADHD adults trying to reach their goals

It’s our Facebook community where enthusiastic ADHD adults learn to build more focus, proactive momentum, and consistency. — Click Here

3. Join our Goals Achieved with ADHD Academy and start ticking off tasks.

If you're an ADHD professional with a goal you’d like to achieve within the next few months, we are currently working with a few of you to go from overwhelmed to focused and reach your goals - with only 30 minutes a week invested. If you'd like to reach your goal this month, book a free Get Focused Session – Click Here

4. Work with Skye Privately in Executive Coaching

If you’d like to work directly with me to help you take fast action on some of your biggest goals, click here to tell me a little about your goal and what you’d like to work on together. – Click Here

References [1] C. Canela, A. Buadze, A. Dube, D. Eich, and M. Liebrenz, ‘Skills and compensation strategies in adult ADHD – A qualitative study’, PLOS ONE, vol. 12, no. 9, p. e0184964, Sep. 2017, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184964. [2] L. Dunn, W. J. Coster, E. S. Cohn, and G. I. Orsmond, ‘Factors Associated with Participation of Children With and Without ADHD in Household Tasks’, Phys. Occup. Ther. Pediatr., vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 274–294, Jan. 2009, doi: 10.1080/01942630903008327. [3] M. W. Firmin and A. Phillips, ‘A Qualitative Study of Families and Children Possessing Diagnoses of ADHD’, J. Fam. Issues, vol. 30, no. 9, pp. 1155–1174, Sep. 2009, doi: 10.1177/0192513X09333709. [4] A. Goffer, M. Cohen, and A. Maeir, ‘Occupational experiences of college students with ADHD: A qualitative study’, Scand. J. Occup. Ther., vol. 0, no. 0, pp. 1–12, Dec. 2020, doi: 10.1080/11038128.2020.1856182. [5] C. M. Kreider, S. Medina, and M. R. Slamka, ‘Strategies for Coping with Time-Related and Productivity Challenges of Young People with Learning Disabilities and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder’, Children, vol. 6, no. 2, Art. no. 2, Feb. 2019, doi: 10.3390/children6020028. [6] H. Lindstedt and Õ. Umb-Carlsson, ‘Cognitive assistive technology and professional support in everyday life for adults with ADHD’, Disabil. Rehabil. Assist. Technol., vol. 8, no. 5, pp. 402–408, Sep. 2013, doi: 10.3109/17483107.2013.769120. [7] C. N. Lyhne, P. Pedersen, C. V. Nielsen, and M. B. Bjerrum, ‘Needs for occupational assistance among young adults with ADHD to deal with executive impairments and promote occupational participation – a qualitative study’, Nord. J. Psychiatry, vol. 0, no. 0, pp. 1–8, Dec. 2020, doi: 10.1080/08039488.2020.1862911. [8] R. Alderson, L. Kasper, K. Hudec, and C. Patros, ‘Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Working Memory in Adults: A Meta-Analytic Review’, Neuropsychology, vol. 27, pp. 287–302, May 2013, doi: 10.1037/a0032371. [9] N. J. Cepeda, M. L. Cepeda, and A. F. Kramer, ‘Task switching and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’, J. Abnorm. Child Psychol., vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 213–226, 2000. [10] A. Alport, E. A. Styles, and S. Hsieh, ‘17 Shifting Intentional Set: Exploring the Dynamic Control of Tasks’, 1994. [11] G. Tripp and J. R. Wickens, ‘Neurobiology of ADHD’, Neuropharmacology, vol. 57, no. 7–8, pp. 579–589, Dec. 2009, doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2009.07.026. [12] J. B. Meaux and J. J. Chelonis, ‘Time perception differences in children with and without ADHD’, J. Pediatr. Health Care, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 64–71, Mar. 2003, doi: 10.1067/mph.2003.26. [13] K. J. Radonovich and S. H. Mostofsky, ‘Duration Judgments in Children With ADHD Suggest Deficient Utilization of Temporal Information Rather Than General Impairment in Timing’, Child Neuropsychol., vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 162–172, Sep. 2004, doi: 10.1080/09297040409609807. [14] M. Adamou, K. Graham, J. MacKeith, S. Burns, and L.-M. Emerson, ‘Advancing services for adult ADHD: the development of the ADHD Star as a framework for multidisciplinary interventions’, BMC Health Serv. Res., vol. 16, no. 1, Art. no. 1, Dec. 2016, doi: 10.1186/s12913-016-1894-4.

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Dec 27, 2023

Navigating ADHD and establishing routines form a crucial aspect of holistic well-being. Mylifechoice, a clinic dedicated to treating patients with incurable diseases, acknowledges the importance of specialized care. While addressing ADHD challenges, incorporating routines becomes a key strategy for managing symptoms. In parallel, the role of a Hospice Social Worker at mylifechoice extends beyond, providing support and understanding for patients facing incurable conditions. By combining expertise in ADHD management with compassionate care, mylifechoice fosters an environment that emphasizes not only mental health but also the unique needs of individuals navigating complex health circumstances.

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