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  • Loren Bahor, MSW, LCSWA

New Year, Same You + Strategies

It’s the New Year (and what a year the last one was (again!). The New Year is a natural time to reflect on the past 365 days (the ups and downs, the achievements and lessons learned) and also to think about the future (our values, intentions, goals, purpose).

There is a lot of emphasis on making big life changes in the New year (resolutions, “new year, new me”). However, it’s also really important to remember that we can make changes and set intentions any time of year – whether it be January 1st or June 18th - meaningful transitions are achievable all year long.

One of the more common goals that I hear from many of my clients, especially in the New Year is a desire to become more organized – at work, at home and even with relationships and social obligations. This is true especially for my ADHD clients.

ADHD is characterized by distractibility, difficulty in planning and completing tasks, which can make it really hard to sustain a system of organization. Disorganization is one of the most common symptoms of ADHD.

Here are some of the ways that chronic disorganization can look like for people with ADHD

  • Losing track of time (did I really just watch 3 episodes of Murder She Wrote in a row while missing my therapy appointment?)

  • Difficulty completing tasks/having many unfinished projects (having about 5,875 unread e-mails)

  • Needing to actually see things in order to be able to take action (if it’s not in front of you it doesn’t exist)

  • Being easily distracted (mind wandering, being distracted by literally anything other than what you are supposed to be doing)

  • Often missing deadlines (I was literally supposed to write this blog last month)

  • Misplacing things (finding that you’d put your phone in the refrigerator after a half hour of looking – this may or may not be an example drawn from personal experience)

  • Clutter/messiness in home/workspace (your work desk and/or home is a dumpster fire)

I’m presenting this list in a light and jokey way because we most certainly need to laugh at ourselves from time to time (the phone in the refrigerator thing is 100% true), but all of these can negatively impact a person’s life in a really negative way.

Chronic disorganization can lead to losing important documents or objects by misplacing them or getting buried under piles of clutter, bills might not get paid (despite having money in the bank). Lateness and projects going unfinished at work, leading to job loss - relationships with friends and partners can suffer too.

For those with ADHD, disorganization can be debilitating - people who are otherwise creative and intelligent people can be preoccupied by feelings of overwhelm, fatigue and feeling out of control.

Here are a few of helpful strategies I use with my ADHD clients but find can be helpful for anyone struggling with managing their day to day:

1. Buy a wall calendar. One of the first things that I tell my clients is to go out and buy a wall calendar (if desk blotters or paper/electronic planners work for you – yes! do it! amazing!). The reason I like wall calendars is because wall calendars are always there in front of you – they can’t be obscured by clutter or piles of papers and they are always open (out of sight, out of mind). Checking a wall calendar is as easy as well… looking at a wall.

2. Break down tasks into bite-sized steps. I can’t say enough how helpful this is for ADHDers. Let’s say you have a to-do list with 4 things on it (grocery shopping, hang picture on wall, call and make doctor’s appointment, finish 3 notes for work). Each one of those tasks has lots of little steps within each of them. For example – hanging a framed picture on the wall – there are a bunch of things you will need to do before you can make that happen. Go to the garage, find the toolbox, take the hammer out, find the nails, find the level, take everything into the room in which would like to hang up the picture. It actually helps to write these steps out. This way you have done everything you need to do in order to efficiently complete the task.

3. Set time limits for your tasks. Ask any of my clients and they will tell you how obsessed with timers I am. One of the best ways to stay on task is to time each of them - designate a specific time limit for each task. This is helpful for multiple reasons - a timer sets a mental expectation that you can and will stay on your designated task during and it also helps you to keep track of how much time has passed. It’s important to break things down into small chunks of time that you know are realistic for you. Timers can also help when feeling overwhelmed – let’s say you want to clean your home but you don’t have time to do everything you would like to do – set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and do what you can within that time. This is also helpful for those of us that fall prey to black and white thinking (“If I can’t clean everything there is no point in doing it at all”). I promise you; your space will be cleaner if you spend 15 minutes on it as opposed to 0 minutes. It’s science!

4. Learn to say NO! Many people with ADHD find themselves overcommitting. One of the main culprits is time blindness - difficulty assessing how long something actually takes to do. Also, keeping track of appointments can be really hard (for the love of all that is good and holy – get that wall calendar!) There is also something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, a manifestation of emotional dysregulation found specifically in ADHD. This is when a person’s threshold for disappointment is low and can lead to extreme emotional sensitivity and pain, making it difficult to say “no” – we are people pleasers and want to be liked! Overcommitment can lead to feelings of overwhelm, and the outcome, failure to follow through on tasks and projects, does not feel good. For each new commitment you make, give up an old one. Also – learning to set boundaries with other people – learning to sit with the discomfort of saying “no.” Adults with ADHD tend to spread themselves too thin.

Hopefully, these strategies will help you, and if you notice you are checking a lot of the boxes for potential signs of ADHD, reach out to get assessed and start getting support. Your life can be more manageable, and you can feel more on track!

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