ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life
The Book Brigade talks to Kathleen Nadeau and Judith Kolberg.
Posted Jan 12, 2017
Getting to places on time and keeping possessions in order can be hard enough without having a condition that interferes with your ability to focus. For people with attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—or the inattentive subtype known as attention-deficit disorder (ADD)—the challenges presented by such everyday tasks can be seriously disruptive. They can, however, be managed.
What are some key challenges faced by those with ADD that people in general might not be aware of?
KN: The challenges are well known (forgetfulness, disorganization, poor time management, procrastination, difficulty completing tasks, difficulty prioritizing). But effective ways to deal with those challenges are much less well known, which is why we wrote the first edition of this book 14 years ago..
JK: Why adults with ADD are disorganized is not something their spouses, bosses, or family quite gets. Often, things need to get done even in the absence of interest or stimulation, a fact that reflects executive functioning and is key to organization; an otherwise talented ADDer, who has problems with executive function, can drive a boss nuts. Or not knowing how long things take can keep an entire family sitting in the car waiting to go on vacation while ADD Mom or Dad does just one more thing. And every spouse of an ADDer knows the experience of the “screen suck” that distracts a husband or wife from being on time for a family event.
Has awareness of such issues changed since you published the first edition of this book?
JK: Awareness has increased. There are many more coaches and professional organizers who specialize in helping adults with ADD. There are online support groups. Employers are more willing to make accommodations on the job. And support for young ADD adults on their way to college is a very welcome occurrence.
How might an adult with ADD decide that he or she could use some extra help in getting organized?
KN: Adults with ADD typically struggle along for years, sometimes with the assistance of a better-organized spouse. Then, one day, a critical moment occurs that propels them toward getting organizing help. It might be that a move is planned and the person is totally overwhelmed by having to decide what to keep and what to discard. Or an upcoming hosting event leads someone with ADHD to decide that she needs to do more than throw everything into giant trash bags to declutter the common living spaces.
JK: Feeling overwhelmed is an obvious clue, though it affects everyone differently, just as it does non-ADDers. Sometimes the frustration of family members with the disorganization or clutter or mass of unfinished projects propels someone to seek help. Time management issues can be a spur, as they take a big toll on relationships, jobs, or life in general. Chronic lateness, poor planning, and being unable to come through on one’s promises or obligations can be a motivation to seek help. And wanting to be a better role model for one’s kids often sends an ADD adult to counseling, a coach, or a professional organizer.
Could you share one of your handiest pieces of advice?
KN: I try to encapsulate advice in acronyms that are easy to remember. Many of my clients find it easy to remember that “EAST is least successful”—EAST standing for everything at the same time, a pattern typical of many with ADHD. Another line that helps many is “think like a restaurant server.” This is a reminder to constantly clean and declutter, just as a restaurant server does. Basically, a server makes a big mess and then cleans it up immediately. A restaurant would never say, “We’ve got to clean up this mess sometime.” You do it immediately or the place would go out of business. Cleaning up constantly as you move from room to room means that you’re not creating overwhelming messes that lead to feelings of being overwhelmed.
JK: Every ADD adult should craft a response for those times when he or she is asked to take on a new task. When someone asks, “Will you do the company blog?” instead of responding with a typical, impulsive “yes,” having a crafted response on hand gives a person with ADD time to pause and think. My favorites are “Thanks for asking but I can’t give that project the right attention right now. Can you ask me again in two months?” Or “Sounds great but I’ll have to wait until I finish my performance review. Please contact me then.” Or “Yes, I can do that. Will you send me your request in an email so I can better work out when I could commit to starting?”
What can readers look forward to in the new edition of this book?
KN: The biggest update is related to entering the digital age; most of our strategies were non-digital in the first edition. While we’ve kept some of those actual, as opposed to virtual, strategies in our book, we’ve added lots of tools and websites to direct readers to the wealth of supports that now exists.
JK: We’ve included the latest thinking on ADD and executive function, a new section on organizing digital information, strategies that address digital distractions, an updated section on money management, and more information about working memory. And we’ve added ADD friendly tools, apps, and websites to help organize “old school” time, stuff, and information.
How did the two of you come together to collaborate on the original edition?
KN: I knew I wanted to write a book on organizing specifically designed for the adult with ADHD. The world is full of organizing books, but each one that I read seemed so unhelpful and inappropriate for an adult with ADHD. I thought that collaboration between an organizer and an ADHD specialist would be ideal, so I contacted Judith, who lived in Atlanta (I live in the Washington, DC, area) and proposed the idea. She was immediately interested.
JK: Dr. Nadeau had heard about my work with chronically disorganized people, some of whom are ADD. I thought the “why” Kathleen would bring to the table would be perfect coupled with the “how” I could contribute. We met in person once, talked by phone, and wrote the book remotely.
In the intervening years, has anything changed in the way you communicate about ADD with those who have it, or with those who do not?
KN: We continue to grow and learn as professionals. I think I focus more on the big picture now, helping clients understand that they need to think about creating an ADD friendly environment for themselves—at home, at work, in their social life—rather than just focusing on strategies for specific ADHD challenges. In other words, rather than just continuing to live in an environment that is very difficult for you with your particular brain, think strategically about how to create or find an environment that is less challenging. You can reduce the challenges even more once you’ve built that ADD-friendly environment.
JK: I try to impart more that the digital society we live in can be a mixed bag for ADD adults. Devices and technologies that provide 24/7 opportunities to connect, work, play, and create come with a new array of distractions, over stimulation, impulsivity buttons, and interruptions, especially for ADD millennials.
About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses.
To purchase this book, visit: