7 productivity tips for people with ADHD – approved by someone who has it

  • Working from home or doing online learning can make it tough to stay focused, especially for those with ADHD
  • From writing your to-do list on paper to multitasking wisely, here is advice to help you concentrate and get things done, especially while studying or working at home
Dannie Aildasani |

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Multitasking can actually keep you from being bored of one assignment, but this only works if you don’t have anything urgent to finish. Photo: Shutterstock

Two years since the pandemic started, we all have our opinions about working from home and online learning. While you might miss the community of the classroom or office, you have to admit that it is nice to wake up two minutes before class or work and hang out in your pyjamas all day.

But it can be difficult to stay on task when you’re in charge of your schedule – and this goes double for those with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Even ADHD medication can’t completely solve your problems; it just makes them easier to manage.

Here is some advice for staying on track while studying or working from home, straight from an adult who has ADHD herself. While I’m by no means an expert, these tips have helped me immensely – hopefully, they can help you, too.

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1. Write down tasks, and go through them in the morning and evening

Forgetfulness is a common and embarrassing part of ADHD – is it because our minds jump around so much? We had a proper explanation at one point, but frankly, we’ve forgotten what it was.

Get in the habit of writing down everything you need to do each morning, down to the smallest detail, and set an alarm on your phone if you have to.

Using a pen or pencil on paper to write your to-do list is actually better than typing it on your computer or phone. Photo: Shutterstock

Break down big tasks into smaller ones so they seem less intimidating. For example, writing a report might feel like an immense undertaking, so break it into smaller bits, like choosing a topic, finding sources, writing a first draft, and editing your draft. You will feel accomplished after ticking off these smaller to-dos.

At the end of the day, go through your list to see how much you have finished, and write down any incomplete tasks for the next day.

I recommend physically writing it down – don’t just make a checklist on your iPad or phone. A 2021 study at the University of Tokyo found that the act of writing things on paper is associated with more robust brain activity and better memory recall. Plus, it’s so satisfying to use a pen or pencil to cross something off a list.

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2. Organise your space before starting work

Some say a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind. Photo: Shutterstock

Doesn’t it seem like your desk is only messy when you have a lot to do? Eliminate any distractions by tidying up your space before you get to work. Make it part of your morning ritual, which will help put you in the mindset to work – you could even get this done before you sit down and write out your tasks for the day.

While you’re sipping on your tea or coffee, organise your desk. Put all your pens and pencils in your pencil case. Fill up your water bottle. Make sure you have your notebook and whatever else you need handy.

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3. If it takes less than five minutes, get it out of the way

If there is a simple task you need to get done – like an email you have to write – finish it first. Photo: Shutterstock

Let’s say you’re working on an assignment when you remember: “OMG! I have to email my maths teacher!” You might think you can do it later and may even make a note, but if it’s something that can be done in less than five minutes, just do it now.

Procrastination is a major side effect of ADHD, and sometimes, even the smallest things can feel like a monumental task. But you’ll feel so much better getting these little things out of the way instead of waking up the next morning and realising you forgot to do it.

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4. Make time to go outside

Even if you have a huge pile of assignments, you need to take a break and go outside at some point. Photo: Shutterstock

When you get into a hyper-focused mode, it can be hard to tear yourself away from what you’re doing, and you feel like you should ride that wave of concentration to get things done. But in the end, this risks tiring yourself out.

Make sure to take a few minutes to get some fresh air – whether that’s stepping out on the balcony, or taking a walk around the block. Those few minutes outside will refresh your mind. If you’re nervous about losing your stream of concentration, do something stimulating while you’re outdoors: listen to a podcast, or make a mental list of what else you need to do.

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5. Keep a Google Doc open for any quick notes

Writing down notes in a Google Doc is convenient because you can access it from your phone or computer. Photo: Shutterstock

It’s the perfect spot to jot down any ideas or tasks that pop up throughout the day. If you suddenly remember something you have to do, someone you need to call, or even something you want to search for online, just go to your open Google Doc and make a note of it. If Google Doc isn’t convenient, use whatever app or site that works for you!

Use the same document every day, so you can keep track of your previous notes. Add the date each morning to keep everything organised. At the end of the day, go through the list to see if there’s anything you still need to do, and add it to your planner.

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6. Check out limited multitasking

Instead of forcing yourself to get through one assignment at a time, you can stay more energised by jumping between a few different tasks. Photo: Shutterstock

So many people advise against multitasking, but for people with ADHD, it can be mind-numbingly dull to work on only one task at a time. For me, after a while, the words all seem to blend together, and the screen gets blurry – I get so frustrated I want to throw my laptop out the window!

For people with ADHD, a slight buzz of activity can be a good thing, as long as we’re in charge of it.

If you’re not pressed for time, have two or three tasks or assignments you can go between, so if you start to get bored with one, you can jump to another. One writer at Healthline calls this “productive procrastination”, and jumping between a few tasks can help you stay more energised than forcing yourself to get through one.

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7. Try the Pomodoro method

The creator of the Pomodoro technique named it after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used as a student. Photo: Shutterstock

Sometimes, you have to force yourself to concentrate on one thing that really needs to get done – like an essay due in a few hours that you’ve barely started. In that case, limited multitasking isn’t going to help you, so try the Pomodoro method instead.

You simply pick one task you need to focus on, set a timer for 25 minutes, and get to work. When the timer goes off, take a short break of five minutes, and start working again. After four rounds of this, take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes to give yourself a chance to refresh – this is the perfect time to get up and move around. If your task isn’t finished after the long break, resume the whole process from the beginning.

According to Forbes, this method is particularly useful if you get frequently distracted or want to see how long a task takes. Forbes states that 25-minute bursts of activity are long enough to get something done without it feeling painful or overwhelming.

You can use the timer on your phone, or download an app like MinimaList or FocusList (iOS only) to keep track of time for you. Another app, Forest, is great because it plants a tree that grows while you focus on your work.

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