Savvy Psychologist

12 ways adult ADHD causes havoc

Episode Summary

ADHD doesn’t stop making your life difficult just because you’ve grown up.

Episode Notes

ADHD doesn’t stop making your life difficult just because you’ve grown up. Here are 12 ways ADHD can get in your way.

Savvy Psychologist is hosted by Dr. Monica Johnson. A transcript is available at Simplecast.

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Episode Transcription

ADHD doesn’t stop making your life difficult just because you’ve grown up. Here are 12 ways ADHD can get in your way.

Welcome back to Savvy Psychologist, I'm your host, Dr. Monica Johnson. Every week on this show, I'll help you face life's challenges with evidence-based approaches, a sympathetic ear, and zero judgment. 

I tell people all the time that ADHD is underestimated as a diagnosis. Some see it as a diagnosis that doesn’t have any bearing on your life once you’re done with school. However, for many of the adult patients I’ve treated with ADHD, that is far from true. For them, it is often comorbid with other mental health diagnoses, which makes treatment more complicated. ADHD can also have an impact on their work and personal relationships.

When discussing ADHD, we often talk about executive functioning. Today I’m going to outline the types of executive skills that may be impaired by ADHD. If you or someone you know is struggling in these areas, I would encourage you to be evaluated and get a formal diagnosis if you haven’t already. 

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to hold information in your mind while performing complex tasks. It also incorporates the ability to draw on past learning experiences and apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future. 


Flexibility is related to the ability to adapt in changing conditions. This is your ability to revise plans when the original isn’t going to work out or when you get new information. 

Response Inhibition

Do you find that you often put your foot in your mouth? Response Inhibition is the capacity to think before you act. When you’re able to resist your urge to say or do something it provides you with the space to assess how this action or inaction will impact yourself or the environment.

Sustained Attention

Sustained attention is your ability to maintain—you guessed it—your attention on a task. Many folks with ADHD struggle with distractibility, boredom, or fatigue getting in the way. 

Emotional Control

This is the ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behavior. If you struggle with ADHD you may have difficulty regulating your emotions in some or many situations.


Is your life a mess? Do people walk into your life and say, “I don’t know how you stay on top of things this way” as they stare at the 20-year-old pile of papers in the corner that you call your organization system. Organization is the ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials, and is often harder for those with ADHD.

Planning and Prioritization 

Do you have difficulty making plans? Does everything feel equally important, so nothing gets done? Planning and prioritizing involves creating a series of steps that lead to a desired goal. It also involves being able to determine what is important to focus on and what’s less important to focus on at any given moment.

For instance, if the kitchen is on fire, now is not the time to research who originally invented the fire extinguisher. Now is the time to use said fire extinguisher to put out the fire. For those with ADHD, what may seem obvious to someone else may not be obvious to them at the moment due to these executive functioning deficits. 

Task Initiation 

Task initiation is the ability to get going on a task without too much procrastination. For some with ADHD, it can feel like the longer they have to do something, the longer it’s going to take them to complete it. Think about how some of these executive deficits can team up. If you struggle with task initiation, prioritization and planning, and organization it can make a seemingly simple task into a never-ending Sysyphusian endeavor. You can see how it can start to impact someone’s self-worth when they aren’t able to accomplish things that they feel like they should be able to do. 

Time Management

Does time often slip away from you? It could mean that you struggle with time management. This is the capacity to estimate how much time you have, how to allocate it, and how to stay within a set time frame. 

Goal-Directed Persistence

Goal-directed persistence if your ability to stay on task and complete a goal. Those with ADHD sometimes find that even if they are able to start a task, they often have difficulty seeing it through. Do you have several half-finished projects? Does your partner keep reminding you of things that you’ve been meaning to complete, but you can't make it happen? These could all be signs that you struggle in this area. 


This is the ability to step back and take an aerial view of oneself in a situation. It is an ability to observe how you solve problems, self-monitor, and self-evaluate. It’s your ability to check in with yourself and ask “how am I doing?” or “how did I do?” 

Stress Tolerance

Stress tolerance is the capacity to thrive in stressful situations and to cope with uncertainty, change, and performance demands. 

The impact of ADHD is very real and hopefully by going through these different areas with you, I hope you are able to see the ways in which it can impact daily life and inhibit your long term goals if it goes unchecked.

Think through each of these areas and specific ways that these skill deficits show up in your life. You may want to think about each area and rate yourself on a 0-10 scale based on how well you think you operate in each area. If you give yourself a 6/10 for task initiation, write down what supports a 6 and not a 4 or an 8. Another thing that you can do is enlist feedback from a person you trust. Is there someone you’re close to and sees you on a regular basis like a partner, close friend, close work colleague and could comment on any of these areas? You’re not asking them to diagnose you, but you can say “Hey, Shannon have you noticed that I have trouble following through with goals?” All of this is great information and insight to have when you schedule with a mental health professional. Next week, I will give a few tips to improve each of these executive skills. 

What is your weakest executive functioning skill? Let me know on Instagram @kindmindpsych. You can also reach out to me via my email at, or leave a voicemail at (929) 256-2191‬.