Savvy Psychologist

12 ways to cope with adult ADHD

Episode Summary

Here are 12 ways to combat the effects of ADHD on your life.

Episode Notes

Do you have adult ADHD, or suspect that you might? In this follow-up to last week’s episode, we explore 12 techniques that can help improve executive skills that are affected by ADHD.

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

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Episode Transcription

Today we are going to discuss some ways to combat the effects of ADHD. This is a follow-up to our episode from last week, so listen to that episode first!

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. 

Hopefully, you’ve listened to my episode from last week, and have taken some notes on your own executive skills. I also hope that you haven’t spent the last week trying to self-diagnose! Even if you don’t have ADHD, you may struggle in some of these areas from time to time. I don’t have ADHD, but if you don’t think I can procrastinate with the best of them then I accept that challenge, friend.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has ADHD, encourage them to get an assessment or evaluation from a licensed mental health professional. You’d be surprised how many ‘80s and ‘90s babies have had ADHD this whole time and didn’t know it because it was more stigmatized during their childhoods.

Today, we’re going to revisit the 12 executive functioning areas I discussed last week and walk through a few techniques that could help you improve those skills–whether you have ADHD or not.

Working Memory

When it comes to working memory, I often run around screaming “lists!” at people. I don’t know who made it uncool to write things down, but that person needs to hush.

Checklists are a great way to help with working memory. You should have lists that are available to you at home or at work, which is why I strongly encourage the use of technology. Electronic calendars, task lists, sticky notes, or note pads all work for this.

If you need things in your physical environment, I often use colored sticky notes and index cards. You can have different colors represent different types of tasks or levels of importance. The latter can help with prioritization as well. 


Flexibility is difficult. We all—to some degree—hate surprises (at least in certain contexts) and abhor change. When my patients create a plan for something, I tend to run around poking holes in the plan to force them to adapt. One of the things you can do is “if/then” contingencies. You can have your plan A, but if X happens, what are you going to do? The answer to that question can’t be to cry in a corner or rage quit. Forcing yourself to think through those scenarios can help prepare your mind for the eventual hiccup in your plans.

Response Inhibition

You know the classic “count to 10” strategy that you’ve heard in the past for anger management? A similar thing is helpful for response inhibition. Essentially, you’re building in a hold time. Don’t rush yourself to respond or act. Give yourself a moment to think it through.

I use the term “hold time” specifically because I think about it in my head like the hold music on a phone. I pick a tune, often a childhood song or an old school song and use that as the background noise while I wait to respond to something. This can be gathering my thoughts prior to sending a text or an email or making any major decisions.

Currently, my hold music is Skinnamarink. You should take a minimum of one Skinnamarink, but depending on the situation it could take 50. The point here is to allow yourself space to actually think and not be impulsive.

Many times my ADHD patients remark to me about feeling stupid. It’s not because they are actually stupid—they have the capacity to make sound decisions. It’s simply about slowing the process down so that the Merlin part of your brain can catch up with the Tasmanian Devil part of your brain. 

Sustained Attention

In regards to sustained attention, the goal here is to eliminate distractions. You will first want to limit access to distractions. Do you have certain apps on your phone that you check too often? Perhaps you want to turn off notifications so that you are less tempted to check them. You might be aghast that I would even mention this, but you could remove the app from your phone. Shocking, I know, but maybe it’s not a good idea for you to have Twitter or Instagram on your phone.

You can also shut out distractions by putting your phone on Do Not Disturb if you need dedicated time to focus on a task. If random noises in your environment are distracting you, play soft music in the background or get a white noise machine to help you focus.

Emotional Control

You probably hear this all the time, but truth is truth: practicing mindfulness meditation can help with emotional control.

You also want to manage your self-talk. Often those with ADHD can develop a highly critical voice in their heads. I’m here to tell you, this self-punishment almost never works in the way that you intended. It is far better for you to develop a cheerleading voice in your head. It doesn’t have to be overly positive, but it needs to be encouraging.

Another great thing to do for emotional control is to rehearse potentially charged situations. If you know you’re about to head into a stressful conversation with your partner, explore what they are likely to say and what emotions are likely to come up, and then prepare for that experience. 


Learn from the best! There are so many people online who give tips on organization—do a bit of studying on the topic. A lot of the strategies that I mentioned for working memory are relevant here as well.

It can be overwhelming to get organized, particularly when we’ve let things be in disarray for so long. My biggest advice is to start small. I have so many patients who tell me that small efforts don’t matter because the problem is so big and let me tell you, you couldn’t be more wrong. A series of small efforts can tackle a big problem. It might take longer—but taking longer is less time than forever and if you don’t make any movement, we will be talking about this same problem until we’re both 80. Never discount your efforts!

Planning and Prioritization 

In regards to planning and prioritization, did you know that you can actually Google planning templates? Yes, they exist, and you can use these to help yourself start planning out a project or goal. I also use colored post-its to help with prioritization. For example, you can use red post-its for items that are high priority and need to be completed soon, yellow ones for those that are standard priority and not urgent to complete, and green for low priority. 

Task Initiation 

This is another area where reducing distractions and technology can be helpful. Set times to work on tasks and times to engage in aimless activities like scrolling on TikTok. You can also use something called the Premack Principle, otherwise known as Grandma’s rule, to your benefit. This is where you pair a low-reinforcing activity with a high-reinforcing activity. For instance, once you complete your TPS report for work, then you can go see the new movie you wanted in theaters. You can enlist an accountability partner to ensure you don’t cheat! 

Time Management

Folks with ADHD often have trouble estimating how long something is going to take. One way to improve this is to practice. You can assign time estimates to various tasks and then make note of how long it actually took you to accomplish that task. Once you’ve done that, you want to explore what led to the discrepancy so that you can improve your accuracy over time.

Say you’re building an IKEA dresser and you estimate that it would take 90 minutes to complete and it actually takes 4 hours. What led you to be inaccurate in this estimation? Did you think you would be able to use the Allen wrench like a pro? Did you underestimate how long it would take to insert all the little wooden pegs? The more you practice, the more accurate you can become over time.

Technology is, again, your friend here. This is even a strategy I use in my life. I set timers for everything. If I say I have an hour to read a book, then I will set a timer for 60 minutes and when it goes off, then it’s time to move on to the next task. 

Goal-Directed Persistence

Another word I use a lot is routines. Routines can help with goal-directed persistence. Get in the habit of doing the same tasks at the same time every day. This can build automaticity in your life and increase your productivity. These tasks can be your hygiene, exercise, meals, taking out the trash, etc. If they are automatic, they are more likely to happen and they’ll use up fewer mental resources when they’re part of a routine.

Another thing that is helpful is building up your awareness about roadblocks. Something that I say to my patients all the time is that the first step is to stop lying to yourself and the second step is to figure out how to trick yourself. Be honest: what gets in the way of you completing a goal—and no it’s not a character flaw like you’re just too dumb or lazy or not good enough to accomplish it.

It might be something like, “when I feel overwhelmed, I like to distract myself on YouTube.” This isn’t a character flaw, and in fact is very fixable! Once you’re honest about these barriers, you can figure out how to work around them or eliminate them. 


In terms of metacognition, get in the habit of debriefing with yourself or others after an event. If you made a mistake or mistakes, explore the factors that led up to them in a non-judgmental fashion and problem-solve ways to cope in the future if these factors were to arise again. Enlist trusted people in your life to give you feedback as well because they may be able to see it from an angle that you can’t in the present moment. 

Stress Tolerance

Self-care is so important for effectively managing and tolerating stress. When you look at the tasks you need to accomplish in your life, you should be aware of the mental and emotional impact of that task. This way you can appropriately build in recovery time from the task.

For instance, a critical work presentation is likely to take a pretty big emotional toll. You might want to build in some extra relaxation in the evening or have a plan for the weekend that allows you to recover those resources. 

How long are you going to procrastinate before using these strategies? Do me a favor and commit to starting small and choosing one of these strategies to improve your life now and tell me about what it was like. I really am interested!  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.