Tips and resources for managing ADHD symptoms

Okay so necessary disclaimer: I am not a doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist. But, I do have ADHD. ‘Moderate’, combined type ADHD, to be precise. Since I keep looking for new tips and practical tools for making ADHD life easier, I thought, why not stick some of them in one place in case other people like ’em too? So this post, is that.

Common symptoms of ADHD

photo of person in red and white striped tshirt standing against a yellow background. instead of a head, the image shows their head as being a swirl of black lines

The neurotransmitters in an ADHD brain don’t regulate dopamine in the ‘usual’ way, causing an imbalance in the amount that reaches the frontal lobe. That’s the bit of the brain that controls executive function skills. ADHD symptoms are forms of ‘executive dysfunction’, whereby a person’s ability to manage their own thoughts, emotions and actions is impaired.

Symptoms are grouped into three categories: hyperactive, inattentive and ‘combined type’. Stereotypes around ADHD typically centre on hyperactive symptoms (which are often more visible) rather than inattentive symptoms (which can be more subtle). Inattentive ADHD is thought to be more common in women and girls.

Having ‘combined type’ means being so darn exotic you have six or more symptoms from both categories, and they are present in multiple situations of your everyday life.

Inattentive ADHD: problems with concentration and focus

Symptoms of inattentive ADHD include, among a long list of others:

  • being unable to stick to tasks that are time-consuming or tedious
  • appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
  • constantly changing activity or task
  • making careless mistakes
  • appearing forgetful
  • losing or misplacing things

Hyperactive ADHD: problems with impulsivity

Symptoms of hyperactive ADHD include, also among various others:

  • acting without thinking
  • constantly fidgeting
  • being unable to concentrate on tasks
  • constant or excessive small physical movements
  • excessive talking and interrupting conversations
  • having little or no sense of danger

Executive functioning paralysis

woman looking sad staring at supermarket shelves

Three types of overwhelm-induced ‘paralysis’ can appear as symptoms regardless of the type of ADHD at hand. These can also affect people with PTSD, autism and other disorders.

  1. Mental paralysis. Where a large volume of simultaneous thoughts and emotions make it challenging to speak, move, or convey what’s going on in your mind. I have, on many occasions, been rendered literally speechless by this one.
  2. Task paralysis. A momentary dip in motivation, or nervousness about starting a task, can result in procrastination and task avoidance. This one is often exacerbated by the looming to-do list it leads to.
  3. Choice paralysis. Also known as analysis paralysis, this is related to having ‘too many’ choices or ‘too much’ information to review, and the need to make a decision. ADHD brains can excel at making quick decisions under pressure, but we can also get stuck overthinking and overanalysing really innocuous things.

Choice paralysis exhibit a: me staring at cereal in the supermarket for 30 minutes, picking things up and putting them down again before giving up entirely and telling myself I didn’t want cereal anyway.

Other symptoms and co-occurring disorders

Behaviours and personality traits found more commonly in people with ADHD than those without include ‘disinhibition‘, ‘sensation-seeking‘ and what are often defined as ‘risk-taking behaviours‘. This is thought to be part of the reason why almost 23% of adults being treated for substance use disorders have ADHD, despite ADHD adults only making up around 4% of the general population.

“Sensation seeking defined as ‘a need for varied, novel, and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experiences’ is thought to be a predisposing risk factor for externalising behavioural problems such as those seen in ADHD.”

– Pironti et al, BJPsych Open

High rates of anxiety and depression among ADHDers are also a likely factor in the statistics above, given the links between depression and substance use. Depression is three times more prevalent in adults with ADHD compared to adults without ADHD. Oh, and we get a good helping of insomnia and other sleep problems to throw into the mix too.

Things that people with ADHD are really good at

It’s not all doom and gloom. While there are certainly a lot of really rubbish things that come with having ADHD, there are some really good things too. Here are a few of them.

Creative thinking

“Individuals with ADHD show the increased ability to think divergently, or think of many ideas from a single point, as well as to create, invent, and innovate.”

Claudia Skowron MS, LCPC, CADC

Research has often found individuals with ADHD to be more creative and conceptual in their thoughts and ideas than their peers, with some studies indicating that the higher degree of symptoms experienced by combined type ADHDers correlates with an even higher degree of creativity.


Bill Gates has ADHD. Ingvar Kamprad – the guy who founded IKEA – has ADHD. I’ll confess I haven’t read it, but Garret Loporto’s “The DaVinci Method” says that those struggling with ADHD are over 300% more likely to start their own business than everyone else. We sure do love a lil’ bit of autonomy.

Hyperactive traits are positively associated with successful entrepreneurship (likely due to the increased tendency to embrace or ignore a sense of risk) though inattentive ADHD traits don’t share the same correlation.


There’s a hunter vs farmer theory of ADHD which speculates that ADHD brains aren’t ‘disordered’ at all – they’re just evolved to be alert to every detail of their surroundings at all times. Hyperfocus, where you become so invested in a task that you lose all sense of time, would no doubt have been useful in the hunter/gatherer age – before we started farming things and accidentally wound up with capitalism. Oops.

ADHD adults may make mistakes in their own work from time to time, but apparently we also have an ability to spot patterns and details that others miss. This may or may not be because our brains are still hunting mammoth in 5034BC, and need to keep an eye out for footprints.

Authenticity and acceptance

Partcipants in one study of the benefits of ADHD stated that they felt they were particularly “authentic and honest” when interacting with others. Lower levels of social inhibition among adults with ADHD present in a variety of ways, but there are joys to disinhibition. Forming social bonds by discussing personal subjects is not difficult in the way that it can be for others, and people with ADHD are often described or will self-desribe as non-conformist.

The benefits study also notes that while ADHD makes people more sensitive than those around them, this enables them to be more aware of other people’s emotional states. Meanwhile, personal journeys to self-acceptance encourage greater acceptance of others.

Tips for tackling task-related ADHD symptoms

large colourful wall calendar with post-it stickers

Suck at getting housework done? Keep pushing your deadlines around? Me too. Here are some things that can help.

  1. The 15-minute rule
    Before you do a ‘fun’ thing at home (Netflix binge/phone games etc) do something that makes you feel like you’ve earned it. Set a timer for 15 minutes (or 10, or 20!) and use that time to tackle a task that needs doing that is not so fun. Put some clothes in the washing machine and turn it on. Dust some shelves. Put away some stuff that’s on the floor. Any small task will do!

  2. Split your big jobs into little jobs
    Remember, you’re on a quest for dopamine. Need to clean the whole house? Forget that. Just focus on one room. Until that one is done, the rest of your house isn’t even on the list. If it’s a room with a lot that needs doing, go smaller still. Pick a section, then another, then another. Now you’re not cleaning a whole house, you’re cleaning a corner. Same logic applies to big work tasks.

  3. Do the worst job first
    When you do all the easy jobs or the more enjoyable jobs first, you know full well there’s a chance you just won’t get to the one you like the least. And you’ll keep not getting to it every time. And it’ll lurk in the corner of your head, bothering you endlessly. Do the job you least want to do before you do anything else.

  4. Use wall calendars and/or apps for reminders
    Honestly our poor houseplants never stood a chance – did I water them a month ago? Two days ago? Have we both watered them twice this week? Not a clue. Keep track of when your plants need watering or your bin needs empting by setting recurring reminders in your phone, or by noting things on a wall a calendar that’s right in front of your face. Same logic applies to remembering social plans.

  5. Order your ‘big’ food shop online
    If you struggle with choice paralysis and/or impulsive spending, going into a supermarket to buy food can be a (financial and emotional) nightmare. If we’ve got to live in late-stage capitalism we might as well make the most of it, so I vote we order online. There you can search for the specific things you want/need and avoid seeing everything else that’s on the shelves.

  6. Use a meal planner
    Cooking a meal with a lot of components can feel like a gargantuan task, and impulsivity means that when you want food, you want it now. This is partly why people with ADHD tend to eat more junk food than the average person, while forgetfulness can result in skipping meals entirely. Use a meal planner to decide on easy, fast meals and snacks, and shop accordingly.

  7. Try the Pomodoro technique
    Set a timer for 20 minutes and begin working on a task. After 20 minutes, take a 5-minute break and then repeat again. The original Pomodoro technique suggests doing the 20/5 model four times over before taking a longer break, but you can work in two bursts of 40 minutes with a 10 minute break instead.

  8. Use colour to motivate and organise
    People with ADHD are often visually-oriented. Highlight important dates, colour-code things, write your daily to-do list on bright paper. I have so many things in my personal Google calendar that I now implement colour coding there to differentiate. e.g medical appointments are in purple, travel plans are in pink, and reminders to complete specific tasks are in orange.

  9. Stuck? Get up and move
    I am literally terrible at remembering this one, but if you find yourself in a moment of serious task paralysis or choice paralysis, try your damndest to get moving instead of staying in one spot. The risk of time blindness is much higher when you stay put, which is how you end up staring at a screen or a shelf for half an hour in a panic when you could have cut your losses after five minutes. Moving around helps to reset your inner commotion, and gets you un-stuck sooner rather than later.

Bonus 10th tip: talk to yourself. Seriously.

When you go to put something down instead of putting away, literally say to yourself, “Don’t put it down. Put it away.” When you put something to one side to deal with it later, say * out loud * to yourself: “I am putting this here so I can deal with it later”. Say “I am locking the door” when you lock the door. Say “I will leave this until I finish what I was doing” when you try and start a task before finishing another.

People think it’s odd to encourage talking to yourself. But if your brain struggles to process things to the extent that you often forget them – or if you often make snap decisions that make your life harder later – the process of speaking out loud to yourself can really help. The seconds it takes to say “I am putting this here” or “this can wait until I am done with my task” can save you serious time when the other option is to continue doing a dozen things at once or forgetting that you’ve done them at all.

How to avoid impulsive ADHD behaviours

woman holding phone in one hand and credit card in the other

Impulsive spending

  • The 12/24-hour rule
    About to buy something online? Going to sign up for a subscription? When you go to make an impulsive purchase or sign-up for something, try to enforce a 12 or 24-hour cooling-off period. 24 is ideal, but if that feels impossible, 12 may be more likely to be something you stick to and can be just as effective. If it’s actually something you “need,” the desire will still be there. If it was just a moment of dopamine chasing, you should find the urge to spend has passed.
  • Where will this go?
    When you feel compelled to buy something, ask yourself where it’s going to go. In that cupboard that’s already full of stuff? Under the bed? Is there room in the wardrobe? Reminding yourself that things take up physical space in your life can either deter you from buying, or at least encourage you to sell something else to make space.
  • Delete your auto-fill card details. The more steps there are between you and the purchase, the less likely it is you’ll make it. Don’t keep credit card details stored on your phone or in your Google/Apple account – make it so if you want to buy something online, you have to find the card and fill the details out each time.

Impulsive speaking

  • Repeat, then respond
    When listening to someone else speak, try to paraphrase what was said in your own head before giving your response. As well as ensuring you’ve fully considered and understood what was said, this also forces you to think a little before speaking. I will say, there is a risk that the internal paraphrasing leads to oh-no-now-I’m-not-listening, so it’s worth practising this (no, really!) before trying it out in work situations.
  • Write it down
    Before speaking up in meetings or discussions give yourself a moment to write down a quick version of what you want to say. You can use a notepad or your phone to jot thoughts down so you don’t forget, and bring them up later if they’re still important. 

Other impulsive actions

  • Try to do regular exercise
    Impulsive behaviours feed on restlessness and angst. The more you can do to shake those things off, the lower the risk that the impulse wins. Take a walk around the block at lunchtime, set yourself a 20 minute window to stretch out before bed – it doesn’t have to be a mega fitness regime, just so long as it’s more movement than doing nothing at all.
  • Train yourself to hit pause
    Meditating is hard. I went in one of those float tank things that everyone has zen meditative experiences in and spent the hour I was in there pondering even more weird, tangentially-related things than usual. People say you should aim to start at 2-3 minutes of meditation and work up to 20-30, to train your brain to ‘pause’ on demand. I think 20 minutes is literally impossible with ADHD, but wrestling your brain into submission for two minutes IS just about feasible with practice. And that’s all you need to be able to catch yourself in an impulsive moment.

Useful practical resources for people with ADHD

Last section. You’ve nearly made it to the end. While I can’t deny that ultimately, being prescribed a mega dose of stimulant medication has done me a world of good, there are lots of things out there that can help you if you’re stuggling with ADHD and don’t want (or can’t yet get) medication to ease the symptoms. Here are a few – suggestions for more things to add to the list are welcome!

Everyday Life

  • Daylio – My favourite habit and mood tracker app. You can customise the habits, activities, moods and more to suit you, and checking in each day can be as simple as clicking a mood or as detailed as writing a brain dump and ticking everything you’ve done, felt and thought about. As time goes on you develop an engaging visual timeline that helps you to see which things have the most positive and negative impact on your mood and your ability to tackle the day. Worth the paid plan (£20 per year) to get full features on both iOS and Android
  • To-Do List App – Categorise your to-do lists, set reminders and add new tasks easily without interrupting your current one.
  • Routine Flow ADHD organiser app – time-tracking, alarmed to-do lists grouped together to create new daily routines.
  • Llama Life – a desktop app for to-do lists and task reminders.


  • – an AI transcription tool with a free option, which you can connect to video meetings. Sometimes gives quite funny text errors, but great if you often worry that you’ve missed something important or just want to be able to recall something that wasn’t in your written notes.
  • Boxclever Press – discovered this company via Amazon when I was hunting for calendars with room for stickers and extra notes. Wall planners, calendars, budget books and menu planners are all in their repertoire.
  • Scattered Squirrel – hundreds (maybe even thousands) of free printable planners. Includes daily, weekly, monthly, meal planners and more.

Other bits and pieces

  • r/ADHD and r/adhdwomen are useful subreddits for getting first-hand insight from other ADHD humans.
  • Pixel Thoughts – a 60 second go at calming your brain if you’re feeling stressed.
  • Monzo (that one’s a referral link!) – app banking that lets you create locked pots for budgeting, view your spending in categories, and set limits/targets. Very useful if you struggle with impulse spending. Get £5 in your account if you sign up with that link!

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