Being an adult in the 21st century isn’t an easy job. You’re navigating careers, family, saving for retirement, deciding where to live, and at this point, a global pandemic. Do you know what’s even more complicated? Surviving adulthood with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention or excessive activity, and impulsivity. ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, and 5% of the world has some kind of version of it. Many of us remember the “hyper kid” growing up, but it can be a lot more than just having an abundance of energy. Living with ADHD can make functioning at school and work extremely difficult.
For me, my struggle with ADHD is mainly about having my thoughts wander when I should be focusing on more important things like a school project or getting through my inbox, but instead, I end up watching hours of cat videos on YouTube.
A book came out a few years ago called The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads that looked at how we have nearly infinite ways to “entertain” ourselves, so the goals of marketers are to control what we focus on. It’s why the CEO of Netflix once called Fortnite (a video game) one of their strongest competitors. Time is finite, and we have unlimited ways to spend it. For people with ADHD, this reality has created a problematic cycle as their attention is already fragmented, and the world is designed to take that fragmentation even further. In fact, I am probably fighting for your attention right now. You’re most likely getting a text message or email right now that you’re wondering if you should check or not.
Have you ever gone through a two-hour scroll on your favorite social media app? These apps are designed to keep you addicted to them so they can show you more ads. Nearly every piece of technology you use is designed to keep you staring at it. As a product designer with ADHD, I am highly aware of how these kinds of tools are designed to grab our attention.
For me, ADHD has been a constant struggle. High school was a nightmare. I even dropped out of college. Even relationships have been a struggle because of ADHD. I fight it daily. There are tools that are designed to help you, though. Using them, I’ve been able to grow my UX Writing Hub into a 7-figure business annually, so there is hope!
Best Productivity Tools and Apps for ADHD
Technology helping with ADHD might be something you laugh at when thinking about it, but while tech can create a huge distraction for some people, it can also help with your focus. I use multiple apps to help keep me focused by not committing certain things to memory, and instead using technology to remember them for me.
Spike combines all the tools you need to take on your day in one supercharged Inbox. This tool saved my life. From now on, all my contacts are organized in one place, no FOMO, no missing emails, no missed meetings, no missed tasks!
I struggled to manage my email until I discovered Spike. Spike brings a unique twist to email to make it look and act like a chat app, but it’s actually your email! The UI is so fresh and clean that I want to smell it. These are some of the features in Spike that made me ditch the other email app I used before.
Spike includes a feature called “Priority Inbox” that automatically separates your essential emails (project-related emails, meeting Notes, etc.) from the unimportant ones (newsletters, shopping receipts, etc.). Priority Inbox lets me reach Inbox Zero extremely fast. I’ll occasionally check my “Other Mail” folder to make sure I’ve not missed anything, but I rarely do. Spike is extremely good at figuring out what’s essential and what’s not.
If the Apple Reminders app is not meeting your needs for simple recurring tasks and timer, you might want to check out Due. Due makes it easier to set simple reminders for recurring tasks or things you need to remember. By using Due, you can set a timer to swap your laundry, check on dinner, or even take your medicine. By using Due, you can take the stress out of trying to remember things.
Due works across all of your devices so you can set a timer on iPhone and it will quickly sync to your Mac and iPad. This technique is useful if you need to load timers on one device but be reminded of them on all of your devices.
One of Due’s more important features is how it will continually remind you of things until you check them off. This reminder feature will help keep you focused until that task is completed.
Evernote is one of the oldest “remember everything” apps on the market. It’s been around since 2008, so even before mobile devices took over our productivity, Evernote has been syncing and storing your notes, recipes, bookmarks, web clips, PDFs, and more.
Evernote is a useful “everything bucket” as you can easily save content into Evernote and then trust it will be available everywhere you have access to your Evernote database. One of the major benefits of Evernote is how good it is at searching for content inside of PDFs. If you are an Evernote premium user, Evernote will ‘OCR’ your PDF files, meaning that it will create a database of all of the text inside of it.
Evernote works on the web, iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, and PC.
Remember the Milk
If you find that most task managers are more complicated than you need, then consider looking at Remember the Milk. ‘RTM’ is a simple online to-do list that can sync with all of your devices so your to-dos are always available to you.
Remember the Milk lets you prioritize tasks with a 1-4 rating, so you can know what items on your to-do list are the most pressing. RTM also lets you sort items with tags, so it’s helpful for making a quick shopping list.
If simple task managers aren’t meeting your needs, then check out Asana. Asana offers more in-depth project management tools that might be useful if you have remote teams and you need to manage complex projects.
Asana can format your projects into multiple views including lists, timelines, board,s and more. Asana is primarily used as a web app, but there are ways to use it on mobile devices as well. Asana has over 100+ integrations, so it can work with Google Calendar, Harvest, Zoom, and more.
Todoist strikes a nice balance between a full-fledged project management tool and a simple task list. It supports a list view and a card view, so it’s great for multi-step projects. You can forward emails into your Todoist Inbox as well as integrate it with many popular apps like Monday, Trello, and more.
Todoist offers lightning-fast sync as well, so any tasks you input on one app will be available on all of your devices. Todoist’s Karma system will let you measure your progress by giving you ‘karma points’ based on how productive you are each day.
If you’re struggling with focus and attention, the Brain Focus app is something to consider downloading on your iPhone or iPad. Brain Focus is a time-management app helping you get things done each day. Brain Focus is based on the Pomodoro or 52/17 productivity method, but you can adjust the session duration to fit your needs.
Instead of looking at your workday as a long list of things to do, when using Brain Focus, you’ll work for chunks of time and then take a break. You’ll have small wins throughout the day as you check off your to-do list.
SimpleMind Pro + Mind Mapping
SimpleMind Pro is a mind mapping tool that makes planning out complex topics into an easy to follow formula. You can create a topic in a free form layout and then add text, images, movies, and more.
SimpleMind Pro syncs between the Mac and mobile versions of the apps, so as you add checkboxes, progress bars, or auto-numbering lists, everything will stay perfectly in sync. Mind mapping is helpful when starting a project to get everything laid out in front of you and out of your brain. Having it all in one place will help you design an entire project.
Trello is focused on card and list format, so it’s useful for seeing where a particular task is located. If you’re working with a team on designing a new website, each step can be a card. For example, a new graphics card can be created. Once the graphics are added to the card, you can drag it in review. For people who need to review it, they can then make comments and move it along in the process.
Trello has a lot of external integrations that improve automations. You can use a tool like Zapier to send a Slack message or email when a card is moved into a particular spot. Of course, you can simply “watch” a list and get an email notification as soon as any action happens in that list.
Trello is very popular among content and design teams as it makes it easy to focus on your next actions and easy to understand where each item is in the process.
Waze (If You Tend to Lose Your Car)
If you struggle to remember where your car is, download the Waze app! I know it sounds trivial, but not needing to remember where I left my car helps lower my stress when I am out. The Waze app automatically notes your vehicle’s GPS location.
The Headspace app played a crucial part in surviving the stress of 2020. When I’d feel overwhelmed, I’d open the app and use the meditation techniques to help focus on what I could control. It helped me to focus on my breathing, making my movements and thoughts more intentional, helping me get back into a great headspace.
Follow Up Like a Pro
I always struggled with responding to emails. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but I just could never focus long enough to formulate a response. With Spike, I can respond as efficiently as I can when sending someone a text message.
Spike also includes built-in snooze options as well, so if an email needs a more extended response, you can snooze it till later. Snoozing it isn’t procrastinating but acknowledging that you need to work on it at a more opportune time.
I no longer have the guilt of an Inbox I’ll never see the end of because Spike helps me process it in a way that works for my brain. Spike has improved my ability to respond to clients, so it’s drastically improved my business.
Best Techniques to Manage ADHD
If you’re working full time, you may be familiar with the challenges people with ADHD face in the workplace. Work is a constant stream of “inputs” that you must learn how to manage to get all of your work done. Managing productivity with ADHD can be done with the right tools and techniques. For some low-tech solutions, here are some great free strategies for managing productivity with ADHD.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. This technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a Pomodoro, from the Italian word for ‘tomato,’ after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.
You can also try Forest app that shuts down your phone for 25 minutes, and plants a tree in the forest for you in the meantime. If you touch your phone, the tree dies. If that sounds like something that would motivate you, check it out! It’s one of my favorite ADHD productivity tricks since it’s easy to get one specific thing done in 25 minutes.
Are you feeling overwhelmed with the amount of “stuff” that is out there to do? Use the ABC method of prioritization. Write all your tasks down and categorize them with A, B, or C. The critical stuff is A, secondary is B, and not that important is C.
Don’t Sleep Next to Your Phone
When your phone is next to you all night long, it’s going to be the first thing you grab in the morning. Put it in another room on the charger. When you get up in the morning, make sure you’re focusing on something else for a bit before checking your email or text messages. Take some time to focus on what you need to do today with a cup of coffee or your favorite morning drink.
While staying clean is essential, a shower helps me focus on just what’s going on in my head because I can’t be distracted by all of the screens in my life. Make time to disconnect, even if it’s just for a shower.
Disable all Notifications on Your Mobile Device
Other than severe weather alerts, you don’t need notifications on your phone. Even for email, disable them and check your email on a schedule. You don’t need to be notified about every shopping deal, the latest political news, etc. Take your focus back!
Favorite Books for Managing ADHD
Reading brings a lot of benefits for people with ADHD, but there are certain books I’ve found helpful in learning more about the background on the history, tips for managing it, and information on how others with ADHD remain productive.
The Adult ADHD Tool Kit
This book is a great tool to have as Ramsay and Rostain are clinicians and researchers and bring the best of each to the often confusing and frustrating challenges of ADHD. They offer strategies that aren’t just lovely ideas―they work.
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
This book gave me the kick in the pants I needed to organize my to-do lists, plan my days, become more productive, and get focused. This book will help you for sure with your ADHD and time management!
Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain
Peter Shankman is living proof that living outside the bell-shaped curve, combined with a drive to succeed, can produce excellent results.
Final Notes on Productivity with ADHD
When I was a child, my parents told me that I must quiet down and start paying attention to what’s going on in class. The thing is, it was pretty boring. I preferred to go to my PC and learn how to use Photoshop instead. The funny part is, I was shamefully doing it instead of doing my homework. Seventeen years later, I’m teaching people from all over the world (including my Dad!) how to design using the same tool!
ADHD is not a curse, but a gift. We just need to find different “Life Hacks” to master it.
Do you have any other ADHD “Life Hack” you’d like to share? Tweet it with our #Spikelifehack and @spikenowhq for a chance to win a subscription of Spike’s for a year absolutely free.
To sign up for a free UX writing and content design class and learn from me about creating attention-grabbing experiences (but only for good causes!), this is it: https://course.uxwritinghub.com/free_course
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