How to Maintain a Routine with ADHD

ADHD, Routine, Stay at home Mom, Thriving
Photo by My Life Journal on Unsplash

ADHDers are not good at routines. We’re hunter-gathers, not farmers. We constantly look for the next thing, then the next, then the next. On and on and on. I would love to be the kind of person who can just consistently do something every day for a long time and it’s no big deal. But heaven help me, three days in and I’m done. 

However, my kids crave routine. Having a consistent routine for core necessities helps my household run more smoothly and is good for my marriage because my husband loves routines and consistency. He makes lots of space for my ADHD scatteredness, and I try to keep a certain amount of predictability because he has watched the same show, at the same time every week, from the same chair for our entire marriage. Routines are how he relaxes. (I can’t even fathom this, but its true.)

Write it down

I write down my routines. I have a checklist of routines, and it includes taking a shower. It’s hard to shower with young kids in the house. It’s hard to shower regularly when you have ADHD. The two combined are stinky

Write down the things you struggle with the most. I don’t write down to make coffee every morning, because I have absolutely no problem remembering that. Some of the things on my daily routine list are: empty and reload the dishwasher, do a load of laundry, put away laundry, check my email, check the mail, tidy for 10 minutes, respond to voicemails and text messages, cook dinner. I realize that a lot of adults don’t struggle with these things, and it’s easy to feel ashamed that I’m here at 30 something with two kids, and I can’t respond to text messages without a reminder. But ADHD is real. And it’s hard. These are simply the accommodations I give myself. 

By writing these things down and checking them off every time I do them, I stay on top of things around the house. Yes, I need to clean more than 10 minutes a day. But if I tidy up at least 10 minutes a day, the mess doesn’t get overwhelming as a fast. And it’s a lot easier to tackle ten texts at a time than 50, many of which are a week old and still unread.

Make it autopilot

Routines are easier when they are in fact routine. I reference my checklist almost all day long. “What do I need to do next?” Instead of sitting there trying my make my brain work in a way it won’t, I just reference my list, pick a task and do it. But at a few points in the day, I actually can do some routines on autopilot. In the morning, I start the water boiling for coffee first thing. While it’s boiling, I feed the dog and get dressed. Then I head back into the kitchen about when the water is ready. I make my french press of coffee, and while it’s brewing, I prep breakfast. If I have time, I put clean dishes away and tidy up a bit. Usually my toddler has burst into the kitchen demanding hugs or ready to wrestle, depending on the day. But I’ve gotten a solid start on the day without looking at my list once, because I function on autopilot. It took me a while to get there, and a list making helped.

Baby Steps

Don’t try to write down every routine you need to create right now. It will be too much. I started with my morning routine because I knew that if I could get mornings under control the rest of the day would be better. Now that my mornings are going more smoothly, I created a list for the remainder of the day. Because of how interrupted I am with children all day, I don’t think I’ll be able to create another autopilot routine, which means I’ll probably be working off of a written routines list for the foreseeable future. That’s ok. It works for me. But the key thing was to do it in manageable chunks.

Give yourself mental breaks

Have things that don’t have to be maintained as routine to give you a break from the mental effort of things that aren’t optional.

Only about half of my day is taken up with routines. The rest is working on projects or addressing things as they come up. That way, there’s a lot of novelty built into my day. Sometimes it’s novelty I didn’t really want, like fixing our one and only toilet, but I’ll take what I can get. Right next to my routines list is my “Next Actions” list. It’s the next thing I need to do to work on the projects I have going. Of course, with ADHD, I hardly ever just do one action on a project a time. Because once I get into a task, it’s hard to get out of it. But when I’m trying to figure out what to do next, I can look at my list, pick something and do it. If I happen to do a lot more on that than was written down, all the better. The list is just to help me get started. 

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