Three Helpful Tips for ADHD Students and Adults Ready to Conquer Clutter and Get Organized

Anyone with a goal knows that to achieve results, you have to be willing to work hard. However, just as importantly, you also need the know-how to work smart. Reaching your goals requires a plan with concrete steps, as well as positive habits that can get you where you want to go. Individuals who struggle with ADD, ADHD, and similar conditions are well-acquainted with the frustrations of getting organized enough to see the success they so eagerly desire. Organizational expert and author Judith Kolberg works extensively in this field and has concluded that an enormous hurdle for many of us is a struggle with perfectionism. That is, because we are so preoccupied with being perfectly organized in the future, we miss out on easier, more immediate steps we can take to become a little bit more organized right now. Fortunately, there are in fact many small changes that people with ADD, ADHD, and a wide variety of difficult learning disorders can make that will improve their lives. In fact, they tips are often helpful for everyone to some extent. As you adopt more and more of these best practices, you will find yourself enjoying all the benefits of a more organized and effective life, including less clutter and greater peace of mind.

Your Timer is a Treasure

Everyone can struggle with time management, but this pitfall can become exponentially more extreme for people with ADD or ADHD. Spending hours or even days in agony as you try to make a decision others in your situation have made in minutes puts you at a serious disadvantage. The longer you draw out a decision making process, the more that task is likely to overlap with the large number of other things you have to do with your time. Before you know it, deadlines of all sorts are approaching in a jumbled mess and you are liable to find yourself stressed, unprepared, and unhappy. This goes for completing all sorts of activities, including homework or projects at work. Give yourself a time limit to make a choice or complete the work, and stick by it. Set reminders on your phone or computer, ask someone reliable to give you a call at a specific time to ask what you have decided, or simply write it down in your calendar. The important thing is that you stick to this deadline that you have chosen. A very real and tangible endpoint to your dilemma, that you have set for yourself in a manner which comfortably avoids any external pressures or consequences, can empower you enough to avoid distractions. Do not be discouraged if this is difficult at first! The more practice you have at holding yourself accountable, the better you will get at it.

Keep It Simple

When it is naturally a challenge to hold your attention in one place, the importance of developing physical expressions of where your focus should be cannot be understated. However, it is also critical not to set yourself up for failure. Everyone would like to be able to accomplish everything in one day, but that is just not always possible. This is why prioritizing is such a critical skillset. An excellent habit is to take an index card and write five tasks down on it at most – any other things you would like to be able to accomplish can be jotted down on the back. However, write those five main things down in big letters and use that as a reference throughout the day. Once you have finished all five things, you can throw out that card and create a new one. This card is an easy, portable way for you to be sure you are always aware of what you should be doing, ensuring you get more down. Additionally, the sensation of crossing things off the list and eventually throwing the card out altogether will decrease your sense of frustrations and make you feel good about your day. The better you feel, the more you are likely to continue doing.

Call For Backup

One of the best things you can do for a happy and healthy life is to surround yourself with supportive, caring people. A person working with ADD, ADHD, or a similar disorder which can put a strain on your capacity to focus, learn, or stay on task, will inevitably run into situations in which they need help. That is alright. Everyone, regardless of mental condition, encounters such realities. This is why a great network of friends and family is so important. However, you need to be willing to leverage their willing support and ask for help. When it comes time to accomplish a task that you know is usually far outside something you are willing to do independently, it is time to request a little supervision and support. As a friend or family member to sit with you while to tackle the task, whether it be a particularly time-intensive academic endeavor, a mundane chore like balancing a checkbook, or something else entirely. Have them sit by you and quietly do their own unobtrusive work. He or she can periodically check in with you, while otherwise providing an encouraging atmosphere by setting a standard of quiet productivity.

Living with ADD, ADHD, or any other learning disorder can be a challenge, but it is never an insurmountable one. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and do not get discouraged if it takes time to establish a routine that works for you. Every day is an opportunity for you to discover and more fully adopt a way of living that makes you feel productive, focused, and happy.

Do You Worry Your Mind Is Losing Its Edge? Four Cognitive Functions To Monitor and How to Keep Them Sharp

Bob GottfriedEveryone grows up. This, one of the universal truths of life on Earth, heavily influences both the way in which we choose to live and our understanding of life itself. With each passing day, we take in new experiences, expand our worldview, and learn new things. That learning process, in which we activate many different portions of our brains, involves billions of neurons changing and connecting at tens of thousands of synapses per neuron. As overwhelming as it may be to conceptualize this incredibly complex neurocircuitry, learning is many times effectively synonymous with life. You learn every day you are alive.

As such, it can be nothing short of horrifying to realize your mind does not seem to be acquiring, retaining, or interpreting data at quite the same rate of success as you are used to enjoying. If our ability to learn and remember information is so closely intertwined with our understanding of life (and definitely with a certain quality of life), the fear of losing the capacity to do so, particularly for aging individuals, can be debilitating. This is increasingly true as you notice more differences in pre-established patterns of behavior. However, the first step to facing this new phase of life is to equip yourself with some critical knowledge about what you are experiencing.

Due in large part to the advent of resources like the world wide web, there is, happily, no shortage of information available to individuals curious about how aging impacts the development of their brain. There has been an intensive scientific effort for quite some time now to improve our understanding how things like attention, memory, speech, and even decision making change over the years.

Many changes in cognitive function are inevitable. It is helpful to understand that these developments are often unavoidable and completely natural. A decent grasp of what what these functions are is the first step to responsibly and diligently monitoring them. The relationship between the human brain and cognition is certainly dynamic, but change in one ultimately alters the other. It is worth addressing four general groupings of cognitive functions, two often categorized as basic (attention and memory) and two higher level cognitive functions (speech and language, as well as decision making). Here, we will speak on attention.


One of the basic cognitive functions most affected by age, attention consists of certain components which remain relatively unaffected by growing old and others that deteriorate significantly. There are multiple sub-processes that support different aspects of attentional processing and some form of attention is involved in basically every other cognitive function with the exception of the truly habitual or automatic. An inability to keep sustained attention on a given task can be exceedingly problematic in everyday life. In our effort to even define attention, there is a need to acknowledge the various ways in which it has been divided and most thoroughly investigated by the scientific community in regards to aging in humans.

Selective Attention

Selective attention describes a skillset which empowers you to disregard irrelevant stimuli in favor of focusing on a given task. Stated simply, it is the extent to which you are able to select to what you choose to pay attention. Studies commonly examine how successful people are at finding a targeted image (often a recognizable symbol like a letter) when it is distractingly surrounded by other non-target images. The more alike the target and distractors are, the more challenging the task becomes. Alternatively, altering the proportion of target to non-target images also increases the difficulty. To be successful, you need to be able to pay attention to what is relevant and disregard everything else.

This is a situation in which every human finds his or herself immersed in nearly every minute of every day. We constantly need to focus our attention on a small handful of priorities (work, the car in front of us, the words being spoken to us) while simultaneously blocking out everything else (a conversation in the cubicle next to ours, the kids debating loudly in the backseat, or what is happening behind the person with whom we are speaking). Generally, older people respond more slowly to identifying target stimuli. However, you may be surprised to learn that the current body of science does not support the assumption that the elderly are more easily distracted. Therefore, it would seem that older adults may suffer from a general slowdown in terms of information processing, but not a decrease in their ability to selectively pay attention. Selective attention is a skill which we improve as we grow older (recall, for example, how easily distracted a kindergartner is as opposed to a high school senior). This might suggest that selective attention is, at least in part, a learned skillset and the extent to which you practice it colors both how well certain people can do it and the longevity of its prevalence.

Divided Attention

Divided attention refers to tasks that demand simultaneous, multiple sources of information. Put another way, it’s the extent to which you are comfortable focusing on more than one thing at once. Many studies ask participants to do several tasks at the same time, or perhaps keep track of two different target images in two different places. Scientists have identified the concept of a “cost” of dividing attention, and asses it by comparing how well people perform dual tasks with how successful task completion is when done separately. Older individuals do tend to struggle more when it comes to dividing their attention, and the disparity between age groups only grows with the intensity of the tasks. When given instructions to allocate different priorities to different tasks, older adults have also exhibited more trouble appropriately divvying up their attention. The elderly are also slower at changing mental sets to switch from one task to a completely different one.

Sustained Attention

A third category of attention under study is often called sustained attention. This refers to the ability to concentrate on a given task over a long period of time. Studies examine if there is any difference between the extent to which an older person can focus on a single activity over time as opposed to a young person. Generally, the science indicates that there is no discernable difference.

Stay Sharp

The good news is that older adults tend to retain their ability to excel at tasks which require sustained attention or singularly focused attention. There is, generally, a decline in the speed of information processing, but older folks are not vastly more likely to be distracted than a younger counterpart. However, as you age, studies do suggest that there will likely be a significant drop in your ability to divide your attention or switch between multiple inputs. Essentially, young people tend to make better multitaskers.

Fortunately, these differences between the young and the old in both their ability to divide attention and switch attention can be reduced by extended training. It is important to prioritize these endeavors, given how severely a person’s ability to pay attention in all situations impacts daily life. Consider, for instance, driving. Being behind the wheel of a car demands constantly switching attention between different external inputs, which becomes harder as the years advance. However, even in old age, the parts of the brain which learn to complete tasks automatically with practice can still be highly functional. This can alleviates some of the burden on attention in certain situations. Otherwise, you can still reduce the attentional demands of certain task by simply becoming more familiar with them.

Research has also indicated that cardiovascular exercise can be quite helpful. Aerobic activity change the middle-frontal and superior regions of the brain, which control things like focus, spatial attention, and decision-making. A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concluded that cardio for just 40 minutes per week resulted in a larger volume of neurons in the part of the brain that controls learning and memory. Although the exact mechanic in this process are still not fully understood, the current scientific consensus definitely suggests that going for a run is not just a great for your body, but also really good for your mind.