We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.Marshall McLuhan
The first I heard tell of an “ADHD Toolbox,” I was listening to a podcast. I wish I could remember which one, because they drew a great visual in the episode. They said to visualize a toolbox in your head; get to know it. What does it look like? What color is it? What is it made of? What kind of latch does it have? Dents or paint scrapes?
Once you had visualized your ADHD toolbox, you can start metaphorically filling it with ADHD coping skills and strategies. Anyway, he went on and listed the tools that he keeps in his toolbox, which is what I’m going to do today. My toolbox is brand new, but there were tools in it before I knew about my ADHD. I got my diagnosis the last week of September 2020. Without realizing it, I had been building coping mechanisms for years, some of them specifically for ADHD symptoms that I didn’t realize were symptoms.
While meeting with my ADHD therapist the first few times, he was astounded that I had so many active tools in play already. So was I. It meant that, though I had equipped myself with some handy skills, I still need a lot more in the repertoire. Even with the tools that I had in my ADHD toolbox, my life was still a mess. I was still struggling in every asset. It made me realize how important having an ADHD toolbox is for every ADHDer out there.
My ADHD Toolbox
Though there wasn’t a whole lot of helpful information when I did my research, I wanted to share with you the items that I currently have in my toolbox and also provide you with a few ideas that I am planning to add to my ADHD toolbox soon. Hopefully, it will give you some ideas and help you build your very own ADHD toolbox. Here is my ADHD toolbox, so far:
- Bullet Journaling – Let me preface with a disclaimer: I know, and I want you to know, that bullet journaling is not for everyone. There is a large amount of hate in the ADHD community for bullet journaling. My bullet journal has sort of morphed into a DIY planner. That said, bullet journaling changed the game for me, especially at work. My day job is high-pressure and production intensive…not good for someone with ADHD. Once I found a bullet journal system that worked for me, tracking my progress for the month helped me to stay on track and stop missing my numbers. It opened me up to a whole new kind of journaling and helped me get on a better path at work.
- Planner/Editorial Calendar – When I found out that I would be taking an extensive amount of time off work, I knew that my bullet journal was not going to cut it, so I busted out an old, undated planner. I used it to keep track of appointments, mostly…I have a lot of them lately. When I started blogging, I was working out of several different notebooks and a planner and I was getting quickly overwhelmed. I bought a Mossery Twinbook, which is a half planner/half notebook, and started an editorial calendar. I now use it to track all of my blog information and appointments for my family.
- Smartwatch – I just recently got my first smartwatch and I’m loving it right now. It makes me more aware of time because I’m wearing it on my wrist and I’m able to set reminders for all of the things that I forget. I’m really bad about losing track of time, so I have reminders set for mealtimes and when my daughter needs her medicine, bath, and bedtime. I haven’t been using it for very long, but so far it is my favorite took in my ADHD toolbox.
- Visual timers – I haven’t implemented the visual timers in my life yet, but I got 2 new hourglasses for Christmas that I plan to put into full effect when I go back to work. I hear wonderful things online about using visual timers and some form of the Pomodoro Method and I can’t wait to test it out.
- Rituals – I’ve written about my lack of daily rituals and my quest to find some kind of routine. The reason this is important to me is that it helps me to not forget things. When something is added to your routine, it becomes second nature so you are less likely to forget about it or get too busy. For instance, for years, I have taken a shower in the exact same order and exact same way. I have to do each step in order; Face, shampoo, conditioner, body, shave. It’s a whole thing. If I skip a step or so them out of order, I inevitably forget to do something like rinse out the conditioner or shave my right armpit. The ritual saves me from forgetting.
- Notebooks – Hi. My name is Amber and I am addicted to notebooks. Seriously. I love them. But they are more than just an expensive hobby I’ve picked up. They catch all of my ideas and plans. Any person with ADHD can tell you…our brains are BUSY. We so many thoughts that we often can’t keep track of them. We have poor working memory which often means that we have a brilliant idea, only to forget it at the very next moment. I’ve started keeping track of all these thoughts in notebooks. If I don’t have time to write the idea down in one of my notebooks, I jot it down on a post-it note so that I can write it down later.
- Emailed calendar reminders – I started using Google Calendars in tandem with my planner/editorial calendar. A couple of times a month, I go in and add any appointments that I have for the month. I make sure to turn on reminders (you can set several) and then it shows up on my Smartwatch the day of the appointment. I also have started utilizing the “Add to Calendar” feature on Zoom meetings and online courses that I sometimes take. The extra reminder is super helpful. Also, many of my doctor’s offices offer text and email reminders; I utilize both features when available.
- Music!! – I cannot understate how much music helps me in my life. Not only is it great to boost motivation and production, but it can also be an amazing equalizer. We have a “smart” home, so there is a Google speaker in every room. No matter what I’m doing, I usually have the music on. If I need to do the dishes, I may only get through one or two songs before I’m done, but it gives me just the push I need to get over my activation issues.
- Lists and mind mapping – Lists and mind-mapping have been a life-saver for me. When your brain is super-highway of thoughts, it can get pretty overwhelming in there. Overwhelm exacerbates ADHD symptoms and can cause paralysis of will. When I’m feeling this way, I break out a piece of paper and I either make a list of what I need to do to complete a task or tasks. I turn to mind-mapping when I have thoughts that are all twisted in on each other and I need to sort them out. Both work great and almost always get me moving again.
- A pill container – So, ADHD or not, we’ve all been there. You can’t remember if you took your medicine or not or you got busy and forgot altogether. This used to be my life daily. I could remember thinking about taking the pill. I could remember walking over to take the pill. Sometimes I could even remember taking the lid off the bottle…but I could never remember actually taking the pill. So then I would skip it because I didn’t want to double dose. Sometimes I would just forget for days at a time. It resulted in my being largely non-compliant with my medications. I added a pill container to my ADHD toolbox and I rarely ever forget my medication now and I always remember whether or not I took it.
Future ADHD Toolbox Plans
As I said before, my ADHD toolbox isn’t complete, by any means, and may never be. I will always be ever-growing and ever-changing and will need to switch and adjust accordingly. I want to leave you with some of the things that I would like to my ADHD toolbox in the next few weeks. I hope that it helps and gives you some ideas on how you can better cope with your ADHD.
- Deal with the things you hate to do, right away. Fold the laundry straight out of the dryer. Return the important phone call as soon as you get the message. Get the dishes done as soon as you’re done eating dinner. I know, I know. I am the world’s worst about this. It’s hard. I bet it would make things easier in the end, though.
- Deal with mail daily. Throw out the junk and file what you need to keep or be aware of.
- Set up a filing system to keep your important paperwork. We’ve all got it.
- Give yourself extra time when planning. If you think a task will take 15 minutes, plan to give yourself 45 minutes. If your commute will take an hour, give yourself 2.
- Plan to be early to all appointments and engagements.
- Make time each day for daily planning and organizing. Try to do your planning at night so you are fresh and ready for your morning routine (which should include a review of your upcoming day).
- Make sure you have a dedicated workspace. This may not always be possible because of space constraints, but you can still pick a corner or an area where you can work, distraction-free.
- Write down “pop-up” ideas for later. When you are working, be sure not to get distracted by any new ideas that may occur to you. Write them down and come back to them later.
- Take notes. In meetings, during lectures, even during therapy…don’t be afraid to pull out a notebook and note the things that you need or want to remember.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest. They are not the same and you need both.
- Try to reduce distractions, especially when you need your full attention, like while driving.
- Identify your strengths and your weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to put crutches in place where you are weak.
- Cut down on clutter. If you don’t need it THROW IT OUT. If you can’t throw it out, put it away in a closet or storage area.
- Establish more routines.
- Set up a reward system for yourself. You deserve it!
Please keep in mind to be flexible when you are creating your ADHD toolbox. Not every tool will work for every person and that’s ok. Make sure that you don’t beat yourself up if you try something and it doesn’t work or even if you need to take a break from some of your tools on occasion. Whatever doesn’t work, throw it out and keep whatever helps you. Remember that each of us is dealing with our own unique set of circumstances…what works for me might not work for you.
That’s it for my ADHD toolbox post. I hope that these tools help you and/or your loved ones as much as they have helped me. Remember to stay flexible and keep an open mind.
Don’t forget to subscribe by email so you never miss an update. Make sure to follow me on Twitter and join our private Facebook group The Winter Of My Discontent: ADHD and Mental Illness Community!
Love and light! Keep fighting the good fight!💜💜
Writing about living with ADHD and mental illness and my journey down a thriving path forward. Breaking stigmas and creating community, one post at a time.