In celebration of ADHD Awareness Month.
Almost four years ago I started taking a closer look at the clients I was serving, who I most appreciated working with, who was consistently calling, who was making progress, etc. I was a little bit surprised (and pleased) to discover that roughly 70% of my client base consisted of adults diagnosed with ADD/ADHD*. After the first client who uneasily confessed their diagnosis to me years ago, I went after as much information as I could find about working on organizing skills with ADD clients - classes, books, websites, conference sessions. I guess the information-gathering paid off, and today the vast majority of my clients are diagnosed with either ADHD, some other brain difference, or at least suspect that they have a difference that affects their ability to organize and be on top of their productivity game.
All that said, I can’t say I always consciously think about specific organizing skills when I meet with someone. It’s not like I tell myself, “OK, s/he has ADD, so I’d better get out the Anti-Distraction Tools and put on my Focus hat.” I have to shake my head a little sometimes at well-meaning "Get Organized" articles and tips that people share with me. Things like: get a planner and write your top three priorities down on each day. Color code your filing system. Use eye-catching labels. Good Lord - if it were all that easy I wouldn’t have a gig.
There are some common things I suggest to ADD clients before starting an organizing project:
OK, so really, these are good practices for all organizing projects. So what’s different when I’m with my clients? The answer is one reason you don’t often see me blogging specifically to ADHD:
My clients are all different, and I take my cues from them. I recognize and acknowledge that the process will take as long as it takes (sometimes creeping progress, sometimes hyper-speed momentum, most often periods of both). I (hopefully) lend a calming presence, and cheerlead, because it’s way more fun and productive to be positive - my clients generally have had enough negativity.
Sometimes I keep the train on the tracks. Sometimes we take breaks when it all gets too overwhelming. I coach around stuck spots, like when we run across a purchase never used or a sentimental item. I don’t push my ideas if they don’t seem to resonate, or try to impose some sort of rigid system. I encourage their instincts. I give space for them to try new systems and tweak as necessary. I don’t take offense if the system I suggest doesn’t work the first time around.
Mostly, I do my level best to listen. If you are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD you want an organizer (or another organizing buddy) who listens, who supports you in pulling out your own best solution to organizing challenges. Because all of the traditional stuff generally doesn’t stick (but you already knew that).
I had someone ask me once if it was ok if they kept a basket or bin in their living room where they could put things if they got in a hurry and didn’t put them back in their “spots.” Then if they couldn’t find a particular item (flashlight, reading glasses, cheese grater, whatever), they would know to look in the bin. Once in a while, when it got too full, they would take time to put all of the things away.
I asked them if this system worked. Why yes, yes it did.
Well then, of course it’s ok.
Just because it doesn’t make it into a list of Top Ten Productivity Hacks or show up on a Pinterest board, doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid organizing solution. So perhaps that is one key - being open to a wide range of options for what the definition of “organized” might be for an ADD client. Being willing to experiment.
I might just create a living room basket for myself.
*I’m using the terms interchangeably throughout the post because regardless of the official terminology, most people seem to have their own preference.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, coach, wife and mom, and serial list-maker. Excited to be in the process of becoming a Certified Organizer Coach. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?