The ADHD routine

People with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have a complicated relationship to routine. There is often a hot and cold, love and hate, push and pull, kind of relationship to routine.

Our ADHD brain craves the thrill of novelty (not routine), but then experiences disappointment when that novelty led us away from completing the routine task we hoped to accomplish. Then enters the added inner critic whispering, “if you didn’t get it done, did you really care about doing it?”

There’s a long-standing assumption that people with ADHD can’t follow a routine to complete tasks and thus don’t care about their relationships, job, house, schoolwork, family, community, etc. It is common to hear these messages so often from other people that we no longer need to hear others say them, we carry the criticism within us. If you have ADHD, you’ve probably felt the pain of this assumption all too often. What’s wild about this assumption is that often those same people with ADHD are also told they are “too much” when they express their full enthusiasm and care. Here we are – hot and cold, love and hate, push and pull.

Getting Curious about your ADHD Routine

As a therapist in Ann Arbor with ADHD who supports people with ADHD to find their own integration, we often start by dwelling in curiosity. “Okay, so let’s get curious about your routine, what’s working for you and what isn’t?” Once the client names something that is working we bring more curiosity, “why is that part of your routine working?” “What is it about that aspect of your routine that serves you and the way your brain works?”

To work toward integration of ADHD, it is critical to prioritize curiosity over judgement. What has happened to too many people with ADHD is that they have internalized the judgement when a routine has not been a good fit for them. That judgement can eclipse a person’s ability to see what aspects of the routine are working for them. Often there are several steps or aspects of a routine that are truly working and its only one or two critical points in the routine where it begins to fall apart.

Do you have a clear next step once you get out of bed or are you faced with making multiple decisions while your brain is still groggy?

Waking up with ADHD

Let’s use a morning routine as a concrete example – perhaps we’re having a hard time getting to work on time. Sometimes it’s natural to oversimplify the process for getting to work on time in the morning. First we need to acknowledge what all the different stages of getting to work on time are in the morning, it’s not just “wake up, get ready, and drive to work”. It’s important to take a full view of what is required of you to get ready in the morning, so you have an accurate understanding of what you’re working with.

“Wake up” as a first stage contains within it many questions and micro decisions. Are you on average getting enough sleep (specific to your own sleep need)? Is your process for actually waking up supportive to you or is the blaring alarm sound jarring you awake? Do you have a clear next step once you get out of bed or are you faced with making multiple decisions while your brain is still groggy? When you’re required to get somewhere in the morning, creating a structured routine for those first morning moments can help reserve some of your decisive energy for later in the morning when your brain is less groggy and you feel more prepared to make decisions.

I know some people with ADHD who find it really helpful to their morning routine to schedule in some time playing video games or puzzle games on their phone first thing in the morning while they drink tea or coffee. It may seem counter-intuitive because people with ADHD are often told they need to be more “on task”, however for some people it makes the act of waking up more interesting to them. By adding 15-30 minutes of video game time in the morning, they reduce the dread and dragging feeling of getting out of bed. If you’re getting enough hours of sleep and still dread getting out of bed, is there something you can add to your morning routine that makes waking up more interesting?

picture of Jesse Kauffman, LMSW

Jesse Kauffman

ADHD Therapist in Ann Arbor, Michigan

I specialize in helping people with ADHD find integration and alignment in their life. I provide support for professionals, adolescents, and families who are ready to live less scattered and more self-assured.

There are of course other factors that can contribute to dreading getting out of bed, low job satisfaction, too much conflict in your relationships, low self-esteem, overwhelming exposure to human suffering, and countless others. If any of these factors are contributing to your own sense of dread, it may be a good time to connect with a therapist who can help you. You can search for support in a therapist directory such as Therapy Den, Zencare, or Psychology Today. If you’re in California or Michigan and would like to work with me you can contact me here.

Is the routine serving you and your ADHD brain?

Many people with ADHD have been criticized out of taking ownership of their own life and routine. What works for others in the morning, may not work for you. That difference does not make you wrong, lazy, or disorganized it just makes you different. You are allowed to be different and find what works for you. Bringing curiosity to your routines and allowing yourself to experiment with different ideas can make a profound difference in how you navigate your everyday life with ADHD.

We often experience many people sharing their opinions about how we can optimize our routines, yet their ideas are based upon their own knowledge and experiences. You are not alone if you find it difficult to listen to other people advise you on how you should handle your routines. When my clients ask me for suggestions and strategies, they always come with the disclaimer that I’m only sharing what I have seen work for myself and others. There is a more important question that needs to accompany all suggestions. What does your own experience tell you about what might work for you?

When you finally find a routine that works for you, you can feel the difference. You know more about what you specifically need and how to meet those needs. It also reduces the number of decisions you are making throughout the day and it frees up your mind to focus on other ideas and decisions that may bring you more joy.

You deserve to find what works for you and your unique experience of life.