How can I get more organized and disciplined in my life?
September 23, 2008 7:06 PM   Subscribe

I've plenty in touch with my inner child. How can I get in touch with my inner adult? I just want to be more disciplined and do the things a grownup needs to get done.

More specifically, I have a real hard time following through with things like organization, cleaning up, washing the dishes, doing the laundry.

Now, I have ADHD. I know this is definitely having an influence on my difficulties to stay on track. But even with that, I feel like I just don't have any grasp on how to have things like routine. I also feel like I need to have more self-discipline.

I'd love to hear from people on how they managed to bring order into their lives, particularly people with ADHD.

What are some ways to establish routine, and is it possible to make things like dishes, laundry, and cleaning up automatic behaviors?

Note that I'm aware that there are some posts on how to tidy things up; my real focus here is how to immerse myself in discipline.
posted by Deathalicious to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Flylady. It's all about baby steps and breaking these tasks down and feeling good about yourself instead of beating yourself up. It definitely includes some tidy tips, but it's more about introducing some gentle, mangeable discipline into your home life.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:31 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't have any specific suggestions, but here's some more general advice.

First, if you aren't already on it, look into medication. One of my cousins has ADHD. Took meds as a kid, but stopped in high school. Spent most of the next ten-odd years basically screwing around. Did a stint in the army, declined to reenlist, and basically just lazed around. Got married, had a kid, played Halo all day. As you might imagine, his wife got tired of this rather rapidly, and he eventually decided to get his life in gear. The first thing he did was to get back on his meds. He spent a week deathly ill but got his condition under control, started work as a manager at a housing supply megastore, and last time I checked he was taking classes towards an associates degree. I'm usually pretty skeptical of medicating psychological conditions, particularly ones as nebulous and over-prescribed as ADHD, but if you've really got the condition, the meds really do work.

The other thing I'd suggest is accountability. If you're married, get your spouse involved. If you're dating someone, get them involved. If you're single, find a good friend. No one can make you do anything, but if you know you're going to disappoint someone other than yourself, it can be easier to make yourself do things.

Lastly, don't get discouraged when things don't come naturally after a few days/weeks. Setting habits, particularly habits of doing things you don't particularly want to do, takes a lot of effort and time. It could be months to a year.
posted by valkyryn at 7:39 PM on September 23, 2008

Best answer: This ADHD-oriented advice has helped discipline my tidying up: Designate one spot in a messy room as a virtual 12 o'clock. Start cleaning there and work "around the clock." No cheating by cleaning up the easy stuff first and leaving the difficult chores for later. Work through the entire room, one section at a time.

I'm not ADD/ADHD but I can be overwhelmed by visual clutter and mess. Adopting the clock approach gives me a built-in plan for coping; the discipline is in having to do A before B and B before C and so on.

Start small. Try this trick for a week, maybe on a single room. Then try it for one more week. Don't promise yourself that you'll always do it but do challenge yourself to do it for a limited period and take it from there. Good luck.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:42 PM on September 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

Second Flylady - it is all about building routines, tackling projects in baby steps and accepting "good enough". There is a website, and a beginner should start with the 30 day program. After that, the system is based on constant email reminders and testimonials (from a yahoo group). Lots of email - set up your mail system to route them to a separate folder. The reminders are designed so that once you get familiar with the system, you just look at the subject line and delete it without ever opening them. If you are having a bad day, just delete them all unread-they will come around again.
posted by metahawk at 8:22 PM on September 23, 2008

Best answer: Seconding the looking into meds. I was skeptical, but it has made a difference for me.

You Mean I'm not Lazy, Crazy, or Stupid? is another one worth reading, although the medication chapter is now woefully out of date.

A few things I've found helpful:

Task lists - RememberTheMilk or ToodleDo or any of a bajillion task type web sites - set up lists with reminders for yourself. Both of the ones mentioned can be hooked into Gmail and GoogleCalendar.

Scheduling - see GoogleCalendar. :) Also, a white board on the fridge for reminders like trash day or laundry.

Dishes - if you have a partner, develop an agreement for meals. A common one is "whoever didn't cook does the dishes." If you're single, it's all on you. Whatever it is, make it happen right after you eat. Nothing else happens until dishes are washed or in the dishwasher, and it's running.

Laundry - pick a time, any time, and try to always do your laundry then, at least once a week.

Cleaning - 5 minute rule. Whenever you walk into a new room, look around. Does anything need to be put away? If so, GO. Go for five minutes or until whatever you've picked is at a good stopping point.

If you pick a trigger for these five-minute cleaning sweeps, you'll find that you can get a surprising amount of stuff done in a short period of time, if you're doing it often, and it can be a lot less overwhelming than trying to do a massive cleanup and getting discouraged or giving up. Pick a day, once a week, to spend an hour on the annoying stuff like vacuuming or swiffering or whatever - with all those cleaning intervals, it'll be a lot more manageable. The exact durations and what not are all subject to your goals, lifestyle and partner.
posted by canine epigram at 9:35 PM on September 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

Dishes - if you have a partner, develop an agreement for meals. A common one is "whoever didn't cook does the dishes." If you're single, it's all on you. Whatever it is, make it happen right after you eat. Nothing else happens until dishes are washed or in the dishwasher, and it's running.

I'm single and there is no way, I could do the "do the dishes after right after I eat." So I would suggest:

1) Do the dishes as soon as you get home. Put your bag down, take your coat off and hit sink.


2) Can't use another dish until all the dishes are clean. No cups, no silverware, nothing. And you can't cheat and use plastic or paper, either.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:59 PM on September 23, 2008

One extreme solution is to give away/recycle/throw out everything you haven't used in say, 6 months or a year. And then make an effort to not add any useless crud.

I do this every year. With too much stuff, I feel overwhelmed, and organization isn't my best quality. I really only wear 1/3 of my clothes. I don't need 10 lighters. One person doesn't need 8 forks. You get the idea. The less stuff I have, the less there is to clean!

When I clean, I put like things in piles, and then I attack each pile, like Katamari. I hate cleaning routines - if it takes me more than 15 minutes to get my (small) place in shape for company, its time to get rid of more crud.
posted by shinyshiny at 12:21 AM on September 24, 2008

Best answer: One recent realization that only took me 42 years -- doing these sorts of tasks are a form of self-love or self-care. I tend to resist at times, as though there is some celestial parent tut-tut-ing, and my not doing certain tasks is some kind of anti-authoritarian rebellion. But really my doing the tasks is for me, it's making my own life easier and nicer and calmer. Realizing that has made me happier about doing the tasks (which I don't always do, but).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:34 AM on September 24, 2008 [28 favorites]

I'm single and there is no way, I could do the "do the dishes after right after I eat."

Why not? Sit, eat, relax for a bit, then before doing anything else, do the dishes. When I was single, I didn't generate a lot of dishes, and doing them sooner rather than later kept me from forgetting them.

That being said, your alternatives are great, if that works better. Like I said, the key is finding an effective trigger, whether it's finishing watching that 8pm TV show or coming home from work.
posted by canine epigram at 6:35 AM on September 24, 2008

Seconding ClaudiaCenter. Chances are you feel better after tackling a household task - a sense of calm, relief, accomplishment. Do you feel more at home when your house is clean; do you like knowing where all your stuff is? Whatever the specific feeling is, thinking "getting this done will make me feel better" is often a more effective motivator than "you should do this."
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:34 AM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For me, DVD = laundry.
I fold clothes and iron whenever I watch a movie alone. Every single time. This has become so ingrained that, if some miracle happens and there isn't laundry to do on a given day, I don't watch the movie until there is. Because the movies I like are typically about three hours long, this works great: I am done in time to sit down and give the thrilling conclusion my full attention.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:57 AM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

FlyLady annoys the bejeebus out of me with the patronising phrasing and cutesy reminders.

(But once you learn to tune out all that, it's wicked effective.)

Make a point of inviting over people you want to impress. Do this frequently enough and the regular 'cleaning so X doesn't think I'm a slob' just becomes 'regular cleaning'.

Also check out the archives at LifeHacker. Especially the comments trails. The people over there spend their free time in search of free time, so if there's any way to reduce or automate a household chore chances are they've covered it.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:50 AM on September 24, 2008

Get married. Oh wait, you're already doing that. :)

Seriously, my guy has only really gotten a handle on any of this since we've been together. I'm not taking the credit for it, but it seems like my presence makes him want to handle his life in a more organized fashion. Like another poster said, accountability works. He realizes that our lives are intertwined and his lack of follow-through affects both of us.

I went through a (long) period of nagging him, and I've finally come to understand that he's not lazy and it's not personal. One thing I do is to leave notes for him where he's guaranteed to see them (the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, his Playstation controller). He needs frequent reminders or he'll get distracted forget. They need to be non-accusatory ("Are you going to take out the garbage or not?") or he'll get defensive. Another thing I do is to make lists with him of what needs to be done. Also, it seems to help him to take TIMED breaks. Set the microwave timer for 15 minutes and chill out. If the timer is not set, he'll get engrossed in the TV show/video game and nothing will get done the rest of the evening. While working, play music to give your brain something else to do, but don't turn on the TV or anything you could get distracted by.

Finally, as much as possible, we do tasks TOGETHER. "Hey, I'll fold the laundry if you bring it up from the dryer and put another load in the washer." This has been the most effective approach, because it puts into action the concept that we're a team and it's not his responsibility or my responsibility but OURS. If you both spend a day organizing your closet (or whatever's really messy), you'll be more inclined to keep it clean. (Also, the timer works for tasks, too - it plays into his competitive nature. "I bet I can get more done than you can in 15 minutes!" Whoever wins gets a reward. Since you're engaged I'll bet you can think of a suitable reward. ;))

Don't be hard on yourself. I don't have ADHD and I hate doing all the chores you mention. I do them because I like having clean dishes and clean laundry and I keep focused on the end result rather than the process.
posted by desjardins at 1:14 PM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One more thing - the single most effective thing that works for Mr. Desjardins' ADHD (besides medication) is external cues that spur him into action RIGHT NOW. For example, the above-mentioned microwave timer, but it could also be an Outlook reminder, a cellphone alarm, someone who calls/texts you at a set time every day. I often wondered how he got anything done at work when he has trouble at home, and it's because he has a zillion Outlook reminders for every little task.
posted by desjardins at 1:17 PM on September 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers and sorry for being so late in getting back to the thread (got nudged by the MeTa). My apartment is still kinda a mess but I'm working slowly on getting more organized. I did look into the medication issue and that is sorted for now I think.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:59 AM on October 30, 2008

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