The symptoms of ADHD are well known now - but when it comes to getting stuff done, the worst of them are - procrastination, impulsiveness, inattention and poor memory. So anything we can do to combat these frustrating traits, the better. And the good news is that we can put technology to work for us, hardware and software that will help you do precisely that. Here are eight of my personal favourites for getting shit done.
This was one of the first (if not the first) distraction-free writing apps and for my money it stands head and shoulders over the many alternatives that are available now. It is such a beautifully coded bit of software that it just gets out of the way and lets you get on with writing.
Distraction-free writing apps like iAwriter enable you to reduce your screen interface to the absolute bare essentials. I always run the app full-screen so that there are no bouncing dock icons to distract me. Then you have the beautifully designed interface, the display font that is perfect for this purpose and a clean backdrop that just encourages you to start writing.
The app has a focus mode which keeps the text in the centre of the screen and you can set this to sentence, paragraph or typewriter modes. I always work in sentence mode and then all the text I'm not working on is faded out so I can concentrate on just the paragraph I'm currently writing. The idea is that you just get the words on the page, rather than fiddling about with font styles and all the other distracting crap you find in Microsoft Word.
I've found iAwriter to be the perfect writing environment for my ADHD brain, so much so that I've now written two whole books and numerous newspaper articles with it. It's available on Mac and iPhone, as well as Windows and Android and is heartily recommended.
These awesome little gizmos are essential if, like me, you spend 50% of your day simply walking around looking for your keys. The tiles are tiny little Bluetooth trackers encased in hard-wearing plastic and to use them you simply attach them to something you're always losing (such as your car keys) and then pair them to the app.
When you inevitably lose your keys/dog/wallet/patience for the 14th time that day, you can fire up the Tile app, trigger the appropriate tile and it will call to you by beeping its little heart out. You simply follow the sound and discover where you've left them. There's also a special 'lost' mode for when you lose your keys away from home and uses other Tile devices to alert you to its location.
They make the Tiles in several different versions, such as a slim model that is designed to go into one of the little credit card sleeves in your wallet or purse. They also have a couple of different iterations, including a blingy gold version and a more robust one that you could stick underneath a skateboard for instance.
Living with ADHD is to live with a thousand different distractions all of which get in the way of applying yourself to the task at hand. And while distraction free writing apps can help with the visual distractions, what about audible distractions? Other people's conversations, the way the air conditioner makes that weird little click noise every 13 seconds, the car beeping its horn in the street, the bird tweeting its lungs out on the roof of your house - we hear it all and are distracted by it all.
It's been well established that electronic music, paired with some good noise-cancelling headphones, is a great help when it comes to concentrating and I often listen to it while working. But I've also found I often start enjoying the music and that distracts me from my task. So instead I started using noise generators, which produce a wall of random sound that serves as an audio-barrier against audible distractions.
The app that I found to be best is called Noizio. It sits in the Menu Bar so it's easily to hand and can be output to any audio devices you have connected to your Mac. The app includes sounds such as 'birds in a park', 'blue whales' or 'deep space' and you can combine these using sliders to arrive at a soundscape that works best for you. There's a free version to try and if you like it you can upgrade to a paid version and get loads more sounds. Simply try them all and see which one works best for you.
I'm a real Apple fanboy but I will be the first to admit that Google's voice assistant leaves Siri in the dust. Not sure why Apple (who pioneered the entire bloody concept) can't give Siri a few more smarts, but they seem happy for her to languish down the shallow end of the gene pool. That being said, she still has her uses for some specific tasks - such as shopping lists.
Before I was diagnosed with ADHD, a trip to the shops routinely turned into three trips to the shops because I would always forget one or two items and only realise when I parked the car in the garage and turned the ignition off. Now when I realise I need something from the shops, I simply say, "Hey Siri, add vegan sex lube to my shopping list" and it gets added. I add things as soon as they occur to me, so if I'm making a meal and realise I've run out of an item, I pick up the phone and add it there and then. This is important, because as we all know far too well, if you don't act on these things instantly, it drops out of your head and only returns at some fantastically inconvenient moment in the future.
To view the shopping list when you're in the shop, you can even say, "Hey Siri - show me my shopping list" and it'll display said list in a list format in the Reminders app, for you to tick off as you proceed around the shop adding items to your basket. Google's version is (of course) a lot more sophisticated and ties into a special shopping list web app, but it works along the same lines.
ADHD brains just work differently to the standard versions - we all know that - and dealing with them on a daily basis is about finding work-arounds or tools that play to the disorder's strengths. One of our big problems is organisation and the use of organisation to facilitate the smooth implementation of a task.
I first encountered mind-mapping software over a decade ago and immediately thought it was such as great idea. It lets you spew out all of your ideas and thoughts and worry about how they're connected and ordered afterwards. You can fill the screen with words, phrases, pictures and URLs and then start connecting one item to another until it makes perfect sense.
The software I've used for years is MindNode - it's far and away the most best designed mind map app and has grown a sensible and mature feature-set over the years. My only issue with it these days is that it is now subscription software and I am considering ditching it for SimpleMind which has an excellent Lite version which is completely free and a Pro version which you can buy outright.
Sometimes it feels like the worldwide web was designed with the sole purpose of enticing you away from whatever you are currently viewing. Hyperlinks, adverts, pop-ups, redirects - you name it, it's all designed to capture your eyeballs and send them somewhere else. I mean, it's is bad enough for baseline brains, but those of us with ADHD are fucked.
So just as distraction-free writing apps are the way to go when you're in production-mode, distraction-free reading apps are the way to go when you're in consumption-mode. Fortunately most browsers have a built-in reader mode, which enables you to instantly flick to a beautiful text-only rendering of a webpage which you stand a much better chance of reading before zoning out.
Safari, Firefox and Microsoft Edge all have great reader modes, but the one I like best is an extension made only for Chrome called Mercury Reader. Whenever I visit a webpage with an article that I actually want to read and comprehend, I always flick to Reader mode, which removes all the adverts, videos and flashing lights and just shows you the words.
Since the iPhone ushered in a new era of smartphones there have been a whole range of cool apps designed to incentivise tasks. These have been a boon for those us with dopamine-deficient brains who will do literally anything other than that whatever we're actually supposed to be doing. These apps can sometimes be seen as a bit gimmicky, but the fact is our ADHD brains respond well to gimmicks, so I say, work with what you've got.
Streaks is a habit-forming to-do app that's available for Mac and iPhone. You add items to the app that you're supposed to do on a regular basis and the idea is to get as long a streak (successive task completions) as you can. Now admittedly I'm also on the spectrum and this app keys right into my burning need for routines, but I've found it a great way to trick myself into getting stuff done because losing a long streak is heart-breaking.
Over the years the app has evolved and you can now add negative tasks to your list, such as, "Don't Smoke" or "Don't Eat that 15th Doughnut" and these carry on clocking up wins automatically until you fail and have to depressingly hit the button. There are also built-in reminders, which I find great for things like my medication, statistics so you can geek out over your tasks and scheduling so you can block out weekends or specific days.
I have the memory capacity of a goldfish. If someone asks me to do something, unless I either start doing it there and then or write it down and stick it on a post-it note on my screen - it ain't getting done. I also have sudden flashes of inspiration, usually when I'm standing in the shower and I know that if I don't record them in some way there and then, they're gone.
Just Press Record is a brilliant app that runs on my iPhone and Apple Watch and let's me transfer a thought or task out of my woefully limited inbuilt short-term memory and into the cloud. To use it you simply start the app, hit the big red record button and speak. The app then saves your idea/task/song lyric/reminder as an audio file but it also transcribes it into text. You can then share the text or the audio file or both.
The app has an Apple Watch companion app which is brilliant in its simplicity and so useful. Whenever something occurs to me I can just hit the big red button, speak into my watch, and it's safely recorded, transcribed and sent to the cloud ready for me when I'm back home. You can also edit recordings prior to sharing using a brilliantly simple interface.
Got an app or device you swear by that really helps with your ADHD - would love to hear about it - just comment below.
These apps are heck great.