Getting organized — ADD/ADHD style

Don't let ADHD give you paperwork the upperhandDo you have piles of paper everywhere?  Do you trouble finding the right piece of paper when you need it?  Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

Getting your paperwork organized can be an overwhelming task if you’ve procrastinated too long.  The key is getting caught up, then having a system in place so you don’t fall behind again.  Here’s one way that can help you get through the piles quickly – in just three days.

Start by setting aside three days to focus on your paperwork.  Friday, Saturday and Sunday are great times for getting organized.

Day 1:  Paperwork central

  • Pick a place that you will keep all of your paper work on. This is your “Paperwork Central.” It can be a section of your desk, an out of the way place on the floor, or the dining room table.
  • Go around the house and round up all your papers and bring it to your Paperwork Central.
  • Don’t forget your backpack, purse or front seat of the car.
  • Get all your paper – newspapers, bills, junk mail, assignments, magazines, homework, notes, letters, everything. About the only paper you don’t want in this pile is your books.

This step should take you about 15-30 minutes.  When you are done, congratulate yourself, you are getting organized!  Does the pile look overwhelming?  Don’t worry, we’ll get through it quickly on Day 2.

Did you find anything important when rounding everything up?  Choose one thing, and do it now!

Day 2:  Quick Sort

  1. Go through every piece of paper and sort it into one of these piles:
    a.  urgent
    b.  bills
    c.  to do
    d.  save (filing)
    e.  reading
    f.  recycle
  2. Do not spend time reading or thinking about each piece. It’s easy to get distracted here by thinking about each thing. Don’t! Just keep thinking, “All I’m doing is sorting stuff into piles. I have time to take care of this later.”
  3. Set a timer; see how fast you can do it. Your job is to stay focused on sorting and do this step quickly. This step is about getting organized, not doing any work.
  4. Don’t get distracted by the urgent pile. Your job right now is getting things sorted.
  5. Take the recycling out right now. Doesn’t it feel great to get rid of that huge pile!
  6. Put your reading pile somewhere you’ll look at it… in the bathroom, on the coffee table, by your bed.

This step may have taken you as little as an hour, or much longer if you’ve really let things go.  (Hope not!)  Take a break if you are getting stressed.  It’s important that you feel like you control your piles – they aren’t controlling you.  So take a break when you need to and come back later to do more.

When you are done with your sort, pick one urgent matter that you uncovered when doing this step, and take care of it now. 

Day 3:  To Do List

  • Go through your “to do” pile and make a list of what is in it. This is your To Do list. It’s easier to look at a list than having to shuffle through the pile every day.
  • Prioritize your list and put the most important items at the top of your page, the less important ones go towards the bottom.
  • Post your list on your fridge or somewhere else you’ll see it.
  • Look it every morning and pick the things you want to get done that day.
  • Having trouble getting started? Start with the easy stuff. Again, you are in charge of your list, it isn’t in charge of you!

This step should take no more than a half hour.  All you are doing is writing down your to do list.  When you are all done, pick at least one high priority or urgent item and take care of it.

Be sure to cross stuff off your list when you do them.  And reward yourself when you’ve accomplished 10 or 15 of your items.  You’ll never have a finished to do list.  So it’s important that you celebrate keeping on top of it.

Congratulations!  You’ve got your paperwork under control.  And along the way, you’ve started taking care of your “To Do’s.”  Now it’s time to keep it that way.


Now that you are organized, stay that way.  Every time you bring paper into the house, whether it is mail, or school work, or something else, bring it to your Paperwork Central location and sort it right away. 

  • Don’t drop it on the dining room table if your Paperwork Central is in your bedroom.
  • Do open all envelopes – especially for your bills, and recycle what you don’t need to keep.
  • Do add items to you “to do” list as necessary and look at it each day to stay on top of it.
  • You don’t need to buy fancy organizers for Paperwork Central, but you can if you’d like. The key is staying on top of it as is comes in.


Does anyone like filing?  NO!  The key for filing is only keeping things you really need.  Obviously financial stuff like tax records need to be filed.  And you’ll probably want to keep school work for the quarter.  But beyond that, try not to save very much stuff.  The less paper you save, the less filing you have.  Some people like to file things right away (like doing the dishes).  Other people like to let it pile up and do it all in a quick hour or so.  Figure out what works for you.  Just be sure to keep your long-tem files separate from your bills, urgent and “to do” piles!

Top Ideas for Staying Organized:

  • Paperwork Central: set aside a place for all your paperwork
  • Quick sort: sort things into piles as you get them
  • To Do List: keep a to do list to make it easy to see what’s on your agenda
  • Take care of the easy stuff first. You’ll feel less overwhelmed when you have less to do.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed. With just a little work every day, you can stay in control.

What tricks do you use to keep on top of your paper piles?  If you’ve got a system that works, we’d love to hear from you.

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8 Responses

  1. Maddie

    A great book on organizing, not specific to ADHD but it has really helped me, (so much so that when asked about it, I can even find the book!!!) is called Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. She suggests organizing for your habits, rather then trying to change your habits to fit an organization system. For example, if you tend to pay bills at the kitchen table, keep the billpaying things in a portable box in the kitchen that you can clean up and put away when done, but is also there when you need to pay bills. I keep cleaning supplys for the bathroom IN the bathroom, rather then in another part of the house now, because then I don’t have to run around finding the toilet cleaner… I don’t need toilet cleaner in the living room… why keep it anywhere else but where I would actually use it? She makes A LOT of sense. Okay, so I am babbling now. note to self: maybe not a good idea to post before my meds kick in.

  2. Teri

    I can’t wait to read this book…it totally sounds like a keeper. I do not have ADHD but my 9 year old daughter does, and her disorganization seems to affect every part of our home. Tips that make sense and can be actually implemented? Genius!

  3. Susan

    The two main principles of staying organized are: (1) Group Like with Like, meaning keep items that fall into the same category together. An example would be storing all of your first aid supplies in one clear plastic box that is labeled, instead of having to find everything in various medicine cabinets and closets when you need them in an emergency. Even keep the book on first aid in the same box, instead of being buried in a bookcase.
    (2) Everything needs Home. Maintaining organization is much easier when you know where everything ‘lives.’ Having a consciously designated home for an item, whether incoming mail or scissors, makes it more likely that you will put it in that spot then just drop it anywhere there’s room. This also makes it easier to find things when you want them, with less time spent ‘searching.’ Take that first aid box and keep it in one easily reached location that everyone in the family knows about. Also, adjust the amount of space you allot for a category’s home. When a designated home gets too crowded (too many books for the bookcase or clothes for the wardrobe closet), it gets messy and more difficult to keep organized. Time to either prune what you have (declutter – bless someone else with your stuff), or allocate a larger ‘home.’

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  5. Nadine

    A great book that I have that has really worked for me is “Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder” by Susan C. Pinsky. This book breaks things down room by room and even has a whole chapter for kids’ bedrooms. It helped me a lot, I can always find my book, and since we just recently moved, it helped make the move run more smoothly right down to getting the house back together while unpacking.

    • Peggy -- Edge blogger

      Nadine, Thanks for recommending this book! There are so many books about getting organized with ADHD that it’s good to hear when one has been useful in real life.

  6. anna gordon

    Thanks for this posting. I can identify with ever symptom of ADHD and indeed was only diagnosed with it in recent years. That was quite a surprise, or revelation to me. However no more so than when I divulged my new discovery to my friend, a nurse. She told me that she had always known that about me!

    At any rate, the hope of organizing my paper monsters and work schedule is inspiring… if I can just organize my research time reading all of the wonderful links your site has led me to.

    Many Thanks!

    • Peggy -- Edge blogger

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you find our site useful! If you want to manage the flow of information from us in bite-sized chunks, feel free to follow us on Facebook ( where we post links to new articles and other useful information. Hmm… your organization comment has me thinking of a blog idea. Watch for an organized view of Edge coming soon. 😉