We’re all familiar with the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” This is especially true for folks with ADHD who are challenged in the area of working memory—the ability to keep something in mind long enough to apply it. Perhaps a leader wants a group to perform a task and gives directions aloud. Someone with a working memory challenge is not likely to retain multiple-step directions long enough to implement them.

One way to externalize would be to request written copies of the instructions – or you might do your best to write down the directions as they are given. What you are doing as you write down the directions is externalizing them, keeping them somewhere external to your brain, where you can actually see them.

I have long been a list-maker, so I have a habit of writing a lot of things down. But there are other things that I’m sure I will be able to remember, perhaps because they just cropped up and need to be done or said now. Writing them down seems silly.

But I’m learning that I’d be much better off to make a note of even those things because they can quickly leave me. If there is nothing I can reconstruct to try to get them back, they are gone. That often happens with things I’d like to say in a conversation. I knew what I wanted to say, but when the time came to speak, the thought had flown away!

Each ADHDer needs to try various methods of externalizing to find ones that work best. Here are a few that have worked for some folks (and digital versions can also be used):

  • create a large time line on paper and post it on your bathroom mirror to be sure you accomplish your morning or evening routines on time and without missing anything important
  • keep a small tablet on your refrigerator for a grocery list, and add items the moment you are aware you are running low
  • always have paper and pencil handy to write down ideas that seem worth pursuing, but not right now
  • keep a paper calendar for the day/week/month where you can see it throughout the day – and look at it
  • make a long-term calendar and cross off each day as it passes in order to see in graphic form how much time remains before a long-term deadline
  • keep clocks and watches in view and look at them regularly (and perhaps set alerts to bring your attention to the time)

You get the idea. We like to think we can keep it all “in our heads,” but for most of us, that strategy will doom us to failure more often than not. Develop a habit of asking yourself at every turn, “What can I do to externalize and remember that?” Then use the appropriate system to externalize that piece of information.

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