Email and ADHD: Managing Your Inbox
As someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), clutter and disorganization have been longstanding issues in my life. I also struggle with staying on top of tasks and find myself falling behind on things like housework, course work for graduate school, and other aspects of life.
Recently, I made efforts to declutter my home by scanning and digitizing my paper documents. Unfortunately, since getting (and staying) organized is a difficult task for me, I essentially transferred my clutter from my desk to my desktop.
As technology continues to advance, it seems we have become increasingly reliant on our devices, and large portions of our lives are now in digital format. But digital does not necessarily mean organized, and with busy schedules and life’s surprises thrown our way, it can be difficult to stay caught up.
One of the most common areas where these issues tend to occur is with our email. Email is a great way to stay in touch or conduct business, but if neglected, it is easy to become overwhelmed by your inbox.
Whether it is locating a file or conversation, distinguishing between what is pressing and what can wait, or sorting through a sea of junk mail, these tasks tend to be more challenging when you have ADHD.
Why Is It Difficult for Those With ADHD to Stay Caught up and Organized?
For one, often we don’t have the focus or patience to sit down and do things like sort through our inbox. Additionally, when we try to do something about it, we may be forcing ourselves to do too much at once, causing us to eventually become overwhelmed and abandon the task.
It may also be the case that organization is so foreign to us that we aren’t sure where to start, so we don’t. Or, we try but give up when we encounter an issue.
This does not just apply to managing our email, but a number of other daily tasks as well.
One factor to consider when it comes to understanding why it is so difficult for us, is ADHD and memory loss go hand-in-hand, and often people with ADHD have trouble with executive functions, translating into struggles with tasks or skills such as focus shifting, organization, problem solving, goal-setting, and planning.
If those struggles sound familiar, you know this can make accomplishing and maintaining order or staying on top of tasks a difficult process.
Simplicity Is Key
Before attempting to implement any sort of change, I think it is important to remember one particular thing: keep it simple. For those of us with ADHD, I believe simple equals sustainable.
One of the reasons for establishing habits of any kind in the first place is that we want something we can implement in our lives and make change possible. Therefore, simplicity is important when you have ADHD, because we want skills and habits we can maintain.
The more complex the process or change you want to implement, the less likely you are to sustain it if organization and follow through are issues for you.
How Do I Master My Inbox Once and for All?
There is no one-size-fits-all system that will organize your inbox, no one way to force yourself to stay caught up, because we’re all different. What works for one may not fit another’s lifestyle.
But start by assessing the situation — looking over your inbox for problem areas. For instance, do you have a lot of junk mail, or are you subscribed to a lot of mailing lists you don’t read?
It is important to remember you likely won’t get everything sorted out in one day, and it isn’t just about getting organized and caught up, but staying that way.
While there may not be a formula for success, there are some skills you can implement in order to gain better control over your email.
1. Carve out Time in Your Day to Work on Your Inbox
A little time each day works much better than diving in full speed ahead and fizzling out, especially since our attention spans tend to be limited by ADHD. Try setting timers, even if only for a few minutes, depending on how long you can focus and what your schedule is like, allowing yourself to work on your emails.
You could even challenge yourself by gradually extending the time you spend, which could help with improving your focus.
You have to start somewhere. Whether you go through each one systematically or tackle your emails in clusters, creating that specific time and accomplishing the task not only provides you with a sense of achievement, but gets you that much closer to a clutter-free inbox.