How to make a morning routine with ADHD (and why you should)

Let's get motivated to finally stick to a routine.

A couple - two men - brush their teeth together in the bathroom while smiling in the mirror. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto.

We’ve all been there - wanting to “turn over a new leaf” or make better choices for ourselves, and then trying to create a new schedule or routine to help us meet our goals. But before we know it, we’re shrugging off our new routines and making up excuses for why we should abandon them. This is especially true for adults with ADHD — we’re notorious for struggling to stick to routines.

Believe it or not, many people with ADHD are actually quite skilled at creating routines — it’s the “sticking to it” that becomes a challenge. Because “sticking to it” requires motivation. Which requires dopamine. Which is something neurodiverse brains are in short supply of.

But once we’re able to find the “perfect” routine that works for us - and our ADHD - we can work on conditioning ourselves to become more organized, more productive, and less stressed.

Morning routines and ADHD

Individuals with ADHD can significantly benefit from routines because they add structure to the day, which can boost productivity and overall well-being.

Why are morning routines beneficial for adults with ADHD?

Morning routines can help ADHDers… 

  • … keep track of our day so we can arrive on time for class, work, events, and appointments.
  • … become more task-oriented because we’re more likely to feel focused, energized, and less overwhelmed.
  • … stay healthy by keeping us on a regular schedule for taking medication and eating healthy meals more frequently.

How to create a morning routine

Step 1: Create an evening routine

Yes, I know this article is about morning routines, but stay with me. Evening routines are an important first step for creating a successful morning routines because the two are directly connected through our circadian rhythm. 

You and your circadian rhythm

If you’re a human (which I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this), you have a circadian rhythm, which is the physical, behavioral, and psychological changes our bodies experience during a 24 cycle.[1] This is also sometimes referred to as the “sleep-wake” cycle.

When this rhythm is out of sync, it can lead to sleep disturbances, which can fill our mornings and days with exhaustion, anxiety, and the dreaded brain fog. 

It should be noted, though, that many ADHDers also struggle with at least one comorbid condition that affects sleep[2], including Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome - a condition characterized by circadian rhythm dysregulation.

How to improve your circadian rhythm

  • Have a “disconnect time” where you turn off or dim your lights some time before bed. During this time, you can also read or do breathing exercises to further relax.
  • Decrease your caffeine intake later in the day.
  • Prepare for your day the night before, by making to-do lists, planning meals, and putting your clothes out for the following morning.
  • If you tend to neglect your routines… Make a list of the ways your new morning routine may benefit you. Keep it by your bed and read it back to yourself when you feel unmotivated.

Step 2: Re-frame your self-talk

I know self-talk may not seem like it would have an impact on sticking to morning routines, but it does! Our self-talk heavily influences our decision-making, core beliefs, and even our daily habits. When the self-talk is negative or critical, it can be difficult to want to improve ourselves.

A great coping skill? Re-framing.

The American Psychological Association states that reframing can help us relate to our experiences, stressors, and challenges in a healthier way. 

For example, reframing our self-talk can turn frustration into self-compassion. It can also help with the development of additional coping skills and positive traits, like resiliency and self-awareness, or interoception. With these skills combined, we’re better equipped to create a morning schedule that we’re likely to stick to.

Example: reframing inner dialogue can help you develop a foolproof morning routine

Inner critic version: "I don’t want to go to bed earlier because I want to spend that time watching my favorite shows."

Re-framed version: Going to bed earlier sometimes isn't fun, but I'm focusing on the positives of my new routine - it makes me feel more rested, focused, and less overwhelmed. I can stick to this routine; and even if it takes a lot of trial and error, I'll keep trying until I get it right. Plus, I have plenty of time earlier in the evenings to watch the new season of Stranger Things, so it’s not that bad!

Step 3: Find the tools that work for you

Besides medication, one of my ADHD management strategies is using various tools like ADHD management apps and to-do lists — in combination with my daily phone reminders. Combining these strategies with prescribed treatment helps me stay on top of freelance assignments, school, and my upcoming mental health internship… all while being in a global pandemic.

How can you use tools for making (and sticking with) your morning routine? 

  • Write down what you want to accomplish or need to do on certain days. You can do this with post-it notes, phone reminders, calendar, or the daily focus feature on the Inflow app.
  • If you have a hard time motivating yourself, try writing down - or saying - a morning affirmation. Also - Inflow’s coworking sessions are great way to develop accountability and goal-setting skills. 
  • Journaling can also be helpful - write down what works and track your progress!

Too long; didn’t read

The way we view particular challenges — like creating a morning routine — can motivate us in ways we previously thought weren't possible. It's helpful to remember that creating a routine is about starting small and figuring out what works best for you, especially when you are a parent or anyone else with limited time or control over your schedule.

Start by making an evening routine to prepare you for a good night’s sleep and strengthen your circadian rhythm. It’s also important to re-frame your self talk and find tools that work for you. Lastly, don’t forget to check out the Inflow app and blog. Both are excellent resources with a wide variety of articles and exceptional programs on important ADHD-related topics, such as productivity, sleep, burnout, and much more.

Looking for support?

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