How to Create an ADHD-Friendly Morning Routine

Do you ever feel like you never have enough time in the morning? Or does it feel impossible to get things done when you wake up? Whether you live by yourself or with several roommates or family members, mornings can feel chaotic – especially when you have ADHD. Implementing an ADHD-friendly morning routine might seem impossible, but it’s not. You can manage your ADHD while creating a morning routine that works best with your symptoms.

Before you start a new morning routine, start improving your nighttime routinefirst. Your morning routine really starts the night before. Once you’ve established a solid nighttime routine, your mornings can become less hectic and easier to manage. Continue reading to learn how to create an ADHD-friendly morning routine that works for your needs.

Why you should start taking control of your morning routine

How important is a morning routine for people with ADHD? Maybe you‘re used to rolling out of bed 10 minutes before needing to leave the house. Maybe you’re a mom with ADHD who struggles to get her kids to school on time. Or maybe you wake up 3 hours early but end up getting nothing done in those early hours. Whatever situation sounds the most familiar, fine-tuning your early morning habits can help you overcome these challenges. Making gradual improvements to your morning routine can help you understand your personal needs better. Take it from over a million Reddit users in the online community r/ADHD. There are several discussion threads that list other people’s morning routine hacks. It can be helpful to learn about other people’s experiences with morning productivity and ADHD. You can see how certain tactics and strategies have a positive impact on others and borrow these tips to make them your own.

6 Steps to create an ADHD-friendly morning routine

Step 1: Determine your goals

Your first step is to set goals for your morning routine. What does a “successful” morning routine look like to you? Your goals are personal and may be different from your friends or family. For some, morning goals may be getting your kids dressed, fed, and ready for school. For others, they might include simply waking up on time, or practicing yoga each morning. Whatever your goals are for the morning, take some time to write them down. Remember to be realistic about your goals, and make sure to set aside some time for yourself in the morning. Dedicate this block of time to do tasks that help you set a positive tone for the rest of the day, like exercising, journaling, stretching, meditating, listening to a short podcast, or getting a breath of fresh air outside. Getting in the habit of doing these things will help your mornings feel more productive, even if you only accomplish one thing.

Step 2: Determine a cue

Every habit or routine needs a starting point. Your morning routine needs a cue or a single action that triggers the rest of your routine. You may think the morning cue is to wake up, but simply waking up might not trigger you to go through with your routine. Try and choose a single action as your cue to start your day, such as making your bed or taking your ADHD medicine.Even if you sleep in late, continue with your morning cue to let your brain know that it’s time to start the day or get to work. It’s okay if you don’t have time to do the full routine. On days that you’re running short on time, execute the parts of your routine that are most important to you.

Step 3: Change your environment to suit your goals

Once you figure out what you want to accomplish each morning, you should restructure your environment so that it works with your symptoms and acts as a guide to getting things done. For example, if you tend to forget to bring your lunch to work, try putting your car keys on top of your lunch so you’ll be reminded to take your lunch before you head out the door. Restructuring your surroundings in a way that makes sense to you might mean creating external aids to your routine. Keep losing track of time? Set your phone alarm to go off every 30 minutes to remind you of the time. Are you constantly forgetting to do that one errand? Set up calendar reminders with bell notifications, or use a voice assistant like Amazon Alexa or Siri to remind you of the errand before you head out the door. Do you fall victim to “scroll paralysis” in the morning after waking up? Keep your phone far away from your bed. Try keeping track of your daily life and figure out which areas need improvement. It can also be helpful to come up with your own ideas to re-engineer your environment. Try experimenting with different ideas that work best for you.

Step 4: Start implementing small changes

After you’ve adjusted your environment and defined your starting cues, making small changes to your morning routine will become easier. We’ve compiled a list of useful tips and tricks to help you start making small changes. Try a combination of different ideas to see which works best for you. There is no right or wrong answer as long as your routine is helping you achieve your personal goals. Do what feels right and see how far your morning routine can take you.

  • Get a sunrise lamp. These types of lamps gradually become bright over a certain period of time in the morning to imitate a natural sunrise. Appropriately timed exposure to light can help you wake up naturally at a certain time.
  • Set different alarms for different tasks. Assign different sounds to each alarm and each task to let your brain know that it’s time to do a specific task. This also helps you avoid time blindness and improve your time management.
  • Take some time to exercise. Cardio exercises work best to get your blood pumping and help your brain focus better.
  • Take a cold shower in the morning or turn it cold just for 30-60 seconds at the end of your shower. This wakes you up and gets your blood flowing.
  • Separate your clothes for work, social, and casual purposes. This helps you avoid ransacking your closet and saves you a lot of time as you get dressed.
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink a glass of water in the morning to feel refreshed and awake.
  • Take vitamins and supplements. Figure out what your body is deficient in to help boost your mood and energy levels throughout the day.
  • Track your time. Each morning, write out a to-do list by hand and track the time taken for each task. Use a timer to help you keep track.
  • Break tasks down into smaller tasks. Writing out the smaller details and steps of each task can make them feel more manageable.
  • On tough days, simply focus on one thing to accomplish that day.  This can be anything from cleaning the kitchen counter to dropping off that package that you’ve been meaning to return.
  • Do the classic three-point check when you leave the house: Phone, keys, and wallet.

Step 5: Define positive outcomes

Determining what changes you need to make is the easy part, but actually committing to the routine is difficult. To motivate yourself to make these changes, identify a positive outcome of the habit. This can be anything from your family’s mornings becoming less stressful and chaotic, to receiving praise at work for becoming more punctual. Whatever it is, think hard about what positive outcome you can attribute to each change to your routine.Try thinking about it in this format: When , I will  because it results in . For example, when I wake up, I will take my medicine right away because it helps me feel alert and start my morning routine with a clear mind. The positive outcome in this example is being able to start the routine with an alert and clear mind. Once you know the positive outcome and reasoning behind each action, making improvements to your routine can become easier.

Step 6: Keep track of trial and error

Some days might be more difficult than others and that’s perfectly normal, especially with ADHD. Try to accept setbacks when they happen and be kind to yourself along the way. Acknowledge what went wrong during your routine, take note of it, and restructure your routine to address it.  If you miss your window of productivity in the morning, think of it as missing only a small portion of your day. Focusing on setbacks won’t help you make changes. Instead, understanding why that happened and learning how to address it will. Once you learn how to free your mind from the guilt of perfectionism, your brain won’t be as overwhelmed.

Take control of your morning routine

Ultimately, your morning routine won’t “make or break” the rest of your day. It’s important to create a balanced morning and night routine that work in harmony together to help you achieve your daily goals. Avoid falling into the mindset “it’s first thing in the morning or never.” Allow yourself some grace and give yourself another chance to try again. It can even be helpful to talk with your provider about possible medication options and different ADHD coping strategies that could work for you. If you suspect you may have ADHD, take the first step in getting diagnosed. It’s never too late to try and get the support you need. At Ahead, our board-certified providers are here to listen. We work with you to develop a treatment plan that helps you start on a clearer path to a calmer mind – with or without medication. Use these tips to create an ADHD-friendly morning routine that works with your symptoms and start enjoying your mornings more.