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Chronic Disorganization: An Adult ADHD Sign-Managing Your Mind

Chronic disorganization plagues adults with ADHD. The hassles never stop at work or home.

Tomas can’t find receipts in any of his office drawers or cabinets or other places in his office. The entire office is filled with piles of papers and assorted articles such as photos, souvenirs, pencil stubs, pens, cords, and connectors.  He submits his travel vouchers later and later every month. His supervisor doesn’t trust him and has excluded him from budget meetings. Tomas is worried about his next performance review.


The organization of receipts, paperwork, reports, and logs are increasingly important to data collection and business processes in today’s work world. Chronic disorganization due to ADHD interferes with effective performance at work.


Chronic Disorganization: Why am I So Disorganized and Messy?

ADHD may be a root cause of disorganization and extreme messiness.  Those with ADHD may be impulsive, rushing, and late all the time. With their minds racing, they don’t have the time, energy and skills to put things in their rightful place. They drop things where they are and don’t take the time to clear the clutter once things pile up. They may lose legal papers, bills, banking statements or health reports.


Their closets, wallets, drawers and cabinets are jammed with “stuff,’ sometimes defying logical organization. The more things accumulate, the more stressed and distracted they may become, especially when activities require finesse.


At home, parents with ADHD, have trouble structuring home life for their children. With chronic disorganization, life is a constant quest for lost items and information about medical or dental visits or other events. The laundry or meal planning are erratically done and projects are begun, but never completed.


What is Chronic Disorganization?

Everyone may encounter special times or situations when they become disorganized. For example, disorganization may occur with high-stress situations. These may include getting a serious illness, moving, getting married, having a child, or facing financial difficulties. In such cases, disorganization is just a side effect of the situation.


Chronic disorganization is a clinical term used for persons who cannot arrange time and space elements in their lives. Although everyone has some clutter or misplaces items at one time or another, the chronically disorganized person with ADHD is constantly unable to store, find, and use the work/life items they need.  


For them, the messy desk reflects the inability to organize. The chronic disorganization may reflect their difficulties with visual organization or executive functioning. Often there are problems:

  • Prioritizing: identifying the most important or time-sensitive tasks that need to be completed
  • Sequencing: arranging items or ideas in a logical order
  • Visual memory and organization: ordering and finding and placing objects in space


Reasons for Chronic Disorganization

Persons with ADHD are particularly vulnerable to procrastination. There are several possible reasons for this.

  • The task is perceived as irrelevant, tedious, or difficult. Such tasks trigger an avoidance response. It is easy to be distracted by almost anything in order to postpone beginning a task: watch one more television program, make one more phone call, or search for a snack.
  • You lack some specific knowledge or skills
  • You worry that you’ll fail and look bad
  • You can’t make a decision
  • You have unrealistic expectations
  • You are overwhelmed by the amount of effort required


Chronic Disorganization versus Hoarding

“Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. With hoarding disorder, person experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs” (


With chronic disorganization, there is no emotional attachment to items. The clutter results from an inability to classify, categorize, organize, and allocate time to clear the clutter.  Because of attention and memory issues, even the thought of clearing and organizing items can be overwhelming and stressful.


Self-Help for Chronic Disorganization: 10 Steps

  1. Start now. List specific tasks that trigger procrastination
  2. Identify the consequences for delaying the task
  3. Visualize the successful accomplishment of each task and say, “I need to do one step at a time” or “I’ll finish the draft and see if I need more information.
  4. Work toward each goal for brief periods, even a few as 10 minutes at a time.
  5. Make a game or challenge out of the task. Ask, “Can I complete one or two steps before the timer rings?”
  6. Post a calendar that lists specific times to work on each chunk.
  7. Collaborate with others to get each task started and completed.
  8. Combat myths such as these: “I do my best under pressure; I need to complete the entire task in one sitting; I need more information or resources.
  9. Break complicated or long-term projects into easy-to-complete chunks, identifying mini goals along the way.
  10. Strive for good enough (80%), not perfection.


Chronic disorganization is part of a larger picture of the unproductive work/life aspects of ADHD. If you want to enhance your productivity, contact Geri at


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