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The Best Apps and Tools for ADHD Brains

While the chaos of 21st-century living can feel even more overwhelming for those of us with ADHD, we are fortunate to have similar 21st-century advances on our side in navigating the world successfully with attention issues. Whether it’s time management (what’s that?), losing your keys (daily!), or forgetting to log your work hours (guilty!), there are tech hacks for all sorts of daily tasks that can make life with ADHD a lot easier.

I am primarily self-employed, so my home is my workplace and my workplace is my home, and some of these tech hacks are even more important than they used to be.

It takes trial and error to find the technology solutions that work best for you, your lifestyle, and your own ADHD. Fortunately, most apps are free or inexpensive, or offer free trials to let you determine their benefit before buying.

I’ve tried dozens and dozens of technology hacks over the years. These ones are tried and true, and they work for me.

1. Tile

Tile is a small, uh, tile that attaches to your keys, your remote, your dog, or whatever you may lose regularly and would really like to find again. This Bluetooth-enabled device syncs with your phone and allows you to ping it with a sound (to find keys buried under a pile of clothes on your bed, for instance… just me?) or view its most recently synced location on a map. (Remember, it has to be in range of your phone.) My favorite feature? You can hit the button on your Tile to ring your phone, even if it’s in silent mode.

2. Time Out

Hyperfocus is one of those ironic enemies of ADHDers — it may take us forever to get down to something, but once we do, it can be hard for us to pry our attention away. Time Out is a free Mac app that presents an overlay on your screen at specific intervals (for example, every 15, 30, or 45 minutes) for a set amount of time to remind you to get up, move, and give your body (and brain) a bit of a break from life inside the screen.

As a freelance writer, this is one that’s proved helpful close to a deadline to keep me productive by forcing me to pause, move, and then remember what exactly I set out to do in that chunk of work time.

Windows alternative: Big Stretch Reminder, which is also free. (I haven’t tried it but I presume it fulfills a similar purpose.)

3. Forest

I don’t know about you, but habitually fiddling with my phone while I’m trying to do something else is a bit of an issue. Forest, for those of us who are nerdy enough to not want to kill even a virtual tree, tries to solve that problem so I can be more productive.

On the Forest app (available for iOS and Android, as well as via a Chrome web browser extension), users plant a virtual seed and set a timer. Over that time, a tree grows from the seed, and you collect coins to unlock different trees or donate toward the planting of real trees (yay!).

However, if you exit out of the phone app for anything other than a phone call, or for more than 10 seconds, your tree will DIE.

Clearly, dead trees are sad, so it’s surprisingly motivating.

4. Evernote

Evernote is a robust note-taking app that acts as a digital binder. (I’m using it right now!) After nearly running out of storage in an evening lecture three years ago, I became a Premium user and never looked back, but a free account will be fine for most people! Evernote is available to launch right in your web browser, as an app for your PC or Mac, and for most smartphones and tablets.

Offline note access is only available for paid users. But if you want to start typing a grocery list or a letter on your computer and later pull it up in the store or tweak it on the bus using your data-enabled phone or on Wi-Fi, Evernote’s got your scribbles wherever you happen to be.

5. Calendars 5

After Microsoft killed my favorite calendar app, Sunrise, I had to search hard for a replacement. Calendars 5 (iOS only) has been my app of choice since that sad, sad day. For $7, Calendars 5 allows you to set recurrent reminders and events, has a built-in to-do list with deadlines, and, most importantly for me, syncs with Google Calendar. You can integrate several Google calendars, color-code your tasks, and sync with Google Tasks and iOS reminders.

6. Voice Dream Reader

Learn better with your ears than your eyes? Voice Dream Reader delivers. Listen to PDFs and certain eBooks in human-like voices. Personally, my fondness for Voice Dream Reader may be more due to learning issues affecting my retention and comprehension of visual information, but for most ADHDers, audio may be a way to actually read more stuff.

7. IFTTT

You don’t need a smart lightbulb or connected car to automate specific tasks in your life. Enter IFTTT — If This Then That. Need to text someone when you leave work but always forget? Need a reminder when it’ll rain? There’s about a billion ADHD-appropriate hacks IFTTT can do — productivity wise, I currently use it to track my work hours.

8. RescueTime/Qbserve

Do you know where those hours and hours you’re spending surfing the web are going? Rescue Time and Qbserve are apps that help you do just that.

For casual users, a free RescueTime account is likely sufficient, but if you find your need for visualized data overwhelming, a paid version is available. Qbserve, on the other hand, has a free 10-day trial and tracks in more detail (in my opinion) than RescueTime. Both will give you a breakdown of where your time goes and how productive you’ve been.

(Disclosure: Qbserve sent me a free license after seeing me discuss RescueTime on Twitter. So observe my bias, and try both yourself!)

Takeaway

While there are dozens upon dozens of other great apps for ADHDers, these are some of my favorites that help me to be more productive with ADHD. I’d love to read about other apps and technology our community uses to stay on track with ADHD — leave a comment to keep this list growing!


Kerri MacKay is a writer, quantified self-enthusiast, and ePatient with ADHD and asthma. She is the Canadian Severe Asthma Network Patient Group Lead, involved in asthma research as a patient investigator with the University of Alberta’s Pulmonary Research Group, and a peer mentor for children with asthma with Asthma Canada’s Asthma Pals mentorship program. She coaches the Manitoba Goalball team with Manitoba Blind Sports and young athletes with Special Olympics Manitoba. She loves airplanes, traveling, writing, cupcakes, notebooks, and T-shirts. She blogs at KerriOnThePrairies.com and is on Twitter.

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