Seven Ways AI Can Help You Manage Your ADHD
Our new friends over at Mashable recently published this interesting article about how people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder might benefit from using artificial intelligence tools. It's a timely topic, given that ADHD medication is still in short supply, and I wanted to add to the conversation with some tips of my own.
Even with medication, ADHD is a real bitch to manage, and while ChatGPT and other AI programs are no substitutes for Adderall, they can help people suffering from attention deficit in powerful ways. Below are seven specific tips for using AI to help overcome the task paralysis and other executive function problems that come with ADHD.
(Bonus: because many symptoms of ADHD are present in neurotypical people, if to a lesser degree, these organizational hacks work for normies too.)
Use AI to estimate how long it will take to complete a task
This one is a huge for me. Like many people who have ADHD, I often find it difficult to start doing something if I don't know how long it will take to finish each step. Even though I know I can estimate time-to-completion myself, asking ChatGPT something like "How long will it take to get my oil changed?" helps, because by outsourcing the preliminary mental task of "figure out how long the thing takes," I'm better able to mentally fit the task into the day. Otherwise it remains this abstract "thing I know I should do" that invariably ends up being neglected.
Use AI to write the first draft of emails and other messages
Even though I write professionally, sometimes I get hung up on correspondences. It's usually the most mundane messages --"thank you" notes, basic requests--that trip me up the most. So having AI take a first crack really helps out there. Using an AI allows you to describe the message you want to send in only broad terms. It then spits out text, eliminating the anxiety of staring at a blank page. I usually end up rewriting the AI's message completely, so I'm not sure it saves time, but starting something is usually the hard part for me, and it's easier to edit a message than create one.
Use AI to create better "to-do" lists
Anyone who wants to better manage their time will be advised to make lists, but if you have ADHD, you might be paralyzed by the process of list-making itself, asking, "How do I prioritize tasks?" or "How do I know what I need to put on this list?" AI can help you by instantly providing as many sample lists as you can imagine, and can also help you order your list in different ways until you find one that works for you.
Use AI to repeatedly explain things
Having ADHD can make learning new things difficult, and even the most patient human teacher will eventually tire of explaining a concept over and over again. But AI doesn't. You can ask it to tell you the same thing in as many different ways as possible until it sinks in.
A word of warning here: The current technology for consumer AI isn't exactly reliable providing accurate information, so make sure you check everything factual against another source. In the future, when these kinds of bugs are ironed out, this could be an even most helpful use case.
Use AI to synthesize information in different ways
You can use artificial intelligence to break down information in ways that make them more palatable to you, whether that means transforming a long article into digestible bullet points, or asking it to provide additional information relative to the topic. Again, this information might not be 100% accurate, but it can give you a starting point for further research.
Use AI to organize your personal relationships
This one has tricky moral and/or ethical implications, but you can use AI to take over much of the responsibility of keeping in contact with friends and family. This is a common problem with people with ADHD, who often don't answer texts or emails for the same reason they don't pay the light bill.
You can already set regular reminders to "text Mom," but AI allows you to do more than that. I spoke to Daniel (he asked that I not use his last name) about how far CommuniqAI, a communications scheduling app he created, can automate your social life. "We will be integrating ChatGPT shortly, which will look at your messaging conversations with your friends, family, and business contacts, and then generally come up with something that you can quickly say to those people," Daniel said.
I asked if it would be possible to fully automate my online social life--to just tell the AI, "keep up a friendly relationship with my squash partner Gary, without me being involved," and according to Daniel, CommuniqAI could be used that way, although he doesn't recommend it. It's designed to either remind you to send a message, or to composes one for you to approve and send. But according to Daniel, a user could disable that functionality, and it would, "go on its way on your behalf."
"But these are people who you value [and] trust, and I don't know that you want to have an AI completely responding on your behalf without any of your prior knowledge," he said.
I agree. It's troubling. But I'm not judging: If you think this would help, give it a shot--or just use AI to remind you to text your dad every once in awhile.
Use AI to break complex tasks into manageable small steps
This is the big one for many, and the focus of Abby Ohlheiser's article, which inspired this list. For many people with ADHD, completing bigger, longer-term projects or multi-step tasks can be difficult or impossible. Often this task paralysis comes because we don't know how to start--if there's any confusion or ambiguity about the first step, it can lead to complete inaction, a sense of "I can't even think about this huge thing."
AI is excellent at helping you clear this hurdle, if you use it right--it usually offers very general advice first, but its endless patience allows you to eventually achieve better responses.
For example, I asked ChatGPT to tell me how to buy a house. My prompt:
I would like to buy a house. Break down the process for me, in very small steps, focusing on specific actions, along with an estimate of how much time each item will take to accomplish.
Its initial response was less than helpful. It provided a list of ten broad steps. Step one was:
Determine your budget: Figure out how much you can afford to spend on a house based on your income, debts, and expenses. Estimated time: 1-2 weeks.
Sure. I'll just "determine my budget."
I asked it to break down how to do this exactly, and it began with:
Collect all necessary financial documents.
Still not good enough. I asked it what financial documents to start with and how to get them, and eventually arrived at:
Contact your employer's HR department: The HR department of your employer should be able to provide you with copies of your pay stubs.
It took a bit, but "collect your pay stubs" is a good, actionable first step. The next step could be "Compose an email to my HR department asking for my pay stubs," and you're off on a home-buying adventure.
This step-by-step approach seems like something people without ADHD can do easily (I wouldn't know), and such "break it down for me even more" requests are the kind of thing flesh-and-blood intelligences will get annoyed by. Luckily, AI doesn't judge. And no one should judge you for using it to help deal with your ADHD either.