top of page

The ADHD Tax

A common experience for ADHD folks is the struggle to stay on top of tasks - due to memory issues, emotional discomfort, or a myriad of other things. The money we spend to fix the problems that arise from this is called the "ADHD Tax".


 

In This Article:

 

Let me know if this sounds familiar:


I left my phone charger at home, so now I need to buy one while I’m out. Bringing my total number of loose chargers to 7

I bought fresh fruit and vege two weeks ago, and forgot about it. Now I’ve wasted money on food, and I need to clean rotten tomatoes out of the crisper.

I organised a doctor’s appointment, but didn’t put it in my calendar. I’m getting charged a no-show and I still need to rebook and see them.

I need to fill out this form. I need to fill out this form. I need to- oh, I missed the deadline.

Every time I’m in the bathroom I tell myself to buy drain cleaner. Every time I’m at the shops I forget. Now it’s clogged and I need a plumber.

I forgot to pay my bills, and now my power’s shut off AND I need to fork out the additional late fee.

I need to complete assignments for all of my classes or I’ll fail them and have to redo them. There’s no time, but I might get one of them done. But which one?? Oh, I got so stressed that I couldn’t start anything, and now I have to redo the whole term.

I need to go to work, but my car’s registration expired. Now I have to risk being late to work, call an uber, or drive anyway and risk a fine.

Four paper notes of currency: a green $100 note, yellow $50 note, blue $20 note and red $10 note.

These are all examples of the “ADHD Tax”. It’s the extra “cost of living” expenses that come up as a consequence of forgetting things, missing deadlines, getting too anxious to do a difficult task, or getting overwhelmed by things to the point of giving up.


Best part? It’s rarely just one of these at a time. When we’re stressed our memories get worse, and the worse they get, the more important things we forget. But hope is not lost. While there’s probably always going to be things we forget, we can mitigate the amount, and the severity, of consequences.


Why does it happen?


There’s two parts to this: memory and our old friend task paralysis. Let’s start with memory.


Memory

What makes something memorable? Interest, connection, and context. And other stuff, probably, but let’s start here.


Interest: we’re more likely to remember something if it’s interesting. Makes sense, right? Now, note that I’m not saying important. Our brains can’t always recognise something is important and needs to be held on to. But if we like thinking about it? Easy. So you’re more likely to remember that orange lilies mean hatred in Victorian flower language than you are that you need more toothpaste, because one of those things is fascinating.


Connection: Memory is theoretically based on interconnecting concepts, and our brains are great at that. Too great. Our thoughts move really fast, and instead of holding one idea, they juggle many interrelated ideas. This can manifest as having a bit of info on all sorts of things, but struggling to have intense depth in just one. Jack of all Trades, Master of None. (This has pros, as well, but I absolutely can’t follow my own thought-connections onto that topic right now, or this’ll be 6000 words long. Oh hey, how this impacts essay writing and studying could be interesting- no. NO. STOP)


With memory, what this means is that when we think of one thing, we think of its cousins, too. Thing A, Thing A-B, Thing A-C, Thing B-C, and so on. So unless we consciously reign it in, one thought will naturally give way to lots of other thoughts, and the moment one of them is more interesting that the others, it becomes stronger, and new thoughts pop up based around that instead.


Did everyone just think of pausing in checking your emails to make a cup of tea, searching for sugar, realising you need to reorganise the pantry, noticing you’re out of garlic, making a shopping list, wondering if there’s a shopping app that calculates the total… and then it’s two hours later and the tea is cold? Yeah. It’s that.


Context: Our brains don’t just connect ideas to each other, they connect them to the context they exist. So you’re more likely to remember you need to book a doctor’s appointment while walking past the clinic than anywhere else. This has two effects:

  • If you leave the context, you might leave the thought. The ‘Walking through a door and forgetting why you came into room’ phenomenon. And if the thought “I need to pay my bills” only exists in the email for that bill, then the moment the email is closed, there’s a problem.

  • New contexts inspire new thoughts. That “tea -> pantry -> google” example above is what happens when you enter a space that has its own thoughts (or worse, tasks!) and your brain immediately starts latching on to them.


You put these things together and you have a supercomputer that is constantly calculating new data and connections, and generating ideas, all based on how interesting and motivating you find them. The problem is, it’s the boring stuff that makes up a lot of our day-to-day responsibilities.


A hammer and hand pressed to a wooden beam, nails sticking out.

Task Paralysis

The other part to this is Task Paralysis, or Executive Dysfunction. It’s that thing where you need to do something and you know you need to do it, but you can’t. You don’t know why you can’t, but your brain and body freeze up, you start feeling stressed or anxious or blank, and you either have to stay trapped in a freeze state or do something else. Task paralysis sits in a deeper place than your surface thoughts, it’s usually feeling-based.

It can be triggered by:


  • Boredom - when a task is so uninteresting that your brain just shuts down and won’t let you do it (There’s reasons for this- next topic perhaps!)

  • Anxiety - either the task itself, or what it represents. Like fear of rejection can make applying for studies or jobs a lot harder

  • Hopelessness - like answering emails knowing there’ll just be more emails tomorrow, and ongoing forever.

  • Anger - “I need to do this but I shouldn’t have to do this and it’s bullshit that I’m being forced to!”


It can be caused by all sorts of emotions but at the end of the day, it’s usually triggered by a task that, for whatever reason, you don’t want to do, even if doing it will have positive outcomes for you.


What can I do?


Many of us haven’t been told our brains have a specific way of connecting to thoughts, and instead that we’re just forgettful or not trying hard enough. Or worse, if you really cared about this you’d remember. Love that one, because it attaches moral and emotional shame to your brain, too. But there’s stuff that helps.


WRITE. EVERYTHING. DOWN. RIGHT. NOW.

Seriously. If you get told “you should remember this” enough times, you start to believe it and you don’t write things down because that feels like admitting defeat. Stop it. Whether it’s a paper notebook or planner, or a digital calendar, put in everything that needs doing and attending, literally the moment you find out about it.


Set Reminders

This isn’t just for important events. Schedule in the due dates for bills, stick “buy the thing” somewhere when you’re likely to be out of the house, and give yourself mini-deadlines before the real deadline. A reminder won’t help if it appears when you’ve run out of time. And don’t make them passive, you might not check your phone. I’m sorry but you need to set alarms and make some of your notifications visible so you actually SEE the reminder, when you need it. (ADVANCED ADHD tip: change your alarm noise every few months, or your brain gets used to it.)


A small, hand drawn calendar on a page. Some sections are highlighted yellow, and the highlighter sits on the page.

Do it immediately (or soon, at least)

If you can, Do The Thing Now. For me, this means paying bills the moment they hit my inbox if I can, or making a “pay bills” task on my pay day. It’s also about putting dates in your calendar right now, instead of assuming you’ll remember to put it in later. Assume you’ll forget, and the instinct to do it now while it’s fresh in your mind will get easier.


Make it Visible

A lot of these examples are task-based, but what about forgetting things? The more things that are in your line of sight, the easier it will be to remember their existence, and that you need them. Some people create home “launch pads” that contain everything they’ll need for the day- bag, keys, letter to mail etc. Or they have their bins out somewhere visible instead of in a drawer, to reduce rubbish building up.


Double-Up

Don’t want to constantly take stuff from one place, put it somewhere visible, take it back to use,

then put it there again? Phrased like that it certainly sounds exhausting. Well then, pay the ADHD tax in advance and double- or triple-up on what you need. That phone charge example from the top of the page wasn’t hypothetical: it happened and inspired this blog. So I’m going to go home- wait. No. I’m going to PUT A TASK IN MY CALENDAR. THEN I’m going to go home, gather up all my chargers and powerpacks, and put one in each of the bags I regularly use. And they will LIVE in those bags. For things I don’t have multiples of on hand, I have to spend a bit to have bulk, then divide them up. It’s not for everything, but anything small enough to forget, that you’re likely to impulse-buy to have on hand, is worth it.


To Summarise:


  • The "ADHD Tax" refers to added costs from forgetfulness, missed deadlines, and task overwhelm.

  • Stress worsens memory issues, leading to forgetting important things.

  • Memory is influenced by interest, connection, and context, causing scattered knowledge.

  • Task paralysis, driven by emotions like boredom or anxiety, hinders task initiation.

  • Strategies include immediate note-taking, setting visible reminders, and prompt task completion.

  • Visibility of essential items and doubling up on necessities helps to counter forgetfulness.

  • Understanding ADHD's cognitive processes allows for proactive measures for better control.


And that’s that! Have a think about the situations you pay the most “tax” for - bills, appointments, replacing items, fixing the consequences of forgotten items… whatever it is, you’re not the only one dealing with it, and with some gentleness and cleverness there are ways to feel in control.

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page