“If I Don’t Write It Down, It Won’t Happen:” Working Memory Problems in ADHD, Explained

A person looks at their watch with a concerned look while on the phone. This could represent forgetting. Learn how an ADHD psychologist in Columbus, OH can offer support by searching for ADHD symptoms Ohio today.

Doesn’t everyone get distracted or forget something every once in a while? Many adults with undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) find themselves thinking that very question. I mean, what’s the difference between a behavior and a symptom? Don’t we all misplace our keys, lose paperwork, and walk into rooms and forget why we walked in there from time to time? Yes and no. Sure, all people forget sometimes. But ADHD adults tend to have a pattern of forgetfulness across various contexts and throughout their lives. This is due to an impairment in something called working memory, a primary feature of ADHD.

What is Working Memory?

Working memory is the brain’s ability to remember to do something. Essentially, working memory holds information in our minds and guides us. It prompts us to remember what to do when we need to do it but also to apply that information to the next thing we are doing. For example, thinking “I need to go get my keys” and holding that information from the kitchen into the bedroom (where you think your keys are) and then back down to the office (where your keys actually are). F0r ADHD adults they may have forgotten why they went to each room by the time they get there.

Working memory is one of several executive functions in the brain. Executive functions are a set of brain skills in the frontal lobe that essentially help us solve problems day to day. They help us filter out distractions, self-regulate, remember things, organize our thoughts and environment, prioritize, and keep the motivation going toward our daily goals.

Here is one important point: executive-functioning deficits are not a result of a loss of ability. They are simply delays and result in issues of performance, not ability. Performance, not ability. This is why ADHD adults can have all the knowledge in the world but forget about it at the exact moment they need it. For example, being called on in a meeting, freezing up and being speechless, and then realizing you knew the answer the second the meeting was over.

How Do Working Memory Problems Affect Your Life?

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 Partners of ADHD adults might also be impacted by forgetfulness on a daily basis. Some struggle to accept or understand that forgetfulness is a part of ADHD and might feel like they can’t rely on their partner. This can create unhealthy dynamics of criticism and arguing around a couple’s ability to meet the demands of daily life. In turn, the ADHD adult often feels defeated and overwhelmed, which typically increases working memory impairments and tends to be further influenced by strong emotions such as fear and shame.

Daily Obligations

It’s common to feel that one cannot benefit from a to-do list because they don’t remember to look at it. This isn’t due to not trying. This is, in itself, due to working memory. An issue with working memory means out of sight, out of mind. Appointments can be easily forgotten. The trash might not get taken out. And one could easily forget to pick something up at the store. The point is, daily life can feel more chaotic when thoughts slip out of one’s mind as quickly as they enter.


Because things pile up or get forgotten, it’s easy to be hard on oneself. In fact, moments of forgetfulness are some of the most common moments for negative self-talk to enter the picture. ADHD individuals tend to get swept away by their criticisms of themselves in these moments, and they can spend hours feeling shame for losing their keys or wallet or forgetting an appointment.


A woman smiles while reading post it notes on a window. This could represent creating a to do list for ADHD in Columbus, OH to help improve working memory. Learn more about the support an ADHD psychologist in Columbus, OH can offer today.Building Working Memory Supports

 There are many evidenced based strategies for getting support on working memory. Perhaps the most well-known is “externalizing” information at the point of performance. This means that one must prompt themselves with physical reminders exactly at the moment they need the information. For example, by setting alarms or putting reminders on the fridge, dresser, or wherever else you would need to be prompted to remember.

Breaking things down into smaller steps is also key. If a project is due in a month, one might forget to do that project until the day before. But if one breaks things down into daily tasks, there is less opportunity to forget. This is because there is a sequence involved rather than something to remember in the distance.

A not-so-well-known coping skill for working memory problems is self-compassion. Learning to be kind to oneself takes practice. Some folks might need to find a therapist to help them learn, but learning to work with your ADHD rather than against it can help tremendously.

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 Similar to all other parts of ADHD treatment and skill-building approaches, there is no “one size fits all” approach to managing ADHD. One must strategize to figure out the best tools that work for them based on their own life. However, once the systems and tools are in place, one can really take advantage of their ADHD superpowers and start making progress toward their goals.

Begin Adult ADHD Treatment in Columbus, Ohio

 You don’t have to live your life feeling scattered. ADHD-focused counseling can help you meet your potential. Our Columbus, OH counseling practice in Columbus, Ohio has caring therapists who specialize in ADHD Treatment. To start your counseling journey, follow these simple steps:

  • Fill out the contact form to schedule a free 15-minute phone
  • Meet with one of our caring therapists.
  • Stop feeling scattered. Start getting things done.

Other ADHD Services Offered at Focused Mind ADHD Counseling

 Adult ADHD treatment is not the only service we offer at our Columbus, OH counseling practice. At Focused Mind ADHD Counseling, we offer a variety of mental health services including ADHD testing. As an adult with ADHD, we know you may also benefit from anxiety treatment for ADHD, counseling for men with ADHD, or depression counseling for ADHD. You can also view our blog for more resources and helpful info!