How to Plan With ADHD
Establishing a planning routine is great for staying organized when you have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. But let’s face it: it’s hard to set a planning routine when you have ADHD. So, how to deal? Luckily, our own blog writer is a long-time planner who lives with ADHD, and they’ve put together their favorite ADHD hacks for planning and productivity.
Aim for the Minimum
You can’t do it all perfectly every single day (it’s just not realistic); instead, commit to the minimum.
- You know yourself better than anyone. Do you know you can’t sit down and plan every single day? Commit to at least once a week.
- When you have ADHD, perfectionism is your enemy! Remember: anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. Your spreads don’t need to look perfect. Your routine doesn’t need to be perfect. Just get it written down.
Make it Obvious
People with ADHD sometimes struggle with object permanence when it comes to tasks, items, and even other people, especially when these things are not directly in their line of sight.
- Set visual and/or audio reminders to use your planner. Then set a reminder for your reminder. If you ignore or miss the first reminder, it’ll be harder to miss the second one.
- Keep your planning supplies in frequented areas (ex: your bag, living space, desk space, next to bed.)
- Set a timer for long tasks. We know that sometimes, when you’re sucked in, time does not exist. Let’s bring you back down to reality for a check-in.
- Add your written appointments to your digital calendar – and opt into daily overview notifications. Then, opt into alerts that send a reminder before each appointment.
- Make your important tasks/appointments, etc. eye-catching in your calendar by using highlighters, stickers, bright ink, or symbols. Products like the Zebra Mildliner Dual Tip Highlighters and Spotlight Stickers are perfect for this.
- Be visual in your problem-solving and task management. Use an idea tree or mind map to visualize all of your branching ideas before making a game-plan. Or, sketch it out.
Keep Things Simple
We thrive on shortcut hacks and items that make our lives easier. This is because when you live with ADHD, you run out of the executive drive that gets things done.
“In the disability world, there’s something called 'spoon theory.'...In the theory, each ['spoon' that you metaphorically have] represents a finite unit of energy...people with chronic illnesses have to ration them just to get through the day.” (Washington Post)
- While planning, use shortcut “hacks” that are efficient, thus conserving your “spoons”.
- Using products that make planning and organizing easier.
- The A5 Spiral Bound Planner has a matching Sticker Set (sold separately) that fits within the planner. Sometimes items like this, that can be used all-in-one, are easier to organize and keep track of.
- Alternatively, it may be easier to grab a planner bundle so that you can get right into planning. It's easy to get paralyzed by all the fun options, so a bundle takes away any indecisiveness.
- Simple "listing" products like the Memo Sticky Notes or To-Do Mini Notepad are my lifelines! They are so straightforward that they can hold just my daily to-do lists and convenient enough to keep on me at all times.
- Reusable, simplistic items like the Minimal Task Card Set can easily be slipped into your planner or kept in your desk space. Reuse them with Transparent Sticky Notes and Uni Marking Pen layered over the cards.
- Hack your time blindness. Prepare for appointments by noting the time you need to leave, not the time it starts. Alternatively, aim to be “ready” for an appointment, meeting, etc. with 30 minutes to spare.
- Limit your to-dos to only two big tasks, and one to three smaller tasks. Have no more than five ongoing tasks written at a time.
- Make your brain hacks as efficient as your planning hacks. Each night, think about the tasks for the next day. Write them down, and set the list aside. Then, use the list in the morning to make your daily task list. This gives your brain time to subconsciously process information and you’ll be more prepared for the day ahead.
Strategize Your Planner + WorkspaceSometimes, you have to organize your space in a way that sends reminders to your brain, kind of like a chain reaction machine.
- Organize your desk space - strictly. Either down-size to a smaller desk so it can’t be filled with mess, or put an organizer next to your desk space. Within your organizer, ensure it has three separate drawers dedicated solely for: planning items, important papers, and “organize later”. We all know the “organize later” pile will exist no matter how determined you are, so it should absolutely get its own space.
- Use organizational items so you don’t lose your accessories.
- Don't have much room space to store a paper organizer? Opt for the CEO Folder Set.
- The sticky note pile is inevitable. Add a Sticky Note Holder to your space - and keep it very close. (This genuinely transformed my planning space)
- All of your cute, fun accessories like stickers, page flags, etc. can be kept in one place: the Essentials Pouch. Use a separate, possibly smaller Essentials Pouch for all of your writing utensils. (Notice how these pouches are clear? Aim for transparent storage whenever possible to "hack" the object permanence forgetfulness.)
- A portion of your planning will need to be dedicated to compiling your loose sticky notes, notes that have been scribbled in the margins of random papers, and the notes that you end up adding to a blank Notes App page because you forgot to keep paper on you. Dedicate a page or two in your planner for this “brain dump”.
- Keep a recycling/trash basket directly next to your desk.
- When you add something to your planner, remove something. As much as you want to use the hyper-specific insert for puppy training, you probably won’t. Only substitute something out for something you’ll use.
- Take inventory: Take a photo of your workspace and organizational bins at their best. This is how you’ll recall how to re-organize it once it inevitably becomes a paper tornado, and it will also help you remember where you may have stored an item you’re looking for. (It’s usually an important paper that you put in important document pile #3, but you were searching in important document pile #5. This is why having one dedicated space to keep all of these “piles” is a lifesaver!)
- Switch up your planning routine. When you live with ADHD, routines can start to fall apart when they stop being fun and shiny. If planning starts to lose its glamor, try to:
- Change your environment. Stand at a table instead of a desk or opt for the coffee shop instead of home.
- Make planning (even more) fun. Dedicate each day/week to a certain color or theme, find planning buddies to inspire each other, turn on planning inspo videos, and set rewards. (ex: “I’ll shop the C&P Happy Hour drop if I stick to my weekly task list”)
- Switch to a new planner/journal, new accessories, or a new writing style.
- Transform your planning space into an ~aesthetic~. Light a candle, bring out your favorite accessories, put on lofi beats, or brew a cup of coffee.
Curate to Yourself
People have different types of ADHD and different ways their brain functions with the disorder. It may take trial and error, but you can curate your planning routine to fit you. Remember, the aim is to make your life easier and more organized.
- Check in if you’re under-stimulated or overstimulated. Do you need to add in background noise while planning? Or, instead of using background noise, you may need to eliminate it altogether. In this case, limit your electronics and distractions to a different room.
- Sometimes, you just need help. If it’s an option for you, hire someone to do your filing and/or organize your home office annually. This frees up time and mental space.
- Lean on your community for support:
- Try planning with parallel play - that is, planning while your friends or family also work on something separately, yet in the same room.
- Involve others! If they don’t mind, ask a friend to help nudge you of an important task or appointment as a backup reminder.
- Plan at the height of your productivity. Usually this is after taking ADHD medication or drinking coffee, and around early to mid-afternoon. Just remember: just because you have energy now, doesn't mean you'll have the same energy later. Plan realistically.
- Be aware of what you’ll forget. You'll save yourself a lot of time and stress by being truthful to yourself. You know you won’t remember that appointment time. So write it down right then and there.
- Start a success journal. Forgetfulness that comes with the disorder can make it easy to forget your successes, along with the strategies you used to achieve them. A success journal tracks your achievements and records the tools you’ll need to tackle the next.
Foremost, take the time to responsibly research about ADHD and speak to your doctor. Come up with a game plan for managing symptoms that get in the way of organizing your life.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding mental health.