Tackling To-Do Lists with ADHD

Combat adult ADHD by using this time-management system to turn your stagnant to-do list into a daily action plan.

To-Do List Time Management, Part 2

Step 2: Prep your planner.

What you’re able to accomplish depends on how much time is available to you. Sounds simple, right? Yet many ADDers overestimate the amount of time they have — because they fail to recognize how many hours of each day are already “booked” with regular obligations, appointments, events, and tasks.

Sit down with your calendar, personal digital assistant (PDA), or daily planner, and enter all the time- and date-specific items, such as events, birthdays, anniversaries, due dates, meetings, or appointments, one week at a time. Schedule in all the daily and weekly chores you routinely do, as well — shopping for groceries, exercising, balancing your checkbook, and so on.

Once you’ve entered all your time-sensitive and everyday tasks in your calendar, you’ll be able to see, at a glance, how much time you really have to work with.

Step 3: Put it all together.

Now you have two things: a master list of everything you need to do AND a calendar that tells you how much time is available to you each day.

ADDers often have unrealistic expectations of what they can accomplish in a single day. But biting off more than you can chew sets you up for failure. To figure out your daily action plan, look at today’s page in your calendar or planner and then review the A- and B-priorities on your master list.

Estimate how many high-priority master-list items you can fit around your scheduled tasks. Ask yourself, “Given the things I already have scheduled today, is my plan practical?” Consider these points:

  • Plan to do less than you think you might be able to accomplish. That way, you’ll have a “cushion” in case you’re waylaid by heavy traffic, a sick child, or some other unforeseeable problem.
  • Remember to leave enough time for meals, as well as travel to and from appointments and errands.
  • Be sure that each day includes a mix of “high-brain” and “low-brain” tasks; if your day is taken up solely by things that are hard to do or that require lots of decision-making, you’ll be exhausted.
  • Each day should include time outdoors; “green time” has been shown to improve focus and mood.

Once the high-priority items and your scheduled activities are put together, you have that day’s action plan. You can write this list right onto your calendar or planner, enter it into your PDA, or write your list on a separate piece of paper.

As you go about your day, keep your day-planner or PDA handy so you can “capture” new to-do items as they occur to you. When you get home, transfer these to your computerized master list. Once a week or so, re-prioritize the items on your updated master list, and start the entire process anew.

With this system, you’ll be able to accomplish all of your A-priorities, and quite a few of your Bs. What about your Cs? Every once in a while, review your master list. You’ll probably decide that many of the Cs aren’t worth bothering with. That’s a good thing. After all, life isn’t entirely reducible to to-do lists.

Illustration by Orin Bliss Brecht


This article appears in the October/November 2006 issue of ADDitude.
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To share strategies for tackling to-do lists, visit the ADHD Adults support group on ADDConnect.


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