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.

ADult ADD/ADHD Time Management ADDitude Magazine

ADDers often have unrealistic expectations of what they can accomplish in a single day.

   
 

ADHD Time Management Help

 
   

People with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) experience time and time management differently than non-ADDers.

Rather than a series of discrete moments following one another in predictable fashion, ADDers sense time as one long NOW. That’s great when it comes to solving problems and handling crises — and it certainly makes the day go faster. But the ADD way of experiencing and managing time complicates things if you’re trying to complete the items on your to-do list.

My client Julia explained her time-sense this way: “Each day goes along like a rudderless boat, lurching through rapids, bashing up against rocks, and then finally landing on shore. I wind up completing only one or two to-dos from my list. It’s very frustrating.”

To accomplish everything you need to do each day with maximum efficiency and minimum hassle, you need more than a calendar or a to-do list. I’ve had clients who were meticulous about maintaining their calendars — and yet were habitually late to meetings and events, if they showed up at all. And I’ve had clients with to-do lists so long it would take them two lifetimes to get everything done.

What you need is my simple, three-step “system with a rhythm.” Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Create your master to-do list.

A master to-do list should capture everything that’s currently on your plate. I’m talking about big things, like planning a wedding or moving, all the way down to simple tasks, like hanging a picture.

To create the master list, gather all the reminders you’ve written yourself in recent days — the scraps of paper, sticky notes, napkins, envelopes, and so on—and compile them into a single list. Transcribe the list into a single word-processing document; a computerized master list is much easier to update than a master list on paper.

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Each task added to your master list should be a simple one. By that, I mean something that takes only a single step — making a phone call, buying a hammer, or sending an R.S.V.P. This means you’ll have to break large - scale projects into smaller units. Instead of “buy new car,” for instance, create separate entries, such as “research options,” “calculate how much to spend,” “determine trade-in value of old car,” and so on.

Your master list might contain scores of tasks and events. Obviously, you won’t be able to do everything; you’ll have to set priorities. I recommend the “A-B-C” system: Mark high-priority items (things you absolutely must attend to) with an “A.” Lower-priority items get marked with a “B” (if I have the time) or “C” (fat chance).

Of course, you can use numbers (1-2-3), symbols (3 stars, 2 stars, 1 star), or colors (red-yellow-blue). One of my clients prioritizes her master list using the terms “Now,” “Later,” and “Parking Lot.”


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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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