Tame Time: The Best Planners for ADHD Adults

Coach Sandy and her clients team up to create planners that help every adult with ADHD get organized.

Tame time with planners that help adults with ADHD get organized.
   
 

Lessons Learned

To get the most out of a paper planner, use some of the strategies that worked for my clients with ADHD:

  • Keep a planner in a designated spot—by the left of the phone, to the right of the computer, or in an appointed sleeve in a briefcase.
  • Keep longer-term goals in a different section of the notebook, separate from a working to-do list.
  • Check your planner every time you get up from your desk. You’ll remember something important.
  • Write each day’s chores onto a large sticky note and and place it next to the day’s date in a paper planner. At work, write notes on the same sticky note and transfer it to a computer database at home.
  • Cross off items that you have accomplished.
  • If your schedule or to-do list changes frequently, consider a ring binder, so that sections can be added or removed easily.
 
   

Is there such a thing as the perfect planner for an adult with attention deficit disorder (ADD)? From my experience as an ADHD coach, the answer is no.

But if you think about what planner format works best for you, and how you’re going to use it, you can come pretty close to perfection.

Consistency doesn’t come naturally to ADDers, but committing to the basics — checking a planner regularly and designating a spot for it — will keep you on time and in the right place. Two clients I worked with proved it.

Always Losing Your Planner?

The client: John (therapist, age 40)

The challenge: John didn’t have a designated spot for his paper planner, so he lost one every couple of days. As a result of his disorganization, several planners—each containing important contact and appointment information—were floating around his house and office.

The fix: First, I had John round up all the planners and consolidate the information into a master planner. In John’s case, it was a beat-up, 79-cent spiral notebook that he paired with a pocket calendar from his insurance company.

In the morning, he developed his daily to-do list in the spiral notebook and transferred the list to his pocket calendar. In the evening, he crossed off what he had accomplished and added new tasks.

When a notebook’s page filled up with crossed-out items, or the edges tattered, he transferred important information and phone numbers to his computer database, then ripped out that page and started fresh.

Second, I suggested that John keep the planner in the same spot — on his desk, to the left of his phone — at the office and at home. I also advised him to keep his longer-term goals and ideas in a different section of the notebook, separate from his working to-do list.

Further suggestions: I asked John to check his planner every time he got up from his desk, even if he had no appointments that day. It sounds like a useless exercise, but John remembered something he needed to add to his list when he checked it. This little exercise got John to use the planner regularly. As a result, fewer tasks and meetings slipped through the cracks.

Can't Keep Track of Appointments?

The client: Jared (visiting nurse, age 36)

The challenge: Jared used Outlook to keep track of his appointments and to-do lists, but he often ignored the digital alarms reminding him about a phone call or a scheduled visit to a patient’s house.

He’d also forget to transfer information from notes and papers into his computer, and wound up double-booking appointments. “I’ve tried every time-management system under the sun, and I still find myself being late for meetings,” he said.

The fix: Online sticky-note programs can be helpful for ADDers, but I discovered that, although Jared is tech-savvy, he was more comfortable using a paper planner. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of various options, and settled on a monthly format.

After a week, Jared found it wasn’t working for him. He needed a week-at-a-glance format, because of his unique schedule—he worked Wednesday through Sunday, with Mondays and Tuesdays off. I had Jared label the first column on the left “Wednesday” and finish up with “Monday” and “Tuesday” on the right. As a result, he stopped being late for client appointments.

I also recommended that, like John, Jared keep his planner to the left of the phone at home and at work, and in a designated sleeve in his briefcase when leaving either place. Because client appointments frequently needed to be rescheduled or added, I had him check the planner morning, noon, and night.

Further suggestions: We decided that Jared should keep his weekly to-do list on his computer, writing each day’s chores onto a large sticky note and placing it next to the day’s date in his paper planner. At work, he would write important notes on the same sticky note and transfer it to the computer in the evening.

I also recommended that he consider ADD-friendly driving tools like GPS for his car, since printing out directions to new clients’ homes often made him late. Now he inputs an address into the GPS, and he’s guided to the front door.

Best Practices

Customizing a planner is key, and employing these strategies will optimize its use:

  1. If you don’t have your planner with you, and a colleague asks if you’re available for lunch on Friday, say, “You know, I don’t know if I am or not. Let me check my planner and get back to you tomorrow.” Then leave yourself a voice-mail message at home, reminding you to check your schedule. (If you later find that your schedule is jam-packed, learn how to decline an appointment or meeting, without offending anyone.)

  2. When scheduling appointments, jot down the person’s cell-phone and land-line numbers under his name. If you need to let him know that you’re running late, you have his numbers at your fingertips.

  3. If you worry about losing your planner or laptop, print or copy each day’s schedule and leave the computer or planner safely behind, on your desk.

  4. When you go on vacation, make a copy of the following week’s schedule, just in case your return flight is cancelled or delayed. You can reschedule meetings and appointments from the airport or hotel room, without missing a beat.


This article comes from the Summer 2008 issue of ADDitude.

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