Ask the Experts

Q: “What Are the Best Planners for ADHD Brains? Paper or Digital?”

The best planner is a paper planner because it allows students with ADHD to truly see their time mapped out, plus the act of writing cements information in a way that typing does not.

Q: “My daughter is super bright and wants to do well, so we hired an ADHD coach to work with her after school. They use your planner, too. But she uses it because the coach tells her to and not because she truly understands the significance of it. When I ask the coach to suggest what I can tell my daughter, she really doesn’t have a good answer. Can you give me some take-aways of why you feel a paper planner is the way to go?” — PlannerMom

Hi PlannerMom!

I thought long and hard about how to answer this question. Why? Because to know me as an academic/life coach for teens and college students is to know that I’m 100% on the “YOU-figure-out-the-best-systems-and-strategies-that-work-for-you” bandwagon. But when it comes to using a paper planner? It’s non-negotiable, as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s what I tell my students: You need to use some type of planning tool to well… plan! It’s all well and good to know what you must do, but a proper paper academic planner helps you visualize what’s ahead so you can plan (there’s that word again) for and manage commitments and know when you have time to do them.

Bottom line? Your child must see their time to learn how to manage it. And they do need to learn to manage it. I strongly believe that a student can only truly see their time by using a paper planner. One professor I know included a paper planner on her supply list for her class and made it a mandatory requirement for her college class to stress its importance. She even went so far as to predict that those students who refused to use one would fail her course.

She was right.

[Get This Free Download: Solving Disorganization at School]

Here are some additional reasons why paper planners are so important.

1. Writing in a paper planner helps you remember. Philosopher and psychologist Nicolas Clausen said it best: “Typing only activates the ‘language’ areas of our brain; whereas writing with a pen or pencil activates multiple brain regions and, therefore, makes the process complex, sensory-rich, and memorable.” Plenty of research shows that students who write by hand have a higher retention rate than those who use electronic devices.

2. Paper planners are more time efficient. I’ve been selling this concept to my students for years. But it’s true. How do I know? I test it by timing them! I ask them to record the same homework assignment in their academic planners and then again on an electronic devise. The physical planner wins every time!

3. Electronic devices are distracting. I hear all day long from my students that when they go to open an app on their phone or computer to write down something, Instagram/Snapchat/text messages/YouTube starts calling out their name. And, of course, what they intended to do gets pushed out of focus.

[Read: How to Convince Your Teen to (Actually) Use a Planner]

4. Paper planners build time-management skills. I can’t say this enough. They allow you to see the big picture using clear weekly and monthly views to help you create time sense and future awareness. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a student say, “I need to see everything in one place.” Seeing helps us plan, prioritize, and stay on task and track.

I’m so thrilled your daughter is using our academic planner. If you need more information on how to use it more effectively, we have many free videos on our website at

Good Luck!

Best Planners: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

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