High School

Your High School Get-It-Together Guide

High school is intimidating, overwhelming, and totally awesome — if you’re prepared to succeed! Get organized with these ADHD-tested tips, like setting up a command center and stockpiling supplies, and the sky’s the limit.

ADHD high school student writing in planner with class books underneath
ADHD high school student writing in planner with class books underneath

You’re long past those awkward days of fumbling with your locker combination or struggling to change classes on time. You’re in high school: experienced, responsible, and ready to make great things happen. So isn’t it time you reinvent yourself as an organized young adult who’s got it together? Here’s how:

Set up a command center.

This is a place where you and your family plan all of the activities of the household. A family calendar and schedule with appointments, meal planning, travel, and chores should be located in this area. The center should have supplies (pens), a communication board, and notes that are color-coded by task or person. Be sure a hanging file folder, organizational box, or notebook containing important documents is nearby. This is also the place to hang a weekly printout of grades posted online. Meet with your family once a week and give your input.

Create a staging area near where you enter and exit the house.

Open cubbies/shelving and baskets and/or hooks will help you keep and remember items. This is home to your books, homework, backpack, notes, sports bag, keys, lunches, and other school-related articles. Hanging a large communication board will help you remember tasks and items. Consider placing a power strip in this area, so you can charge a phone, iPad, or other electronic device. An alarm clock or timer will help get you out the door on time.

Practice a last-minute drill.

After you are packed and ready to go, stop and do a mental checklist before going out the door. Take three breaths, talk through the mental to-do list, visualize where you are going to put things, and make mental associations for books, keys, and assignments. Take one last scan of the area before passing through the door. You might find it helpful to write reminder messages on shower doors and mirrors for when you first wake up. For example, “I am being picked up early this morning — not as much time to get ready.”

Remember assignments at school.

After each class, or when at your locker, check with a friend or your phone’s reminder app about assignments. Post a calendar/planner page in your locker or notebook (if lockers aren’t available). One strategy is to keep a sheet in each subject notebook on which to record daily assignments. Inventory your notebook and decide what materials you will need to pack; keep individual folders (or extra-large envelopes) for each subject, if you find it difficult to deal with notebooks.

[Free Download: Transform Your Teen’s Apathy Into Engagement]

Plan your homework.

If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know if you have arrived? Before you begin your studies, fill out a homework-planning sheet. Studyminder.com is a computer program that can help you plan your studies by asking, What is the assignment? How long will it take? What materials are needed? What supports are in place?

Know where you stand.

Print out your online grades on Thursdays. On Friday, gather materials and talk with your teachers about completing assignments over the weekend. Sunday is a good day to make a plan of action for the coming week.

Keep important papers and numbers at your fingertips.

Tired of chasing down information you need? Create an organized “chaser file” or notebook. This is where you keep important papers that you need in a hurry, as well as a list of contact numbers, codes, resources, and classmates in each class whom you can call if you get stuck on an assignment.

Create a “planner.”

Because of the increased academic demands of high school, your brain can’t hold all the directions teachers give you throughout the day. You need a planner. Some planners are too bulky and are not ADHD-friendly. Tear out blank pages from your notebook or create a planner on the computer. Use color-coding and bold-facing to highlight information.

[The High School Study Guide for Teens with ADHD]

Set up your notebook your way.

Some students like an accordion file system better than a tabbed divider system for their notebook. Talk with your teacher about how you would like to organize your notebook and explain to her why it works with your learning style. Try heavy-gauge notebook paper with reinforced holes, so that important information doesn’t fall out. Use clear slip-sleeves for papers that will stay in your notebook for the whole year.

Stockpile your supplies at the beginning of the year…

…to have on hand when you run out of them at midnight, when office supply stores are closed.

Get geeky.

Use apps, smartphones, computers, and tablets to your advantage. Ask for a classroom accommodation if the school does not allow such devices in class. To stay on top of things, set alarms and reminder messages, or send yourself an e-mail, copying the people who will hold you accountable to finish a task.

[50 High School Accommodations for Every ADHD Challenge]