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The Best ADHD Planner? One That Actually Gets Used

Students and adults with ADHD face the same challenge: Devising a planner system and habit that they can actually maintain over the long run, improving memory, punctuality, and stress — just to name a few. This is a daunting prospect, but it can be done. Get started with these 3 steps.

The promise of the perfect planner is so seductive — and insidious. You are certain that if you just search Amazon hard enough or follow enough #gtd gurus on Twitter, you’ll find the planner that will transform chaos into order, and change your life.

But here’s the problem: Our emotional relationship with time is numb. A planner is just a floppy book of blank paper to the attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) mind. It holds no excitement when it’s blank and it looks a lot like work — not unlike….
Doing laundry.
Fueling the car.
Buying toilet paper.

So you’re stuck in a bind: If you don’t use a planner, you’re toast. But even if you invest in the best planner known to man, you will probably flounder and suffer trying to make it work. Why? Many of your ADHD symptoms are related to poor time awareness. ADHD is why you don’t plan ahead. It’s why you forget important information. ADHD is why you need a planner; it’s also why you always abandon that shiny, new planner after a few weeks.

ADHD medication will help with attention and inhibition, but it won’t touch problems related to time management. To make a new planner really sing, you need three things: time, energy, and a plan. Here, we cover the latter.

[Free Resource: 19 Ways to Meet Deadlines and Get Things Done]

Your ADHD Planner: Supplies List

ADHD minds need a paper planner with a monthly view and daily view. To begin, also gather together any schedules such as course syllabi, school schedules, and due dates.

You’ll also need a pencil or pen. Write legibly. Keep your planner visually uncluttered. For some people, this will mean colored pens and highlighters. For others, a pencil only.

Step One: Enter Responsibilities and Appointments

Your planner a powerful time- and task-management system. Like all systems, it needs infrastructure to function well. Begin creating that infrastructure by entering your responsibilities. If you committed to it, put it in your planner.

Next, enter all scheduled events and appointments. Overwhelmed yet?

[Free Webinar Replay: It’s About Time: Understanding the Science of Time Management with ADHD]

Stick to this golden rules for managing your planner: By entering responsibilities and appointments in your planner, you’re giving yourself the option to act. The opportunity to act is not the same as forcing you to act.

You get to retain your free will and freedom at all times. A planner is a tool that gives you the option to act. Without having the option to act, you’re giving yourself fewer options in life. Missed opportunities will collect quickly.

Step Two: Add Reminders

A reminder is a notation to yourself to keep something on your radar so you can schedule a time to work toward a goal or plan ahead.

Students: Collect all your syllabi and enter all recognized dates into your planner. Including no-class days, assignment due dates, test dates, and so on.

Parents: Collect your child’s school calendar and enter all important dates in your planner.

Professionals: Enter all critical dates and meetings. This can include due dates, professional license renewal, and tax due dates.

Home & Auto Reminders: Enter dates to check batteries on smoke detectors, change air filters, change your car’s oil, clean the gutters, winterize lawn equipment, prep the garden, begin boat care, and perform routine care on belongings such as expensive skis/snowboards and recreational toys.

Give it thought. Everyone is different. Is there anything you own that needs seasonal or repeated attention?

Relationship Reminders: The people in your life need to feel like they are important enough to be remembered. This may take time, but let’s begin the process.

What “relationship dates” are on your radar? Now, look at important anniversary dates or dates that could be important to other people (like your co-worker’s due date or your friend’s vacation). If needed, take 10 minutes and email/text people and ask the following:

“Hey, just thinking about you. I’m updating my calendar. When is your birthday? I’m hoping I can get better at remembering birthdays this year.”

Step 3: Adopt the Right Mindset

Time management depends on repeated interaction and engagement with your planner. Make a habit of interacting with your planner one to three times a day. You can also use non-engagement with your planner as a personal indicator that your life is off course. How?

  1. Create a “home base” for your planner at each location you visit frequently. Examples are the kitchen table, your desk, backpack, by your phone. Keep it visible and accessible.
  2. Link habits together. Try linking morning coffee with updating and reviewing your planner. Or create another combination. Linking habits means that one action will usually lead to another.

I wholeheartedly acknowledge the skills highlighted in this article can be a bit tricky. I know I’m asking you to make a considerable effort without any immediate reward. I believe in you. I’ve witnessed people living with severe ADHD embrace time tools and significantly change their lives. It can happen. If it takes two attempts or 200, keep trying. With practice, you’ll arrive at your goals and destinations successfully, strategically, thoughtfully, and with as little chaos as possible.

[Sometimes, an Old-Fashioned Planner Is Best]

Updated on August 28, 2019

3 Related Links

  1. My teen son has dysgraphia and hates writing things down in his planner but he’s been more successful in using his iPhone’s calendar and reminders. (I have mild ADHD myself and use a combination of electronic tools: Calendar, Reminders, and Evernote.) He has a new IEP teacher to help him with homework and organizing this year, so we’ll see what happens.

    Anyone else have a HS student who’s successful with electronic tools?

  2. My middle school son also has dysgraphia and hates writing. We’re introducing Google Calendar. We’ve also found alarms and reminders on Alexa have been a big help. It saves us from nagging him through his routine in the mornings.

  3. I find the bullet journal works best for me for a monthly and daily planner. I can set it up and adjust it for how my brain works best. I also adjust over time as things change, I can have one week simple and then creat a big week spread for a heavier week.

    I only have mild ADHD myself though. I first learnt about the ‘BuJo’ through Jess on her YouTube channel, How to ADHD.

    I think the first step above is something I will try though, as well as getting the regular car stuff logged as reminders.

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