Time & Productivity

“I Need a Plan for Using a Planner”

You bought a planner to keep track of your life, but now you’re struggling to keep track of your planner! An ADHD coach explains how to avoid the common mistakes that get in the way of successfully using a planner.

how to use a planner like the one pictured when you have adhd

Q: I had the best of intentions when I bought a planner. I am a 33-year-old woman with ADHD who can’t keep up with things — appointments, house chores, and so on. The first couple of days with my planner were wonderful: I kept track of things without missing a beat. The next week, I didn’t write down everything I needed to do. Then I lost the planner for a day. I became frustrated and angry. I thought a planner would solve my problems. What did I do wrong?


You’re smart to recognize that using a planner will help you keep up with things and solve many ADHD-related challenges. But as you suspect, there are common mistakes that get in the way of our making the best use of a planner. Here are the ones I see most often:

Using the wrong planner. There are lots of planners out there. The Bullet Journal seems to be popular these days. Your mom may have great success with the little notebook she carries in her purse. Your colleague swears by Todoist. But just because a planning tool works for someone else doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Some people love the feel of pen on paper; others need something they can access from their phone, tablet, and computer. Spend some time thinking about your requirements before you commit.

Planning too rigidly. Some overzealous types feel the need to schedule their days in half-hour increments when they start using a planner: dishes at 2:00, weeding the garden at 2:30, getting groceries at 3:00. No one could keep up with such a tight schedule, let alone someone with ADHD.

A better approach is to block out adequate times for certain types of tasks — for instance, household chores from 1:00 to 2:30.

[Free Webinar Replay: Organization Solutions for People with ADHD]

Not planning enough. At the other end of the spectrum are the people who take the Big 3 approach. Drawing from memory, they list three things on a Post-it that they need to get done that day. The problem is that there are many things that won’t fit on that Post-it. Chances are, they’ll remember them in the middle of doing something else, or forget them entirely. Better to keep a “master” to-do list of everything you need to do, and prioritize the items each day. Choose three things if you’d like, just make sure it’s a choice based on everything you have going on. Separating the “today” list from the master list will keep you from getting overwhelmed.

>“I’ll remember.” No, you won’t. Write it down. Every. Time.

Not planning for changes in plans. Someone once said, “The only constant is change.” If something happens and you can’t do the things you planned, it’s no big whoop. If you have a master list, and you keep it roughly prioritized, you can pick up where you left off when things get back to normal.

Giving up. If a planner isn’t working for you, it doesn’t mean that using a planner is stupid. It means your system isn’t working. Good planning requires that multiple parts work together to solve the problem of getting the right stuff done. Figure out which part isn’t working as it should, and do something to change it.

[8 Paper Planners That Will Change Your Life]

Beth Main is a board-certified coach and Licensed Professional Counselor who helps people address the emotional aspects of adult ADHD by developing practical solutions. You can reach her at adhdsolutions.net.

Updated on October 18, 2018

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  1. I agree that you must find a planner and planning system that works for you. I started with a Bullet Journal but became overwhelmed with all of the artistic options that I saw online. I ended up switching to a Jibun Techo journal (Japanese). Google it. Also, there are great youtube videos about it and a Facebook page for users.

  2. I felt a need to say thanks: I am also that person who gets completely into a new way to plan my days, picking the perfect planner, etc, only to have everything collapse. This provided both a laugh ( laughing with, not at) and a little hope. Now I have to go find some appointment cards for stuff i never put on m calendar . . .

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