ADHD in College

Time Out of Mind

To manage my schedule, I need tools that I can’t lose, break, or overlook. My solution: going big to keep track of my college life.

A highly customized schedule, which is a hallmark of the best school planners.
A highly customized schedule, which is a hallmark of the best school planners.

As a college student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sometimes I feel like a circus performer — answering and returning calls and e-mails, attending class and taking notes, typing up those notes, planning and working on papers, making sure my cats get fed, and, oh yeah, getting the trash out for pickup on Monday morning. You may as well add in juggling balls and bowling pins. Did someone ask about my social life? Very funny.

For someone who has ADHD, like me, all of these things that should and must get done won’t get done without some kind of external cuing system. In high school, I used a notebook-type planner. I would color-code it for each class, bolding, starring, or underlining especially important items. I didn’t fail high school and I earned a scholarship to college, so I guess the results speak for themselves. Still this is a labor-intensive approach — if you don’t work it, it won’t work — and, once I got to college, I didn’t have the time to manage my academic schedule this way. What have I tried (or considered) since?

  • Notes: I lose notes. That’s it. I still find scraps of paper or formerly sticky notes with things like “Test Monday” written on them. I don’t remember what test, or when it was, but I hope I made that test.
  • Erasable month calendars: Heaven forbid that I have a test on the first of next month. You have to erase the whole month before entering the next month’s dates, so, if I ever wanted to schedule something a month or two down the line, I might have to get 12 erasable month calendars, which kind of defeats the purpose.
  • Microsoft Outlook: Booting up and navigating the computer can be tedious. I would write notes to remind myself to enter a date, which I then, of course, lost. My biggest problem with Outlook was that I’d put in a test date, and then get a reminder — on the day of the test.
  • Electronic planners: They break, and it’s adios to whatever organization you had in your life. Plus, if the smallest thing goes wrong, it’s hard to type in things.
  • And finally, a really, really big calendar: My current calendar is about two feet wide, spiral-bound. The key is not just the size but the placement — I put it next to my door, on the floor, where I have to see it. If you’re visualizing something like a calendar area rug, you’re on the right track. You can’t miss something that huge that you have to step on or over several times a day.

At the beginning of each semester, I write the dates from my syllabi on the calendar, using a different colored marker for each class. For important events outside of class, I combine yellow highlighter with black marker to create a “caution sign” effect. If a new deadline comes up during class, or something on the syllabus changes, I write a note on a Post-it and stick the note inside my flip-phone. I recommend the one-inch Post-its in bright colors, such as screaming green. I discard the note only after transferring the information to my calendar, or sometimes I post it directly onto the due-date.

My calendar has a full-year calendar inset at the bottom, so I can circle or use stickers to mark upcoming birthdays or deadlines. Right now, I’m using red for my environmental science class. A glance at the full-year inset, with several dates circled in red, lets me know, in a manner of speaking, that there is “trouble ahead.”