I’ll never go back to a regular planner.
Way back in high school, I was diagnosed with ADHD.
I resented this for two reasons: I did well in school, and I didn’t think ADHD was real.
I refused further treatment. Predictably, when I got to college, I struggled with time management and started not doing so well at school. Turns out that for me — unlike in high school — it wasn’t so easy to get through college without studying!
I am embarrassed that I used to think ADHD was made up. That was an arrogant, unresearched, very teenage opinion.
You can, in fact, do well at school and have ADHD.
A couple of years ago, I got my ADHD diagnosis confirmed. I had sought out this diagnosis after seeing how ADHD affected someone close to me, and how very real it was.
Suddenly, so much made sense: why I pathologically struggle with interrupting; why I always get stuff done at the very last minute; why I can’t for the life of me keep my bedroom clean.
These things don’t make me a bad person — they make me someone with ADHD. But ADHD or not, I still have to get my work done. To paraphrase a wise quote: ADHD isn’t my fault, but it is my responsibility.
I tell you all this to assure you that you’re getting advice from someone who struggles with this disorder.
Those who don’t struggle with executive functioning tend to give useless advice like: “Just leave 5 minutes earlier, then you’ll never be late!” Look, if I can’t get myself to leave on time, how on earth would forcing myself to leave even earlier make it any easier?
Below are some tried-and-true ADHD hacks that have helped me for the last few years. These are techniques you can incorporate into your daily life immediately.
As always, your mileage may vary. Take what works and leave the rest!
I am a bit of a bullet journal (BuJo) evangelist. Many people with ADHD find planners overwhelming and unhelpful because they’re so limited. The beauty of bullet journaling is that you start the planner from scratch.
There’s a basic layout explained on the official website, but you can make it whatever you want. Maybe your BuJo has no dates, just lists of different things you need to do or remember.
I’ve tweaked the method to make it work for me, and I’ll never go back to a regular planner. Pro tip: Any dot grid notebook works, it’s not necessary to buy the official one.
My personal routine for tracking my to-do’s works like this: As soon as I think of something I have to do, I send myself a blank email with the subject listing the to-do (e.g. “schedule vaccine appointment for my dog”). Then I leave it unread in my inbox until I sit down and gather the to-dos in one place.
I set aside 10 minutes at least twice a week just to organize my email to-dos.
If I can get it done right away, I put it on today’s list or simply do it right now (if you call the vet and schedule the vaccine appointment right now, boom, it’s done! You can delete the email and it doesn’t have to go on a list at all). If I’ll do it later, I add it to the appropriate list in my BuJo.
A friend with ADHD taught me this tip, which he learned years ago from an ADHD book.
You know those relatively easy tasks, like opening the mail, that you keep putting off until you have a grocery bag’s worth of unread mail taunting you from your desk? This applies to tasks like that.
When you bring in the mail, go through it immediately. Throw out the junk, file away the bills, respond to letters, and then you’re done. It only took a few minutes and you never have to handle that mail again.
This is my holy grail tip.
I use the Pomodoro method to clean, work, and write. The basic concept is you set a timer for 25 minutes, then you spend those 25 minutes working on a task or set of tasks.
As I write this, my Pomodoro timer is ticking away. When the timer goes off, I will take a 5-minute break. You can stretch, check social media, get some coffee, whatever you want. Then you get back to work for another 25 minutes.
I get so much done this way. An important part is you only focus on the task at hand. So when you’re in that 25-minute window, you don’t look at texts or emails or news. It’s a great way to keep you focused.
While I would be lost without my to-do lists, they can also become cumbersome. I tend to think of dozens of tasks I can/should/must accomplish when I start writing my daily to-do lists.
Of course, it’s often not possible to do it all. With MIT, you pick the three things you absolutely must get done today. It’s a way to utilize your time most efficiently.
Do your MITs first and then anything else you get done is gravy. Alternatively, do them last and you’ll get a TON done procrastinating on your MITs.
You know that one task (or several) you keep putting off, day after day, week after week? Now it’s become this burden weighing you down and yet you just can’t get yourself to start.
I hear you, I do that all the time. With “just 5 minutes,” you commit to spending — you guessed it — just 5 minutes on that task. Five minutes is doable! You can do 5 minutes!
The magic of this technique is once you’ve spent 5 minutes on a task, you often get absorbed and keep going until it’s done.
But what if you do 5 minutes and you hate it and you want to stop? No worries! You committed to just 5 minutes and you fulfilled that commitment. Tomorrow you can do another 5 minutes, and eventually, you’ll be done.
You know how your email inbox is always perfectly organized, you respond to each message within minutes, and you’re never behind in your correspondence?
Yeah, me neither! Sometimes I miss important emails because they get buried beneath unimportant ones and I get overwhelmed by the 300 plus unread emails taunting me from my inbox.
Apple’s iOS lets you set VIP alerts for important senders. I have VIP alerts set for my editors and freelance clients. When these important people email me, my phone alerts me immediately.
I tend to respond immediately (an example of the OHIO method!) and then I don’t miss anything important.
To decide who’s worthy of a VIP alert, think about who you need to respond to ASAP. Are there emails that will cause negative consequences for you if they’re ignored? Click here for iOS instructions and here for Android instructions.
As a freelancer with lots of gig economy experience, I know how hard it can be to keep track of, well, life. The great news is there are so many ways to get a better handle on your day-to-day.
Let me know how these work out for you, and drop me an email if you have more suggestions.
Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer-day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. She lives in Oakland. Learn more about her on her website.