But if you have ADHD, you might find that the effort it takes to manage your schedule is an exhausting task in and of itself. That’s because people with ADHD often struggle with things like planning, organization, and time management—all of which are pretty critical when your schedule is packed. You may find that you have trouble focusing on the future because you tend to get caught up in what’s going on right now. It’s simply the way that an ADHD brain tends to function.

Fortunately, there are tools designed to help overcome those challenges on a daily basis. One of the most helpful is using a planner and journal. Here’s a closer look at what to consider when applying this strategy, including how to choose the right planner or journal and tips for using them effectively.

The Best ADHD Planner Features

Planners are helpful for keeping your schedule on track. But as soon as you try shopping for one, you’ll realize that the options seem truly endless. To help narrow down your search, first decide whether you want a paper planner or an electronic planner.

An electronic planner is a dedicated productivity app or device, which is convenient when you’re always on the go. However, you may find that a paper planner is more helpful when it comes to visualizing your schedule and organizing different tasks, deadlines, and appointments. It can help to have a physical reminder of what needs to be done that you’ll see every time you’re at your desk or in the kitchen instead of only when you intentionally open an app.

Here are a few other examples of planner features which may be helpful for someone with ADHD:

  • Daily and monthly views: Looking at each day individually helps you plan out the smaller details of your schedule, like a staff meeting at 2pm, your child’s swim meet at 6pm, and a reminder to pick up the dry cleaning. But you’ll also want an option to see the “bigger picture.” Use monthly calendars to note major events on the schedule, like a family vacation or an important project deadline.
  • Portable size: A planner that’s easy to carry around allows you access to your schedule at all times. It also makes it easier to write things down as soon as they are scheduled so you don’t forget anything.
  • Open writing space: In addition to the calendar part of your planner, it helps to have open pages where you can write down to-do lists and other helpful information, like grocery lists for some of your favorite go-to meals, quotes that inspire you, or reminders about ongoing personal goals.

Tips for Using Your Planner

If you’re looking to get the most out of your planner, there are a few strategies that you might want to try. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Set smaller goals: Utilize your planner to break down tasks into smaller chunks. If you have a work project due at the end of the week, for example, don’t just list the deadline on Friday. In addition, list out steps you need to accomplish in the days leading up to the deadline and estimate the amount of time you need to spend on each step.
  • Use color coding: Applying a color-coding system can help you with executive functioning tasks like planning and organizing. For example, you might want a planner that uses a different color for each day of the week. Or you might use your own pens or stickers to categorize items you add to your planner (green for work, blue for personal appointments, red for chores, etc.).
  • Reward yourself: People with ADHD sometimes have lower levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter connected with motivation. If you need that extra push to stay on schedule, give yourself incentives to get things done. For example, you could enjoy a piece of chocolate or take a few minutes to browse social media after completing a work task.

Are Journals Helpful for ADHD?

You might think that a planner is the only tool you need to keep on track. But a journal can come in handy as well. 

Think about what happens when you get distracted from a task you’re trying to work on. In many cases, your mind wanders to other ideas, whether it’s some creative inspiration or just thinking about things that you find more interesting than the task at hand.

While everyone daydreams like this occasionally, people with ADHD are more likely to experience distraction. It’s not a reflection of poor work ethic or immaturity. Instead, your brain likely has lower levels of the neurotransmitters needed for attention and focus.

When distractions pop up, it’s time to reach for your journal. For someone with ADHD, a journal can serve as a convenient outlet for thoughts that might otherwise cause a loss in focus. Write down any idea or thought that you find to be distracting in the moment. This can help you to stay focused on what you’re doing because you’ll be able to come back to it later when you have time available.

Besides being a record of your random thoughts and inspired ideas, journals have been linked to improvements in mental health. Journaling can help with reducing stress and anxiety, both of which are relatively common among adults with ADHD. It can also help you to organize and process your feelings or even provide insight into how to better manage your ADHD. 

Think of your journal as a companion to your planner. While the latter is very structured and organized, journals are more open-ended and free-flowing. Write down whatever comes to mind as often as you feel like it. Any notebook is sufficient, or you can use an app on your phone to jot things down.

If you’re having issues like falling behind at work, showing up late for events, or missing important appointments, it’s time to make a change. Managing your ADHD effectively using tools like planners and journals can help you stay on schedule and minimize your stress on a daily basis.