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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! Rachel, one of Connections in Minds executive function coaches (who has a keen interest in ADHD) explains how to avoid the common mistakes that get in the way of successfully using a planner.

The first couple of days with a planner are wonderful and I keep on top of everything. Then it starts to trail off, I lose it, forget to write things down…what am I doing wrong?

You’re smart to recognise that using a planner will help you keep up with things and help support you with your executive function or 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:

You are using the wrong planner.

There are lots of planners out there. Your mum may have great success with the little notebook she carries in her purse. Your colleague swears by Trello or 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 what might work for you before you commit.

Planning too rigidly.

Some 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. But is that realistic? Only a handful of people I know could keep up with that long term. For those with executive function challenges or neurodiversity this would be near on impossible.

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

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. But the Post-it isn’t big enough and they will remember the ‘other things; in the middle of doing something and become distracted.

I suggest keeping a “master” to-do list of everything you need to do, and prioritise the items each day. Choose three things you’d like to do, 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.

If it doesn’t get written down, it won’t get done!

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 prioritised, 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 isn’t working it just means your system isn’t working. Good planning requires that multiple parts work together to solve the problem of getting things done. Figure out which part isn’t working as it should, and do something to change it.

Which planner?

There are many planners out there in the marketplace which can be very overwhelming. Why don’t you start by the simple, Scattered Brains Toolkit that Connections in Mind have put together.   Print off the sheets, set goals, plan your time and priorities and get into the habit of using the planner before you invest more significantly.

By Rachel Breskal, Connections in Mind

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