How to Use a Daily Planner With ADHD

Woman sitting outside looking at her day planner

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Daily planners can be a helpful time management tool, particularly for people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Common symptoms of ADHD include poor organizational skills, time management problems, and issues with working memory.

Such symptoms make it difficult for people with this condition to stay on task and finish projects at school, at work, and at home. But using a daily planner can help.

Why Use a Daily Planner If You Have ADHD

Mastering the art of using a daily time planner is a simple yet powerful skill when you have ADHD. It can often be an important tool for managing your life and your ADHD.

Your planner becomes your memory prompt, time manager, and organizing aid. Plus, it can help reduce classic ADHD symptoms such as impulsivity, distraction, and procrastination

A daily planner is a calendar that is divided into days and each day is divided into sections, usually in hourly increments. You can write down your appointments in the appropriate time slots.

Planners have a variety of names, such as an agenda, diary, or daytime planner. However, the function is always the same. They help you record your commitments to yourself and other people so you remember them.

How to Choose a Daily Planner for ADHD

It is important to choose the type of planner that will work best for you. There can be heated debates about whether paper or electronic planners are best. Both are good, so the key to success is to pick the one that you feel most comfortable using every day.

Pen-and-Paper Planners

If you love paper and pen and find writing on paper helps to solidify things in your mind, then a paper planner would be a good choice. A daily calendar planner can be useful, or you might want to try something like a bullet journal. Looking for something that has some built-in organizational tools (such as to-do lists or reminder sections) can be helpful.

Electronic Apps, Websites, or Software

If, on the other hand, you love gadgets and all things electronic, then a digital planner would be good for you. The benefit of digital planners is they can usually be accessed from multiple devices, such as your phone, tablet, and computer. This is a helpful feature when you have ADHD because if you misplace one, you are still able to access your schedule.

How Many Planners You Should Have?

Some people have a planner for work and another for home. However, when you have ADHD it is best just to use one. Having two planners might sound logical, but it can quickly get confusing and overwhelming. Keep it simple and just have one planner for your whole life.

What to Write in Your Planner

The first step in learning how to use your daily planner effectively is to determine what you should include in it. Keeping it organized is important, so it can be helpful to focus on devoting it to tasks you need to do for other people and tasks you need to do for yourself.

Appointments With Other People

These could be meetings for work, personal appointments like visiting the dentist, as well as time with family and friends. Before confirming an appointment, reach for your planner and check if you are available on that day at that time before confirming. Then write it down immediately before you forget.

Appointments With Yourself

These are times you block out in your agenda so you can perform a particular task. For example, it might be an item from your to-do list. Making appointments with yourself means you become more productive and time doesn't just slip away. These appointments also provide mental relief because even if you can't do a task right away, you know exactly when you will have time to do it. 

Tips for Using Your Daily Planner With ADHD

While planners can be very helpful, getting started isn't always easy. If you've tried using one in the past and have given up, don't be afraid to start fresh. 

You may find it helpful to start gradually and build up to using your planner daily. Perhaps start by using it once a week to plan out the most important events of the week, and then work your way up to using it on a daily basis.

Do a Planning Session Each Day

Take some time each day to plan out what you need to do the next day. Write down any tasks that need to be accomplished or any progress that needs to be made on larger projects that you are working on.

Symptoms of inattention can make it difficult to stay focused, particularly on tasks that seem difficult or uninteresting. Since it takes a lot of mental energy to stay on task, it is common for people with ADHD to procrastinate. Using a daily planner can help fight this tendency by making large projects much more manageable.

While large, complex projects can be particularly daunting for someone with ADHD, breaking them down into smaller steps and working on them a little bit each day can you stay on track and complete them in a timely fashion.

Also, be sure to start each morning by checking what is already on the agenda. Checking your planner and writing in it regularly can help you build stronger organizational habits.

Include Transition Times

When you are writing appointments down in your planner, write down the time of the appointment and the time it will take you to travel there. This helps you to arrive on time for all your appointments. The more you use your planner, the better you will get at estimating travel time.

Also, schedule transition time between the appointments you book with yourself. This is important when you have ADHD as you need time to disconnect from one task before starting on the next. When you do this, you will avoid feeling irritable, anxious, or angry.

Look At It Often

In order for planners to be effective, you need to use them regularly. Always look at your planner first thing in the morning to have a clear and up-to-date image of what your day looks like. Throughout the day, check your planner to remind you of your activities and update it with new appointments as they are arranged.

One 2020 study found that people with ADHD can effectively develop organizational strategies to help them stay on task, but that they often struggle to implement such strategies in a continuous and consistent manner.

Researchers suggest that finding ways to help burn off excess energy (such as exercising regularly) may make it easier to self-regulate and focus on these organizational strategies. Making the practice of using your planner a habit may also be helpful.

Keep Your Planner With You

It's a good idea to get in the habit of carrying your planner with you at all times. When something comes up that you'll need to remember, you can simply jot it down so you can reference it later. It also allows you to refer to it frequently so you don't forget important tasks or appointments.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, there is no single method or tool that works for everyone, so focus on finding what works for you. Symptoms of ADHD including disorganization and inattention can make writing in a planner a challenge. If you find that other tools aren't working for you, consider making your own planner using a small notebook that you can carry easily in your bag or purse.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kofler MJ, Sarver DE, Harmon SL, et al. Working memory and organizational skills problems in ADHD. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2018;59(1):57-67. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12773

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. American Psychiatric Association.

  3. Durand G, Arbone IS, Wharton M. Reduced organizational skills in adults with ADHD are due to deficits in persistence, not in strategiesPeerJ. 2020;8:e9844. doi:10.7717/peerj.9844

By Jacqueline Sinfield
Jacqueline Sinfield is an ADHD coach, and the author of "Untapped Brilliance, How to Reach Your Full Potential As An Adult With ADHD."