By Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D.
Been there? Done that? Lost a dozen? Using a day planner
one of the most essential coping skills that a woman with ADD can
develop, but it's one that you need to practice and develop. Actually,
using a dayplanner is not a single skill, but involves a set of
skills that can be worked on, one-by-one.
1. Learn to have it with you at ALL times.
When I am helping someone develop the habit of using a daytimer,
so often, in the beginning, I hear, "I'm using it, but I just
didn't bring it to the session." Or, "It's in the car."
The only way for your day planner to become your "exterior
frontal lobes" - your life planner and manager - is if you
have your exterior frontal lobes with you at all times! You wouldn't
intentionally leave your brain in the car, or at home, would you?
2. Write EVERYTHING in your day planner.
If you must have a social or family calendar in the kitchen or a
three-month wall calendar in your office, develop the unwavering
habit that items are written in your dayplanner first and are then
transferred to other calendars. That way you can be sure that there
is one place you can quickly refer to for appointments, upcoming
travel dates, phone numbers, confirmation numbers on phone orders,
3. Learn the difference between a "to-do"
list and a daily action plan. A "to do" list is a long
list of action items.
These may be business, family or personal. You may
want to keep lists in categories:
1- Business to do's
2- Home maintenance to-do's
3- Family to-do's
4- Long-term goal to-do's
5- Personal goals - fitness, health, down-time, reading time,
6- Social to-do's
A "to do" list is a list of actions
or tasks from which you draw to create your daily action plan.
Your daily action plan is your "To-do Today" list, with
assigned times during which you plan to accomplish them.
4. Learn to become a better time estimator.
Taking items from your "to-do" list and placing them on
your daily action plan, with assigned times, forces you to begin
to think about how long things take. One thing you'll learn very
quickly is that you underestimate how long things take. For example,
you may have a string of errands that looks like this:
1- Grocery - pick up items on list, grab something for dinner.
2- Drop off dry cleaning.
3- Bank - make deposit.
4- Car - fill up tank
5- Dentist - 3:30 PM
6- Return video
When you're placing that "to do" list into
your daily action plan, how much time should you allot?
What have your forgotten? If you're a parent, you
may need to add carpooling, or errands such as "pick up posterboard
for book report" to an already jam-packed schedule.
The first month or six weeks that you work with your
dayplanner, write down how long you estimate your list of errands
and appointments will take. Then, when you come home, write down
how long they actually took. In this way you learn to be more accountable
for your time, how you estimated it and how you spent it.
5. Learn to Plan for Contingencies.
The second thing you need to learn is to plan for contingencies.
"To-do's" become "Not-done's" when we fail to
take the unplanned into account. Traffic happens. Phone calls happen.
Emergencies happen. Priorities change. Will the grocery take 10
minutes or 30? What if there's a line at the clearner's, at the
bank? What if the dentist is running late? What order should they
be done in for efficiency's sake? For the sake of being on time
at the dentist's?
Many people with ADD make a habit of masking their
poor planning skills behind the unexpected. In fact, for some, the
unexpected comes as a great relief. It's not my fault I'm late now
because there's a traffic accident up ahead. (Even though I would
have been late anyway.)
6. Learning to Resist Impulses and Distractions.
Another major enemy to successful completion of our daily action
plan are impulses and distractions. The phone rings as we're walking
out the door and we answer it, even though we know the caller can
leave a message. We spot a craft store as we're rushing from the
dentist to the grocery. "If I dash into the craft store now,
I can get those holiday decorations I've been meaning to buy and
won't have to make an extra trip back." We run into a friend
at the grocery and a friendly greeting turns into a 15 minute conversation
as we forget that we've still got to pick up the dry cleaning and
get supper cooked by 6 PM because there's a meeting we've planned
to attend that evening.
Having a daily action plan in mind, with times firmly
attached, can help us remember that time is not elastic and that
the 15 minute chat with the friend is being traded for the first
15 minutes of the meeting we're planning to attend after dinner.
Or, the healthy dinner we've planned will be traded for fast food
as we later realize that there's no time to cook and make the meeting
Changes in plans are OK! The dayplanner is your external
front lobes. You have the right to change plans and priorities.
The day planner and the daily action plan just helps you to see
more clearly what you're trading for what. Then you can ask yourself:
"Is this conversation more important to me than eating a healthy
dinner?" "More important than getting to my meeting one
time?" The answer may be "yes." This may be a person
who is important to you whom you haven't seen in a long time. You
may have an important issue to discuss with this person. Your daily
action plan doesn't "forbid" changes of plan - but the
operative word is "plan" instead of "O-my-God! I
lost track of the time."
7. Are you planning too much?
A client of mine recently said, " I hate to write things down
on my to-do list for the day because I feel like a failure when
I don't get them done." She may be planning too much. She's
putting down everything she "ought" to do on her daily
list, without consideration of whether she has time to complete
those tasks today.
8. Is your daily action plan a rigid taskmaster?
Another tendency that many people have is to turn their daily action
plan into an unrealistic and dreaded plan to spend each day doing
things that are not gratifying or enjoyable. It's as if an awful
"ought monster" lives in our heads and forces us to write
down a list of things we can't bear the idea of doing. Then, we
beat ourselves up when we don't comply.
Make sure that your daily action list is in line with
your true goals and values. All of us have things in life we don't
enjoy, but which are important. Life becomes chaotic and crises
occur when we don't "manage" our lives - by taking out
the trash, washing our clothes, having regular medical checkups,
pay our bills, etc.
But it's time for a major re-evaluation of your life
if you find most hours of most days filled with dreaded "oughts."
1- Does this really need to be part of my life, or am I just
conforming to what I think other people's expectations are?
2- If I dislike this task so much, can I find someone else to
do it for me? Would it be worth working a little longer to earn
extra money to hire this task done?
3- Is there a way I can creatively problem-solve and make this
task less time-consuming or more interesting?
If you use a dayplanner well, it works for you, you
don't work for it! Remember, your day planner should be a tool to
plan a life that is as gratifying and meaningful as possible. Creating
action plans, learning to estimate time, assigning time to tasks
may sound rigid and limiting, but remember - you're in charge.
Once a week, take a look. Are there chores that you
can combine and streamline? Eliminate? Have you put the positive
"to do's" in your daily action plan? Talk to a friend,
take a walk, practice the piano, read a book?