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5 reasons ADHD'ers struggle with daily planners

After buying tons of daily planners over the years I completely gave up on them. They just didn't work for me. And if I'm honest, they stressed me out more than helped!

Unfortunately, winging it everyday wasn’t working either.

When I started to learn about ADHD brain science, that's when I started to understand why. Since mood management may very well be our top priority so our daily planners need to keep this in mind.

In this post I am going to break down 5 of the biggest ADHD pain-points I see in the average daily planner.

Mistake #1: The day divided into 15, 30, or even 60 minute time blocks

People who have a ton of meetings every day may find this convenient. But most freelancers or small business owners don't need this.

Here's my reasoning:

  • When we don’t have a lot of meetings every day the empty space combined with other full spaces ends up looking messy. For many us, this can be distracting.
  • Empty time slots could be a visual reminder that we aren't as busy as we want to be, causing stress or sadness.
  • If there's all this empty space but we don't have enough room for other things it can make us feel frustrated.

Yes, a daily planner should include space appointments BUT there are better ways to do it.

Mistake #2: A lot of tiny rows for to-dos

We tend to think we can do everything in a day, if we can just focus. Yes, we do need to-do lists. But a daily planner isn’t the place for a long list of things to do.

This is why I don’t think this works for ADHD’ers:

  • Because the spaces are often so tiny we have to strain to write and fit everything in. Depending on what we're feeling in that moment, this could push us over the edge.
  • Tiny little spaces don't give us the flexibility (or space) for things that we want to include.
  • With some spaces being empty, and other cramped, it looks ugly, messy, and disorganized. It doesn’t need to be an artwork, but it shouldn’t overwhelm or annoy us either.
  • If we do fill them all in, it usually creates unrealistic expectations for us. When we don't get to everything, this will often make us feel like we've failed, again.

Sure, we need to do lists, but our daily planners are the place for every single thing we have to. There are better ways to manage our to do's as well as our daily tasks.

Mistake #3: A section dedicated to water consumption

As I sit here with my new motivational water bottle, believe me when I say I know how much of an issue this is for a lot of us. But, IMO, an entrepreneurs daily planner isn't the place for this.

Here's why...

  • In a lot of cases, we already feel inadequate because we usually don't get to everything we want to do. So, why add one more thing that could aggravate our feelings of inadequacy? Especially since it isn't essential to our work day.
  • As this is not always a priority, the wasted space is annoying and could be used in better ways.

I know that drinking more is something we all struggle with so I’ll share better ways to work on this in another post.

Mistake #4. Sections dedicated to weight loss (i.e exercise, calorie consumption, meals etc.)

As I skip another afternoon workout and look at the breakfast that's been sitting beside me for almost 3 hours, I know that it's not easy maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine. But that doesn't mean that I think it should be part of our daily planner.

Paraphrased slightly from Mistake #3, below are the reasons I don't think this a useful section in an ADHD'ers daily planner.

  • Diet or exercise is not always a priority so it's a waste of space.
  • It could be a reminder that you’re screwing up by not making this a priority or "failing" at following your routine and goals if it is.
  • It is easy to get overwhelmed with too much information in our daily planners. Why add any more tasks that aren't directly relevant to our business?

I'll talk about this more in another post, but I feel that things like exercise and diet are better seen in the context of "habits" or "rituals". By doing that they become automatic and maybe even fun. To Do's just make them one more thing to do.

Mistakes #5. Including dates or days of the week

I don't know who likes this, but I sure don't and most of the ADHD people I talk don't either. In my case at least, it's probably the main reasons I didn't use so many of the planners that I bought.

Here are some examples that make me think this isn't helpful for us:

  • Even if it's just organized by day of the week, if a day is missed many of us will wait for the correct day of the week instead of jumping ahead a few days to avoid having wasted, empty pages.
  • If it's a dated planner, it's not uncommon for us to give up on a planner if we miss even one day.
  • The visual reminder of our inconsistency can be really discouraging, even if it's subconscious.

Why would we want to add something to our lives that is a visual reminder of our inconsistency and the money that we've wasted. It's too discouraging, even if it's subconscious.

Why does this stuff seem to affect ADHD'ers more?

Combined with my experience in usability design I also spent a lot of time learning about ADHD and executive function in order to decide how to design and what to include in my daily planners.

The reason I'm sharing that is because I want you to know that I my planners are based on the latest ADHD research (not just my opinion).

Here's what I learned:

That the right balance of amino acids (like serotonin and dopamine), contribute to feeling:

  • motivated
  • positive/happy
  • focused
  • alert

The reason ADHD'ers struggle with motivation, sleepiness, and concentration is because we don't create enough amino acids and they aren't distributed properly.

So basically, I feel that the wrong planner can set us up for failure.

What the right planners CAN do for an ADHD'er

My philosophy is that planners are powerful tools for more than just productivity; they can help manage moods as well.

As an example:

  • Stress negatively influences the creation of amino acids, whereas feeling good positively influences it.

Essentially, I believe that planners can help people with ADHD by encouraging confidence, positivity, calm, and clarity.

(Also of note: The production of amino acids is also affected by things like diet and sleep. But since these aren't relevant to this post, I'll save this for another time.)

A summary of what your planner should and shouldn't do

Planners should:

  • encourage positivity
  • support challenges with memory, following steps, and prioritization.
  • skip the fluff and things that aren't priority
  • be flexible

Shouldn't

  • annoy us
  • frustrate us
  • confuse us
  • waste our time
  • overwhelm us

I can't promise that my planners are perfect or will help everyone, but I do focus on making them as helpful, simple, and flexible as possible in order to promote a positive state of mind.

What Now?

Do a little Marie Kondo'ing and get rid of your old planners that don't spark joy. For example:

  1. If you have any used or unused planners that include any of these 5 things (or anything else that you find unhelpful), bring them to the goodwill or throw them out. And don't forget to thank them for trying to help.

Then ... Grab a daily planner or planning bundle designed for ADHD entrepreneurs - like mine!

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