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Do You Make To Do Lists But Then Don’t Follow Them?

Posted on February 23, 2015


While I’m on vacation, please enjoy this article, written by guest author, Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed. Read more about Ariane at the end of the article.


Do You Make To Do Lists But Then Don’t Follow Them?


If you are like the hundreds of people who tell me they make lots of lists, but have difficulty following them or even finding them, you are not alone!

Difficulty following lists is very common among people with a creative or right-brain dominant personality style as well as with ADDers. In addition, people with certain kinds of brain injuries or head injuries may find it easy to “make” lists, but have much trouble “following” lists. There are many psychological, neurological, learning style, sensory, and even genetic reasons why some people are not good at “following” written instructions of any kind, including their own lists!

I’m going to spare you the theories, but promise me you’ll stopping beating yourself up! It’s not that you are lazy or procrastinating…it’s how you are wired. So let’s accept it and work with it. Even though it’s not easy for you…there are some tricks to making your lists easier to follow.

Here’s the thing about making lists. Writing itself is a very effective way to clarify what’s on your mind, process information and enhance your ability to remember things. So there is a good reason to keep on making your lists! They help you:

  • Remember things better (just like taking notes)
  • Slow down your brain to the speed of writing so that you can think more clearly and get your ideas out.
  • Articulate your ideas.
  • Reduce your fear that you will forget the items

Before we look at ways to make lists easier to follow… let’s look as some of the things that make them more difficult to follow. Lists may be harder to follow if:

  • There are too many items on it
  • Handwriting isn’t clear or the lettering is not big enough
  • You use light colored ink or pencil
  • The paper used is colored and does not provide a high contrast with the ink used
  • Action items aren’t listed in order of priority and you have to scan the whole list to decide which things to do next.
  • Item don’t list all the information you need to act on it, e.g. for some people, if they don’t write the phone number and have to hunt it down, they will skip write over that item on the list.
  • The spacing between the items is too close.
  • More than a day or 2 goes by before you look at it again (particularly if you have ADD, the list may lose all sense of urgency)
  • You have any kind of reading or vision difficulties such as a mild dyslexia
  • You are stressed when you look at the list
  • You have lots of other ideas going through your head when you look at
  • The items are so brief that you forget what was actually meant. For example, I have seen many examples of people writing things like “Call Doctor” and then forgetting which doctor and why.

There are many more items I could add, but I think you get the idea. Everyone is different in terms of what works best for them, but here are some tips that might help you make your lists easier to “follow”.

  • Limit the items to 4 – 6 short items on them
  • Use very clear large lettering, I use a black Sharpie for lists I really need to follow
  • Put lots of space between items. This makes it easier for your brain to focus on one item at a time.
  • Put a little box or circle in front of each item so that you can check it off when you are done
  • Put high priority items at the top, lower priority in the bottom half of the list.
  • Use color or other visual cues to help you highlight the highest priority items: e.g., highlighters or my personal fave is to draw “clouds” or “bubbles” around the most important things.
  • Use brightly colored paper with high contrast to your ink.
  • Use a TO DO notebook that is ONLY for Action Items. Put a removeable tab or post-it on pages with open items in your notebook.
  • Don’t mix things you would “like to do” with things that you really “will or must do”. One trick I’ve used is to turn the notebook upside down and use the back of the book to capture “brainstorms” and “ideas” or use a separate notebook all together.
  • Some people need “novelty” to help stimulate their brain to pay attention to their lists, so using different color paper and highlighters may be effective. So if you are the types that likes trying out new ways to make your lists, have fun with it, but be aware that if you try lots of complicated software to do lists you are probably wasting a ton of time learning and setting up new ways to do your lists. Try to restrain your “novelty needs” to simple, easy changes.


Alternatives to linear lists and paper may also help you follow lists better. I use different methods for different kinds of lists. Some of the tools I use:

  • Digital Recorder
  • Calling in to my Voice mail
  • White boards (I have a couple small ones that I use like pads of paper, and one on the wall fo rwhen I need to move around to think/)
  • Mind Mapping
  • Flip Chart that I hang on a nail on my office door
  • Post-it Flip Charts that I hang on my wall.
  • Magnetic pads for my refrigerator
  • Chalkboard in the kitchen

You may need to experiment with alternate ways to find the best way for you to make your lists, and you may need different kinds of lists for different things. Some people need to stick to one kind of list, others need the diversity.

Give yourself permission to play and experiment till you find methods that not only attract you but are easy to read and follow later. Another option is to just give yourself permission to make lists with the intention of helping you get things off your mind without the expectation that you have to follow them! If they helped you remember, and you did the action item without looking at your list. That’s good enough.

© 2008 Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed.

Would you like to simplify your life and get more organized? Get lots more organizing tips at plus get her free e-book, 100 Ways to Organize Your Busy Life!

Ariane Benefit is an organizing expert, author and coach who has been quoted in Psychology Today, the Wall Street Journal, and more. Visit her popular Neat & Simple Living Blog at

Ariane has over 25 years experience helping businesses and individuals get the results they want. Take a peek inside her book, Neat & Simple Guide to Organizing Your Office at


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15 Time Management Tips for Adults With ADHD

Posted on February 10, 2015

Woman waking up Late



By guest author, Cassandra Greene. Cassandra is author of the eBook “How to Conquer ADD“. Check out her blog for more great tips and information at

An adult who has ADHD tends to be impulsive and restless. At times they may have a difficult time paying attention. ADHD can make time management quite hard. Some of the symptoms of adult ADHD can mean that you are not aware of time passing, predicting how long a task will take, monitoring your work and making adjustments. If you have adult ADHD, here are some tips on how to manage your time better.

  1. Create a New To Do List Each Day

Every morning you should make a list of the things that you want to accomplish for the day. Make sure that you keep your list realistic so that you have a better chance of getting to each thing. Your tasks should be arranged in order of importance. Each task should be assigned a specific time of the day. As you complete each task mark it off.

  1. Check Your Planner 3 Times Each Day

Having too much to remember is a problem for everyone, but can especially be difficult for adults with ADHD. Make it a habit to put each of your activities and appointments on your calendar. You can use a smartphone app, a day planner, or a regular desk calendar. Keep the calendar in one spot and make sure that you check it at least 3 times each day. Make it a habit to check it during the same times every day.

  1. Organize Each Room in your Home

Take on one room of your house at a time and begin organizing it. Start with the easiest room and do not become overwhelmed by “getting organized.” Organization time should be scheduled into your planner and use a timer in order to manage each work session. Start out by putting things where they go and throwing out anything that you do not need. When going through items have a keep and toss pile as well as a separate box for items that you want to go through later.

  1. Create Daily Organizational Habits

Do not think of becoming organized as cleaning up. Instead, think of it as a plan. If you keep any items they should have a place to go. Every day schedule ten minutes to pick up and return your things to where they belong. If you take something out, put it back. Keep mislaid items and papers in a box and go through this at the end of each day.

  1. Create a Rotating Menu

Menu planning may be a bit difficult. To overcome this and better manage your time create a list of 10 dinners or a regular rotating menu for dishes that can be easily cooked. Try to keep the ingredients for each of the menus on hand or list the necessary ingredients on index cards that can be taken with you to the grocery store. Keep a “free” night on your schedule so that you can order carry out or share the cooking responsibilities with other members of the household.

  1. Create a Mail Routine

Create a system for sorting your mail each day. A special area for important mail such as bills, bank statements, etc. should be created. Plan a set time each week to sort through the mail to file important documents where they need to go.

  1. Create a Budget

People with ADHD often have difficulty managing money. One of the reasons for this is impulse buying. Take an electronic device or notepad with you when you are shopping to write down everything that you spend. Knowing what you spend each month and what you spend it on will help you better manage your money.

  1. Electronic Reminders

Forgetting your medication, meetings, deadlines or any of your other responsibilities is common for adults with ADHD and can create problems in both your work and social life. One way to help you remember is to set electronic reminders for your events. You can set your smartphone or computer to alert you 5, 10, or 15 minutes before each event on your calendar to help you stay on top of things.

  1. Work Distractions

One of the biggest challenges for adults with ADHD is work distractions. There are several strategies that you can implement to help you better manage your time at work. First, turn your phone off and schedule set times to check your voicemail each day. At work, ask for a cubicle or office that is quiet. If possible use a white noise machine or headphones to drown out all of the other sounds at work. Finally, work on a single task at a time.

10. Fighting Boredom

 One of the many problems for adults with ADHD is that they get bored easily. This is especially true when completing routine tasks. One of the ways to help you save time and meet your deadlines is to break up some of your larger tasks into smaller ones. After you complete a small task, take a small walk, even if it is just to the bathroom at work and back. When attending meetings, make sure to take notes to help alleviate boredom.

11. Take on Fewer Tasks

Simplifying your surroundings will help you keep better track of your belongings. It will also help to remove some of the distractions that may keep you from focusing. This can work for your schedule as well. Do not start a new project until you have completed the one that you are working on. Do not overschedule yourself by taking on too many tasks at one time. In order to stay focused you may need to practice saying no to any new tasks.

12. Exercise

 Studies have shown that getting regular exercise may help a person with ADHD better manage their symptoms. The movement can help you channel some of your extra energy. Karate and Yoga are great choices for adults with ADHD because they provide the opportunity to memorize movements.

13. Set 15 Minute Blocks for Tasks

If you are struggling to start a project try setting a timer for fifteen minutes. During this time you focus on that single task. When the time expires you can decide if you can go for 15 more minutes. If you can focus and go on, reset the timer. Keep resetting the timer for 15 minute intervals until you can no longer focus. When you can no longer do anymore, try again later in the day.

14. Color Coding

One of the best ways to save time and to help you be better organized is to use color coding. You can color code notes, folders, and files. In your planner, use different colors to highlight different areas of your life such as work, family commitments, and dates with friends, and appointments.

15Use your To Do Lists as a Guide

 Look over your to do lists. Are there a lot of unfinished tasks? Why? Did you try to complete too much at once? Did you commit to too much? Did distractions keep you from completing your tasks? Use this knowledge to help you create new to do lists in the future. These lists can also help you come up with different ways to work more efficiently in the future.


Want more help? Join the Queens of Distraction so I, along with your fellow Queens, can help you stay on track all while cheering you on and offering support and strategies: .


Penny Williams Reviews The Queen of Distraction

Posted on February 04, 2015



Thanks, Penny Williams, author of Boy Without Instructions, and What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD for your great review of my book, The Queen of Distraction.

Read it HERE.