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Who is the Real Terry Matlen?

Posted on May 20, 2015

Terry Child


Recently, I was reading an article written by a woman on a topic dear to her heart- an area of study she is so passionate about, she made it her life’s work.  It covered a lot of mental health related material that fascinated me, and I learned a lot. I visited her website and after reading more on her topic, clicked on the “About Me” page, wanting to know more about her life and what brought her to study and become an expert in her field. What I found was information on her education, her work experience and just a bit about her family. But what I really wanted to know was more about her. What was it in her history, in her life experiences, that made her want to dedicate her life to her particular studies? I found no clues.

Which got me to thinking. Do you wonder how I got into the field of ADHD? Are you at all curious about the person behind these newsletters, my websites, The Queens of Distraction, my books, etc.? If not, that’s ok! Just toss this in the trash bin and go back to what you were doing. If you are a bit curious, read on.

For what it’s worth, I’ve decided to tell you more about me- my early life, what led me into wanting to learn about ADHD and helping people with ADHD, and what else is behind the Terry Matlen behind the curtain.

Besides learning more about me, I hope this will give you the incentive to open up more to others- even complete strangers, if it’s safe to do so. I think when you do that, it does make you feel more vulnerable, but it also opens up another whole world of ways to not only understand yourself better, but to find new ways of connecting with others. So here goes.


Who is the Real Terry Matlen?


I was born in the 1950s, which makes me old enough to be a grandmother, even a great grandmother. But I am neither. (By the way, my birthday is this Saturday, so feel free to send a Happy Birthday shout-out). I was the second born of three and the only girl. This had its advantages. First, my older brother got to be the guinea pig, so that by the time I came along, most of the mistakes were already made (and hopefully, my parents learned something from them). As the only daughter, I held a special place in the family instead of getting lost, like many “middles” do.

My mother was a gifted tap, ballet and modern jazz dancer and before her marriage to my father, was on her way to becoming a professional. She had her bags packed, ready to move from Detroit to California to break into show business, when she met my dad. At which point, she promptly dropped her suitcase and fell madly in love and subsequently ended her professional career to become a full time wife and mother. To my younger readers, remember that back in those days, that’s what most women did: they put their husband and family’s needs before their own, letting go of their dreams. In my mother’s generation, few women pursued college, let alone a career.

My father came from a family that owned a slew of department stores. His dream was to become a doctor, but that was shot down when he entered the military during WW ll where he became a medic and did something with zeppelins. What he did with those, I don’t know. He was also an actor in the military shows.

Fast forward to my early life. I was a fearful, shy, introverted child with a huge imagination. Unfortunately, the stories I conjured up were always frightening and dark: was that shadow really a killer waiting to grab me by the throat at bedtime? Do I dare swing my feet over the side of the bed, when someone underneath will surely grab me by the ankles and drag me down to my death?

Will I really kill my mother if I step on a crack?

Oh, it went on and on like that for many years. The fears suffocated me until I developed a fear of suffocation. I developed school phobia because I feared if I didn’t stay home, someone would kill my mother or worse, she would leave and never come back.

When I was seven, hypochondriac Terry got violently ill with what the doctor insisted was the stomach flu. I lay in bed for well over a week, unable to eat. As the family story goes, my lips turned blue and the only way my mother could hear my whispered calls for help was if I rang a bell my father rigged up on the wall next to my bed. The doctor berated my mother for constantly calling him, until she screamed on the phone for him to come to the house immediately. Good thing he finally listened, because as it turned out, I had a ruptured appendix and needed emergency surgery.

I survived, of course, only to have my neurotic ol’ self become, well…more neurotic, in part because my mother was not allowed to stay beyond visiting hours and also because I was assigned to a sadistic, mentally unstable nurse who scared the crap out of me.

Being sensitive and easily frightened and overly stimulated, those 10 days in the hospital were horrifying.

Around that time, my dad became jobless when the family business went bankrupt as malls became more popular than mom and pop department stores. He scrambled to make ends meet.

Three years later, when I was ten and he was 43, my father dropped dead in the middle of the night from a probable pulmonary embolism or heart attack, or both. My mom became a widow at age 36. The night he died, my first thought was that I would be taken directly the next morning to an orphanage. Of course, that didn’t happen. But I was given more responsibilities at a young age to help manage the household and help care for my younger brother, 5 years my junior.

What saved us was our creativity. My mother taught dancing for a while. My brothers and I were drawn to playing music. My mother scraped enough money together to buy or rent instruments for us. We all had a safe haven to explore our music. Later, for me, that expanded into art, where I later studied painting as a college student.

In elementary school, I’d always been an excellent student. I don’t know how, as I couldn’t focus on the teacher. In those days, in Detroit, our class sizes averaged in the mid to upper 30s. And often, we had what was called a split section. Half the class was 6 months older and learned entirely different material and at a faster pace. I could not filter out what they were doing in order to focus on my own work. Yet, I got by with all As and Bs (except for handwriting, where I always earned Cs).

We moved to the suburbs when I was in 6th grade and my status as the smart popular kid morphed into the socially backwards “dumb” kid who dressed 10 years behind the times. These suburban kids were children of professionals and light years ahead of me in every possible way. I was lost. I was humiliated, teased, bullied. My self-esteem plummeted. And as the schoolwork was so much more advanced than my previous school, my grades slid straight down into the toilet. I could no longer get by through listening in mini bites. I did not have the attention span to stay connected with the teacher. Plus, I had a full blown anxiety disorder that also prevented me from staying focused. I just wanted the day to end so I could go home and feel safe.

Middle school was a disaster, like it is for most young people, so no need to discuss that. Let’s move right into high school, where I started off as a lost soul wanting desperately to shed my “loser” status. That skin was hard to shed, so I decided to put my efforts in the things that interested me in school, which basically was art. Academically, I was a loser, due to the anxiety and undiagnosed ADHD. And I didn’t care, for I had discovered Mrs. Cowan and her art department and spent every possible minute in her class, learning the mysteries of drawing and painting.

In those days, the kids were in one of three groups: hippy types, greasers, and pre-college preppers. Since I was then a fairly accomplished guitarist with musical friends and had begun to play small local clubs (ok, just a few times, but still..) and was also getting fully involved in art, I fell into the hippy group. Well, sort of. As an introverted outsider of sorts, I had few friends and most of them were also artist types. One of my friends worked in the school office and at the end of my senior year, all of the students’ files contained a letter from the counselor, describing the future paths of the senior students. She told me that mine was stamped: “Not College Material.”


I’ll never forget that.


My mother was too entrenched in making ends meet, that she couldn’t advise me on what to do once I graduated high school. In fact, I didn’t even think about what happened after high school. I only saw a huge blank space that made no sense. Thankfully, a friend’s mother guided me and helped get me into the local city university “on probation”, as I’d have to prove that I could succeed even with a pitiful GPA.

I signed up for some liberal arts classes, avoiding math and science (unaware I most likely had a math disability) and found that I loved English. I chose classes that only held interest to me. Surprisingly, at least to me, I soared. When I was allowed to enroll in my first studio art class, I fell in love with college. And more so, with art and psychology. I earned a degree in Art Education. The idea of teaching appealed to me. Again, in those days, girls weren’t encouraged to explore careers outside of the stereotypical ones. In my forth year, I started student teaching and that’s when my life bottomed out: I HATED it. My (undiagnosed) ADD made it impossible for me to manage a room full of children, scattered everywhere, climbing on desks, throwing things and worse. I had no idea how to tame a classroom. I learned too late that I was not born to be a teacher. I wanted to make art, not teach art.

I graduated with top grades and a teaching certificate but never set foot in a classroom other than to substitute teach in order to earn money. I spent the next two years studying only painting, but became depressed and confused about my future. Few artists can make a living doing what they are passionate about.

Around that time, I met my future husband and fell hopelessly in love. He was in medical school with laser vision on becoming an orthopedic surgeon. And I was floating in indecision, with no idea what to do with my life.

Since I loved psychology classes as an undergrad, I decided I’d go into mental health. But psych classes meant science and math, and those were my weak links. I instead chose social work where I could bypass most of those kinds of classes. It spoke to my strengths, which was writing and working with people. I earned full academic scholarships and completed my MSW degree in 1½ years, then got a job as a therapist, working with young people struggling with severe mental illness.

If you’ve gotten this far, please email me and tell me this wasn’t all for naught, because my intention was not at all to go into such detail about this, but, well…that’s where it landed.


Fast forward. 


My other passion was to become a mom. I loved children (though I hated classrooms) and after seven YEARS of trying to have a child, we realized that wasn’t going to happen. I was terribly depressed. But then I realized that what I really wanted was to be a mother, period. It didn’t matter if I gave birth to a child or not. I wanted to be a mom. And that happened on what was to be one of the happiest days of my life: June 1, 1985, when our daughter was born to another woman who needed us as much as we needed her.

Kate was a precocious child who kept me on my toes both literally and figuratively. Since she was so bright, I had to be “on” all the time, keeping up with her- answering her constant questions, keeping her safe from her somewhat impulsive behaviors, but also keeping up with her physically, as she was unbelievably hyperactive. In those days, I never knew the term ADHD, but when it got to the point where I was worried she’d be in danger by her climbing, jumping and running without a care in the world, I sought out the help of mental health professionals to find out why my girl was so different from my friends’, whose kids could sit in their laps and loved being read to. My girl was swinging off Coke machines.

As it turned out, she didn’t have ADHD- she was labeled “gifted”, so we worked on stimulating her hungry brain.

Then along came baby #2. She made Kate look like acentenarian.  Mackenzie, too, rushed through her milestones earlier than her peers. But then something dreadful happened that turned our world upside down. She had a drastic, life threatening reaction to the MMR vaccine and went into seizures. She was on life support as her brain began swelling from the live virus that was eating away at it. We didn’t know if she’d make it. The doctors put her into a drug-induced coma for 4 days to try and stop the seizures. It worked. She survived. But the toddler we knew and loved was no longer- she became a stranger to us. The illness left her completely impaired. She lost all functioning, including her memory of who I was. Her speech was gone. She couldn’t walk or crawl. She couldn’t even suck from a bottle. 

After three weeks in the hospital, we were finally able to bring her home, though she was unable to even hold her head up on her own. After months and months of therapies and interventions, my little Mackenzie began to show glimpses of progress. She began to move her right arm (the brain damage affected her entire right side and she looked like she’d had a stroke). She learned to move Cheerios on a tray, finally able to sit up in a high chair (with straps holding her up).  She showed even more progress- she began to crawl! At 2 years of age, there was no speech, though, and the neurologist told me we’d have to teach her sign language. I shook my head and said no- she WOULD learn to talk again.

She was now walking! But she couldn’t sleep and I’d have to lie on her body, in her crib, so that she’d stop flailing long enough to have 20-minute naps throughout the night.


It was hell. For her and for us.


But it taught both of us determination. She was a fighter and so was I. And slowly but surely, she began to talk!

By this time, Mackenzie became severely hyperactive, due to the brain injury. With two very active small children, I had to get help in making sure Mackenzie would be safe. It took two adults to look after her and I soon became more than exhausted. Daily visits to various therapists to get Mackenzie better as best we could, took its toll on me. And I still had a preschooler to care for as well.

The stress of all of this made me question my sanity. I couldn’t understand how people could have four children and not go completely nuts. I thought I was losing my mind.

Mackenzie is now in her late 20s and still has residual problems she’ll live with the rest of her life. But she has resiliency.

Years after her initial illness, I continued to fall apart. Then one day, as I was talking on the phone with someone, I realized why I hated the phone so much- I couldn’t hear what the person was saying! I figured my hearing was going, so I went for an evaluation and found my hearing was actually better than most my age.

During this time, I was also trying to learn as much about ADHD as possible, so I could better help and cope with Mackenzie. In those days (late 1980s), little was written on the topic, believe it or not. But I read everything. For some reason I’ll never understand, I found and read a book on adult ADHD- the first that had been written (I believe); it was by Dr. Lynn Weiss. I devoured it, my mouth gaping, as it described my nuclear family- the family I grew up with. I won’t name names, but my family tree is dripping with ADHD, but I didn’t realize that until I read this book.


And then it dawned on me: it described me to a “t.”


That’s when I went to get evaluated for possible adult ADHD and passed with flying colors. Meaning, I had a classic case of inattentive ADHD. The confirmation was liberating: it explained the many difficulties I had growing up (anxiety is often seen with ADHD).

The pieces fit. I went to counseling. I tried medication. My life changed in ways so significant, that not many years later, I decided to dedicate my professional life to helping other adults with ADHD.

I went to conferences. I volunteered. I became the local coordinator for my CHADD chapter. I was offered a spot on the ADDA board of directors and later became its vice-president. I read. And I read some more. With my social work background, I decided to open up a private practice dedicated to working with adult ADHD. That didn’t last long, because my daughter’s needs were too great and she needed me home. Getting calls from her school in the middle of therapy sessions was unfair to my clients, so I shuttered up my practice.

I wasn’t sure how I could continue my professional work. People from all over the world were emailing me, asking for help. Remember, in those days, few professionals understood adult ADD. So I decided to open up a virtual ADD clinic where anyone with a computer could access me and get help. In the year 2000, was born.

Five years later, I wrote my first book, “Survival Tips for Women with ADHD.” I began presenting at large national and international conferences. My second book followed. “The Queen of Distraction” was published October of last year (2014).

I’m still as passionate about my work as I was back in the mid 1990s. I love seeing men and women “wake up” and learn how to put their lives back together again in the context of having an ADHD brain.

Throughout all of these years, I continued to make art and music and have had my paintings shown in galleries locally and out of state. In fact, if you’re curious, you can see some of my work at .

As I look back and read all of this, I’m not quite sure why I chose this topic for my newsletter today, other than my own curiosity about a woman I’d never met but whose writings inspired me. I wanted to know more about her.

I hope knowing a bit about me will inspire you to look more deeply at your own life experiences and learn how those shaped you into the person you are now. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel comfortable in opening up more to others and sharing your strengths, your challenges and offering up more acceptance of yourself.

In the spirit of all this self-disclosure, please do feel free to ask me any questions you might still have about me, my life, my work. Or better, tell me about you! Just post your questions in the Comment section below and I will respond.



7 Tips to Help you Become a Better Listener

Posted on April 20, 2015



Your best friend just came back from Brazil and is eager to share with you all the sights and sounds she encountered on her 10-day trip. She calls you and begins to unwrap all the wonderful experiences she had, like tiny gifts to share, excited to pull you in to her recent adventure.

You’re happy for her, glad she had a fabulous vacation and you try to hear every word she says, from the flight in over the jungle treetops, to the exotic side trips, to the luscious meals she had in this foreign place you know you’ll never get to experience. But something strange happens and it happens often:

After 5 minutes, your attention span flies right out the window- straight to the pretty blue and white bird that’s singing right to you. You catch a word or two, then notice the click click zzzt of the refrigerator in the kitchen. You try and will yourself back in the conversation but before you know it, you’re remembering your clothes sitting in the dryer from 3 hours ago, composing an email in your head…and more.

As much as you want to hear your friend’s story, you are unable to stay connected. What can you do?

ADHD isn’t about a deficit in attention- it’s about having control of your attention. It’s roping it in so you can hear your child’s story about school that day. It’s listening to your partner share a funny story heard at the office. It’s sharing the excitement of your mom’s great find at an antique store. But try as you might, these daily verbal interactions might as well be as invisible as the sound waves themselves.

             How to Stay Connected in a Conversation

             Here are some ideas to help keep your attention during a conversation

  1. Remove obvious distractions when you’re on the phone (turn off the TV, take care of minor chores, etc.). Tell your caller you’ll get back to him as soon as you’ve done that, as you want to be able to concentrate on the conversation.
  1. Keep a notepad near the phone and take notes! Just like in school, writing down major points will help you stay connected. Doodling also helps.
  1. Make sure the conversation is two-sided. Don’t let your caller take over. If that is difficult, ask questions to get more information- that will help you to stay curious.
  1. For in-person conversations, meet at places that are quiet so you don’t get too distracted. Find a cozy corner in a quiet restaurant; position yourself so you’re not looking out the window or into the larger area of the room.
  1. Keep your eyes on the mouth. When we utilize more than one of our senses, we pay better attention. Listening while looking at the person’s mouth helps!
  1. Repeat in your head what you are hearing. That helps to “hook” you in.

       7. Pretend you will be quizzed later.


How about you? What helps you to stay connected when your mind wanders while chatting with someone? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comment section below.





ADHD And Adults: How to Tell if You’re Getting Better

Posted on April 17, 2015

women-with-adhdBy Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Maybe you recently started seeing a new therapist for your ADHD. Or maybe you’re attending therapy for the first time. Maybe you’re taking a different medication. Or you began working with an ADHD coach.

How do you know if you’re actually getting better? How do you know if the treatment is working?

Many of psychotherapist Terry Matlen’s clients don’t know. This isn’t uncommon. “Adults with ADHD often are poor self-observers,” she said.

Continue reading HERE

Terry on the Michelle Skeen Radio Show: Listen to my Podcast on Women with ADHD

Posted on April 16, 2015

Had a wonderful chat/interview with Michelle Skeen on her radio show, where we talked about women with ADHD, as well as my book, The Queen of Distraction. You can listen to it here.



Queen of Distraction 2D

Terry Matlen’s Top 10 ADHD Myth Busters

Posted on April 06, 2015

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It takes a lot to get me angry. Some of the more minor offenses are:

When someone wants to talk to me before 9am

Finding raisins in my food

Telemarketers. Especially when they call before 9am


And then there are the major offenses, which are obvious if you know me or have been reading my newsletters over the last 15 years. These include:

Children with special needs not getting an appropriate education (or any child, for that matter)


Unequal rights


You get the picture.

But last week, an article appeared in Psychology Today, which really riled me up. It’s titled No, There Is no Such Thing as ADHD, written by an M.D who blogs for the magazine. Which of course, gives him a lot of credibility. Even though he’s dead wrong.

Facebook was all aflutter over this, with fellow ADD Myth Busters like myself, screaming at the top of our lungs. Some of us posted comments on the site, only to have them taken down (yes, I’m a rebel and get FURIOUS when I read such unscientific pablum).

So, to sooth my irritability and hoping this gets some attention too (as they say the truth rises to the top), here is my list of common myths that I work hard to debunk. Please feel free to share, especially to those who believe ADHD is a made up condition.

 Terry Matlen’s Top 10 ADHD Myth Busters


1. Myth: ADHD is not a real disorder.

Fact:  The American Psychiatric Society, The Centers for Disease Control, The National Institute of Health and basically all of the scientific organizations and government health agencies recognize ADHD as a true medical disorder. It is listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which is the official mental health “bible” used by psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric and other brain disorders.


2. Myth: Children outgrow their ADHD.

Fact: The great majority of children with ADHD continue to exhibit symptoms of ADHD into adulthood. More than 70% continue to have symptoms of ADHD into adolescence and at least 50% will continue to have it as adults, though many clinicians feel this estimate is low.


3. Myth: All people with ADHD are hyperactive and/or impulsive.

Fact: There are three subtypes of ADHD: a) hyperactivity/impulsivity

b) inattentive c) combined. The inattentive subtype typically does not include hyperactivity/impulsivity.


4. Myth: Medications used for ADHD (stimulants) are highly addictive.

Fact: When used as directed, stimulants are very safe to use in both children and adults. In fact, studies are finding that those diagnosed with ADHD who are not being appropriately treated with medications, often self-medicate using substances that can be addicting.


5. Myth: ADHD is caused by poor or inconsistent parenting.

Fact:  ADHD is a neurobiological condition, often inherited. Parenting children with ADHD can be very challenging, causing much guilt for parents who are unsure how to best handle children who are hyperactive and impulsive. But parenting styles do not cause ADHD.


6. Myth: Sugar causes hyperactivity.

Fact: Earlier studies have debunked that myth, showing that children who seem to become more hyperactive while consuming a lot of sugar are often at parties and at other activities that stimulate them and their activity level. However, there is a small sub-set of children, approximately 1-3% that do seem to have food additive sensitivities.


7. Myth: Children and adults with ADHD have lower IQs.

Fact: People with ADHD do not have lower (or higher) IQs than the general public.


8. Myth: Children with ADHD are over-medicated.

Fact: Though more children are taking stimulants for ADHD than before, researchers believe this is due to clinicians identifying more children with ADHD who have been missed in previous years. In addition, it’s only been in recent years that more girls have been identified as having ADHD and thus receiving treatment for it.


9. Myth: There are fewer girls with ADHD and they are less impaired than boys with ADHD.

Fact: It’s believed that there are as many girls with ADHD as boys, but that they are less frequently identified and treated. Studies show that in some areas, girls with ADHD are more impaired than their male counterparts, in that in addition to their ADHD, they also more likely to struggle with substance abuse, anxiety and panic. Compared to non-ADHD girls, they have an increase in mood and conduct disorders and are more impaired in family, social and school functioning.


10. Myth: ADHD can be cured.

Fact: At this time, there is no cure for ADHD, but it can be well managed through a combination of medication, therapy, coaching, support and education.


What have YOU heard about ADHD that makes you want to scream and land a punch or two? Share your experiences in the Comment section below.


Ready to Spring Clean with the Queen? Join Today at Special Rates!

Posted on March 27, 2015


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The Queens of Distraction 10 Day Spring Cleaning Challenge to Clear out the Cobwebs and the Clutter! Special Rates if you join now!


         We’ll begin the challenge on April 1, so hurry and sign up today!

Huh? What is this all about?

The Queens of Distraction group is about to begin a 10-day challenge to get their homes and lives in order. Each day, we’ll be attacking a specific chore as a group in my private, exclusive Queens of Distraction Facebook. In addition to your membership, you will enjoy all the other activities you get in your Queens of Distraction membership:

Monday: De-clutter/Organizing Assignments

Wednesday: Procrastinator’s Workshop

Thursday: Women with ADHD Chat

…plus 24/7 support and more

Want to get your world in order? Join today at my special Spring rate, then roll up your sleeves and get ready to make your home sparkle. You can choose a 3 or 6 month membership- both include the 10- Day Spring Challenge. 


New members will receive a special gift: my Clutter Crusher Toolkit! Sign up today to become a Queen and get ready for the April 1st Spring Challenge.

(Current Queens are already registered).

Questions? Email me at  

 Register now  at our special Spring rates! But hurry- this won’t last!  





ADHD and Grief

Posted on March 23, 2015



I lost my step-dad a few weeks ago… at the ripe old age of 91. Though his passing was no surprise given his age and many health challenges, I was shocked at how hard it was for me, on many different levels.

From the perspective of ADD, there was only one easy thing about all of this: I didn’t have to decide what to wear to the funeral. Ok, so that might sound funny or insensitive, but it’s true. So let’s move on to some of the ADD related issues that weredifficult. I’m wondering if any of you can relate-

Other than the obvious heartbreak of losing someone close and its effects on the remaining loved ones, I found that I was thrown for a loop in other ways, mainly in the challenge of what I’m calling emotional multitasking. Ok, so I just Googled the term and see I didn’t invent it. Oh well.

They say that people with ADD are good at multitasking. I beg to differ, at least in my case and in many adults I know with ADD: we tend to get overwhelmed and de-railed when too many things hit us at once.

Not only is there a flood of emotional pieces that the griever must work on (the rush of feelings, even when you think you’re prepared; dealing with family members not getting along, working on your own grief while helping others get through theirs…etc.) but there are also the tangible things that have to be taken care of: managing estates, paperwork, belongings…all while having your routine thrown completely off- resulting in feeling, again, de-railed and often lost and confused.

Adults with ADD often feel things deeply. I addressed this in my book, “The Queen of Distraction” but it bears repeating here. Grief, concerns, worry, fear, anxieties- we don’t typically just breeze through any of these or other strong emotions. They leave their tattoos on our soul for weeks, months and often, forever. We’re told to “just get over it”. We’re told that the feelings aren’t normal. But with ADD in the picture (and often times, their not so friendly pals, anxiety and depression), we need to take a different path than our non ADD friends and family and allow ourselves extra time to recover and also to seek out extra comfort and support during life challenges.

How about you? What major changes in your life have thrown you for a loop? How did you get through it?

Please share in the Comment section below.

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 her free e-book let with strategies for “Simplifying your Life” at Ariane has been quoted in Psychology Today, the Wall Street Journal, and Ariane has over 25 years experience helping businesses and individuals cultivate personal growth and enhance performance by learning life-changing skills, attitudes and habits.  Visit her popular Neat & Simple Living Blog 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.