ADHD To Do Lists

The Never Ending ADHD To Do List

 We’ve all been there, waking up on a busy Monday morning and sitting down to write a task list of all the stuff that needs to happen that week. But let’s be honest; how often does this list actually support us in getting things done? We all know that most adults thrive on schedules and lists, but those of us with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) sometimes need to find other ways of remembering to do all the things on our lists. Let’s find out how.

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Lisa Batten

Clinical Researcher, Writer, and Consultant

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Organizing daily activities and schedules for adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be pretty tricky 📅. Sometimes, there are so many things to do that we end up forgetting about them later, which leads to feelings of guilt. The ADHD brain 🧠 is often clouded by hyperactive thoughts and impulsive behavior, making it challenging to fulfill our responsibilities.

Routine chores such as cleaning the home, doing laundry, or handling mail can become mundane and boring, causing us to feel overwhelmed and quickly abandon essential responsibilities. However, these activities are crucial for living our best life. 💪.

To make things more systematic and organized in our daily lives, we must find ways to stay focused on each task and avoid getting distracted by other things. One helpful tool for doing this is designing a personalized ADHD To-Do List. This list can help us prioritize responsibilities and write things down in order to keep track of what needs to be done. Essentially, lists can increase our chances of staying on track and being more productive. 👏🏻

What is an ADHD To-Do List?

An ADHD to-do list is not too dissimilar from a regular list. However, there is a significant difference in how these lists appear and function. 

While a neurotypical person's list is often concise and manageable, an ADHD list may seem never-ending. This is because we tend to overthink and pressure themselves to achieve perfection. 😠

For example, here's a simple list with three tasks, which might be easy to achieve for some. However, for most adults with ADHD, this list is rarely straightforward. We often find it challenging to trust plain and simple lists because they tend to grow and accumulate more responsibilities over time. 😨

Many individuals with ADHD often avoid adding too many tasks due to the fear of feeling overwhelmed. They may be afraid of being unable to perform well, which can lead to discouragement and disappointment.

Despite starting with basic and essential daily responsibilities, individuals with ADHD tend to get easily distracted by other things. Consequently, some things don't get done, and new tasks pile up. This cycle can make it challenging to maintain focus and productivity throughout the day. 

When Writing Lists Becomes Overwhelming

In all fairness, designing a list is helpful for neurodiverse brains, as it allows us to manage our responsibilities effectively and reminds us of what needs to be done at any given moment. These written notes are crucial in helping us stay on track over time. However, listing everything all at once can be too intense for an ADHD brain😵. Trying to create one big list by writing down all to-dos simultaneously can overwhelm our minds and hinder our ability to accomplish our goals.

For instance, we might schedule a doctor's appointment three days before. However, once added to our list, it may expand into multiple subtasks such as 1) confirming the appointment, 2) compiling laboratory test results and prescriptions, and 3) listing down questions for the doctor. Realizing that this seemingly simple appointment consist of even more responsibilities can be overwhelming, and we may cancel the appointment altogether 😨.

Individuals with ADHD often struggle with the constant feeling of having little control over their thoughts. Our minds are frequently occupied with thoughts about other responsibilities, making it difficult to focus on a single activity.

While ADHD can sometimes enable hyperfocus and excellent task completion, there are also moments when it's challenging to concentrate on one task. Additionally, many of us experience time blindness - this can lead to forgetting important due dates despite setting reminders 📅.

The Key To Getting Things Done: Work With Your Brain, Not Against It!

But here's the secret: to-do lists can do wonders for our ADHD brains when we find ways to tailor them to our needs  🙌. As we tend to overthink and put too much pressure on ourselves to achieve perfection, we must approach using a list creatively.

One challenge we face is the tendency to overthink when creating a list of to-dos. Our ADHD brains may generate numerous errands for the day, making us feel overwhelmed and doubtful about completing everything on time. 🤯 Constantly thinking about what else to include, focusing on the urgency of responsibilities, and analyzing whether something is essential for the day can make writing a simple list challenging.

This 'analysis paralysis' can consume time, energy, and mental capacity as we debate whether a specific task should be on the list 🤔. Given that our ADHD minds are already prone to anxiety, we can get trapped in this cycle before we have even begun to attempt ticking things off.

It's crucial to be mindful of our tendencies to overthink and analyze excessively and, instead, focus on listing the most critical and manageable objectives for the day. Keeping the list concise and realistic can reduce overwhelm and increase the likelihood of completing our goals successfully. 👍

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How To Create To-Do Lists That Work For You, Not Against You

Creating a list 📝 is helpful as it keeps us on track with everything we need to take care of each day, over a week, or even a month. It can enable us to make decisions more efficiently and give us structure and routine. 

When we have a list tailored to the unique way our brain is wired, we learn to work with our ADHD rather than against it. 💪

Check out these handy tips to help you create a list that suits your unique ADHD needs. 👇

Be Kind to Yourself

It's essential not to be too hard on yourself when using a list. Understand that it's okay not to accomplish everything at once. Instead, forgive yourself on bad days and give yourself permission to start fresh without feeling overwhelmed by perfectionism. 

Set Achievable Goals

When creating your to-do list, focus on setting achievable goals. Make a list of activities that you realistically have the capacity to complete within a given time frame. Limit your list to 5-7 manageable items to prevent feeling disappointed or overwhelmed by a lengthy list. 

Having a designated 'buffer' day each week can be highly beneficial. Consider keeping Fridays free, for instance, to complete any unfinished errands from the week. This approach eases the pressure and allows for unforeseen changes that might affect your productivity, like illness, emergencies, or simply having a bad day. Having this buffer day ensures you have the flexibility to stay on track and reach your goals.

Break Tasks Down

To achieve goals, divide them down into smaller, more manageable steps. This approach helps reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and allows you to tackle one part at a time. Similarly, for complex tasks, divide them into smaller portions to simplify the process.

Sharing some of these smaller responsibilities with another person can be incredibly beneficial. For instance, if you have a major spring cleaning of the house ahead, list every small action needed for each room. You may find certain activities within each room more rewarding. Involving another person in the process can help decide which actions you will handle and which ones they will take on. 

Remember, you don't have to do everything on your own; it's perfectly okay to ask for help. Collaborating with someone else can make the workload more manageable and enjoyable.

Start with Small Steps

Starting your day with small, easy activities is a fantastic strategy. It builds momentum and provides an early sense of accomplishment, boosting your confidence and motivation. Try setting specific time frames for tasks to maintain a productive pace throughout the day. If you struggle to remember to eat breakfast or take a shower, place them at the top of your to-do list. 

By ticking off these essential activities before attempting more complex ones, you'll give yourself the best possible start to the day. This approach sets a positive tone and prepares you to tackle more significant challenges with a clearer and more focused mind.

Prioritize and Schedule

When crafting your to-do list, it's crucial to identify high-priority tasks and designate them as priorities. Focusing on these responsibilities first ensures that critical responsibilities are completed on time. Having one 'essential' task per day can be incredibly beneficial. This task becomes your priority, and regardless of how many other things are completed that day, as long as this one thing is done, you know you're on track. 

This approach provides focus and clarity, preventing you from feeling overwhelmed by an extensive to-do list. By accomplishing your essential task, you can feel a sense of achievement and progress, even on days when other jobs might remain unfinished. It simplifies your daily goals and helps you stay on top of your responsibilities while avoiding unnecessary pressure.

Additionally, for individuals with ADHD, adopting time blocking can be remarkably helpful. Time blocking involves setting specific times in your calendar for various activities, such as work, study, eating, or taking breaks. This structured schedule serves as a powerful tool to combat executive functioning challenges such as trouble focusing. Combining time blocking with timers can be especially effective, particularly when facing strict deadlines. 

Timers can help you stay on track, provide a sense of urgency, and even enforce necessary breaks to maintain focus and productivity. The combination of time blocking and timers empowers you to manage your time efficiently and achieve your tasks more effectively.

Keep Your List Visible and Visual

Keep your to-do list in a visible place, such as on your desk or phone's home screen. This constant reminder helps you maintain concentration. Enhance your list's appeal and memorability by adding visuals like color coding or doodles.

Set Reminders 

Overcome time blindness and memory challenges by setting reminders and alerts. Utilize phone alarms, calendar alerts, sticky notes, or digital reminders (such as Alexa or Google) to keep you on track with tasks and appointments. 

Try setting your appointment times in the calendar for when you need to leave instead of when you need to arrive. This way, you can avoid being late by accounting for any possible delays or distractions. It's a simple and practical hack for better time management and less stress.

Reward and Reassess

As you complete tasks, mark them as completed on your list for a sense of accomplishment. Seeing your progress with tick marks motivates you to tackle the remaining tasks. After accomplishing a few tasks, take a short break to do something enjoyable or relaxing, providing a dopamine boost that keeps you motivated. 

At times, a system may work well initially, but over time, it can become less rewarding. When this happens, don't hesitate to explore new and novel strategies for organization. Don't be afraid to switch things up and try out different methods. One week, you might find starting your list with a ‘brain dump’ more helpful. The following week, you may find combining a master list with sticky notes throughout the house more useful. Your brain thrives on what it finds rewarding, so experimenting with new approaches can lead to a more useful and effective system for you. Embrace change and adaptability to discover what works best for your unique needs and preferences.

Seek Help and Learn from Others

Don't hesitate to ask for help from understanding individuals, friends, or family. Their encouragement and assistance can make the task of completing your to-do list feel less daunting. Additionally, engage with online ADHD communities or a trusted ADHD Facebook group to learn from others' experiences and discover new strategies for managing tasks. There are many apps and systems that are useful, it’s just about finding which work best for you.

Share with Your Mental Health Professional

Discuss your challenges and difficulties with a mental health expert or ADHD coach for valuable insights. Seek guidance and support to improve time management and handle tasks effectively. They can also provide assistance with medication management and offer support as you navigate daily responsibilities. Sometimes, a slight adjustment to your medication regime can make a huge difference to your organization abilities.


Living with ADHD can make staying focused and writing things down extremely helpful for remembering important tasks on a daily basis. For most people, the idea of creating a to-do list can feel overwhelming and make them worry about how they will manage all their responsibilities. For example, we may write down an idea to work on a project but then forget or feel unable to stay focused on that task the next day. 

The key to getting organized is finding ways to remind our brains and keep us productive. Tailoring lists to break down big projects into smaller, more manageable steps is one helpful technique. Setting reminders can be useful for remembering important things that we need to do in the future. While it requires making an effort on a daily basis to find and use methods that work with the unique wiring of our brains, the benefit is huge. A personalized list helps us feel in control and reduce the overwhelm. With the right approach, our lists become useful tools that aid our productivity rather than a source of stress. While it takes patience and creativity, we can all find ways to turn our lists from something we worry about into a system we trust to help manage responsibilities and live our best lives.

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ADHD and To Do Lists: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why is it important for people with ADHD to write lists?

Making a list is a useful tool for someone with ADHD because it provides external organization when the brain struggles with internal organization. A list acts as a repository for all the responsibilities and thoughts that can otherwise overwhelm the ADHD mind. It helps compartmentalize everything that needs remembering.

Why does it seem like making a list is also a struggle for some people with ADHD?

While lists aid organization, the process of creating and maintaining a list can be challenging for some with ADHD. Symptoms like procrastination, distraction, and difficulty prioritizing can deter someone from forming a list or following one efficiently. ADHD minds can also get paralyzed by over-listing when less structure may work better.

How can I use an ADHD to-do list to get things done?

To maximize a list's usefulness, break big goals into smaller action steps focused on starting jobs, not finishing them. Schedule and set reminders to stay on track. Make lists visible and review them regularly to adjust as needed. Ask for help maintaining lists. Remember progress, not perfection is the goal. Focus on what gets done, not what doesn't.

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