ADHD To Do Lists

Mastering To-Do Lists with an ADHD Mindset

Creating and following through with to-do lists can be challenging for adults with ADHD, due to difficulties with focus, organization, and prioritization. However, well-structured to-do lists can be incredibly beneficial in managing these symptoms. Key strategies include breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps, using clear and specific language, and prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance. Additionally, incorporating regular check-ins and allowing flexibility within the list can help in adapting to the variable nature of ADHD. Effectively utilizing to-do lists can significantly improve task management and productivity for individuals with ADHD.

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Reviewed by

Lisa Batten

PhD in Psychology
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The Unlimited ADHD To-Do Lists

Organizing daily activities and incoming schedules for adults with ADHD can be sometimes tricky 📅. There are times when I have so many things to do, forget about them later, and then feel guilty. An ADHD brain🧠, after all, tends to be clouded by hyperactive thoughts and impulsive behavior that, sometimes, they get nothing done at all.

Our focus most likely shifts to something more interesting when doing routinary chores, like cleaning our home, doing the laundry or opening lots of mails. We often find routine activities boring, which makes us feel overwhelmed and abandon the task quickly. But, the thing is, these tasks are essential for us to maintain a high-quality life💪. 

How do we make things more systematic and organized in our daily activities? What should we consider to stay focused on every task at hand and not get distracted by other things, like the neighbor's cat🐱? One of the most common ADHD tools that can be useful is creating your own ADHD To-Do List.

The Mini ADHD Coach Medical Advisor says: “Every person with ADHD understands the feeling of being paralyzed under the weight of a to-do list. The most effective strategy for overcoming this challenging part of the disorder is to do your best to simplify. Start your day with a very simple and straightforward to-do list that feels underwhelming. Oftentimes, for the ADHD brain, it’s more important to kickstart the “doing” behavior than it is to linger on the “planning” end of things. It will feel counterintuitive to simplify because you are aware of how great you can be. However, working with your gifts and differences as a person with ADHD often means using uncomfortable (and sometimes boring) strategies to gain momentum and propel you forward.

What is an ADHD To-Do List?

An ADHD to-do list is a master list of activities that even neurotypical people use. But, while a neurotypical person’s list often appears concise and  manageable📝, an ADHD to-do list may be never-ending📜. This is because we tend to overthink and put too much pressure on ourselves to get things done perfectly.

ADHD To-do List: What I See

This is an example of a simple list of to-dos. A three-point mark where I write all the things I think I need to do now. The task list may be short and easy to achieve, but for most adults with an ADHD brain, this short list won’t last long. You can never trust plain and simple to-do lists because they tend to grow eventually.

So, why do many people with ADHD start with a short list🤔? 

You see, we tend to avoid things that make us feel overwhelmed. We avoid writing too many tasks on our list because we are sometimes afraid of underperforming, which can then lead to discouragement and disappointment. 

However, even with the basic and essential things to do for the day, we still tend to get distracted by other matters. As a result, tasks remain undone and new tasks follow😅. 

Add This, Add That

In all fairness, making a to-do list is helpful for most people with ADHD and it aids us to manage what we need to do at that designated moment. These written notes allow us to accomplish things and remind us what needs to be done over a course of time. However, listing everything at once can be too intense for an ADHD brain😵. When we write things and tasks all at once to create one big list, our mind gets an overwhelming feeling that might not be helpful in accomplishing these tasks.

What my ADHD brain sees

The brain dump of ideas and thoughts can sometimes be helpful, but other times, it just makes things more complicated🥺. For instance, a simple doctor's appointment on your calendar three days from now may expand to 1) confirm the appointment, 2) compile laboratory tests results and prescriptions, and 3) list down questions to the doctor. Imagine if each task actually consists of three tasks - it can really be overwhelming😨. 

The struggle some people with ADHD experience is the feeling of not being able to control their thoughts. A part of our brain is always thinking about other things we need to do, and it's hard for us to focus on a single task.

The bottom line is, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can sometimes get in the way of accomplishing things😔. Sometimes, it allows us to hyperfocus to succeed in every task written on the list. At other times, it results in trouble focusing on a single task. And of course, it can result in time-blindness because the tasks feel overwhelming. ADHD can also make us worry about activities and forget due dates even though we set reminders for them already📅.

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Touching Up Overthinking and Analysis Paralysis

When we decide that having a to-do list (or a series of sticky notes) can significantly improve our schedule or organization skills, we need to find ways to make it work for us🙌. Since we tend to overthink and put too much pressure on ourselves to make things perfect, we must be creative in using a to-do list to our advantage. 

One problem we need to look into is overthinking every time we decide to make a list of things to do. For instance, our ADHD brain can think of numerous errands for the day, so it may feel like we won't be able to finish everything on time. Thinking endlessly of what else should be considered, focusing on stuff that needs to be done, and analyzing if it's essential to accomplish a task within the day can make it harder on us to produce that simple to-do list.

Analysis Paralysis works the same way, too as it can consume a lot of time, energy, and thinking capacity to figure out if one specific task should be in the list or not🤔. An ADHD mind is sometimes already anxious, so giving the task a closer look can give us more anxiety. One of the sad things about this scenario is that, because of these doubts and analysis paralysis, an important errand may be left forgotten.

Do you get overwhelmed by to do lists too?

Tips for Accomplishing Your To-Do Lists

Making a to-do list 📝 is helpful as it reminds us of everything we need to worry about each day, over a week, or even a month. It can be the key to helping us organize our thoughts and make us more efficient in a day. When we make a to-do list, we tend to be more productive and be able to quickly prioritize things that should be done within that time frame (if you get past the planning stage). And when you complete your list of to-dos, you can yet again gather your strength to plan and strategize for the next set of tasks😘. 

As early as now, congratulations on making your to-do list. But, remember that this might only be the first step toward being productive. You have managed to create your list, but the challenge of finishing them over the course of your planned schedule will still be there.

To better aid you in your journey of conquering the tasks on your sticky notes, here are some ADHD coach tips that can help:

  1. Don't be too hard on yourself. Making a list is a good idea for people with ADHD, but that doesn't mean you should put everything and do them at once.
  2. Create achievable goals. Having a list of tasks beyond your capability can be a source of disappointment because it’s virtually impossible for you to accomplish them all. Additionally, you might get excited about creating a to-do list, but then feel lousy because of the number of items you have written down.
  3. Break down big and complex tasks into manageable chunks. If you are having a hard time doing everything on your list, try splitting them into manageable portions. For example, the idea of doing the laundry might take up most of your schedule, so you can divide them into smaller  tasks like, washing the whites first, folding, etc..
  4. Start with small, easy steps. It can be a lot better to start with small tasks and finish them in a specific time frame. This might also be helpful for us to accomplish the rest of our list. Spending your energy wisely and not overthinking the task can give you better results.
  5. Keep your list in a visible place. Putting your to-do list in an area where you can always see it will most likely remind you that you have pending tasks. Making it visible and noticeable is one of the excellent strategies you can adapt when making your list.
  6. Check off completed tasks. Seeing your list with plenty of tick marks can encourage you to finish the rest of your list. You'll be more likely to achieve your goals when you track the results of your hard work.
  7. Reward yourself for accomplishing tasks. It is always important to pat yourself on the back and acknowledge your accomplishment. Give yourself time to relax, listen to music, or do something you enjoy.
  8. Don't be afraid to ask for help. People who understand you can give you the support you need to make things happen. There are other ways to ask for help, like asking them to check up on you from time to time or give you some words of encouragement.
  9. Ask the community. There are other ways to support the struggle of an ADHD brain. And one of the best ways to manage all difficulties is through learning by example. Join a Facebook group or an ADHD community that tackles how to get things done.
  10. Share your struggles to your mental health professional. They are the expert adults in this field, and maybe having an extra appointment with them can help solve your problems. They are the best person to track your progress if you need more help concerning time management, support, and medication.

The moment we complete the tasks on our checklist, we will feel a sense of accomplishment💪. It will also make us feel more productive. For us with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, creating a to-do list can help us get things done, manage our ADHD symptoms well, and prioritize the overwhelming tasks we need to do daily.

To-do lists make us worry less about forgetting things and give us a sense of control over our environment. It declutters our minds, giving us the space to focus on the task. And finally, it allows us to track our progress and develop strategies to make our life easier. Take note that not everyone's the same, and what works for one person may not work for the other. It is still essential to find what methods work best for you and use them to your advantage😉.

ADHD & To-do Lists

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

 Why is it important for a person with ADHD to make a to-do list?

A to-do list essentially allows you to remember things and organize your thoughts. For people with ADHD - and even neurotypical people - it lays the groundwork of what needs to be accomplished today, this week, or this month.

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

Because overthinking is a common trait among people with ADHD, it’s sometimes impossible to stick to a short, manageable list. As a result, many adults with ADHD create a long list of to-dos. 

What are some ways to make a to-do list work for you?

One way to use to-do lists to your advantage is to break overwhelming goals into manageable tasks. Asking for help from people who support you can also make a huge difference. Also, posting your list in an area always visible to you reduces the possibility of forgetting that the list exists!

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