Adult ADHD / ADD Coaching Strategies

A Simple, ADHD-Friendly To-Do List

From Dana Rayburn, Adult ADD Coach

ADD Success is ADD Coach Dana Rayburn’s monthly newsletter about living successfully with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Welcome to ADD Success!
Many adults with ADHD successfully use a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), such as an iphone or Blackberry, to manage their to-do lists.

If you don’t have a PDA, or choose not to use one, ADHD can make keeping track of the tasks on your to-do list as challenging as climbing Mt. Everest.

Here’s a delightfully easy way to manage a to-do list with no more than a file folder and some Post-it notes. My buddy and fellow ADD Coach, Mary Jane Johnson, thought it up.

Read on for details of Mary Jane’s Plain and Simple To-Do List.

The Plain and Simple ADHD To-Do List
by Mary Jane Johnson, PCC, ACT

The planners on the market today can sometimes be too cumbersome and overwhelming for adults with AD/HD – especially for people initially trying to get better organized. I have devised what I call “The Plain and Simple To-Do List” that can be made up from items most people already have in their homes.

Supplies Needed

  • 1 manila folder (or colored if you prefer)
  • 1 1/2 x 2″ Post-It notes (assorted colors)

Open up the folder and lay it flat on your desk. At the top of the left side write “Ongoing To-Do List.” At the top of the right side write “Daily To-Do List.”

Using the Post-It notes (I buy different colors for variety) start writing items down that you need to do (say over a period of a
week) – only one item per Post-It – and place these Post-Its on the left side of the folder. This is your Ongoing To-Do List that you can add to as you think of things that need to be done.

As you plan each day, take some of the “To Do” items from the left (Ongoing To-Do List) side of the folder and move them to the right
(Daily To-Do List) side of the folder. Line up the Post-Its you have transferred to the right side, in priority order. Think about what you need to do first, second, third, etc.

What is so great about this system is that you can easily change your priorities throughout the day – depending on how things are going – just by switching out Post-Its to different positions on the right side of the folder.

Once each item is complete, remove and discard that Post-It. This process clears your plate for the next day (or some things can be carried over or returned to the ongoing list if necessary). Remember, try to be realistic about how much you can actually accomplish in any one day.

For people who like to see items on their lists disappear to feel success, this is great – just remove items as you complete them! For those who need to see items checked off of their list to feel success, you can move the completed items to the backside of the folder (or onto another piece of paper) where you can look at them at the end of the day and see what has been accomplished.

Once you have become accustomed to using the to-do list in this way, you can customize it to your own personal needs. Here are some suggestions:

Use two separate folders, one for personal, one for work. Or you can do divide your pages in half (horizontally), top half for personal to-dos and bottom half for work to-dos.

Section off your to-do list into “morning” and “afternoon” to-dos.

For things you do on a weekly or monthly basis (i.e., groceries, pay bills, get gas, go to post office, etc.), make up a Post-It for each. Mark off a small section of your ongoing list, write the word “garage” in that space and park those Post-Its in there to be used over again each week or month.

Use different color Post-Its for different categories (i.e. yellow for appointments and meetings, blue for phone calls, green for car errands, etc.), or use different colors for the activities
of other family members (i.e., yellow for Dad, green for Joey, blue for Susie, etc.) Just beware of over-complicating your system.

When running errands on the weekend, use a more portable version of the “plain and simple.” Stick your Post-It notes on the inside (front and back) of an old checkbook cover, fold it up and it is just the right size to stick in your pocket or purse.

This is an easy and inexpensive “Plain and Simple Daily To-Do” system that almost anyone can use. When the folder is closed it looks like any other folder and can be taken with you anywhere you go. This is also a good tool for helping your children with their first To-Do lists.

(c) Mary Jane Johnson, 2005
Mary Jane Johnson, ACT, PCC, is a Professional Certified Coach that works with women who have ADD and are struggling with
organization and time management. She was on the founding board of ADDA (1989) and is currently Vice President of Programming. You can reach Mary Jane by email at

The Last Word In ADD Success

Planners overwhelm me and I don’t like PDAs. That’s why I use the calendar on my computer to manage my appointments. I keep some to-dos on my computer, like the recurring tasks (just today I was reminded to change the oil in my car).

Mary Jane Johnson’s “Plain and Simple To-Do” system helps me manage my projects.

I keep the manila folder (I use green) on the corner of my desk. It’s easy to zip through the Post Its and keep track of what I need to do each day.

Give Mary Jane’s system a try. I hope you find it as helpful as I have!

To Your ADD Success,

PS – Trying to get Organized? Try my Organized for Life program. It’s how I learned to get organized so I stay organized. My ADD Coaching Clients love it, too.