First, what is an ADHD Tech Stack? Simply put, it’s a collection of apps and devices that helps you to stay on top of your commitments, goals, and tasks.
A few weeks ago, Jaclyn Paul explained the genesis of her new book. Creating Order from ADHD-Fueled Chaos. As she points out—and as I’ve long observed—the first step comes with recognizing the pain that disorganization is causing us or our loved ones. The next step: Adopting a meaningful philosophy of life that guides all future actions. Of course, discovering the role that ADHD has been playing in disorganization points you to more workable solutions.
Now, we hear from Andie Katschthaler, another woman with late-diagnosis ADHD, about creating order with digital assistance—aka, her ADHD Tech Stack. Enjoy!
Staying Organised — My ADHD Tech Stack
By Andie Katschthaler
Shortly after getting into the #NeurodiverseSquad hashtag on Twitter, I noticed that a lot of folks struggled with getting and staying organized. For example, one of the biggest organizational struggles many ADHDers have is forgetting appointments. But I’ve not forgotten an appointment in the past eight years or so.
I have also successfully been running my own business as a copywriter and consultant for five years. I get my taxes done in time. I pay all my bills on time. I juggle work, a very active dog, a relationship, and my share of household tasks.
In great part, this is thanks to an intricate system of organization, which leans heavily on some very helpful digital tools. So I decided to write a Twitter thread about it (which you can find here, in case you prefer consuming information that way) to share it with other ADHDers.
I’ll first tell you a bit about my personal background and ADHD diagnosis, before tackling each of the tools I use to keep my life from plunging into chaos.
First: About Me and ADHD
I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 27, after a lifetime of struggling without realizing I was struggling. I always did well in school and even ended up at a school for “gifted kids”.
I was physically hyperactive and told to “just sit still” a lot. And I struggled to do things I didn’t enjoy, which was interpreted as procrastinating and not being organized.
Yet, somehow, I did well in school and graduated with honors. I began to struggle more in university, as it required more self-motivation than I could muster for academic subjects. Today, I know I am not made for academia. Back then, I just felt incredibly useless. However, I did make it through and graduated, by the skin of my teeth. But the whole thing, especially writing my thesis, took a huge toll on my mental health.
Diagnosis and Medication
After my dad died suddenly in 2010, everything came to a head. I was struggling with grief, I felt burnt out, incapable of doing anything. After getting some bogus diagnoses from a fairly useless psychiatrist, I finally ended up with an expert on Adult ADHD, who diagnosed me and got me sorted.
It turned out, I ticked every single box on the DSM-V ADHD test. 100 percent. I literally have all the symptoms of ADHD. However, I seem to have each of them fairly mildly.
I started on Ritalin and took a Ritalin/Concerta combo for a while. But Concerta gave me some rather annoying comedown symptoms, so I eventually switched to Medikinet. I’ve been on a combination of short-acting and extended-release Medikinet since, I think, 2014. [Note to non-UK readers: Medikinet is a methylphenidate stimulant.]
There’s More Than One Secret to My Success
Disclaimer #1: I wouldn’t be this functional or organized without meds.
Disclaimer #2: I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am doing if I hadn’t gone to therapy.
Disclaimer #3: I have an extremely supportive partner who read all the books about ADHD (including Gina’s!) and learned how to help me and our relationship.
A bit of an organizational expert, my wife also helped me get organized. Like many of us, I have always tended towards organization, I just didn’t know how to do it. With her initial help and years of fine-tuning, I have arrived at the system I currently have in place: my ADHD Tech Stack.
The system is not fixed; it can change. Sometimes I discover new tools that I try. Some work, some don’t. Sometimes things that used to work stop working for me. The system changes. That’s okay.
My ADHD Tech Stack: The Details
In my business, I work mostly with tech companies, and I have always had an affinity towards digital tools as well. So I named my thread #ADHDTechStack after the different software and tools that make up the “tech stack” of a company.
First off, everyone is different, but I find digital tools more helpful than handwritten stuff because it is much harder to misplace something that is in the cloud. I always have my phone on me, so I always have my organized self with me.
If digital is your preference as well, learn how to evaluate tools for your own needs. Sometimes, you can discard a tool right away when you check out the features on the website. Other times you have to try it out for a few days or weeks to find out if it works for you.
I like SaaS (Software as a Service) because it usually means I can use it on whatever platform I’m on (I have a Mac and an Android phone). Most tools also have either a freemium version or free trial to help you figure out if they work for you.
The basic idea is that I use these various tools to keep things out of my head. The less I have to remember, the bigger the chance is that I will remember some things.
Let’s start with my tools for personal use.
Scheduling and Appointments
Tools: Google Calendar on Android, Fantastical 2 on MacOS
I have a personal calendar, a work one, and one shared with my partner. I use Google Calendar on my phone and Flexibit’s app Fantastical 2 on my Mac. They are always synced, which took a while to set up but now it works.
I never forget an appointment, and I can set reminders if I need to. The key? I put everything in there, no matter how ridiculous it might feel — meetings with friends, doctor’s appointments, the dog food delivery, even the time when my friend who visits us takes her train. Birthdays sync to my calendar from my Google Contacts
Tools: Google Contacts, Contacts on MacOS (synced via iCloud)
If we meet and you give me your phone number or email address I will ask you for your last name so I can properly save you in my contacts. Is it awkward? Hell, yeah. But it keeps me from having random first names in my contacts that I can’t place years from now. Jennifer? What Jennifer? Who is this person?
Whenever asking for a last name is just too weird, I instead put a note on the contact telling me either where we met or why I put them in there. Jennifer (martial arts teacher) is infinitely more helpful than just a name without info.
Google Contacts syncs from my phone to my Mac Contacts using iCloud (if I remember correctly, it’s been a while since I set it up), and vice versa. So I can add contacts both on my phone and on my Mac, and they’ll be available everywhere.
Task Management and Daily Planning
Todoist (disclaimer: I just used my referral link) is my to-do list, aka my second brain.
It holds all my tasks in various categories (work, personal, admin, a shared project with my partner, etc.). Everything I don’t do right away goes into my Todoist, that’s the basic rule. Tasks are dated, tagged with a category/project and sometimes prioritized. Since I plug in pretty much everything, including “dye hair”, I can usually tell how full my day will be when scheduling new tasks. This helps curb overscheduling. It’s also nice to tick things off, even if it’s just because you dyed your hair or trimmed your fingernails. 🙂
When I think of something I need to do today, I’ll just use my phone to put in a task. I also have the app on my MacBook.
I do postpone tasks to other days, sometimes even for weeks (I seem almost never to get around to actually coloring my hair, for example). But I refuse to feel shame about that. The task is safe in my Todoist, so it won’t ever get lost. We all need to indulge in a little bit of executive dysfunction at times.
I happily pay for Todoist Premium because I like the features I get for it. However, you can get really far with the free version as well. When times were tough, I absolutely made do with the free version.
Tools: Gmail on Android, Airmail on MacOS
First off, I don’t usually have inbox zero, but I do try to keep my inbox temporary. I almost always deal with emails immediately (reply, delete, file away) or turn them into tasks, which I plug into Todoist. When I add a task for an email, I get to archive the email because I can easily pull it up when I’m tackling that task.
Email folders tie to tasks. For example, I have a folder in my Airmail app that I check every Monday as part of my work, with a task in Todoist reminding me to do just that. Newsletters I subscribe to for work are filtered directly into this folder as well.
My inbox is generally only 10 emails deep, and most of that is Humble Bundles that I haven’t had time to look into yet.
I also use snooze to postpone emails, e.g. if an email comes in on my days off, I snooze it until my next workday. Both Airmail and Gmail, which I use on my phone, have this function.
Airmail syncs with my Gmail accounts; it makes it easier for me to handle multiple email accounts (personal, work, my mental health project, etc.). And, I like how the folders work there.
Medication Reminders and Alarms
Tools: Medisafe on Android, Android alarm app
A dual strategy works for me: 1) a medication reminder app and 2) alarms on my phone to remind me to take my meds.
The upside of an alarm? It’s harder to ignore than a medication reminder. Yet, with a medication reminder app (I use Medisafe), you can tick off your meds.
Not sure if you already took your meds? That happens for me, too, especially on bad days.
Meal Planning and Quick Notes
Tools: Google Keep
Google Keep serves as my repository for various temporary bits (like jotting down a draft of the original Twitter thread for this post) and filing info away that I’ll possibly need later.
Tip: Pull up Keep when jotting down notes during a phone call—highly recommended.
My wife and I also use Keep for our weekly meal planning which we do on Fridays since we go shopping on Saturday. Then we need only check the next day’s plan and cook it. We do move things around or skip things and order pizza etc. It’s not set in stone, but it helps.
Shopping Lists and Other Lists
Tools: Google Shopping List, Google Home
When making our meal plan, we put what we need into our shared Google shopping list, which I keep a link to on my phone’s home screen. Our Google Home can also add items to this list, which is practical when you’ve got your hands full in the kitchen and notice you’re running low on garlic. “Hey, Google! Add garlic to the shopping list!”
This might not be everyone’s thing, obviously, but we currently have a Google Home in all our living areas which makes things a lot easier.
We also have other shared shopping lists, from our “Brexit stockpiling list” to travel packing lists to our list for items to bring back whenever we’re back at home in Austria.
Saving Information for Later (articles, ideas, recipes, etc.)
Tools: Evernote, Copy Me That, Pocket
Evernote, Copymethat and Pocket are all services I can easily clip links and info to from either my phone or my browser.
Evernote is a bit of a legacy thing for me, but I can’t quite let it go. It holds my recipe collection from food blogs. But also various folders for creative writing and storing research. For example, we stored all our “we’re moving to the UK” research in Evernote.
I’ve recently started using Copy Me That for recipes. I like the features, but haven’t yet transferred all content from Evernote.
Pocket is where unread articles go. Unfortunately, they most often stay unread, but that’s simply because I never take the time to sit down with it. Not Pocket’s fault!
So, for years, I didn’t think I’d need a password manager but I’ve been using RememBear for a bit more than a year now and I love it! It holds all my passwords safely and securely, and I can also add secure notes for other sensitive information. Plus, its branding is really adorable too.
A Word on Messaging Tools
That’s it for my #ADHDTechStack. I haven’t mentioned communication tools because they obviously vary per person. I use Slack a lot. My main client uses it, but my wife and I also have a personal Slack, as well as a Slack we use to stay in touch with one of our best friends.
Whether it’s Slack, FB Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter DMs, Telegram, etc., the hard part is always when messages have to turn into tasks because then you have to act. And if you don’t act, they’re easily forgotten.
Depending on the app and situation, I’ll do one of the following:
• Share tasks to Todoist or input them manually.
• Send myself an email which I will then work through when dealing with my inbox
• Set myself a reminder, e.g. in slack, you can ask Slackbot to remind you of a task a certain time later. I usually set this time for when I know I’ll be back at my computer and working and then I can process it further.
Organizing yourself may come easy to you or not. If it’s hard, get help from someone who is supportive and happy to read up and help you figure out what works for YOU. If people make fun of you for being over-organized — let them. They’re probably just jealous.
Q & A on My ADHD Tech Stack
Here are a few questions that came up on Twitter:
Q: How do you manage Todoist/email when you get behind?
A: I take 15 minutes or so to go through everything and sort it. I bin unimportant stuff, do the quickly-done important stuff gets, and move the important stuff that needs more work to the to-do list for the following days.
Q: How do you handle long-term goals?
A: I’m actually really bad at this. I’ve been looking for the right tool for this but haven’t found it yet. I tried Basecamp, Asana, and whatever else I came across. Nothing worked. The only thing I can do is break down the next few steps (perhaps on paper) and then add those smaller bits to Todoist as tasks.
Q: How do you do email as a concept? Do you only allow yourself to check it at certain times of the day?
A: I have notifications for emails on my Mac and phone. Both give me a preview. I tend to look immediately and deal with quick things right away if I can, even if it’s just deleting. If I’m busy with something else, I acknowledge and leave unread and deal with it after my main work. I have a daily Todoist routine task at 5 pm that says “check emails for tasks”, and I work through everything else then. However, I don’t tend to get massive amounts of emails, so it’s not a huge pain point for me anyway.
If you have any questions, feel free to tweet to me. I’m @thegrumpygirl on Twitter. And, please, share your own organising methods using #ADHDTechStack!
• Google Calendar (any platform)
• Fantastical 2 (MacOS)
• Todoist (any platform)
• Gmail (any platform)
• Airmail (MacOS, iOS)
• Google Contacts (Android)
• Medisafe (Android, iOS)
• Google Keep (any platform)
• Google Shopping List (any platform)
• Google Home (hardware)
• Evernote (any platform)
• Copy Me That (any platform)
• Pocket (any platform)
• RememBear (any platform)
About the Author
Andie Katschthaler is a self-employed copywriter and startup consultant. She’s interested in (possibly too) many different things, one of which is advocating for better awareness of mental health challenges and getting people to stop using ableist language.
Andie is originally from Austria but now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with wife Finn and Australian Shepherd Nomi.