Six Key Management Tools for Adult ADHD: Time, Tasks, and Memories

ADHD management tools

Is that all it takes — six key ADHD  management tools?  Not exactly. But they can create a pivotal foundation.

Highly organized people are made—not born. At least that’s what I’ve observed.  And guess what? Some of the most organized people I know happen to have ADHD.

They definitely weren’t born organized, though. Just the opposite. They struggled for years with managing time, tasks, priorities, and stuff. Then they took that most universal ADHD challenge—chronic disorganization—and overcame it to the point of being models to us all.

Elsewhere on this blog (link below), Jaclyn Paul explained the genesis of her new book, Order From Chaos.  The first step, she says, comes with recognizing the pain that disorganization is causing you or your loved ones. The next step: Adopting a meaningful philosophy of life that guides all future actions.

At the end of this post, you’ll also find a link  from another uber-organized woman with late-diagnosis ADHD. Business owner Tai Katschthaler shares her amazing #ADHDTechStack for handling everything from business appointments to meal planning.

In This Post On Six Key ADHD Management Tools:

I cover these hyperlinked points:

  1. Paper Task Planner/Calendar
  2. Command Center
  3. Charging Station
  4. Pomodoro Technique
  5. Keychain Pill Container
  6. Jar of Successes

But First: What Works for ADHD — Works For Everyone

In this post, I highlight six essential Adult ADHD management tools.  In one way or another, they all support organization — of time, priorities, memories, and stuff. They assist you in building the all-important  environmental supports and “scaffolding” for Executive Functions.  With those in place, you can spend your time doing rather than trying to remember or get started.

People with ADHD especially benefit from these tools. But I believe that everyone navigating this speeded up and highly distracting 21st Century needs help in establishing goals, managing time, and practicing good habits that support our health, our relationships, and our futures.

Hence my motto: “The tools and strategies that work for people with ADHD work for the rest of us, too.” Yes, my friends with ADHD are leading the way.

When it comes to ADHD couple conflict, therapists tend to miss the foundational importance of creating logistical strategies for “getting things done.” This is huge—and a huge component of our Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy™ model.

Key ADHD Management Tools
Tools 4 Wisdom Planner — sample page

1. Paper Task Planner/Calendar

The central, foundational, pivotal Adult ADHD management tool: a planner.

There’s the obvious benefit: remembering appointments and commitments. An electronic calendar can do that, of course.  You might find electronic calendars suit your needs exactly.

For others, especially in the first year into diagnosis and treatment, perhaps consider a paper calendar, even if only as an adjunct to your electronic calendar. That’s because it’s physical. It’s not hidden away in the recesses of your electronic device. You don’t have to remember to go searching for it. You don’t risk getting pulled down into a electronic wormhole on the way. Instead, you can see time. Make it more real.

Of course, setting electronic reminders remains an important strategy, too—on your phone, watch, or calendar. But a paper planner—whether or not you use it to guide you through the day—provides a concrete receptacle for fleshing out your goals, dreams, and desires. In print. Not floating around in your head taking up important bandwidth.

Paper Planner Key Benefits

For example, a paper planner helps you to:

1. Visualize the passage and allocation of time, to make time “real”—no small task for ADHD “Time Blindness.”

2. Tackle “big-project overwhelm”—by allowing you to break down big tasks into smaller ones and schedule over time.

3.  Feel productive—you are physically checking things off! Long after you completed the task, you have a reminder of accomplishment on those days when you feel stuck in spin cycle.

 4. Focus on and track your larger goals and priorities for the year, the month, the week—with special features to help you map it out.

Plenty of Choices

Paper planners have mushroomed in variety and expanded in all kinds of creative directions. You have your pick of sizes, binding, cover designs, categories, and features that help you to break down your goals, consider life balance and priorities, and reflect. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or taken by fanciful designs, so think about your needs before you start shopping.

For example, I was drawn to the Tools for Wisdom line (above). There are various sizes and presentations, including spiral bound.

I picked an 8.5 x 11 and was quite taken with it. Then I realized it just took up too much real estate on my desk. I should have gotten the 5 x 8. Turns out the free calendar-planner from my local paint store suited me perfectly.

The Legend Planner
The Legend Planner: sample page

Among the many other options: this 6 x 9 feature-rich Legend Planner (sample page above).

There is even the Bullet Journal method, where you create a planner in a plain paper book. Several friends who have ADHD swear by this method. Check out Jaclyn Paul’s post:  Personal Organizing Case Study: Bullet Journal Daily Log (video).  Yet, others say they spent too much time designing and decorating!

As with all things ADHD, it boils down to individual preferences. There is no one best ADHD management tool. There are only those that work for you.

Key ADHD Management Tools

2. Command Center

Every home needs a logistical headquarters—a “command center”. This is where you gather the structural supports you need on a daily basis. You’ll find no shortage of inspiration on this Pinterest page:  Family Command Center.

In general, the idea is to dedicate a spot (near the door, preferably) for:

  • Whiteboard – to communicate important messages
  • Family calendar
  • Drop-off/Pick-up point for keys, phones, papers, mail, handbag, kids’ backpacks, library books, outgoing dry-cleaning, etc.

Tip: Before you start looking, write down your most pressing issues in creating a command center. Otherwise, it’s easy to get distracted by the sheer variety and aesthetic appeal!

Key ADHD Management Tools

3. Charging Station

Speaking of command centers, here’s a vital component. Why spend 30 minutes each morning annoying yourself (and everyone else in the house) frantically hunting down your smartwatch, phone, or laptop?  Or, for that matter, risk being left later with a dead battery?

My husband (he’s the one with ADHD in our house) loves this compact model for his home office (above): Bamboo Charging Station with 5 USB Charger Ports,  For the bedroom, he uses this Nightstand Organizer for Men. It accommodates his non-electronic wristwatches, keys, and shirt-collar stays.

Pomodoro Technique for ADHD

4. Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. But you don’t specifically need a tomato timer to employ this technique. Any timer will do.

The idea is simple:  Coax yourself out of procrastination and into a task by setting a time limit. For example, you want to spend  only 10 minutes clearing off your desk. In The Pomodoro Technique, creator Francesco Cirillo details his strategies.  When you’ve reached that 10 minutes, stop!  Otherwise, you’ll never trust not slipping into “hyperfocus” again.

Can’t stand the simplicity of twisting a tomato?  You’ll find a range of  fancier cubes and blocks. For example, the Portable Traveling Timer.

 Key ADHD Management Tools

5. Keychain Pill Container

Remembering to take medication can be a challenge.  While you work on daily reminder strategies, why not keep an emergency stash of medication at the ready!

These waterproof aluminum containers are always a popular choice at my local Adult ADHD group’s holiday party: Ten 2-inch waterproof containers for under $10.

ADHD memory jar

6. Jar of Successes

This is more of a psychological tool, not a physical one. But I find it an essential ADHD management tool nonetheless.

Especially in the early days of diagnosis and treatment, it’s easy to get discouraged. Progress can feel like two steps forward and one step backward—or even three steps backward. Without an active strategy in place, a setback can sink your mood and self-esteem. This paves the way to a pessimistic attitude of “Why try?”

The antidote? Plan for these times. Because they will happen. To all of us.

Jot down successes large or small. For example:   “A student thanked me for understanding her” or “I completed a report in record time!” or “I didn’t honk at that *&*#@$) in traffic today.”  Then drop them in a memory jar.  Later, dip in and read as needed!  To add a little appealing color, consider a variety of pastel sticky notes.

You can also adapt this strategy to enhance your relationship, as I wrote about in this blog post: ADHD & Relationships: Three Simple Strategies

Now for the Promised Links:

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the links I would share later (rather than distracting you right away!). Here they are.

Order From Chaos

Jaclyn Paul explains the genesis of her new book, Order From Chaos, in this post: Creating Order from ADHD-Fueled Fallout.  Also check out her beautiful and thoughtful blog:  ADHD Homestead

ADHD App Tech Stack

Andie Katschthaler, an entrepreneur with late-diagnosis ADHD, says she hasn’t missed an appointment or deadline for years. How does she do it?  With a little digital assistance. She
shares her secrets with ADHD Roller Coaster readers at  Getting and Staying Organized: My ADHD Tech Stack




What are your essential strategies? 

—Gina Pera


6 thoughts on “Six Key Management Tools for Adult ADHD: Time, Tasks, and Memories”

  1. Julie Garbus

    After I’d misplaced my cell phone at the supermarket for the second time (it was in the celery bin), the cashier at the supermarket suggested getting a phone leash. It’s a rubber thing that goes around your phone and then clamps around the straps on a handbag–you take it off like a leash. I got one on Amazon and it worked fine–until I somehow lost the leash. My new strategy: I’ll get another leash and then remember to keep the phone either on the charger or leashed onto my handbag. I hope it works!

  2. Donna Meyers

    Hello. Thank you for these handy tips. The issue with me is that I already use a planner and sometimes it helps and I’m productive. But there are always several days when I don’t do what I have outlined in my planner. I don’t know which are priorities; to me they are all priorities! So how do I choose? My adhd really is a challenge but I will not give up trying to organize my life!

    1. Hi Donna,

      Great question. Choosing and using a planner is a good start.

      But it’s only one tool in what should likely be a larger strategy. One for keeping track of goals and priorities, to-do lists, etc.

      I will cover this at length in Course 3 of Solving Your Adult ADHD Puzzle. In the meantime, maybe check out Russell Barkley’s book “Taking Charge of Adult ADHD?”

      Also, my friend Jaclyn Paul’s book: Order from Chaos.

      I hope this helps!

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