ADHD Checklists. A Simple Way to Feel Organized

A few years ago, as I was flying back to Montreal after visiting my family in England, I was catching a short flight from England to Paris, followed by a long haul flight from Paris to Montreal.

When I climbed on board the airplane in England, someone was sitting in my seat. The air stewardess asked me to wait until all the passengers had boarded then she would find me another seat. Meanwhile, the pilot and copilot walked onto the plane and invited to me to join them in the cockpit (as this was a before 9/11). Sitting in the jump seat, I had the best flight ever. It was a bit like a fair ground ride. As exciting as the experience was for me, it was all in days work for the pilot and copilot. They were chatting to me and each other about regular things such as going to Tescos  that evening to pick up groceries.

Taking off and landing required their full attention. Though before takeoff, they explained they couldn’t chat with me for a while. Then, the copilot pulled out a binder full of checklists and methodically read out each line while the pilot physically checked out each item on the airplanes dashboard.

When I was a nurse, we used checklists too. Before a patient is escorted from the ward to surgery, a nurse uses a pre-op checklist. They check the patients hospital ID, that they have the right notes and xrays, that all jewelry and false teeth have been removed. Each item on the checklist is designed to help keep the patient safe during surgery.

With all the modern technology available these days, a simple checklist can get overlooked because it seems like a basic tool. Nevertheless, basic can be powerful!

As someone living with ADHD, you can use checklists to your advantage. They make you feel organized, competent, support your memory and help you to use your time more effectively.

Here are some suggestions of how to use checklist.

*Have checklists on the front door, with all the items you need for the day. Phone, wallet, keys, lunch, bus pass etc.

*Have checklist of actions for daily routines. For example, your morning routine checklist might include shower, shave, eat breakfast, take meds, clean teeth, etc.

*If you have a hobby where you need to remember a lot of items, a checklist is very handy.

*For tasks you dont do every often, such as taxes, create a checklist. Your list will help you break any resist or overwhelm you feel in starting these task, because you know exactly what actions you need to do.

*At work, there might be multistep tasks, where it is easy to get distracted or lost. Having a checklist helps you see a task through to completion.

*Is there another area of your life where you would like to feel more organized? If so, write a checklist!

Some ADHDers feel that they shouldnt need a checklist to remember to do basic things like getting ready in the morning. Or at work, you might feel silly because no one else has one. Still, there is no shame in having a checklist and just because they dont have one, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from having one! 🙂 Checklists help you to feel and look highly organized.

Where do you keep your checklists?

You could keep them in a binder like the copilot did. Or you could tape them in convenient places around your home or office. For lists you dont use very often, you could keep it in your computer and print it out when you need it; for example,tax session.

How do you make a checklist?

Some things like your morning routine, you might be able to write it out from memory. For more complicated lists, such as for taxes, have a pen and paper nearby as you are doing the task and write down key steps in real time. Then, you have the list for the future.

After completing your checklist, try it out a few times, and make any alterations. Then, when you have a final list, type it out and keep it in a plastic envelope, or even get it laminated to keep it clean.

In The Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande, identifies some key points to help you draw up an effective checklist:

1.     Have five to nine items. (You dont need to include things you do automatically; just the things that get missed.)

2.     Have all the items on one page.

3.     Keep the list clutter-free.

4.     Use upper and lower case text (as its easier to read).

5.     Choose a font that you can read easily.

What checklists are you going to make?



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  1. Tracy says:

    I’ve been a fan of check lists for a while. They really help me. I have a master list for grocery shopping; I keep it in my google tasks app on my phone. When I run out of an item, I make sure it’s moved to the top of that list. I have a master travel list I refer to every time I take a trip; this list is also in my google task app which I can also access online.

  2. Michael says:

    There is something satisfying about putting the tick in the box after something is completed. Even for short lists I make, I always add a little box after. By hand.

    Striking though completed items doesn’t have quite the same effect. Ticking a box is a very positive action.

  3. OMG! This is a brilliant idea. I mean I make to-do lists, but I’ve never thought of making to-do lists for each activity. It’ll take time, but it’ll be totally worth it I think. It’ll make my morning routine go faster, It’ll help me to remember everything I need to bring with me to work. And it can even make cleaning the house smoother. Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. For a lot of older people, the traditional way of maintaining checklists is paper notes or even a small notebook. Personally, I’m a tech guy so I favor using my smartphone’s checklist / To do list app. Besides, I have this habit of misplacing loose paper in my pocket. 🙂

  5. Hi Jaqui

    Lists are very important to me, for instance my shopping list is vital! I write items on the list as I run out of them or decide I need them for a recipe and then I can just zip round the supermarket when I shop. Whenever I think ‘oh I don’t need to put that on the list, I will remember it’ you can guarantee I return home without it! I also make a daily To Do list and cross things off as they get done, I find this makes me more focused on completing the tasks so that they don’t spill over onto a new day’s list. Planning events and trips also involves a list of what to take and who has to do what to achieve the desired result. I do love my lists.

    Best wishes

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