Last week’s article was all about lists – how some people love them while others hate them, and the dangers of an ‘everything list.’ You can read it here.
Because lists are such a helpful tool when you are living with ADHD, this article has 6 tips for ADHDers who don’t currently like lists.
1. Alternatives to lists
Lists by their very nature are linear, which can feel constraining to the creative ADHD brain.
Because one item is written underneath the next, there can be an internal pressure to think your thoughts in order or in categories.
For example, if you are writing a list about moving, you might feel the need to write the ‘to dos’ related to your old home before the ‘to dos’ for your new home.
If your brain doesn’t work in this linear way, it can create a mental log jam. That feels frustrating and leads you to conclude lists don’t work for you.
A great solution for this is to separate the brainstorming from organizing/categorizing. When they are separate steps, it removes mental blocks and you can get all your great ideas onto paper.
Here are two ways to do this. Both are visual and fun to do.
a. Post it notes!
Post it notes are an awesome way to get your thoughts down without cramping your style. Here is how to use the post it note method.
Get a pad of post it notes and stand in front of a blank wall.
Next, brainstorm. Write each thought, idea or to-do on a post-it note. The golden rule is one item per post it note.
When all your thoughts are out of your head, you can move to the organizing/categorizing phase.
Look at the post it notes and group them together in ways that make sense for you. For example, all the phone calls you need to make. Or today’s top priorities together, etc.
Now choose how to proceed. You can’t take the wall with you, so how will you remember what your to-dos are? Perhaps take a photo of an area of your post it wall and work through those actions. Or write a short more traditional list from your wall of post its. Or take the post its you are going to work on today with you. There is no right or wrong way, just what will work best for you.
b. Mind maps
Like post it notes, mind maps are a great non-linear way to get your thoughts out of your head and to a place where you can see them.
Mind maps allow you to ‘map’ out your thoughts and ideas.
A mind map is created around a central topic and sub-topics branch from it. For example, if your central topic is ‘summer vacation,’ sub topics might include travel, items to pack, things to see. From each sub topic you can create more branches. You keep adding more branches until your map has all your information in it.
You can create your mind maps on large pieces of paper or use one of the mind map computer programs.
Once you have your mind map, you feel organized and can clearly see what your actionable items are.
2. List size
The size of your list can also influence how you feel about lists. If your list is long it can feel overwhelming and difficult to start. It can also be demotivating because even if you have been busy all day, you don’t feel accomplished when there are still lots of items on your list.
A helpful technique is to write your sub-list on a small piece of paper, perhaps an index card or post it note. This forces you to write a realistic to do list. It also helps you to prioritize your items and only write down the most important tasks.
Remember! Use your regular sized writing; don’t try to cheat the system by writing in super small letters to fit more items on your list.
3. Paper or pixel
Where you write your lists can also affect if you love or hate lists.
If you are a paper and pen person but feel you need to modernize and use your phone or computer instead, you won’t feel inspired to write a list. Equally, if you love using a keyboard but feel writing with a pen and paper is better somehow, that can stall you too.
There isn’t a best way so just use whichever method feels more natural to you.
Over the years, I have found a combination of both works well for me. For example…
I use an app called ‘our groceries’ to write my food shopping list.
On Google drive I have a ‘packing list’ that I print out before I travel and cross items out as they get packed.
My daily to do list is written in colourful Sharpies on a large piece of paper.
I have a large collection of note pads to write lists for different projects.
Why not experiment where is the easiest way for you to write lists?
Emotions around the task can also affect how you feel about a list.
For example, if you are doing your taxes, writing a list of the information you need to gather might be helpful. However, if the topic of taxes fills you with dread, then writing a list will feel horrible. But it’s not the list! Your feelings towards your taxes have been transferred to the list. Because writing a list forces you to think about a topic you dislike, the list becomes the bad guy.
Being able to separate your feelings about the task from your feelings about the list is a good idea because then you don’t write off a tool that supports you.
5. Recycle recurring lists
If creating lists feels like ‘work,’ you can reuse your lists. This way you only need to spend time writing a list once. You simply pull it out every time you travel or move, etc. Of course you can use post-its or a mind map to create the original list.
Tasks that you do regularly can become checklists.
6. Lists don’t have to be perfect
Remember, you aren’t trying to write the perfect list. You are writing a list because it’s a useful way for you to feel organized and remember things. Don’t let your perfectionism get the better of you and try and write the perfect list. It will put you off lists forever!