People living with ADHD often have a love-hate relationship with lists. Some people love them, others hate them and another group fluctuates between loving and hating depending on the day.

What is a list anyway?

A list is a number of items written down vertically, one item underneath the previous one. Lists can be on paper or pixel and are often created around a theme. For example, people to invite to a party; items to pack for a trip.

Why does something so seemingly harmless create such a strong reaction by people with ADHD?

5 Reasons why ADHDers love lists

  1. Lists help you to feel organized. You jot down everything that is in your head and can see clearly exactly what needs to be done.
  2. Lists support your memory. They remind you of things you need to do, pack, buy, etc.
  3. Lists help you to feel productive. Once you have a list you can just work through it. It saves lots of mental to-ing and fro-ing.
  4. Lists reduce worry and overwhelm. Having an external visual of everything that is on your mind helps to stop things getting too big and overwhelming.
  5. Lists can build your confidence. Being able to check tasks or items against your list helps you feel secure in the knowledge that you have remembered everything.

5 Reasons why ADHDers dislike lists

  1. You can feel overwhelmed by the amount of items on your list.
  2. You might have so many lists you need a list of all your lists to feel organized.
  3. The thought of sitting down and writing a list feels daunting or like a punishment.
  4. Writing a comprehensive list takes time. That means when the list is complete, all motivation to take action has vanished.
  5. In the past, maybe you didn’t take action with the things on the list so it feels like a pointless exercise.

Why are lists helpful when you have ADHD?

Even if you don’t like lists at the moment, they are a helpful tool when you are living with ADHD.

1. Prepare yourself mentally

One of the biggest benefits of writing a list is it allows you to think about a task or project ahead of time.
Athletes are known to mentally rehearse their event before they start because that helps their performance. Writing a list is your version of this. In order to write items on a list, you need to think through steps of the project and rehearse them in your mind. Whether it is a grand project like building a house or a more regular project such as buying groceries, writing a list allows you to prepare so you have the right equipment and can figure out timing, etc.

2. Help your memory

Lists are a memory aid. They support your memory so you don’t forget items or action steps.
This in turns helps you to feel organized and brings peace of mind. Getting to work only to realize you left a report at home becomes a thing of the past. You know that you have the right belongings and have done everything you needed to do.

3. Increase your productivity

Productivity increases when you use lists. The 10 minutes it takes to write a list is a time investment. It means you are mentally prepared and have all your equipment which in turns allows you to get more stuff done.

4. Benefit your health

Because lists help reduce worry and overwhelm, you feel happier and sleep better. Lists can help you be healthier in other ways too. For example, they can be used for meal planning and groceries.

The Danger of ‘Everything Lists’

One of the reasons why you might hate lists is because you write EVERYTHING lists. Every 6 months or so you decide to get organized and write a list of EVERYTHING you want to do. Ever.

This list includes a backlog of tasks like mending the garden fence, sending a thank you note to Jennifer, as well as aspirational items including the languages you want to learn, countries to visit, things to buy, for example a new printer.

This type of list gets overwhelming because it is very long and has different categories of items. Plus, you realize you wrote a similar list six months ago, and six months before that. Then you get disheartened and you think lists don’t work.

It can be a good idea to do a brain dump once in a while and get all your thoughts and ideas down. However, you are asking a lot of yourself to start crossing items off that EVERYTHING list.

Your EVERYTHING list is like a master list. Each item needs to be broken down into smaller do-able steps, and you might require some lifestyle rejigging in order to complete some items.

For example, buying a printer may sound like fairly simple task. But unless you do it regularly, it can still feel overwhelming.

Writing a project list can help.

  1. Spend one hour researching the best printer for my needs. Include questions like: Is it compatible with my computer set up? Is the ink readily available? Do I want to use it to print out photos? Which printer model will fit my budget?
  2. Do a Google search and find a store near me that sells it.
  3. I will go to the store to purchase the printer on …. (date and time).
  4. Set the printer up. Can I do it myself? Do I need help? If so, who could help me?

The EVERYTHING list probably has items that have been on your mind for months and yet the moment to do it has passed which leaves you in a conflicted place. For example, you wanted to send Jenifer a thank you note for a great evening. But that was six months ago and it feels weird to send one now.
If you have expired items like this on your list, it’s fine to cross them out. However, you could use them as a sign and put things in place to make that type of task easier in the future. If you want to be someone who sends thank you notes, perhaps get stamps and a stack of thank you cards and have your friends and family addresses on hand.
Or perhaps you decide sending a thank you text the next day is easier.

Do you love or hate lists? Do you write EVERYTHING lists and then get disheartened?

Next week’s article is going to have more information about ADHD and lists.

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