The phrase ADHD Planners probably sounds like an oxymoron. Neurotypical people are always telling us “just get a planner!” The reality is, planners are a struggle for many neurodivergent people. With so many thoughts moving around on so many tracks, we can never keep track of everything we need to. A planner seems like an easy solution but most neurodivergent people I know say they can’t ever seem to stick with one.
The obvious explanations are that many people with ADHD simply don’t remember to use the planner or they forget it so often the poor planner barely gets a chance to be useful. I, of course, have other theories beyond these.
We all start planners with the best of intentions but as many of us have learned, ADHD Planners are where good intentions go to die. Having ADHD is like riding waves as interest levels, moods and energy levels ebb and flow; only you’re riding those waves in the dark and aren’t entirely sure when the waves are coming or how big they are. We often have days where even with meds and trying our hardest, we just cannot stop getting distracted long enough to finish things.
Sometimes those waves mean we spontaneously pursue other plans. Sometimes we simply have a crash and need a few days to reload. Those sometimes mean that suddenly the ambitiously written out planners that were meant to be helpful are now staring us in the face with a list of things we “failed” to do.
When an ADHDer opens that forgotten about planner back up, they’re immediately faced with page after page of reminders, but not the reminders that we need the planner for. Instead, they’re reminders that we can only be productive and on top of things for a few days at a time before the executive dysfunction runs out. Who wants to carry around a book listing all of their perceived failures for an entire year? The way people with ADHD perceive time and emotions can mean that every time we see a reminder of one of our “failures”, the disappointment and frustration with ourselves stays fresh and obnoxiously crispy.
Too Many Steps
When ADHD isn’t drowning you in surprise emotions, it spends its time drowning you in how many steps everything takes. Brushing your teeth isn’t simply brushing your teeth. You have to stop what you’re doing, get up, and walk to the bathroom. Then you have to get out the toothbrush, add the toothpaste and put it back, then stand there bored out of your skull while scrubbing. That is, of course, assuming you didn’t get distracted or forget what you were doing on the way. There’s also my personal favorite which is when you distracted while brushing and proceed to drip toothpaste everywhere.
So when one of us tries to start a new ADHD planner, it’s not just a simple task of writing things down in said planner. We have to first pick out a planner and find one that’s cute enough to boost our dopamine enough we might actually remember to use it. Better hope the cute one we like has a layout and sections that make sense for our life. If the layout doesn’t make work for us, we may need to customize it. If that’s a small change that needs to be done daily or even weekly, it piles up the steps of things we need just to to keep track of other things. To some, these things may seem like a pile of nothing but for us, they can truly feel like we’re facing a mountain.
From ADHD Planners to ADHD Printables
In my endless quest to not lose the things rolling around in my head, I have spent a lot of time with planners. My autism means I’m generally more organized than most ADHDers but this is largely just attempts at battling the anxiety losing and forgetting things causes me. Even with this conflicted, neurospicy take on organization, I, too, have never finished a planner.
At some point I decided to stop wasting money on planners that still left me making my own to-do lists and piles of notes. From that, I found printables to be much more suitable to my neurodivergent needs. No heavy book to remember to carry around. Fewer unnecessary sections. No failure pages of unfinished to-do lists reminding me of how much I suck at life every time I open them.
Nope, none of that.
Currently piled on my desk is a stack with a printable weekly planner and printable monthly calendar. The weekly calendar I mostly fill out at the beginning of the week to start preparing my brain for all The Steps that are coming. The monthly calendar I use to keep track of what doesn’t fit on the weekly calendar. Things like birthdays, appointments, prescription refills, and other things that are scheduled further out but must be remembered. While this system (mostly) works for me, I’ve come to realize the reason it requires a pile of printables is because I’m yet to find an ADHD planner that allows me to compile the fireflies in my brain in one place.
The Problems With ADHD Printables
While I have grown very fond of printables, they have their (largely neurotypical) issues. When searching sites like Etsy for ADHD planners and ADHD calendars, most of the results are downright laughable solutions for someone with ADHD and fall in two camps.
The first camp is the minimalist camp. They’re simple, they’re logical, they’re easy on your printer, I get it. But they also take ‘blank’ very literally and require you to fill out the dates for each and every month. Ah yes, because what people who get overwhelmed by small tasks really want is to have a pile of papers that are completely unusable until you fill out a years worth of dates first. Also, the boring minimalism actually sucks the dopamine from my brain but I’ll chalk that up to personal preference.
The other ADHD printable camp is the complete opposite of the minimalist camp. Everything is so overly saturated with bright colors that any at-home printer would protest. There are 300 page bundles promising they’re the best ADHD planner but who with ADHD wants to look through 300 pages? Especially when each page is likely reminding them of things that stress them out? Oh yay, another financial tracker that will live a questionably short lifespan before getting buried somewhere for the following six months (or more.)
There’s a subcategory to the overwhelming ADHD printable camp and it’s the digital planner crowd. I have an arbitrarily strong anti-digital planner stance. First off, I need a planner to help me keep track of things so I don’t lose focus and forget about things entirely. The absolute last thing I need to be doing to check those things is get on anything digital that is just waiting to scroll paralysis me into hell. But these adorable and brightly bundled meal planners and trackers aren’t done destroying your serotonin yet!
Many of these digital planners, with their good environmental intentions and alleged interests in helping people with ADHD come with literally thousands of digital stickers. You mean to tell me, that to help dopamine-deprived, time-blind people organize their lives people actually think that supplying us with thousands of cute images to decorate hundreds of brightly colored pages is somehow going to help us stay focused? Look, I love stickers. The neurodivergent tend to be a sticker-loving people, and I absolutely will sort through those babies for hours so don’t tempt me. Like please, do not tempt me.
Spicy Planners for Spicy Brains
Like a good little neurodivergent, I started to look at this problem and thought “I can do it better by myself.” So I made a few neurodivergent printables for all your chaotic needs!
There are a few ways my ADHD planners are different from the others I’ve come across:
- Bring a little dopamine to your day with colorful designs that won’t murder your printer
- Prompts instead of open-ended questions
- Task lists to help you prioritize
- Small-scale habit trackers
- No overwhelming bundles of a bajillion pages
You can find my ADHD planners and calendars on my brand new etsy store. Come find out if they can help make your life easier while not trying to turn you into the planner person you aren’t.
What about you? What are planners lacking for you and what do you struggle to keep track of? Tell me all of your planner woes in the comments!