How to Use A Day Planner

Time management and organization are two common problems faced by people with ADHD. A day planner can help better manage these ADHD problems.Time management and organization are two common problems faced by people with ADHD. A day planner can help better manage these ADHD problems.

For People with ADHD: Using a Day Planner as a Life Planner

Been there? Done that? Lost a dozen? Using a day planner one of the most essential coping skills that a woman with ADD can develop, but it's one that you need to practice and develop. Actually, using a dayplanner is not a single skill, but involves a set of skills that can be worked on, one-by-one.

  1. Learn to have it with you at ALL times.

    When I am helping someone develop the habit of using a daytimer, so often, in the beginning, I hear, "I'm using it, but I just didn't bring it to the session." Or, "It's in the car." The only way for your day planner to become your "exterior frontal lobes" - your life planner and manager - is if you have your exterior frontal lobes with you at all times! You wouldn't intentionally leave your brain in the car, or at home, would you?

  2. Write EVERYTHING in your day planner.

    If you must have a social or family calendar in the kitchen or a three-month wall calendar in your office, develop the unwavering habit that items are written in your dayplanner first and are then transferred to other calendars. That way you can be sure that there is one place you can quickly refer to for appointments, upcoming travel dates, phone numbers, confirmation numbers on phone orders, etc., etc.

  3. Learn the difference between a "to-do" list and a daily action plan.A "to do" list is a long list of action items.

These may be business, family or personal. You may want to keep lists in categories:

  1. Business to do's
  2. Home maintenance to-do's
  3. Family to-do's
  4. Long-term goal to-do's
  5. Personal goals - fitness, health, down-time, reading time, etc.
  6. Social to-do's

A "to do" list is a list of actions or tasks from which you draw to create your daily action plan . Your daily action plan is your "To-do Today" list, with assigned times during which you plan to accomplish them.

Learn to become a better time estimator.

Taking items from your "to-do" list and placing them on your daily action plan, with assigned times, forces you to begin to think about how long things take. One thing you'll learn very quickly is that you underestimate how long things take. For example, you may have a string of errands that looks like this:

  • Grocery - pick up items on list, grab something for dinner.
  • Drop off dry cleaning.
  • Bank - make deposit.
  • Car - fill up tank
  • Dentist - 3:30 PM
  • Return video

When you're placing that "to do" list into your daily action plan, how much time should you allot?

What have your forgotten? If you're a parent, you may need to add carpooling, or errands such as "pick up posterboard for book report" to an already jam-packed schedule.

The first month or six weeks that you work with your dayplanner, write down how long you estimate your list of errands and appointments will take. Then, when you come home, write down how long they actually took. In this way you learn to be more accountable for your time, how you estimated it and how you spent it.

  • Learn to Plan for Contingencies.

    The second thing you need to learn is to plan for contingencies. "To-do's" become "Not-done's" when we fail to take the unplanned into account. Traffic happens. Phone calls happen. Emergencies happen. Priorities change. Will the grocery take 10 minutes or 30? What if there's a line at the clearner's, at the bank? What if the dentist is running late? What order should they be done in for efficiency's sake? For the sake of being on time at the dentist's?

    Many people with ADD make a habit of masking their poor planning skills behind the unexpected. In fact, for some, the unexpected comes as a great relief. "It's not my fault I'm late now because there's a traffic accident up ahead." (Even though I would have been late anyway.)

  • Learning to Resist Impulses and Distractions.

    Another major enemy to successful completion of our daily action plan are impulses and distractions. The phone rings as we're walking out the door and we answer it, even though we know the caller can leave a message. We spot a craft store as we're rushing from the dentist to the grocery. "If I dash into the craft store now, I can get those holiday decorations I've been meaning to buy and won't have to make an extra trip back." We run into a friend at the grocery and a friendly greeting turns into a 15 minute conversation as we forget that we've still got to pick up the dry cleaning and get supper cooked by 6 PM because there's a meeting we've planned to attend that evening.

    Having a daily action plan in mind, with times firmly attached, can help us remember that time is not elastic and that the 15 minute chat with the friend is being traded for the first 15 minutes of the meeting we're planning to attend after dinner. Or, the healthy dinner we've planned will be traded for fast food as we later realize that there's no time to cook and make the meeting too.

    Changes in plans are OK! The dayplanner is your external front lobes. You have the right to change plans and priorities. The day planner and the daily action plan just helps you to see more clearly what you're trading for what. Then you can ask yourself: "Is this conversation more important to me than eating a healthy dinner?" "More important than getting to my meeting one time?" The answer may be "yes." This may be a person who is important to you whom you haven't seen in a long time. You may have an important issue to discuss with this person. Your daily action plan doesn't "forbid" changes of plan - but the operative word is "plan" instead of "O-my-God! I lost track of the time."

  • Are you planning too much?

    A client of mine recently said, " I hate to write things down on my to-do list for the day because I feel like a failure when I don't get them done." She may be planning too much. She's putting down everything she "ought" to do on her daily list, without consideration of whether she has time to complete those tasks today.

  • Is your daily action plan a rigid taskmaster?

    Another tendency that many people have is to turn their daily action plan into an unrealistic and dreaded plan to spend each day doing things that are not gratifying or enjoyable. It's as if an awful "ought monster" lives in our heads and forces us to write down a list of things we can't bear the idea of doing. Then, we beat ourselves up when we don't comply.

    Make sure that your daily action list is in line with your true goals and values. All of us have things in life we don't enjoy, but which are important. Life becomes chaotic and crises occur when we don't "manage" our lives - by taking out the trash, washing our clothes, having regular medical checkups, pay our bills, etc.

    But it's time for a major re-evaluation of your life if you find most hours of most days filled with dreaded "oughts."

Ask Yourself

  1. Does this really need to be part of my life, or am I just conforming to what I think other people's expectations are?
  2. If I dislike this task so much, can I find someone else to do it for me? Would it be worth working a little longer to earn extra money to hire this task done?
  3. Is there a way I can creatively problem-solve and make this task less time-consuming or more interesting?

If you use a dayplanner well, it works for you, you don't work for it! Remember, your day planner should be a tool to plan a life that is as gratifying and meaningful as possible. Creating action plans, learning to estimate time, assigning time to tasks may sound rigid and limiting, but remember - you're in charge.

Once a week, take a look. Are there chores that you can combine and streamline? Eliminate? Have you put the positive "to do's" in your daily action plan? Talk to a friend, take a walk, practice the piano, read a book?


This article has been taken, with permission, from the website for the National Center for Gender Issues and AD/HD (NCGI), the only advocacy organization for women and girls with AD/HD. To see more articles on women and girls with AD/HD, or to become a supporting member of NCGI , go here:

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 25). How to Use A Day Planner, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: February 15, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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