As an adult with ADHD, I know how hard it is to complete a task. One thing that usually works for me is making a to-do list and breaking down my tasks into smaller ones so I can follow through.

I’ve learned so many things about how to stay productive for longer periods along the way, and in this article, I will cover all of the points and give you all the tips you need.

Keep reading to find out how you can make a simple to-do list that you can follow through with to complete your tasks.

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A printable ADHD to-do list planner.

People with ADHD often struggle with managing and completing their daily tasks on time.

Creating an ADHD-friendly to-do list can help them stay organized and focused. Here are some essential features and tips for creating an effective to-do list that works for ADHD brains.

Here is a video interview I did recently with an expert in executive functioning.

Your ADHD To-Do List: Best Practices

If you want to be successful at making and keeping the best ADHD to do list, here are some tips.

  1. Provide Clear Instructions: Do provide clear and brief instructions. Break down tasks into smaller steps to make them more manageable. This is especially important for kids with ADHD on their IEP. Teachers and staff cannot take for granted how much they may have to simplify an instruction for a student.
  1. Establish Routines: Try to establish and maintain a consistent daily routine. Predictability helps individuals with ADHD manage their time more effectively. It also makes it easier to start over the next day when you have a bad day, if you have a routine to follow. (ask me how I know!)
  1. Use Visual Aids: Use visual aids, such as charts, graphic organizers, calendars, and reminders, to help organize and plan activities. If working with a student, engage them and ask them what will work for them.
  1. Encourage Regular Breaks: Encourage regular breaks during tasks to help manage attention spans and prevent burnout. Make sure your breaks are breaks and not a distraction to get sucked into–like social media or gaming. Pet your dog or do something like the 5-finger breathing technique.
  1. Provide Positive Reinforcement to Yourself: Use positive reinforcement and praise when completing tasks successfully. I know what it’s like to think you can conquer the world in the morning, only to stop for lunch and realize that you haven’t done much. But, if you keep track of completed tasks, you’ll likely find that you have accomplished something.
  1. Create a Quiet Workspace: Create a quiet and organized workspace to minimize distractions and enhance focus. It’s much easier to focus when you have a quiet environment. Remove apps from phones and computers that are distracting.
  1. Set Realistic Goals: Set realistic and achievable goals. Break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable goals to prevent ADHD overwhelm.
  1. Encourage Physical Activity: Encourage regular physical activity, as exercise can help improve focus and reduce hyperactivity. People with ADHD need sensory breaks too. For kids, sensory break ideas can include recess, playing outside, or silly dancing. For adults, it might mean something as simple as going out to the mailbox to get the mail or taking your dog for a short walk.
  1. Develop Social Skills: To provide opportunities for social skill development. Supportive social environments can positively impact individuals with ADHD. Set a time limit and use socialization as a reward. The flip side of this, of course, is that socializing may not come easy for you. If it is a task or chore to be worked on, put it on your to-do list. Regular practice may make this easier.
  1. Involve Parents and Teachers: Involve parents and teachers in the management plan to ensure consistency across different settings. The person with ADHD must be involved in the plan, or it will not be successful.
A white background to do list template, ideal for individuals with ADHD.

And here is that printable ADHD to-do list.

And to keep your to-do list ADHD friendly, you may want to avoid these techniques.

  1. Avoid Negative Reinforcement: Don’t use excessive negative reinforcement or punishment. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement to motivate and encourage. Part of the ADHD struggle is thinking we can “do it all,” having grandiose ideas of what we will accomplish in a day, and beating ourselves up when it doesn’t happen.
  1. Limit multitasking: Excessive multitasking can overwhelm you. Instead, focus on one task at a time. It takes time and patience, but you can do this.
  1. Avoid Overloading with Information: Don’t overload with information or instructions. Keep communication clear and straightforward.
  1. Don’t Neglect Physical Health: Physical health is important. Ensure that you get adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise, as these factors can influence your ADHD symptoms.
  1. Avoid Unnecessary Stress: Avoid creating unnecessary stress. Be mindful of your workload and know that taking a break when needed is okay.
  1. Limit Unstructured Time: Don’t leave too much unstructured time. Plan activities and tasks to help maintain focus and prevent boredom. It’s important to be intentional, and that takes time and patience. Yes, ADHD’ers need down time. But it’s important not to let ourselves spiral downward into bad habits like social media and other time wasters.
  1. Avoid Being Harsh on Yourself: Don’t be hard on yourself if you didn’t complete a task on your to-do list on time. Instead, use positive reinforcement and logical consequences and think about the steps you can take after that to make it up to your schedule. Instead, really examine why you did what you did and how you spent your time. Was it because it was comfortable for you? Was it a dopamine or serotonin thing? Then, examine that and think of ways to overcome this next time.
  1. Don’t Ignore Coexisting Conditions: Don’t ignore the possibility of coexisting conditions. Addressing other mental health or learning issues can contribute to a more comprehensive treatment plan.
An ADHD to do list template featuring flowers.

And here is the printable version of that ADHD daily planner.

ADHD To-Do List Example

Here are some examples of ADHD to-do lists and charts. If you scroll up, you’ll see the PDF for you to download and use.

For this example of an ADHD to do list, I’ve used the practice called “timeboxing.” I explain timeboxing more below.

        Use this ADHD to-do list template to stay organized and focused.

If timeboxing doesn’t work for you, that’s ok. It doesn’t always work for me, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing either. As in, “Use timeboxing 100% of the time, or not at all.”

Yes, I have an ADHD brain, so I know how thoughts like that creep in. I may get hyperfocused on something, but if it’s going really well for me and I don’t have any pressing deadlines, then I may ignore other tasks. This is why many parents choose to use printable chore charts for their kids. It’s really just a to-do list!

        Description: An ADHD-friendly to-do list template for the kitchen.

What Is Timeboxing and How Can You Use It to Boost Your To-Do List?

Timeboxing involves assigning a fixed timeframe, referred to as a “box” or “timebox,” to specific activities or tasks as part of time management. 

This approach aids individuals in concentrating on completing tasks efficiently within predefined time limits, ultimately improving productivity. 

Timeboxing can be particularly advantageous in organizing and improving your to-do list by instilling structure and preventing tasks from expanding indefinitely. 

Here are some executive functioning considerations when putting your tasks on a to-do list or timebox. It’s important to remember that by design, ADHD’ers struggle with executive functions.

Some may look at this list and find it overwhelming. If planning doesn’t come naturally to you, then tackle one item at a time.

  • Task Identification: List the tasks scheduled for the day or week, providing detailed descriptions.
  • Time Estimation: Estimate the time required for each task, ensuring realistic assessments based on task complexity.
  • Timebox Allocation: Assign specific timeboxes to individual tasks, such as hours or minutes for a particular project.
  • Timer Setting: Initiate a timer when beginning a task so you are more aware of the timeframe, which will help you concentrate more and stick to finishing it on time.
  • Task Focus: Concentrate exclusively on the designated task during the timebox, minimizing distractions and avoiding multitasking.
  • Progress Evaluation: Assess task progress when the timer concludes. Complete tasks are celebrated while pending ones prompt consideration for additional time or progression to the next task.
  • Scheduled Breaks: Incorporate breaks between timeboxes to prevent burnout, preserving energy and concentration levels.
  • Adaptation: Adjust timeboxes based on consistent observations regarding task duration, ensuring future planning aligns with actual time requirements.
  • Task Prioritization: Factor in importance and urgency when assigning timeboxes to guarantee appropriate attention to critical tasks.
  • Reflection and Learning: At the end of each day or week, reflect on your commitment to timeboxes, identifying patterns, learning from experiences, and refining your timeboxing strategy over time.

Remember that success begets more success. If you can achieve just 1 or 2 of the above items, then next time can bring even more success.

A printable daily planner with a calendar on it that is perfect for organizing tasks and managing time efficiently, specifically designed as an ADHD to-do list template.

Timeboxing stands as a versatile technique adaptable to diverse situations and preferences. 

Promoting a structured approach to task management facilitates steady progress on your to-do list while fostering a healthy work-life balance.

Why Use an ADHD-Tailored To-Do List?

Using a to-do list made specifically for ADHD can offer considerable advantages to individuals diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 

Here are several reasons highlighting the advantages of this customized approach:

A black and white to-do list template designed specifically for individuals with ADHD.

And here is that PDF.

Enhanced Focus

An ADHD-tailored to-do list provides clear, concise tasks, helping individuals maintain focus by breaking down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Reduced Overwhelm

Breaking tasks into smaller steps and prioritizing them on the to-do list reduces the potential for feeling overwhelmed, a common challenge for individuals with ADHD.

Visual Organization

Visual aids, such as charts, graphic organizers, or color-coding, can be incorporated into an ADHD-tailored to-do list, making it more visually appealing and easier to follow.

Structured Routine

Establishing a routine through a to-do list can provide structure and predictability, which is particularly beneficial for individuals with ADHD who often struggle with time management.

Time Awareness

Including estimated timeframes for each task on the to-do list helps individuals with ADHD manage their time better and avoid underestimating or overestimating the time needed for activities. You may want to use a visual timer while you are completing tasks.

Prioritization Assistance

ADHD-tailored to-do lists can include features that help prioritize tasks based on urgency or importance, assisting individuals in focusing on what needs to be done first.

Adaptability and Flexibility

ADHD-tailored to-do lists can be flexible and easily adapted to changing circumstances or unexpected events, allowing for better adjustment to the dynamic nature of daily life.

Goal Achievement

The to-do list becomes a tangible tool for setting and achieving goals, helping individuals with ADHD experience a sense of accomplishment and progress.

Customization to Individual Needs

Everyone with ADHD is unique, and a tailored to-do list can be customized to suit individual strengths, challenges, and preferences, making it a more effective tool for personal productivity.

Improved Time Management

ADHD-tailored to-do lists can teach and reinforce effective time management skills, supporting individuals in utilizing their time more efficiently.

In summary, an ADHD-tailored to-do list is a valuable tool that goes beyond a standard task list. 

It takes into account the specific needs and challenges associated with ADHD, providing a structured and supportive approach to task management and productivity.

Lastly, go easy on yourself. I know wholeheartedly what it’s like to wake up full of hope and sometime unreal expectations. Then, when that doesn’t happen, I beat myself up.

Again, success creates more success. Not reaching a goal is ok too. What’s important is that we can start over the next day.

Good luck and don’t forget to check out all of our ADHD and Executive Functioning resources.

How to Improve Executive Function Skills

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