Forgetting something important feels awful, doesn’t it? Most of our forgetting incidents don’t just frustrate us, they frustrate — or, even worse, hurt or disappoint — our family, friends, and coworkers.

These people’s opinions matter to us. We depend on our relationships with them. We don’t want to let them down, and yet we so often do. What’s worse, ADHD is a cruelly egalitarian disorder. It’s just as easy for us to forget our spouse’s birthday as our dry cleaning.

Maybe you’ve managed to insulate your inner circle from your ADHD’s hurtful effects, but do you ever think of the same idea over and over again, wishing you’d remember it when you could take action?

Don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, shorten the distance between yourself and a reliable container for those thoughts. If you’ve considered using your brain as such a container, don’t. Write everything down. Everything. Every time I catch myself thinking, “that’s too important, I know I won’t forget it,” it’s a huge red flag.

Nowadays, I rely on writable surfaces throughout my house: post-its, dry erase boards, chalkboards, you name it. Even the bathroom mirror. If there’s anyone out there who considers me a good friend, spouse, parent, or relative, it’s probably because I never let myself stray too far from my writing materials.

Be vigilant for ideas

There are some potty training methods that — bear with me here — require constant vigilance as you watch your naked toddler, ready to whisk him to the nearest potty when he begins to empty his bladder onto the floor. Imagine your brain is like this naked toddler. The moment it thinks of something — anything — you need to whisk it to a writable surface straightaway and deposit that idea into an appropriate container.

Of course, you’ll want to set up a trusted system like David Allen’s Getting Things Done to process all the notes you’re going to write, but the first step — and one you should take today — is writing it all down. Stop trusting your brain and start trusting anything you can write on.

Our home’s writable surfaces

Bathroom mirror

DSC_3367-001There’s a reason you have so many ideas in the shower, and the name should sound familiar: dopamine. When you’re in the shower, you’re relaxed, relatively free of distractions, and experiencing a nice dopamine rush from the hot water. Your brain is primed for idea generation.

I keep dry erase markers near the bathroom mirror so I can write a quick note before I’ve even dried off. The mirror is also a great place to leave a loving note or drawing for your spouse. When I worked in IT, I left myself reminders to do early-morning server maintenance from home. Visitors have occasionally spotted our markers and joined the fun, too.

Pantry door chalkboard

Our home is on the small side, so mounting a big dry erase board in a common area just isn’t practical. Instead, I created a cute and functional chalkboard on our pantry door. It’s not as easy as tossing a few dry erase markers in the bathroom, but it’s a project pretty much anyone can take on. I just sanded the finished wood lightly, added a couple coats of primer, then applied this Rust-Oleum chalkboard paint. My 18-month-old has taken over the bottom panel, and we use the larger top panel for grocery lists, reminders, fledgling Spotify playlists, and anything in between.


 Small dry-erase board

I purchased this when I moved away to college. Somehow, I managed to keep it through a number of moves and years I’d rather not mention. When you’re decluttering, which I hope you are this October, keep an eye out for things like this. This former clutter object now hangs on the side of the fridge and collects phone messages.

Post-its, post-its, and more post-its

I keep a pad of post-it notes in almost every room: on my nightstand, on my desk, in the basement, next to the coffee maker, and anywhere else I catch myself having to remember an idea for more than five steps in any direction.

Isn’t there an app for that?

You might wonder why I haven’t listed any electronic note-taking tools here. There are some great ones available — Evernote, Toodledo, and PlainText, for example — but I find computers and smart phones too distracting. When I unlock my phone screen, I rarely make it to my note-taking app. Several minutes later, I realize I’m checking my Instagram feed and have no idea why I grabbed my phone in the first place. A simple pen and paper works best for me.

Have you had success using apps? How do you capture ideas, especially when you’re in a place where you can’t easily write something down (like in the car)?