The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: Stephen Covey

Personal organizing case study: Bullet Journal

Organizing my daily life: it feels like both the starting point and the impossible dream with adult ADHD. It’s also a basic expectation of adulthood.

Most ADHD’ers know we need an organizational system, but feel like nothing works. We struggle to find answers to the all-important question, “but how?”

A naturally organized person with a manageable schedule might answer, “you just do it.” Adults with ADHD rarely “just do” anything.

Today, I’ll share a simple, low-tech, flexible way to stay organized. It’s called Bullet Journal. First I’ll provide a look inside my notebook, then I’d love to answer questions in the comments. Personal organizing has been a pet project of mine for many years. If you want to talk about the nitty gritty, I’m your girl.

bullet journal ADHD

What is Bullet Journal?

Bullet Journal isn’t an app or a product. It’s an idea, best explained in this short, engaging little video:


I use apps to stay organized, but I appreciate a tactile element. Screens can feel too abstract. I’ve carried a notebook everywhere since the seventh grade. I’ve dallied with day planners, but fallen away from them since the advent of smart phones. Nowadays, I use my notebook for everything: Grocery lists. jotting down ideas, drafts, or outlines for writing projects. Taking notes at meetings. On-the-fly to-do lists. Goal-setting exercises. Everything imaginable.

Bullet Journal helps me organize those elements and keep me from losing track of what I write down. Because I have ADHD and a very poor memory, I write nearly everything down.

Adults with ADHD are individuals — Bullet Journal is flexible.

I love Bullet Journaling’s infinite flexibility. I chose the size, feel, and contents of my notebook to make it something that works for me. This is especially important for adults with ADHD. If a system or tool isn’t easy, comfortable, and even fun to use, it won’t last long.

I keep my Bullet Journal in Moleskine’s extra-large ruled notebook. In the spirit of Marie Kondo’s KonMari methodI use postcards — mostly collected from art shows — to make the notebooks special and joyful to use.

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I always add an entry to the index or add a page number to an existing entry before adding the content. Otherwise, I can get distracted and forget to update the index.

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Bullet Journal’s flexibility extends inside the notebook, too, allowing me to integrate new concepts while ditching what doesn’t work. For example, I never look at my Future Log. I’d love to examine my six-month view more often, but I’ve come to accept — with compassion and objectivity, of course — that it’s not going to happen with this life and this brain. My next Bullet Journal won’t have a Future Log. Instead, I may beef up the Monthly Log, which I include in my weekly review.

I also added pages to the front of my Bullet Journal to remind me of my many responsibilities and spheres of influence. Stephen Covey calls these “roles and goals” in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In Getting Things DoneDavid Allen refers to them as “areas of focus and accountabilities.” Either way, I maintain a space in my notebook to reflect on my roles in the world and my goals for each. I skim over these pages at my weekly review.

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Using my Daily Log with Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar to track all events, meetings, and time-sensitive tasks. I copy entries from my Google Calendar to the Daily Log as part of my weekly review. I never add directly to the Daily Log, always Google Calendar. It’s critical for me to respect my primary resource/repository for a specific kind of information.

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You might be wondering why I recopy rather than print my calendar and paste it into the notebook (or look at the widget on my phone’s home screen). The tactile experience of writing helps me encode/process information. I also never take notes on a laptop or tablet, only with pen and paper, because I remember conversations more clearly that way.

Taking time to write down my schedule, deadlines, and obligations for the week helps me think it through. I wouldn’t get this from skimming my Google Calendar.

Notice the lack of to-do items under each day? My to-do list is long, and nowhere near my Daily Log. I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which discourages “daily to-do lists.” I only tie a task to a day if it really must happen then: in other words, it becomes irrelevant or incurs a late fee.

Let’s chat in the comments.

When I say I use my notebook for everything, I mean everything, from grocery lists to a race bib from a recent 5k run. The Daily Log and Monthly Log pages keep everything in a rough chronological order, and the index lets me return and add to previous entries.

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Have you tried something like this before? How did it go? Are you hesitant to try it because you think it won’t work? Please share your questions and experiences in the comments. I’d love to chat!

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Don’t give up on me — or your sanity.

“I feel like you’ve given up on me,” my husband said.

The conversation about his work schedule had bubbled to the surface again. His erratic hours. His worrisome sleep hygiene. Stagnating projects around the house.

“I didn’t give up,” I rushed to clarify, “I just adjusted my expectations.”

Don't give up on me

It sounds like splitting hairs, but it’s not. Giving up is such a strong phrase, such a negative phrase. What I’d done wasn’t giving up, it was a conscious effort to eliminate excess stress from my life. Yes, I’d “given up” calling him at 10:00 p.m., then 1:00 a.m., and then sometimes even 3:00 a.m. to remind him to come home. It hadn’t worked anyway.

But our conversation raised an interesting question: what does it mean to give up on someone? To let them learn from their mistakes? To enable bad behavior? To be supportive without overextending yourself or sacrificing your own peace of mind?

Every ADHD’er has bad habits, and they drive our loved ones crazy. Here are some ways to reframe your expectations and lower your stress without giving up.

Take control of your feelings

“If our feelings control our actions,” writes Stephen Covey in his famous The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so.”

When I used to call my husband in the middle of the night to cajole him into leaving work, it took a toll on my well-being. Initially, I blamed this on him:

“I don’t sleep well when you’re not here.”

“You make me feel so frustrated and stressed, I can’t get back to sleep once I wake up in the middle of the night.”

In doing this, I placed my sleep habits and emotional state in someone else’s control. That needed to change.

This may be hard to accept, especially when someone else is behaving badly. However, positive change can be slow. Remember that while you can’t control others, you can control how you react.

In my case, I decided my own sleep and sanity were my priority. I stopped calling, stopped wondering when he’d come home, and stopped expecting him anytime before I went to bed. That way, anything else — even arriving home three minutes before I fell asleep — felt like a success. I also started sleeping with a pillow next to me so I wouldn’t notice the empty bed.

Take control of your own reaction. Take care of you. Don’t let another person ruin your day.

Keep tabs

20150623_153232Is your spouse’s bad habit driving you nuts? Keep a diary, and I don’t mean an ongoing rant (see above). Just because you’ve talked about the behavior and agreed it needs to change doesn’t mean you can expect a complete 180 overnight. One study showed the average person can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit. I’m not sure we have any average people living in our house.

Real change happens slowly, over time, with many setbacks. Ask yourself: is there a slow trend in the right direction?

Sure, my husband still comes home from work in the middle of the night, but he a.) does it slightly less often and b.) actually realizes it’s happening. Both are small victories.

Cultivate compassion

Believe it or not, your loved one isn’t trying to drive you crazy. Bad habits make us feel out of control of ourselves, which lowers our willpower and capacity to make positive change.

In other words, they’re hurting, too. Don’t tear your partner or child down in her moment of weakness. Acknowledge any small victories to make room for solution-focused thinking.

Recently, we had some work schedule slip-ups. The week started out great and crashed and burned by Friday. On Saturday morning, we sat around the table for our family meeting and shared appreciations. I made sure to say, “thank you for being home in plenty of time for me to get to my meeting on Tuesday evening, and for being flexible enough with your schedule that you could take over with R. on Thursday morning while I went to the doctor.”

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own reactions and forget that others evaluate themselves at least as harshly. When you’re tempted to blow up, pause. Acknowledge your own feelings as valid, but imagine it from your loved one’s perspective, too. How would you want to be treated?

In families especially, we shouldn’t bail each other out or pick up slack all time time , which cultivates resentment. We must also find ways to support, rather than tear down, someone who’s having trouble. Praise the good, forgive the bad, and keep trying to find a solution.

How do you maintain sanity and compassion in the face of crazy-making ADHD behavior?

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