Probably one of the most underrated tools for ADHD adults are checklists. Think about how often, after making an error, you say to yourself, “I knew how to do that! I can’t believe I screwed up!” That is, in these instances, you don’t apply what you know when you needed to. A checklist might just be the antidote.
Your ADHD challenges certainly contribute to not doing what you know. But the fact that there is just too much information exacerbates these challenges. As the author, Atwul Gawande notes in, The Checklist Manifesto – How To Get Things Right:
…the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.
Somewhere in your brain’s filing cabinet you may have the information you need. But, because there is so much, it is difficult to access it exactly when you need it. Your ADHD challenges mean you may have more difficulty remembering to remember at the critical moment of choice — the moment when they need to act.
As alluded to in the image of the pilots with a checklist, there are certain times when getting it wrong can have immense consequences. And a checklist is critical. There are other times when using a checklist would just make life a little bit easier. So, let’s get on with looking at your ADHD challenges and how a checklist might help you in both critical and not so critical situations.
How 2 Different Types of Checklists are Used
There are two different types of checklists.
One type of checklist is the Read-Do Checklist. This is probably the type ADHD adults have the most problems with. Because you patiently have to follow a process. I know this may not be one of your strong suits, right?
So, when your impatience gets the best of you, you may forge ahead, and then go back to the instructions — checklist — when you discover you still have 3 extra screws. Ever happened to you? 😊
You then inadvertently use the instructions as a Do-Confirm Checklist. When intentionally using a checklist in this manner you first run through the steps of the task. And then refer to the checklist to confirm you did what you were supposed to do and in the right order, if a specific order is necessary.
How Checklist Can Help with ADHD Working Memory Challenges
One of the ways a checklist can help is to compensate for the ADHD challenges you have with a weak working memory — the ability to hold on to information you need in order to act on it. The information slips through before you can follow through on it.
Think of a time you were following a recipe. You grab a bowl from the shelf, put it on the counter, and then, for the life of you, can’t remember what you were supposed to do next. Thankfully, you have a checklist — the recipe — you can refer to, right?
And because information slips out before it enters your long-term memory you obviously have the additional challenge of remembering information you need later.
In this example, a colleague is passing you in the hallway. And she asks you to email her the mid-year report when you get back to your office. Even though you’re only 100 feet from your office, you may forget to do it by the time you are back at your desk. Unless, of course, you write it down it in your checklist — the task manager on your phone. Right away. In the hallway.
I know working memory challenges can be frustrating for you. The first step to addressing this frustration is acceptance. The next step is using the right tools, like checklists, to compensate.
Using Checklist to Address ADHD Long-Term Memory Difficulties
A checklist can also help ADHD adults address long-term memory challenges. One consequence of these challenges is having difficulty remembering your intention to do something in the future.
For example, your spouse texted you, asking you to get 5 items at the grocery store on your way home from work. You left work late. So, you rush through the aisles without looking at the text. After all, you tell yourself, “I can remember 5 things!” But, when you get to the checkout line, you have a nagging feeling you forgot something. You look at the checklist — text. And sure enough, you forgot the coffee for the next morning. You know that’s not going to go over too well if you go home without it. So, you get out of line to get the coffee. Maybe using the text as a Read-Do Checklist instead of Do-Confirm Checklist may have been better? 😊
Another long term memory challenge for ADHD adults is accessing information stored in your long term memory — recall.
For example, when you’re in a meeting and need to provide a summary of your report, you stumble through it. because you just can’t remember all the points you need to make. Unless, of course, you came prepared with a list of bullet points — a checklist —to help you remember the main points you want to share
While your memory, may be more like Swiss Cheese than a trap door, you can use different forms of checklists to minimize the impact. And remember what you need when you need it.
A Checklist Can Help You Moderate Your Impulsiveness
Jumping in with both feet can definitely be an ADHD strength. But, if you tend to be impulsive, there might be some situations where you look back with regret at something you said or did. And wish you could have done it differently.
A checklist may also help you slow down and hit the pause button before jumping in. So you can be more intentional and have fewer times where you are disappointed in yourself for something you said or did.
I know one of the challenges you may have with checklists is that they can seem to slow you down. In many cases, though, a checklist can make the process faster — more efficient.
Think of the example I alluded to above with the 3 leftover screws. Let’s say you are putting together a chair from IKEA. As you look at the chair, you realize that those 3 screws are critical to making sure it doesn’t fall apart. Now what? Of course, you have to take the chair apart to fit the screws in. The do-over means you need to spend more time and energy, right?
Your impulsiveness also may get in the way of expressing your emotions the way you want. If this is true for you, you may have read about techniques you want to use. But, when you are really dysregulated, you might have a hard time remembering the steps. Hitting the pause button and looking at a checklist, if possible, can help.
Recently, one of the members of the ADDed Perspectives Online Group shared with us an example of how she does this. When she is having a particularly difficult phone conversation, she refers to her DEARMAN checklist. This helps her to stay in the moment and assert herself effectively.
I’m sure you can think of other examples where are you might use a checklist to curb your impulsiveness.
How a Checklist Can Help ADHD Adults Focus and Attend
Sometimes it can be hard for ADHD adults to separate the wheat from the chaff in a moment of choice when it comes to doing what is most meaningful to them. Checklists can also help you navigate these moments better so you can be more intentional.
Think of times when you intended to do one thing, but something else caught your attention. So, you did that task instead. Using checklists at what Gwande calls pause points can help you stay more on track. Here are a few examples:
- Each week use a Weekly Review Checklist to decide where you want to focus your attention the following week
- First thing in the morning post a checklist on a whiteboard of what you’re going to do that day.
- Every few hours during your day pull out your checklist of three questions: 1) What am I doing? 2) What should I be doing? 3)Why is that important?
Can you think of other pause points where a checklist might help you better focus and attend?
One of the most underrated tools for ADHD adults are checklists
How can you use one to help you this week?