While you may resist structure, you also know structure is helpful to follow through on what’s important to you in alignment with your values, right? Using a calendar consistently is critical for ADHD adults to execute well. I bet you already knew this. But you may not be using your calendar effectively. Using these six tips will help you use your calendar better and reduce your stress and overwhelm.
- A calendar is a must-have tool for ADHD adults.
- It is the hard landscape of your life.
- Only time and date sensitive events should go in your calendar.
- Consider what will help you follow through on your intentions when you put something in your calendar.
- You want to be in control of your time by being in control of your calendar, as much as possible.
- Look at your calendar at all transitions.
The Now Habit by Neil Fiore
Does your calendar help ground you or overwhelm you? If it’s a source of stress, it really doesn’t need to be. You can turn that around.
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused, Done – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins. And I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done without trying do it like everyone else.
Right now, your calendar may be a catchall for everything you want to remember. So you put in task, you hope to do each day. You know, if you get around to them. But, as a former client used to say, hope is not a strategy. Maybe you get the task in your calendar done, and maybe you don’t. And then, of course, you feel stressed if the tasks that you don’t get done are still in your calendar.
Also, because you haven’t always decided what you’re going to do each day, you may have overlapping appointments. When you see these, I bet you tell yourself, “I’ll figure it out later.” But when does later come? Right. I bet you often re-litigate throughout the day what you’re going to do. Of course, this just adds to your stress. When you throw everything and the kitchen sink into your calendar, it doesn’t serve its primary purpose, which is a visual representation of the hard landscape of your life.
That is, when you look at your calendar, you should be able to see exactly what you’re going to do on a particular day at a given time. But, if you include random task, get overlapping events, it’s slightly more of a mushy landscape. While ADHD adults, as you know, may resist structure, structure is also invaluable in helping you do what is most important to you.
And a calendar is one of the must have structures or tools for ADHD adults. One of the most obvious ways it can help you is to remind you of where you need to be. As you can both see and hear, if you set audible reminders, what you’re supposed to be doing at any given moment. Also, as ADHD, adults tend not to be future oriented, a calendar can help you see what’s coming up in the future. So you can better plan.
In addition, once you’ve decided and scheduled something on your calendar, it can, while not the magic bullet, serve as one piece of the puzzle to help motivate you to act. Last, if your calendar reflects your values and goals, you can be more certain you are getting the right things done. Rather than just impulsively doing whatever comes to mind. And, if your calendar is not a reflection of your values and goals, you’ll be able to see that. And may decide to realign how you spend your time. I bet you can think of other ways your calendar can help you a calendar.
However, is not the right tool to manage your task. Think about it. Have you ever put a task in your calendar that you know really does it need to be done at that time? Maybe you even set a reminder. But when you hear the reminder, you just ignore it. Then you forget about the task. But you keep on putting tasks in your calendar because you’re really hoping that it will help you follow through. A gentle reminder. Hope is not a strategy. Tasks should go in a task manager. And you can listen to my earlier podcast about these or read one of my blog post series on task managers. I’ve put these in the resource section of the podcast on my website.
If your calendar is going to serve as the hard landscape of your life, which I think it should, then you want to include only what you’ve chosen to do on a particular day at a particular time. This will include all your appointments, meetings, events, birthdays, holiday, et cetera. You get it. You want to include everything that is date and time sensitive.
This could also include blocks of time to work on specific projects, appointments with yourself to do what is important to you. Yes, I know honoring these times is a challenge. We’ll get to strategies on how to follow through on these blocks in a little bit. Last, if a task is date and time sensitive, such as calling the insurance company on Tuesday at 9:00 AM, you could certainly put it in your calendar. Because that is what you’re doing on that day at that time.
Ok, so far, I’ve shared with you what to put or not put in your calendar. Now it’s time to talk about how you can ensure, as much as possible, that your calendar reflects the optimal rhythm for your day, which can help you manage your stress.
Transitions are challenging for ADHD adults. So, in addition to deciding before your day starts what you’re going to do so you don’t have overlapping appointments, you also want to avoid what I call a Lego calendar, where everything is back-to-back.
As much as possible, give yourself time to transition, including winding down from one activity and preparing for the next. While I know you don’t always have control over your time, giving yourself enough buffer between activities will help, yes, your stress and overwhelm. If you’re not sure if this is true, give it a try. For example, one of my clients originally had 60-minute appointments with clients back to back. She decided to change them to 50-minute appointments so she could have time to transition and be really present for each client.
I encourage you to experiment with adding more buffer to your day, whenever possible. It’s also important to schedule downtime. In fact, Neil Fiore in his book, The Now Habit, suggest that you can be more productive, complete more high-quality work, if you schedule play first. Play can be anything that, well, doesn’t seem like work, including exercise, hobbies, home tasks, et cetera. One of the reasons we procrastinate, Fiore points out, is that we’re afraid we won’t have time to have fun because we have too much work to do. Scheduling play in your calendar can give you assurance you don’t have to wait to have fun. Then, rather than relying on fear and threats to motivate yourself to work, you may actually find you’re pulled to do your work when you have more frequent rewards in the form of scheduled play.
In addition to ensuring you have enough buffer and downtime in your calendar, it’s also important to look ahead and schedule time for independent work. But I know right now you may be in the habit of filling up your calendar with requests from other people. And, because you are being reactive and not proactive, you might have a hard time scheduling time to do work when it’s optimal for you. You just try to fit it in around everything else. Well, as I said, being future oriented is a challenge for you because of your ADHD, you can practice looking ahead and protecting your time to reduce the chances of other people running your calendar.
It’s particularly helpful to block off time for tasks you’re likely to put off. You might schedule time to work on a project or maybe have reoccurring blocks of time when you do certain types of tasks. Home admin, for example, is a good candidate for routine blocks of time. So you can be confident you have a time every week to tackle these type of tasks.
Of course, blocking off time in your calendar isn’t enough. You might still ignore these. I know. If you think that might be the case, you’ll want to consider what will help you follow through. For example, you might ask someone to work with you, be a body double, or perhaps you’ll sign up for a session on Focusmate, which is an online accountability app. That may work for you. If you’re interested in, find out more about this, check out focusmate.com
And the weekly review is hands down one time that you can look ahead and consider how you want to protect time on your calendar to do what’s important to you. If you’re not sure how to do a weekly review, check out my weekly review post in the resource section of the podcast on my website for suggestions on how you could do one.
Once you’ve done all the hard work of organizing your calendar to reflect your values and goals and have included plenty of buffer, including some downtime, then you’ll need to do the hard work of remembering to interact with your calendar consistently.
This part I know will take practice, especially if right now you try to rely on your memory because you think you should be able to remember what’s on your calendar. Don’t do this. That’s why you have a calendar to help you remember your intentions. If you’ve ever forgotten something you put on your calendar because you didn’t look at it, you know what I’m talking about. What if instead of thinking you should be able to remember, you decide you might not or probably won’t remember and are willing to adopt the habit of looking at your calendar at every transition. If you also add audible calendar reminders, you can be more confident you won’t miss something and, yes, you’ll be less stressed.
For the audible reminders from your calendar to really work it’s important that you not have other reminders going off. Some people set reminders for task, and then ignore them because they can’t or choose not to do the task when the reminder goes off.
If you do this, then you also might ignore reminders from your calendar. It’s best just to have reminders from your calendar to cue you that you have an upcoming time sensitive appointment.
Once you put something in your calendar, it’s important also to remember it’s not written in stone. You’ll definitely need to pivot sometimes. And so you want to be flexible enough to do that. Stuff happens, right? But you also want to follow through as much as possible. Unless there’s a compelling reason not to.
So, before you decide not to take your bike in for the tune-up because you have to catch up on your email, consider the importance of having your bike to ride. To help you remember this you could put the word “health” in your calendar as a reminder of the reason you would choose to follow through on this at the critical moment of choice. You might decide your health is worth following through on going to the bike store, or you might decide it’s more important to finish the emails. The key is to be intentional about whether to follow through or not on something that’s in your calendar.
Not only do you want your calendar to reflect what’s important to you, but, as much as possible, you also want to honor the ebb and flow of your energy. That is, try to align the time you do different tasks with your energy patterns. If you tend, for example, to get tired, mid-afternoon that may not be the best time to work on your presentation. But it might be a good time to take your bike to the bike store. I think you get it.
Okay, last tip. To reduce the stress incurred with preparing at the last minute, include as much information as you will need with each calendar item. For example, you might include an address, phone number, list of items needed, links to any documents or notes, et cetera. Doing this preparation upfront when you put the item in your calendar can hopefully prevent last minute scurrying around to get what you need. And then possibly being late. Because you’re trying to find what you need. You can put this in the notes section of the calendar item.
Who knew so much went into having an effective calendar. But I promise. You’ll definitely have less stress if you practice with just some of these tips. So, which one do you want to experiment with first?
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, I hope you’ll check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today, which I hope you have, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might also benefit. And, until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done. And I’m Marla Cummins, wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.