6 Step Planning Routine For Adults with ADHD

While we know planning supports our ADHD, getting ourselves to stick with a planning routine can be an obstacle.

We think to ourselves, “How can I create time to plan when everything else seems urgent?”

“How can I go through each step when my brain is so distracted?”

And “How can I actually remember to plan in the first place? Because seriously…sometimes I simply forget!”

woman planning her day in a planner

If your brain does well with a plan, but it’s challenging to stick with a planning routine, you’re going to love episode 162 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

We’re exploring six powerful ways to help you stick with the process so you can support your brain in a way that’s best for you.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 162: 6 Step Planning Routine for Adults with ADHD, You’ll Discover How To…

  • Create clarity around your planning
  • Simplify the planning process
  • Create backup plans to follow through on the process (even on those off days)

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Episode #162: 6 Step Planning Routine for Adults With ADHD (Transcript) 

6 Step Planning Routine fro Adults with ADHD

Hey everybody. Welcome to the podcast. How are you? I’m in a bit of denial that this episode is coming out on August 29th, which means if you’re listening to this in real-time, September is just days away. Now, I do love fall – especially in New England – but my head is spinning a bit with how quickly the summer flew by. Anyone else? 

Seeing as we’re kicking off the month of September, which often signals the end of the more carefree summer months and the beginning of a more routine-based schedule – at least in the northern hemisphere – I thought I’d spend some time on today’s podcast talking about planning

The topic we’re talking about specifically in relation to planning was inspired by one of my clients in We’re Busy Being Awesome. We had just finished up our month-long deep-dive into all things planning. 

Here’s a quick recap of what we covered in the group:

  • The power of prioritization and how we can do that effectively – even when our lists are a mile long.
  • Our individual time budgets and how much time we want to allow for each priority.
  • Everyone created their personalized schedules to work with their ADHD brains.
  • The best individual support systems without trying to force themselves to fit within specific rules of how we “should” schedule or plan our time, especially since these arbitrary rules weren’t usually built for the ADHD brain. 

As I mentioned, one of the group members asked an important question, which I thought everyone in our busy awesome community would find relatable.

She mentioned that…

She finds planning really helpful. It gives her brain the structure she likes; she feels much more productive, and her days feel more streamlined when she makes time to plan. However, she’s been struggling with following through on the habit of planning.

In other words, she loves having a plan, and she’s looking for additional support in sticking with doing the process because even though her brain loves that it’s done, the actual planning is hard for her to stick with. 

Her question was perfectly timed for the group, because this month we’re diving into task initiation and how we actually stick with those planning habits and the plans we make.

But again, since I know so many of our ADHD brains struggle to stick with the planning habit, even though we know it’s supportive in giving our brain direction, I thought I’d share some of the strategies and concepts I offered the group with everyone on the podcast today.

So let’s talk about it.

How can we actually stick with our planning process more often?

How can we lean into the habit so it doesn’t seem like so much effort every time?  

Step 1: Understand Why you want to plan

professional woman at laptop

The first stepI recommend doing is getting clear on what your planning habit is and why you want to stick with it.

Why is this important to you?

Is it a “should“ that you’re forcing on yourself?

Are you trying to fit yourself into a neurotypical planning box because that’s what everyone says you have to do?

Or have you found a system that feels supportive for you, and you want to lean into the approach because it will help you stick with your plans and move you forward on your goals? 

I know this seems like a strange question to lead with, but I think it’s really important to consider.

So often we try to stick with habits that don’t actually feel supportive.

We work against our brains because we think that’s what you “should” do to get stuff done. But when we’re working from a place of force or pressure, that’s when the toddler brain starts throwing tantrums. That’s when we put up that wall of resistance and it becomes a constant tug of war between what we want to do and what we think we should do. 

So the first and most important step: Make sure you have a system or a habit that you like. And that you’re choosing it FOR you. 

For those of you who might start spinning in your head right now, not sure if you’re choosing it for you or if you’re doing it from a place of “should,” that’s okay.

This is something we gradually discover. So go in with a sense of curiosity and inquiry, and know that you can always make adjustments as you figure out what’s supportive of your brain and what’s not. 

You can ask yourself some simple questions to help you create that clarity. You might ask:  

  • What part of this process feels good and supportive?  
  • Does anything feel too restrictive?  
  • What feels too open-ended and chaotic?  
  • What parts do I want to keep?  
  • Do I want to adjust anything?
  • What works in other parts of my life that I can apply to this new habit? 

As you keep asking and answering those questions, you gradually uncover the approach that works really well for your brain.  

Now, in addition to those general questions, I want to offer a few different concrete steps to help you not only find the planning approach that works well for you but also how to stick with it. What are some different approaches you can try?  

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Step 2: What Is Your Manual? 

It’s really useful to get clear on your brain’s manual for yourself and planning. Now, what do I mean by this?

I talked about the concept of the manual back in episode 80, however in that podcast, I was looking at the manual through the lens of relationships.  

We talked about a manual as all the unwritten rules our brain has for other people in our lives. It’s like the “rule book” our brain has written about how other people should act or perform.

Just as we have a step-by-step manual for how to work your Instant Pot, we have a manual or rule book for how your partner should or shouldn’t talk to you after work, and how your kids should clean up their rooms without you needing to ask. Or the unwritten rules for how your colleague shouldn’t complain so much about next week’s meeting.  

Until we slow down and get curious about these manuals, they generally remain unacknowledged or unrecognized.

Why? Because we’re not actually aware of them; we let them control how we feel about our day-to-day rather than recognizing we have a choice. And how we choose to think about the mess in our kid’s room is what makes us feel irritated or not; it’s not the room itself. 

The thing is, we have these manuals for ourselves, too. Many of us have these unwritten rules for how we “should” plan our day. Or how we “should” manage our time.

If you write at the top of a piece of paper a question like: “if I was really good at planning, then I would…” Or “A person who can manage their time well always…” and then write down everything that comes to your mind.

When you do this, you reveal to yourself all of the unwritten rules in your manual for yourself around planning and time management.

I’m telling you, it can be quite illuminating, and if you can keep an open, amused mind about it, often pretty ridiculous.  

For example, some of the rules in my original manual to be a person who’s good at planning included:  

  • Never sleeps in. 
  • Has a strict morning routine. 
  • Makes a well-thought-out plan for each part of the day. 
  • Switches from one project to the next without a need for transition so every moment is accounted for. 
  • Doesn’t waste any time. 
  • Maps out all projects without error in how long things take.  
  • Always gets things done ahead of time.  
  • Never procrastinates.  
  • Never gets distracted.  

This is just a small sample of what was once my rather thick manual before I intentionally looked at the rules I had and reevaluated each one.

Now I invite you to do the same. 

What are the rules you have for yourself when it comes to planning?

What does your brain think you need to do in order to own the identity of being “a good planner” or a “person who plans and follows their schedule?”

Once you write everything down and nothing else comes up, then you can check in and decide intentionally what guidelines you want to keep and which ones you want to release.  

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where did I pick up this rule?  
  • Is it supportive for me? 
  • Is this rule realistic or reasonable? 
  • Is it reasonable even on the days when my executive functions don’t show up to work? 
  • Why do I think I need to follow this rule? What about that one? 
  • Are they good for my brain or is it a “should” that I heard from somebody, or that I read on the Instagram feed of some productivity guru who very clearly does not have ADHD?  

Throughout this process, you may find that there are some rules you like. Maybe some of them help your brain have more clarity and structure, while others seem too restrictive. That’s okay! We want to sort through each one and decide with intention.  

For example: Many people recommend planning your day first thing in the morning. And this works great for a lot of people. It helps you start your day with clarity as you have your tasks top of mind, and it gives your brain a bit of warm-up time before getting into the work. There are lots of great reasons for this approach. 

On the other hand, I personally prefer planning for the next day at the end of my current day. My brain likes the closure of the process at the end of the day so I don’t have to spend any extra decision-making first thing in the morning. 

There is no right or wrong way to do it. The important thing is to find the guidelines that provide support rather than forcing yourself to fit arbitrary rules because someone said you “should.” When we’re doing things because we think we should, we’re often including a whole lot of busy work and steps we simply don’t need to move forward and complete the things we want to do that day. 

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Step 3: How Can I Make Planning Easy? 

What does easy look like?

Here’s the deal. If you want to set yourself up for success and stick with a planning process that’s supportive for you most of the time, we want to create a system that is super simple and easy.

That way, on the days when things seem especially hard, and it’s a slog to even get in front of your computer to begin the day, you have a super simple system in place that gives your brain some semblance of structure.

It may not be a regular plan you use on the days when you’ve gotten enough sleep and your brain’s cooperating. But we want to have something in place that you can pull from even on foggy days.  

To help us create clarity we can ask ourselves,

What does easy look like?

What is my minimum baseline for those days when I need to set most things aside, but I’m committed to sticking with the one or two non-negotiables?  

Establishing a Minimum Baseline

I’ve talked about the minimum baseline on the podcast several times, but I think it’s been a while. So as a refresher, here’s the gist.

When you are establishing a habit or routine, the minimum baseline is the minimum number of times per day or per week that you are going to do that thing.

In other words, the shortest amount of time you know you can do it or the simplest, most stripped-down version of whatever routine or habit you want to follow. 

Minimum baseline example 1: If you want to walk every day, but you’re starting from not walking at all, your minimum baseline could be walking to the end of your driveway or putting on your shoes.  

In this situation, what is the minimum amount of planning that you could do – and are willing to do – even on the days when things seem hard or your brain is telling you you’re way too busy to plan?

What is so laughably small that you know for sure, you can absolutely do it?  

Minimum baseline example 2: Maybe you’re having a day; you didn’t sleep last night, your executive functions are not cooperating, and you don’t have the capacity to stick with your usual planning routine. However, at the same time, you know you want to get something done.

In order to give your brain the support of some structure, maybe your minimum baseline is writing one thing on a sticky note when you sit down at your desk and you stick with that until it’s done. That’s enough.  

Or maybe you identify one main project and one task. Or you plan your morning but leave your afternoon free.  Or maybe you identify when you have your meetings and when you have open space, so your brain has a better picture of what the day looks like.  

Everybody’s minimum baseline will be different. So I encourage you to get clear on what your minimum baseline is.

For myself, it’s usually writing down three things I want to do on a piece of paper; that’s my minimum baseline even on the days when my brain is struggling.

I think to myself, “Okay, I can decide on three things for today. Even if I don’t get through all of them, that’s okay. But let’s at least focus my brain on three things so I don’t feel so distracted thinking about everything.” 

So again, what does easy look like? What is the minimum baseline? 

Step 4: Simplify The Planning Process

The next tip to sticking with your planning habit is to ask yourself:

How can I make the process easy?

How can I make it easy for myself to remember to actually plan?

Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s not a resistance to planning. Instead, we’re in such a flurry that we completely forget. We’re in such a rush to get started on the day that it slips our minds. Or we’re dealing with object permanence, and if the planner is out of sight then it’s out of mind.

In situations like this, how do we remind ourselves? How can we jog our memory to take those 5 minutes to plan out our day? This is where I love to ask myself: how can I make the process easier? 

Examples To Make The Planning Process Easy

  • Put your planner right next to your keyboard or on top of your keyboard so you can’t miss it before you start your work. Or maybe you put it right next to your coffee mug. That way, you can map out your day as you enjoy your coffee and let the caffeine work its magic.  
  • Plan the day with a shutdown routine. Right before I end my day, I do a quick scan of what I had planned for the current day, finish up any last details or answer any urgent emails, and then I map out the day ahead. 

Before I had that shutdown routine established, I kept my planner on the end table next to the couch in the family room. So after dinner when Ryan and I were hanging out or he had on a show, I would plan my day then before going to bed.  

So again, what feels good for you? What feels like the easiest way for you to both remember and stick with the process?  

Step 5: If-Then Planning 

woman writing in planner

To help stick with the planning process troubleshoot ahead of time what might get in the way.

You can do this by literally asking yourself:

What could get in the way of me sticking with this plan?

As always, we want to ask this question from a place of curiosity and nonjudgment. We want to ask with curiosity and love so we can support ourselves ahead of time. So again, “what might get in the way of me sticking with this routine or this planning process?”  

  • Maybe your daughter doesn’t sleep as long as she usually does in the morning and your quiet time gets cut short.
  • Perhaps you have plans directly after work that interrupt your shutdown routine time.
  • There may be days when your brain says “Ugh, what’s the point? I already know what I need to do.” 

Get clear on all the potential obstacles in the way of following through on this plan and once you’ve identified them you can come in with an if-then plan so you’re ready for whatever comes your way. 

If-Then Planning Examples

If my daughter doesn’t sleep as long as usual, then I will identify my number one task for the morning and will finish planning either during nap time or at lunch. 

If I can’t do my shutdown routine as usual, then I will plan after dinner before bed.

If I’m busy all night, then I will plan first thing the next morning.

If there are days when my brain resists planning, then I will coach my brain to stick with the minimum baseline so I can give myself some structure for the day.  

Use these if-then plans to give your brain direction in how to stick with it.

Step 6: Check in on Your Thoughts and Feelings

What do you think about planning? 

The last thing I want to offer when it comes to sticking with our planning process is to check in on our thoughts and feelings – of course.

We can have all the strategies and tools out there, but if we’re not approaching them from a clear mindset, it’ll be pretty difficult to stick with them.  

So check in with yourself.

How do you feel about your planning process now?

When you think about planning out your day, what thoughts run through your mind?

Does it sound like, “this is a waste of time.” or “I have too much to do, I have no idea how to fit it all in my schedule.” Or does it sound like, “this planning process is what feels best for my brain; I’m doing this for me.” “Even if I don’t have the energy to do my entire process, I know I want to stick with my minimum baseline.”  

These thoughts matter.

The first examples will likely leave you feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, and either rushing through or skipping your planning process altogether. While the second set will set you up to give your brain the structure that YOU’VE identified to be the most supportive.  

This is work we do in We’re Busy Being Awesome every week.  Again, time blocking and Pomodoro techniques are googleable, but the process of coaching your brain, of getting yourself in a headspace that’s open to trying and adjusting the strategies, and of creating your own personalized scaffolding that works best for your brain is where the magic happens.

So be sure that you’re giving yourself that gift of coaching your brain and questioning any of the thoughts that aren’t supporting you. It makes a night and day difference.  

Let’s Recap: How To Stick With The Planning Process

woman creating plan on computer

How do we stick with the planning process we’ve created? 

  1. Understand what your planning habit is and why you want to stick with it.
  2. Get clear on what your brain’s manual is for planning. What are all the “shoulds” your brain has identified? Do you like all the rules in that manual? Which ones do you want to keep and which ones are you ready to delete? 
  3. Ask yourself: what does easy look like? What’s the minimum baseline that I know I can stick with no matter what? What is so laughably easy that you know you can do It? Similarly, how can you make the process easier to remember? What’s a simple way to help you remember to plan even on the days when you’re feeling rushed or the planner is out of sight out of mind? 
  4. Identify potential obstacles that could get in the way at one time or another.
  5. Create if-then plans to help you sidestep those obstacles when they come up.  
  6. Acknowledge your current thoughts about planning as well as how you want to think and feel about this planning process going forward. What thoughts can you begin practicing that are both believable and that serve you in your goals of sticking with your planning routine more often than not?  

We all have days when things won’t go as planned. Remember, we’re humans. We have ADHD or resonate with the ADHD tendencies. This is okay! Nothing has gone wrong.

The secret is in fueling our energy with thoughts that encourage, support, and clarify rather than discourage, frustrate, and defeat. When you start making that shift, the rest falls into place so much easier.  

Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.

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