4 Ways Tracking Helps Support Your ADHD + How To Do It!

How do you feel when you think about tracking different data points in your life?

  • How long it takes you to complete your morning routine and get to the office each day
  • Your ADHD symptoms throughout the month
  • Your energy levels on the days you walk your dog in the afternoon vs. the days you don’t
woman keeping track in journal

For a lot of us with ADHD, the thought of tracking information seems overwhelming and this makes sense since many of us struggle with short-term memory, remembering to actually gather the information is a challenge in itself.

Plus, we tend to go all-or-nothing, telling ourselves “I have to gather ALL the data PERFECTLY. Otherwise, what’s the point in tracking at all?”

Today I’m here to challenge that all-or-nothing thinking and suggest a new perspective.

You can gather SOME data at a B+ level and see a significant impact on your life. 

When you track something of interest to you, having that additional information can help you better understand how to work with your ADHD brain. 

What’s more, we can glean so much from exploring just one or two areas at a time. 

And if you’re ready to learn how, be sure to tune into episode 174 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

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 This Episode, You Will Discover

  • Four ways tracking can be impactful on your life
  • Three key areas for tracking data
  • How to effectively track the information (and remember to do it!)

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Episode #174: 4 Ways Tracking Can Help Support Your ADHD (And How To Do It!) (Transcript) 

Benefits of tracking important info when you have ADHD

Today we’re talking about the power of tracking and more specifically, tracking the day-to-day things in our lives.

Tracking information about things that seem sticky, our habits and our routines, our ADHD symptoms and mood, our wins, and our successes. We’re talking all about the power and impact of tracking and why it is worth making the time for it for so many different reasons.

Then we’re discussing how to actually do it. We’ll explore some different strategies and approaches to help us track this data and gather information.

The Irony of Tracking

woman writing in journal

The irony of this topic for our ADHD brains is not lost on me. It’s a little bit like telling someone with ADHD who struggles with time management, “have you considered using a planner?” And leaving it at that. I mean…how badly do you want to roll your eyes in situations like this? “Oh, wow… I hadn’t thought of that before.”

So if you are a little bit skeptical about tracking and thinking to yourself, “Paula if you seriously tell me to start tracking everything in my life, I’m turning off this podcast right now. I don’t have the time nor will I REMEMBER to track everything…” I got you.

I’m not going to tell you to track everything in your life.

I’m offering different ways that we can help remember to track the one or two things we actually want to start tracking.

As you listen to this episode today, I encourage you to stay open. Notice the examples or areas that sound appealing or helpful for you to track. And if you’d like to, perhaps lean into one maybe two areas to play around with.

If you’re like me, and you want to go all in and track everything all at once, really challenge yourself to go slowly and notice the all-or-nothing at play. I love the enthusiasm, but let’s take it slowly.

Let’s take it one small step at a time. Because as you will hear as a theme running throughout this entire podcast, with everything we try, there’s an opportunity to gather data and learn from what works and what doesn’t.

We can do this on a meta scale as well. We can look at the practice of tracking itself and see what works and what doesn’t more broadly so that when we start expanding and tracking other areas, we can learn from what works and apply it to these next data points we’re gathering.

4 Reasons Tracking Benefits People With ADHD

Why is it helpful to track in the first place?

Why do we want to even consider this as an option?

As I alluded to earlier, the irony of this practice is that for many of us with ADHD or ADHD tendencies, our memory is pretty darn terrible. How often do we tell ourselves those famous last words, “I’ll remember… I won’t forget this part. I’m really into this right now, I’m not going to forget.” And then three hours later, two days later, five minutes later, it’s completely out of our minds. We’ve forgotten.

However, when we can instill a habit of tracking important information, we actually can remember. We have a much better shot of having that important information ready when we need it.

1. Easier To Refer Back To (Than Relying on Short-Term Memory)

It’s powerful to establish a habit of tracking in a few areas of your life is that our short-term memory is pretty terrible, and gathering data somewhere is a powerful way to help yourself out so you don’t have to try and hold that important information in your mind. Instead, it’s stored in a concrete location.

2. Helps Prevent All-Or-Nothing Thinking

Another reason I think it’s impactful to start tracking information for ourselves is that it helps us gather data to help our brains avoid slipping into all-or-nothing thinking.

Our brains love to tell us…

  • I’m always terrible with time.
  • It seems like my brain is foggy every single day.
  • It seems like my knee has always hurt; I have no idea when it started.
  • My partner and I never go out for date nights. I never meet deadlines.
  • I’m the one who always has to do the dishes.

Again, our brains inherently rely on what we remember, and since our memory isn’t always reliable as ADHD brains, we tend to slip into absolutes with all-or-nothing thinking.

When we start gathering data, we can look back at it.

We can check in with ourselves.

Is it true that I have been foggy every single day this month? If so, maybe I want to talk with my doctor about that.

Or am I in a low slump this week? Because when I look back at the data, the last two weeks before that had been relatively clear except that one day on Saturday when I didn’t get enough sleep.

Is it true that I never ever meet deadlines? Well, according to tracking my wins, I’ve actually met most of my deadlines over the last two weeks. There was that one that I turned my report in a day late. And it is true there were a couple where I was up against the wire and feeling a lot of anxiety. But actually, I’ve only missed one deadline. The rest of them I’ve made.

When we gather this data, it helps this challenge all-or-nothing thinking and put things into a bit more perspective.

3. Tracking Helps Us See Patterns

Tracking information allows us to start seeing patterns. In fact, a lot of us with ADHD brains are quite skilled at seeing patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed. And when we have the data to look at, it allows us to use that strength of pattern recognition and identify those patterns even more. When we have the information, we can start zooming in and asking ourselves, what is working here?

For example, “these last few weeks I’ve been on time and even early to work. What is working in my routine?”

Or “the last four days I’ve been extremely tired. What’s going on? What has shifted in my sleep? Or how are my stress levels?”

“I notice that I have a lot more energy in the afternoons when I go for a W-A-L-K with Bruno after lunch. On the days when I don’t, I feel myself a little bit more lethargic and less clear. Good to know.”

Seeing these patterns can help inform us of what’s working so we can continue supporting ourselves.

4. Tracking Helps With Decisions and Future Plans

Finally, the fourth reason why I think it’s impactful to begin tracking one or two areas in our lives, is that it helps us inform future decisions and make more accurate plans.

When we have information about how long things generally take us, it allows us to make plans for the day or the week more accurately.

Similarly, if we know we tend to experience big emotions when attending certain events or we often feel overwhelmed during certain experiences, we can notice those patterns and do some pre-coaching as we talked about last week. Or if we struggle with transitions at certain times of the day, having that information can help us better prepare ourselves so that we have the tools we need ahead of time to support ourselves.  

I know I’ve mentioned on the podcast before that I like to have my shutdown routine at the end of the day where I’ve built in intentional quiet time for myself. I’ll do breathwork and listen to music while walking Bruno so that I can make that ease of transition from work to home much smoother.

I realized I needed this after gathering data that once I stopped having a commute driving from work at the university to my home, I was feeling edgier at the end of the day. And upon gathering that data, I realized I was missing that transition time, so I learned to build it in.

This made things much more enjoyable for both me and Ryan at the end of the day.

So again, there are so many powerful reasons I think it is helpful for us to track data.

Again, please hear me when I say we don’t have to track every single area of our lives – that’s way too much info for any human and it’s just not necessary in my opinion. But when we can zoom in on a couple of different areas, and put in some scaffolding to help make that tracking process a bit easier, it can make a big difference.

It doesn’t have to be a forever thing, either.

With my commute example, I started tracking my mood to notice what was going on at the end of work, and once they figured out a solution to give myself that transition time, I didn’t need to track it anymore. I found something that helped.

So this isn’t something that you have to do forever if you don’t need the continual data – just as long as you need it.

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3 Key Areas To Track

Let’s talk about what we might actually track.

This could be a very extensive list. If you went down the Google rabbit hole of things to track, you would find no shortage of ideas.

It’s remarkable how many things people track. Again, I don’t think we need to go to the extreme side of tracking. I don’t think it’s necessary. But I am going to share three different categories with specific examples within each to give you some ideas.

As you read, lean into which areas speak the most to you. You might realize that some of them you have no interest in or you don’t need that data. But others you might find could be useful. Notice the ones that pique your curiosity. Those are the areas to start.

1. Tracking Your Time

clock

Tracking your time might be how long a routine takes, the length of time it takes to complete a specific project or task. Or alternatively, where your time is going more generally.

Let’s look at these individually.

The Length of a Routine

If we think about the length of a routine, maybe we spend some time gathering data about how long your morning routine actually takes.

I’m not talking about what you think it should take. And I’m not talking about how long it takes on the rare occurrence when all the stars align, all the lights are green, every child cooperates and gets up right on time.

I’m talking about how long the morning routine takes on a normal Tuesday when some things are going well, and some things aren’t.

When we start gathering that data of not only how long it takes to do the things around the house, but also that transition time…

Meaning, the time it takes…

  • Gather up all the things around the house to get out the door.
  • Get to your car and then realize you forgot your coffee, run back inside, grab the mug, and get back to your car.
  • Get to work when there is traffic and park your car. And then walk into the building and get settled in. If you are a person who is focused on getting to work on time, having the details of this data really clear for yourself is super powerful. Especially if you deal with time blindness.

Part of my evening transition routine includes either taking a shower or washing my face and changing into comfy clothes at the end of the day before dinner. For the longest time, I was convinced this took me 10 minutes, 12 minutes tops. I would always tell Ryan over and over, it’ll just be 10-15 minutes I’ll be right down. And finally, he said to me, “Paula it’s always 25 minutes. Every single day, it’s always 25 minutes.”

And of course, he’s right because he’s not time blind. Having that data was really helpful. Not only did it allow me to have a better awareness of how much time I need, but it also made planning when we’d eat dinner more accurate.

How Long Specific Tasks or Projects Take

The same goes for how long specific tasks or projects take.

How long does it take to get to carline and go through the pickup?

How long does it take to stroll the dog? I know this down to the minute. I have three different routes that I like to take. One is 22 minutes, one is 33 minutes, and one is 47 minutes. And when it’s hot and humid and Bruno and I are moving slow, or it’s icy in the winter and we’re walking more carefully, I add 3 minutes to each of those times.

How long does it take to send your invoices?

How long does it take to fill out and submit your expense report each month?

Knowing this information can be really helpful not only in terms of planning for it, but also because our brain sometimes gets confused.

If I hadn’t actually timed how long it takes to unload the dishwasher, my brain would be convinced that it takes roughly an eternity. But then I finally timed it, I realized it takes about 3 minutes. I can get the entire dishwasher emptied by the time I reheat last night’s leftovers for lunch the next day.

So having that data helps put things that I otherwise want to avoid because my brain says it “takes forever” into perspective.

Related: Download my Free Time Tracking Workbook to Get Started!


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2. Tracking Health Data

tracking looking at wearable

The next area that I think can be useful for tracking could fall either into this overarching category of time, or the next category I want to talk about, which is health. So I’ll use this as sort of a transition example.

I think gathering data about how often something happens can also prove useful.

How often over the past couple of weeks has your ankle been hurting?

How often over the last couple of weeks have you felt that way?

If you’re anything like me, time completely blends together. It’s super hard to distinguish between days and weeks. But when you have that data gathered on paper or digitally, it can be really informative.

It helps us realize, “Oh wow, my ankle has actually hurt every single day except one.” Or “I’ve been feeling anxious nearly every day this week; I want to mention that to my therapist on Thursday.” So tracking the frequency of events can be really helpful.

Track Your ADHD Symptoms

Similarly, on a more general scale, it can be useful to track your ADHD symptoms overall.

  • How is your mood?
  • How is your level of focus and clarity?
  • How is your impulsivity or restlessness?
  • How has your planning and task initiation been going?

Gathering these data points can be really useful not only for your own understanding but also to share with your doctor or your therapist or your coach. It can help you start finding those patterns.

Track How Your Medications Are Going

If you are figuring out which medications work best for you and your body, this is another great thing to track.

For those of you who have ever been on the medication journey with a psychiatrist, you know that it is a bit of a trial and error.

Everyone’s body responds a little bit differently to different medications.

Therefore, when you can gather that data on how you’re feeling and how your symptoms are showing up, and the types of side effects you’re noticing, it can make the check-ins and conversations with your doctor or psychiatrist so much more impactful.

Because again, if we don’t have the data, we tend to go off what we best remember, which is usually the last day or two. But if you’ve been tracking your symptoms for the last several weeks, that can give a clearer overview for your doctor to work with.

Track Your ADHD Symptoms Alongside Your Monthly Cycle

The last area I want to mention is one that I think it’s really important to explore if you are a person who has a monthly hormonal cycle.

This is tracking your ADHD symptoms with your menstrual cycle.

There is a growing body of research out there on the impact of fluctuating hormones -predominantly the drastic decrease of estrogen and increase of progesterone – on a person’s ADHD symptoms when we follow a more or less 28-30 day cycle.

(As a side note, this also speaks to the larger fluctuation of estrogen levels as women near menopause.) But generally, these fluctuations can really exasperate our ADHD symptoms in terms of forgetfulness, impulsivity, irritability, and heightened emotional dysregulation generally.

While I can safely say I never thought I’d be talking about my own personal cycle on this podcast ever, here we are.

I recently had what I found to be a really eye-opening experience around my cycle and ADHD symptoms that happened just a couple of weeks ago. And I think it’s worth sharing here to put things into perspective and help demonstrate how hugely impactful tracking your cycle and knowing where you’re at can be.

Several weeks ago, I had an interview scheduled to be on another podcast, which is something I absolutely love to do. I love getting to talk to all sorts of audiences about ADHD and productivity and working with our brains to get things done. It’s such a fun way to share and spread the message to people outside the ADHD space specifically.

So as a side note, if any of you have a podcast or know of a podcast where you think my message would be a great fit, feel free to reach out. I would love to connect with you.

But anyway, I was getting interviewed on a podcast several weeks ago, and the interview went great. It was so much fun. The host was wonderful, and it was a super fun conversation.

Unfortunately, at the end of the call, the host realized something happened with the recording and the episode didn’t get captured. Now, this wasn’t an issue for me. It was a super delightful conversation. Not a big deal. So we decided to reschedule. And I chose the exact same time the following week.

The next week rolls around, and everything is exactly the same. Same setup. Same time of day. In fact, the only thing that was different was that I had heard her questions before, so I even kind of knew what was coming.

Nevertheless – despite all the same circumstances – throughout the entire interview, it felt like my brain had completely fallen out of my head. I couldn’t find words. I was distracted anytime Ryan or Bruno walked by the hallway outside my office and lost my train of thought several times. And it generally felt like my brain had left the building.

It was just this foggy experience where I really struggled to process the things I wanted to say; it was not nearly as easy as it had been the week before despite everything being the same. Then it dawned on me that I had rescheduled this makeup call for the final week of my cycle when my estrogen levels are at their lowest, and my brain fog and forgetfulness, and distractibility are at their highest.

I’ve never had an experience where I was able to compare the impact of my cycle and my ADHD symptoms so acutely as this scenario where it was literally the same interview with the same person at the same time of day yet my experience was so remarkably different.

This was such a powerful reminder for me to use this data that I have to inform my decisions around scheduling.

It’s such a powerful reminder to focus on the other three weeks of the cycle when – despite having ADHD – my brain is generally clearer, my memory is a little better, and it’s easier for me to speak off the cuff without words falling out of my head.

I share this as a real-life example of how impactful it can be to gather this data and have it for you at the ready so that you can use the information in support of you and your brain as often as possible.

Of course, you can’t always plan around it, but even when you can’t, you might take on less generally or make sure you’re getting enough sleep, etc.

3. Track Your Habits and Successes

habit tracker in journal

The final area where I think bringing in tracking can be impactful is around tracking our habits, wins and the gains that we create each day.

When it comes to tracking our habits, having a place where we get to check off when we do the thing, or X off the day, or color in the tracker, put a bead in a jar, each one of these ways of measuring our progress creates that little sense of accomplishment. And when we build up enough days, we create a chain.

As Jerry Seinfeld talked about with his practice of writing a joke every day, once you create that chain, you don’t want to break it.

We have that momentum going. So if you have a routine that you’re following, using some sort of tracker can help reinforce those behaviors as you track your successes.

When you capture those streaks you’re showing your brain, “See? I can do this. I can follow through. I am a person who sticks with their habits.” And with each bead in the jar or each check in the box, you gather a little bit more evidence for your brain.

Along those same lines, I love the idea of tracking our wins.

There’s so much power in counting your wins and tracking your successes. Our brains tend toward the negative. Our brains tend to focus on what we haven’t done, what there’s left to do, and the things that have gone wrong.

When we make a concerted effort to record the wins and recognize our moments of growth and learning and our advancements both big and small every day, it can really shift our perspective.

If you want to take this concept further, I highly recommend checking Episode 136: Increase Your Productivity by Counting Your Wins. It’s a good one and will help you really take this concept even further. You can also download the Count Your Wins printable too!

How To Use Tracking With ADHD

We’ve talked about the power and impact of gathering data and tracking information. And we also explored the overarching areas where it might be useful to dive into this practice, whether it’s tracking time, tracking health and wellness, or tracking habits and successes.

Now let’s talk about how to actually track these things.

Again, our memory is not always amazing. So how do we actually remember to do this tracking?

Tip 1: Start Small

The most important thing is to start small.

We only want to start tracking one or maybe two things and we want to do it as simply as possible.

If you’re anything like me, your brain wants to make everything really complex. It wants to find the most intricate way of doing things.

If you notice your brain wanting to do that, I invite you to ask yourself:

  • What would easy look like here?
  • What is the easiest way to track this data?

For some of you, it might be using an app. I have clients who love the routinist app for tracking and timing their routines. There are apps like Habitify and Strides that track routines. I use an app called timeular, which tracks my time throughout the day. There are lots of mood trackers out there. Similarly, there are plenty of apps that track your cycle, I like the flow app FLO. And in fact, I used the flow app to help me track my mood as well.

There are also paper options. There are habit trackers. I know many of you love bullet journaling, so perhaps you create a beautiful spread that you get to fill in each time you follow through on something. There are mood trackers and timesheet trackers. Essentially, anything you can find in a digital app you can also find for paper or create in your bullet journal.

Tip 2: Make a Plan on How To Stick To Tracking

Now how do we stick with them?

This is where you might want to play around with a couple of different strategies.

Use the reminder notification that is built into your app and you intentionally set the notification to go off at a time that you’ll generally be able to slow down and make note.

Set an alarm: If you’re using a paper system, maybe you set an alarm at the same time each day to record the data.

Try Habit Stacking: Build this new practice of tracking into an already-established habit. At the end of the day, check in on my data to learn how much time I spent doing each thing and get a better understanding of where my time is going.

Or if I was tracking my energy and focus levels, maybe I would pair that with 3 moments throughout the day: first sitting down at the start of my day, second during my lunch break, and third at the end of the day. AI I could ask myself: on a scale of 1 to 10, where am I at for energy and focus and see if I can find any patterns.

When we can start pairing tracking with things we’re already doing, it makes it a little bit easier to remember.

Use a Wearable. The easiest way to lock in our tracking is through wearables. Whether that’s a Fitbit or an Apple Watch or an Oura ring. So, if you’re someone who’s looking to gather data on their movement or their sleep or their rest and downtime, having a wearable tracker that automatically syncs with an app just takes out all the guesswork, and you already have it there for you.

For example, I use an Oura ring, which provides a lot of valuable data about how much sleep I’m getting. And when I pair it with the Rise sleep app, I have a better idea about my circadian rhythms and when I’ll have my peaks and valleys of energy throughout the day. That works for me – especially because all I have to do is literally wear the ring.

Just like everything else, this is a process of iteration. So allow yourself space to play.

Next Steps

I invite you to choose just one area in your life you’d like to track. One segment of one area in your life and start gathering some data.

See what you can learn from it.

Then once you’ve gathered the data you need, you can either move on to something new, or you can build on the already established habit of tracking and add on another one.

Depending on what you’re tracking, you may do one or the other. If you’re figuring out how long it takes you to get to work, once you get that locked in, you can probably stop tracking it. However if you’re tracking your mood, that might be one that you want to maintain for a longer period of time.

Give yourself space to play and figure out how tracking might be most beneficial for you and your brain. I can’t wait to hear what you learn.

If you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and apply them to your life. If you’re ready to learn how to support your ADHD in a way that works for YOU within a small, supportive community in We’re Busy Being Awesome, then I invite you to join us!

Also, have you grabbed the podcast roadmap yet? It has the most popular episodes all detailed for you so you can get yourself up to speed and ready to work with your ADHD brain. Access now!

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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