Planning your life with ADHD.


Today we have a guest blog post written for us by Dr. Lesley Cook, licensed clinical psychologist specializing in treating and supporting clients with ADHD, autism and learning disabilities.

Why do ADHD’ers hate planners?

The answer is….they don’t.

They hate systems that “should” work but result in yet another perceived failure.

This is a message I deliver on a weekly basis to clients and friends and social media followers.

When a new adult client comes to see me after years of struggle, the first questions I ask are:

  • If you had a planning system that worked for you what would it look like if money was not a factor?
  • What would it feel like to use it?

I routinely get the same answer.

“I need something that changes with my changing needs; something I can put down for a time and pick back up; something that encourages me to do the things that fill me up and bring me joy but also helps me get the things done that I know I need to do”.

Many planner systems and products do some of those tasks very well, but few allow for them all.

The Next Level Daily Planner hits all those points and some additional ones for individuals with ADHD and is the only product for planning that I regularly recommend.

To understand why I love the Next Level Daily planner, you will need to understand why executive function challenges have such a profound impact on those with ADHD.

The executive functions are a collection of abilities that allow us to plan our behavior, self monitor, shift our focus, suppress our focus to unwanted information and regulate how intensely we engage the task at hand. 

In ADHD, those processes are inconsistent at best and completely dysfunctional on some days. Patterns of strengths and weaknesses differ for each individual with the diagnosis and what works one day may not work the next. I’m sure you can imagine now why finding ONE planning system to address these challenges is next to impossible.

The Next Level Daily planner has three main features that make the product (and the way of thinking it encourages) incredibly effective for those with ADHD and other executive function disturbances. It has a rhythm, it is flexible and can adapt to sudden change in routine, it encourages self-care that goes beyond bubble baths and massages.

Rhythm: Because our brains struggle to provide internal organization and rhythm, those of us with ADHD benefit from environmental rhythms that may not make sense for non ADHD’ers. We may not put our keys on a ring, but we know that they are likely to be located behind the drinks in the fridge since we were there last.

Accordingly, external supports for rhythm are incredibly helpful for us. The Next Level Daily system includes the following process: Brain Dump, prioritize, plan your day, care for yourself, set your intention.

The Brain dump allows for the sudden burst of information that can hit us in bed or the shower; at 4 pm or the middle of the night. Because the brain dump is daily, it allows for a rhythm and a feeling of “starting fresh” than can help the brain feel motivated to engage.

The priority categories also give the ADHD’ers a way to address the “how” that most other planning systems do not. I label these categories as priority (things that must be done today or there will be consequences), Important (things I would really like to get done but could wait a day or two), non-urgent (Things I hope to get to today but may be longer term goals and can wait at least a few days).

These categories provide the external stimulation that ADHD’ers need and love to make these decisions easier. It also reminds us that we do NOT need to accomplish everything in one day to be a success. And for those that have the bandwidth, entering these events in a daily calendar which does not require turning any pages, can add additional structure and reinforcement for completing tasks.

Your daily page also begins your day with gratitude and ends it with reflection, encouraging us yet again to be kind to ourselves. The most beautiful part about this rhythm is that it can occur in any order, with any or all of these steps on any day based on the user’s needs.

Flexibility: The nature of ADHD’s executive dysfunction is unpredictable.

Routines or events that may be highly reinforcing on one day, may be almost impossible to engage in the next. Our tastes for foods change unexpectedly. We discard hobbies we once considered our passion. We discard planners once they become too rigid for our needs.

Because the Next Level Daily planner is undated and includes so many options for its use, there will be no need to abandon it to the planner scrap heap when our tastes or preferences change. In fact, I own several in different colors and switch between them at will. The system adapts to the needs of the user rather than the other way around.

On a micro level, the options provided in each section including sections for notes and habit tracking, can be utilized in any way the user needs. The Next Level Daily planner is the surfboard we can ride regardless of which wave our ADHD brings on any given day.

Self-Care: ADHD’ers are notoriously lacking in this department. Part of that is due to the fact that executive dysfunction also impacts remembering and planning to eat, drink water, rest and engage in leisure time.

Even if a user doesn’t utilize every section of the planner every day, they see the words, hydrate, move, breathe, visualize, restorative sleep, meditate, personal time, read, journal and prepare amongst others. Seeing these words daily can serve as a constant reminder that being highly functional should not come at the cost of safe, fed, hydrated and in balance.

If you are reading this today and you have or suspect you have ADHD, please know that your experience is valid. Being bright or high achieving is not evidence that you don’t have ADHD or that you have overcome your ADHD.

I know the toll it can take on your body, mind and wallet. Take a moment to breathe deep in this space we have created together and thank yourself for everything you have done today. Here’s to your tomorrow and reaching your Next Level. 

Get your copy of our classic Next Level Daily Planner here.

You can find more from Dr. Lesley Cook at @lesley_psyd on Instagram or @lesleypsyd on TikTok.