Developing the Ideal Productivity System When You Have ADHD

ADHD (1)

Ryan McRae is the author of Ordering the Chaos: Simple Ways to Organize Your ADHD Life. He writes at the blog The ADHD Nerd, is a technology addict, and loves everything pumpkin flavored.

When I look at the newest productivity system or the latest time management tool, I get very excited. I look at the boxes that can be checked, the grid system, or the priority matrix, etc.

So I order this new system.

And soonvery soonI discard it.

This is a common trait among individuals with ADHD like myself. I have an issue when it comes to executive function,which is just a fancy way of saying I dont have a natural organizer in my mind. My brain very rarely reminds me of something I should be doing. I miss appointments. I forget the milk all the time. So when I see a system that might solve this I’ll pump my fist in the air and say, Yes, this is the answer!

And then the new solution is discarded after a while when my ADHD quickly grows tired of the system. 

So then I move past it. Not because its a bad system; it just no longer works for me.

So what do ADHDers need out of a productivity system?


If a productivity system creates tasks to do or multiple tasks, I will soon give up. If a system requires constantly checking boxes, making little graphs, or having multiple pages to flip back and forth through, most with ADHD will move on.

The system I’ve adopted is using a simple Field Notes book. I simply write in it what I plan on doing that day. Three categories: NOW, SOON, and LATER. Then I let my ADHD take the wheel and put everything I need to do that week in the list.


  • Call/text Frank back about going to a movie
  • Head to Trader Joes
  • Pay that parking ticket
  • Decide on: what day you are cleaning the house, if/when you are asking for a raise.


  • Plan the trip to Vegas
  • Look for a local gym
  • Review your finances


  • Check out reviews for the best backpack at
  • Donate clothes
  • Pick out 10 books to donate

First, I get all the NOWs ticked off. Then if I can hit a SOON, thats awesome. Anything left over in the SOON category gets moved to tomorrows NOW. All the LATERs get recorded on another page. I have a list of LATERs and I hit those when I can. I review them about once a week and see if anything jumps out at me. Ill also put them in Evernote because I tend to lose stuff.

This system works because my ADHD knows whats coming. My ADHD loves crossing all those NOW tasks off the list.

I carry my Field Notes book wherever I go because I think they are perfect and sturdy. (Mike Vardy will disagreehe likes Baron Fig. I havent tested their smaller ones yet. Just find what works well for you.) I learned the notebook habit from C.C. Chapman in his book Amazing Things Will Happen. I carry that notebook wherever I go.


My ADHD mind is constantly spitting out information and reminders. Dont forget to call Jack because you have to find out if the birthday party is happening. If its not, you should read that Oliver Sacks book youve been wanting to dive into and if youre going to do that, you should get some snacks, maybe some tea, but not all carb-y because you need to work out more and. . . .

On and on my mind churns out things like that. When that happens I bust out my notebook and on a page Ill write: Call Jack, Oliver Sacks book, workout tomorrow, get some snacks.

The ADHD voice cuts out because I no longer need a reminder. My ADHD is the kid in the backseat on a road trip: Are we there yet?! Can we get there?! How long?!Once I let my ADHD know that Im not going to forget, and that its eventually going to get done, I am no longer distracted.

Sure I could put this information in my phone, but I find that using the phone tends to bog me down and disconnect me, but I do use it for other tasks.

Location Reminders

I work close to Trader Joes, but when I get home I realize that I forgot to stop and get groceries.

Swearing ensues.

So I have an alert on my phone that shows up every time I leave work that says, Need to go to Trader Joes?

I dont need to go every day, but Id rather decline the request then drive all the way back and get groceries while frustrated (and then buying chocolate to calm down).

Two Things At Once

Netflix helps my productivity like you wouldnt believe.

Heres how: when Im watching something that doesnt need my constant attention to follow, Ill go through my notebook, tear out pages, put stuff in Evernote that needs remembering (stuff from my LATER, documents I need to capture and then shred), and get a new notebook going for the week. If I sit in silence, my ADHD brain rebels. So Netflix preoccupies my ADHD brain by giving it something to listen to while I compile all of these random scribbles into actionable items.

I listen to podcasts when I’m doing something that doesn’t have to do with words. If I’m emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry, I listen to a podcast. I actually feel more productive and I don’t look at doing laundry like something rote and boring; I can learn Spanish while I fold the towels! ¡Hola!

Developing a System

I didnt develop this system overnight. I just kept at it, figuring out what worked and what didnt. If I kept with a system for more than two weeks, I knew it worked. If I found I abandoned it, I figured out why I didnt want to continue using it.

I continually tracked what was working and what wasn’t at the end of the day. I kept a watchful eye for when I was spinning my wheels doing something that was either not productive at all or something I could tweak and be more productive (like listening to podcasts while I do chores.)

Now I have a system that I love and it keeps me on task, helping me spend my time on the important and vital parts of the day.

Want more tips on productivity and ADHD right now?

I’ve created a free e-book titled Finding Focus with an ADHD Mind. It helps people with ADHD (and non-ADHDers) to quickly find focus and get that project you’ve wanted to start get finished.

Just click the icon to download a free copy.