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ADHD Strategies: How Journalling Can Help

In making our second PBS documentary, ADD & Mastering It!, Patrick McKenna and I share ADHD  strategies we’ve found help with this mindset. Some were strategies we learned after being diagnosed.  Others were ones we had stumbled across before we knew what we were up against.  We found these tricks and practices worked for us, even if we weren’t clear why. 

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the latter is Patrick’s practice of ‘Journalling’ every morning, summing up the previous day in a few sentences.  It struck me as a powerful way to track one’s life.  Being able to look back and see all the things you did in the last month, or a year ago, can provide some perspective and a real sense of accomplishment.  As in, “Wow, I forgot about that… and that… and that…”  In a series of notebooks he has his adult years laid out, day by day.  What a great touchstone. (My favourite journal is available on Amazon)

What was most striking was that he had been journalling for decades.  Long before he was diagnosed with ADHD while filming ADD & Loving It?! Patrick was tracking his life and bolstering his memory, so he could recall what he had done and how it worked out.  So many of us have spotty memories of our early years, and even parts of our adulthood.

A few years ago we did something in our office that was inspired by Patrick’s suggestion of journalling.  I set a huge glass jar labelled ‘DONE’ by the door of the edit suite.    Every time any one of us did something we’d write out a quick description on a small square of paper and the date, fold it up, and drop it in the jar. “Newsletter Done-July 7”, “Speech in Philly-Oct 24”  “Final Edit of Sleep Video March 11” and so on. 

Yes, sometimes we’d all forget the jar was there, or think, “I’ll write it out later.”  Later never happens.  After a week or two one of us would notice the jar, and we’d wrack our brains and consult the calendar to try to remember what we’d done. By the end of the year the jar was stuffed.  On New Years Day we sat together taking turns pulling out slips of paper and reading aloud them aloud.  It was stunning. “Oh right!  I forgot about that!”  “Me too!”

I’m not the only person who fails to pause and reflect on accomplishments, to note successes, however small.  The moment I finally complete a task I’m ion to the next one, and the next.  No appreciation for what’s been done, only aware of what still needs doing.

Adults with ADHD may be embarrassed to admit that their ‘To-Do’ list includes ‘Shower’ and ‘Brush my teeth.’  But on some days, on tough days, those are real victories.  Taking a moment to pat yourself on the back and remind yourself, “I’m capable,” may be the little shot in the arm, or squirt of dopamine in the brain, that becomes the tipping point for having a good day.



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  1. 4ofus November 18, 2018 at 10:14 am

    I am a mother of two now young adult( early 20’s) ADHD children. My husband was diagnosed in his early 50’s, although I knew the diagnosis LONG before the formal one. When he took ill with cancer, I knew, being a single mom soon, it was time to get tested too. Looking at my daughter and how she struggled in school, my life finally made sense and if course, I knew the diagnosis, again before the formal one. My husband, loved read the Friday Funnies after we both met Rick and his wife, at the Adult ADHD conference in Detroit in 2013. So I continued to get them after he passed. I too love them. This ADHD tool, I love for the three of us to do. Thank you Rick for this site that gives us ADHD folks a beacon of hope as we live our lives on this journey.

  2. echemenway November 18, 2018 at 10:51 am

    LOVED this blog!!!! I am 81 and never do social media stuff. This was too good to let pass without a big thank you.

  3. dwc035 November 19, 2018 at 11:46 am

    I’ve tried journaling before, but it’s always become overwhelming because it was too detailed. Perhaps keeping it a simple line or two will help me keep up the habit, and keep better track of those things I have managed to accomplish. Thank you.

  4. shillelagh June 13, 2021 at 9:47 am

    I appreciate this post, and came to a similar kind of behaviour long before being diagnosed with ADHD. Going through a particularly stressful period in my life, I had to-do lists all over the place, with some pretty big and important things on them. As you mentioned, as soon as something was done, I’d be straight onto the next thing. Then one day I came across an old pile of to-do lists. I read back over them, and whilst I hadn’t completed any full list (a lot of stuff transferred to new lists), there was a lot on them that I *had* actually done, and a lot of “Oh yeah, I did that”. On a separate journey of trying to sort myself out, I put up a whiteboard in my office with self-care stuff on it to remember. After finding those old to-do lists, I made a space on my whiteboard for jotting down things I had achieved at the end of the day. I typically use it on really bad days, that’s when I need reminding most, and the list is still there on the next bad day – I look at it and go “Oh yeah, I did that”. Which reminds me, haven’t updated the board in months…

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