This is a technique I resisted for a long time because I thought, well, I’m an adult and I should be able to keep a mental checklist! The idea of writing it down and literally checking it off felt really childish to me, like something you might teach a 10-year-old.

I’ve decided it’s time to let go of the idea that there are techniques for children, techniques for adults, and the two don’t comingle. Because that’s just not the truth! If something works for a child, it may work into adulthood as well.

If you’re feeling the vibe, read on and learn more about why a checklist might help you and how you can get started today!

How Do Checklists Help?

ADHD is a neuropsychological disorder characterized by difficulty with executive functions. One most prominent executive function is working memory, or the ability to recall relevant information.

Essentially, the working memory is the capacity for us to remember what we need to do while we are doing it. Forgetfulness is a trait often associated with people who have ADHD, and it’s because the working memory may be underdeveloped.

There are many strategies you can use to improve your working memory, but if it’s still a work in progress, checklists are great for assisting with multi-step or complex tasks you perform routinely.

Keeping a checklist handy ensures that you don’t have to remember every single step of a process, or the order in which it occurs, which may reduce overall stress and help with activation.

Getting Started

This could be one of those techniques you’ve thought about doing, and every time you think of it, you tell yourself “Oh yes I should do that soon, I’ll have to remember for later”, and then you just… don’t. But don’t feel bad! I experience that a lot.

If you’re reading this and have a checklist in mind, if you can, get started right now! I’ll wait here while you grab a piece of paper or open a new document on your phone or computer. If you don’t have a specific idea, I’ve provided one below!

If you can’t get started because you’re reading this while you’re supposed to be paying attention to something else (naughty), can you take a quick moment to schedule it? Throw it in your planner or phone for later. Text a friend and ask them to remind you to come back to it.

Creating a Quality List

This is going to sound easy: Write down all the steps. Voila, you have a checklist!

Okay, in reality, this could take some time. You might not remember every step in one go (you may recall, your working memory isn’t great, or you don’t recall because again it’s not great).

You might think of them slightly out of order, or you might struggle to write in general.

That’s okay, just get writing as best you can – even if it’s really a high-level overview for your first pass. For example, maybe your checklist is for packing for a trip. You might start really general:

  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Toiletries
  • Electronics
  • Entertainment

And there’s your first draft!

Make it Specific and Add Notes

We’ve started with the 3,000-foot view (See what I did there? Ha, a travel joke!) but “clothing” is too general. There’s a lot of clothes you need for a trip! Take your first draft and add specifics.

I like to have top-level categories and then add sub-categories and items under each, with notes. Let’s focus on clothing:

  •  Clothing – check location weather
    • Tops – check events schedule; are we going anywhere nice or with a dress code?
      • Casual
      • Business casual
      • Fancy
    • Bottoms – see note under tops
      • Casual
      • Business casual
      • Fancy
    • Pajamas
    • Undergarments – deodorant reminder!
      • Underwear
      • Socks
      • Bras
    • Outerwear – check location weather; if bringing on plane, place by front door
      • Rain jacket
      • Parka
    • Activewear – schedule workout times
      • Leggings
      • Bras
      • Socks
      • Scrunchies

Include notes as you go! See my notes to check the weather. How many times have you packed the wrong thing because you forgot to check if it would rain or be unseasonably cold?

Take a Quick Break

This might be a good time for a quick break because you’ve done a lot of work already. Take five minutes and do something else, but set a timer to come back to your list. If you’re already hyper-focused and want to keep going, skip this step.

Imagine All Scenarios

Let’s keep with the trip-packing checklist. You want your list to be usable every time you pack for a trip, and not all trips are created equally, so try to imagine what you typically pack for most trips and include it. If it isn’t relevant, you can cross it off, but it’s a dangerous game to not include something because you think you can remember later.

I’m a fan of templates because they allow a level of customization, but you don’t reinvent the wheel every time. So you might have one master packing list template, then an international travel template, a domestic travel template, a long-term trip template, a business trip template, etc.

Do a Trial Run

When you think your checklist is ready to go, do a trial run by:

  • Actually using it, or
  • Imagining using it

If, for example, you have an upcoming trip and you’ve created a new packing checklist, use it to pack and make editing notes as you go to include what you’ve left off, or what you included that isn’t necessary.

If you’re making a list for something you won’t do for a while, look at your checklist and try to imagine yourself doing each step. You may find mentally going through the steps while you also look at them helps jog your memory of what’s missing.

Revise as Needed

Your checklist should be a working document that allows you to add and remove steps as needed.

Consider using a Word Document, a Text File, an Excel sheet, or whatever your processing program of choice may be if you have easy access to one. This gives you the flexibility you need to revise an infinite number of times.

If you don’t have a computer but do have a smartphone, use your phone’s note app.

If you don’t have either of the above, handwritten lists will work best if you keep a master version that you copy off each time. Then you have a reference guide for each list-making scenario.

Using Your List

  • Check off as you go
    • Don’t get in the trap of thinking you’ll mark it all at the end.
    • If your working memory is as bad as mine, by the end of your list you’ll already have forgotten what you’ve done!
  • Make more notes
    • Your checklist may already have notes, but make more notes as they come to mind while you’re working through it.
    • If it feels relevant in the moment, it may help you later.
  • Do a final review
    • Even if you checked off as you went, walk through the list again when you’re done.
    • You may realize something else you forgot!

Take time as well to admire your own handiwork! Share it with a friend or coworker you think might benefit. You should always be excited about creating new tools that help you.

Have a great checklist idea or looking for checklist inspiration? Drop a comment below or tweet using #GlitterBrainBlog!

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