Bullet Journals Help Adults with ADHD Stay Organized

Unless they are on a white board or some other permanent, obvious place, I’ve noticed that lists often don’t work well as an organizational tool for adults with ADHD.  They get covered up by some pile somewhere, or misplaced, or forgotten.

But my 26-year old daughter recently showed me her Bullet Journal that she has been using for a while now to stay really organized.  I first noticed it in November when she whipped it out to write down the name of a seasonal beer someone recommended to her that wouldn’t be available for another three weeks but that she wanted to remember to try. (!)

In a nutshell, a Bullet Journal is a notebook that she carries with her everywhere, with a specific but simple organizing system created by a guy named Ryder Carroll.  You pick what sections and ideas you like, and create your own journal based upon what you need to organize in your life.  It’s brilliantly simple and complete at the same time, provided you are willing to take time at the beginning or end of a day to keep it going.  My daughter is artistic, so to create her journal she simply got a nice Moleskin notebook, and artfully started to create the areas she wanted (how to do this is later in this post.)

This journal works for her because:

  • She carries it with her everywhere - it’s not too large or heavy, so easy to keep in her purse 
  • It’s flexible – she puts information into it in an organized, but also free-form way.  She makes lists, but also adds drawings, charts, and lettering to keep it fun to do
  • Most importantly, she takes about 15- 20 minutes before bed to review what she accomplished, and think about what she will be doing the next day.  She crosses items off or moves them forward, thinking about what her priorities are.

This is applying mindfulness, known to help people with ADHD better manage their symptoms, to the daily tasks of living…writ large!

What’s really great for those with ADHD, is that a Bullet Journal is very flexible, so it lets you track EVERYTHING you need to remember – capturing stuff to do in the future, tracking how you are doing against goals (for example whether you are exercising), scheduling projects you need to complete, journaling what you are grateful for on a given day, menu planning…everything you WANT to do, and nothing you don’t.  You don’t have to be hyper-organized about HOW you organize (file cabinets for one thing; lists for another; white boards for something else)…you just have to keep your journal with you and keep it up.

I can see myself that this system has dramatically improved my daughter’s ability to manage her life and get done what she needs to get done.  I no longer wonder if she will follow up on what she wants to do.   It’s incredibly empowering for us both – hence my excitement about it.

For Individuals…

As a system, this is a good system for an individual to use (vs. a family or couple).  You have to keep the journal with you all the time, and it’s on paper, so would be almost impossible to share.  But it’s easy to see how it could take the strain off of relationships by allowing a partner with ADHD to become more self-organized and, therefore, independently reliable.  I could also envision someone taking it to a chore meeting to use as a tool for tracking and coordination with a partner.  Could it spell the end to reminders?

How to Start a Bullet Journal

Okay – enough gushing.  Bullet Journal has a website that helps you learn how to do it.  (Yes, they will sell you a journal, but don’t care if they do…in fact, say you should choose whatever notebook you like best, though they recommend something that lies flat and has a strong cover, since you’ll carry it everywhere.)  There is also an article about it in Experience Life Magazine.

And, no, I don’t know the folks at Bullet Journal, and I did not get any compensation for writing this.

Addendum - Using a BJ Alongside a Calendar

Feb 28:  Since I've been having trouble getting organized, I decided to try out a bullet journal to see if it would help me capture the huge variety of little details I need to keep track of.  I don't need the calendar part, though, as I already have one of those.  So I've created a journal that has a section for 'weekly'  activities, by month, and 'ongoing' (like tracking diet).  I am LOVING this as I don't have the hassle of moving things forward and thinking about them every night as people who use a bullet journal as their calendar do, but I do have a place to capture all the stuff I'm having trouble remembering as I age and my memory isn't as good as it used to be.  I refer to the journal often, and it helps me fill in gaps in my daily schedule with projects that I need to get done.  Once a week I have the satisfaction of seeing what I've accomplished (more than I was, before) and reassess when I will do what has been left undone. 

For those of you who don't like the bullet journal idea, my husband uses ToDoodle to organize tasks on the fly.