Blog Post | The Don’ts of the Do's List


The Don’ts of the Do's List

When it comes to the manufacturing of to-do lists, I am an expert. However, tracking “things I want to get done” lists can rise to the level of an archeological dig into my life. I have uncovered lists in the strangest of places and spanning the many years of my existence. The trail yields many thoughts of “where was my head on that one?” and “I really wanted to do that?” Then I just have to laugh because it’s just so … me!

But I also strive to look at what didn’t work and how I can get better. Otherwise, it is a waste of precious time and energy to “keep trying harder doing it the same way and expecting different results.” Many thanks to Albert Einstein for that nugget of wisdom which I pay forward to many of my clients when describing ADHD coaching. You have to know when to stop spinning your wheels. 

So what don’ts have I learned from my many years of creating to-do lists? Well, here are a few I have gleaned through my trials and tribulations, plus some helpful ideas from others. 

Don’t #1 

Forget to look at my lists very regularly. This is number one because it’s a big issue. Out of sight is definitely out of mind for me. I keep the master list very close and visual. It’s my latitude and longitude and my road map for the day and the week. Otherwise, I will be meandering down side roads and off the beaten path. I try to save the meanderings and bunny trails for when I have given my brain time off to ramble. By the way, it is imperative to schedule the time for rambling. We allow our animals to free-range and our brains deserve the same love. I seem to be rambling here so let’s move to the next don’t. 

Don’t #2 

Slip-on claiming and celebrating my accomplishments versus sweating all that I didn’t do. At the top of my list, I have an area called “Top 3 Targets”. Aiming at those three and nailing them is my focus. When those are done, any work for the rest of the day is icing on my lemon cake. An endzone dance with over-the-top music is how I show the love for my hard work. If I have more ambition to keep up the work streak, along with the three targets, I have an area called “More Opportunities” to pull from once I have nailed the big three. 

Don’t #3 

Fail to have a routine for collecting my lists into one master list. This keeps me from losing all my pop-up thoughts. There is a list pad in every area I work in. I gather them every evening to add to my master list the next morning. A big insight for me was that certain areas of my life seem to be more conducive to big-picture thinking and planning. So when I’m driving, riding my bike, or taking a shower (crazy but true), I have cheap voice recorders to record my moments and transcribe those later. 

Don’t #4 

Lose track of what is within the realms of possibility of my time. Being realistic about what I can actually accomplish in a day is a must for sanity. I have before and will still bite off way more than I can chew. So along with the “Top 3 Targets” section, there is my section called “Not Now - Schedule”. These would fall in the classification of the “Important, But Not Urgent” box of the Eisenhower Matrix. This matrix is a great little tool to help clarify the important from the not important. Want to know more about this tool, here’s a handy short read to explain this matrix. 

Don’t #5 

Put aside those Aha’s - park them. Since I do have those times that are favorable to big thinking and ideas, what if none of those Aha’s fall into the “Top 3 Targets” or “Not Now - Schedule” area? Glad you asked, oh curious one. There’s a place called “Maybes…” where I park those insights for later. I will go back for those later during my big picture planning times to see if they are still tasty enough to go after. 

There you have it! Those of us with busy and curious minds of the ADHD variety need to get these important ideas and thoughts out of our headspace and into a structure that will support action and forward momentum. 

A to-do list is a useful tool when used well. And for sure, you will stumble and fall off course periodically. Just hop back on your routine and keep hopping. And don’t forget to schedule some time to hop down those bunny trails you saved for later under “Maybes…” 


Katherine Jahnke
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC

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