Don’t Underestimate the Value of a Checklist as an ADHD Aid

checklist of things to doIn helping children, adolescents, and even adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), a checklist is a basic but extremely effective tool if used properly. Checklists are helpful in remembering to complete tasks, staying on track with budgeting time, and maintaining a record.

Here are a few common uses for checklists among those affected by ADHD:

  • Listing items that need to be completed as part of a morning routine (such as brushing teeth, packing lunch, making the bed, or double-checking a backpack for homework).
  • Tracking things that need to be done before bed (putting clothes out for the morning, etc.).
  • Tracking items that need to be packed at the end of the school or work day to go home (binders, folders, books, lunch box, etc.).
  • Staying abreast of tasks that need to be completed at work.
  • Tracking homework assignments that need to be completed each night.
  • Keeping track of items that need to be packed for a trip.
  • As a schedule for completing specific tasks within an allotted period of time.

Here are some suggestions on how to display a checklist:

  • App on smartphone, iPod, iPad, etc., such as Wunderlist, Reminders, To-Do.
  • Large whiteboard in bedroom, bathroom, or other area.
  • Laminated piece of paper that can be used again.
  • Piece of paper that can be copied.
  • Notepad that can be carried around.
  • On a commonly used mirror.
  • Sticky notes in different parts of the room/living space corresponding to specific tasks.

Over time, individuals often learn to internalize the idea of a checklist and may be able to carry out routine tasks successfully without having to continue to rely on a physical checklist.

A sample checklist for a morning routine:

__ Brush teeth

__ Shower

__ Make bed

__ Get dressed

__ Eat breakfast

__ Pack backpack

One can include specific time-frame goals for tasks to be completed as well (i.e., “pack backpack – 7:45 a.m.”).

A sample checklist for homework assignments:

__ Math: worksheet (10 minutes)

__ English: chapters 4 and 5 (30 minutes)

__ Science: short-answer questions (20 minutes)

A sample checklist for daily work tasks:

__ 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Proposal project

__ 10 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.: Break

__ 10:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.: Meeting

__ 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Return phone calls/email

__ 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Lunch

__ 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Finish inventory

__ 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Review of accounts

__ 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Return phone calls/email

When creating a checklist, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First, make sure that the creation of a checklist does not take a large amount of time. Also be sure that the way the checklist is set up is easy to follow. It is important not to force the use of a specific checklist on a child, adolescent, or adult; this goes for most strategies and tools. Try to work collaboratively with the person, get his or her input, and figure out a compromise that includes his or her ideas. If you do this, an individual is more likely to use the checklist.

If you try a checklist and it doesn’t work well, examine what did not work. It may lead to revamping how the checklist is created, displayed, or used. In other situations, it may mean finding an alternative strategy.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kyleigh

    August 29th, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    What a great idea for most any child (and some adults too), especially those who have serious attention deficit issues. That is a wonderful way of not only keeping them on task but also helping to establish communication as well as some responsibility in their lives. I will be sharing this as a gentle suggestions for any of my friends whom I know struggle with this with their own children.

  • clark

    August 29th, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    Having that visual reminder is one way for someone who has a hard time paying attention to be reminded that there are certain things that have to be accomplished and in a certain order. If they are like me just that feeling of seein that list dwindle in terms of the things to do that are left on there can be a great feeling. I love getting to the end of my day and having that visual verification that I actually accomplished everything or pretty close to everything that I had set out to do for the day.

  • Leeanne

    August 30th, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    More schools should incorporate this technique into things that would be useful in the classroom setting. I think that yeachers too often try to depend on the medication to do its job when there are other things that could be just as useful.

  • Jeff

    August 31st, 2014 at 5:12 AM

    If they can have the list very accessible and available to them then I think that this will be a very good thing for them. This means putting this list on a phone, on a tablet, something that they are bound to have with them at all times. I don’t think that the old paper list is going to cut it with kids who are already a little more prone to being unorganized and having problems with that.

  • jaci t

    September 2nd, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    We often look for the things that are hard and the latest and greatest to help with ADHD when really it could be something simple like a to do list that can be of the most help.

  • Keegan

    September 4th, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    I agree with jaci t in that we often make things so much harder than they have to be. We look for all of these things to help us out when really those things that are tried and true are often tried and true for a reason; we forget to look at things that way. The visual aspect of the checklist helps not only the student but it also gives the parents a little better idea of where they are with their day and the things that still have to be done. Yes the parents need a little more help from time to time too.

  • kate y.

    September 7th, 2014 at 5:15 AM

    We also have my son’s teacher sign off on his agenda at school every afternoon so when he gets home I can be sure that he wrote all of his assignments completely. Until we started this routine yes, he would bring things home to do but he would miss at least half of his assignments because he would get distracted and forget to write down everything!
    Now, though, we have his teacher check behind him to make sure that he wrote down every assignment and I think that she even checks his bag to make sure that he brings home everything that he will need to do the work. I have not asked her specifically to do that but I am so appreciative that she is going that extra step with us to help him be a success!

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    September 8th, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to read this article and for sharing your thoughts! I’m glad the article was helpful!

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