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Navigating ADHD
with Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC

Turn Your To-Do List Into an Action Plan and Get Things Done

Organize the kitchen. Clean out the garage. Get to the gym. Send out thank you cards. Meal prep for the week. Pay the bills. ADHDers often have lots they’d like to get done, but somehow their to-do lists never get any shorter. Why? Because simply deciding to do something isn’t enough. You need an action plan that includes the What, How, Where, When, Who, and Why for each task on your list.

Planning isn’t something that comes naturally for many people with ADHD. That’s because ADHDers often have weak executive function skills which govern the ability to plan, organize, and manage your time efficiently. As a result, daily tasks may go by the wayside or you may find yourself completely unprepared for those tasks you do start and ultimately don’t finish. The good news is with some planning beforehand, you’ll be better able to successfully tackle those to-do list items that just never seem to get done.

Step 1: The What

When you plan for any task, start with the end in mind: What EXACTLY are you trying to accomplish? What’s your endgame? How will you know you’ve completed the task at hand? You need to know where you’re going before you can plan on how you’ll get there.

Step 2: The How

How will I get this task done? Think of this step as your pre-plan. In other words, what factors need to be included in your plan? Do you need supplies? Do you need to work on the task at a certain time or in a certain place? Will you need help and/or additional information to get started? Are there multiple steps involved? How will you manage distractions and other possible roadblocks?

Step 3: The Where

Where will you work on your task? This may seem like a no-brainer depending on the activity, but location can actually be an important factor when you have ADHD. For example, you may need total silence with no distractions to get things done or you may find that you work well with a bit of an ambient “buzz” around you and are most productive working in your neighborhood coffee shop. Even if you plan to work at home, you’ll want to think about location: The kitchen table? Your desk? On the couch in front of the TV?

Step 4: The When

Many people with ADHD struggle with time management, including time insensitivity, which means you may have difficulty accurately judging how much time something will actually take to complete. You may have also discovered that if you don’t schedule or carve out the time to do something, it doesn’t get done. That’s why “the When” is a critical step in your planning. When do you plan to work on your task? When does it need to be completed? If there are multiple steps, what are the deadlines for those? Be as specific as possible and set a reminder in either your planner or your phone or you’re sure to forget otherwise.

Step 5: The Who

You’ll want to think about who else needs to be a part of your plan. Consider whether you’ll need someone else’s assistance with all or part of your task. If you do, it’ll be important to coordinate with them so they’ll be available. You may also want to think about whether or not the task, at least in part, could be handled by someone else, either in your household or an outside professional.

Step 6: The Why

Last, but certainly not least, consider “the Why”. When your motivation to start or finish an item on your to-do list begins to wane., you’ll want to remember your “why”. Why is completing this task important to you? What do you hope to gain as a result? How will your life be easier? How will you feel once it’s done? Remembering your “why” will help you push through those “I don’t feel like it” moments.

As the saying goes, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. It takes more than just deciding to do something to actually get it done. Taking the time to create and map out an action plan for the items on your to-do list will help you get organized, use your time more effectively, and stay on-track.

Image: Pixabay/Geralt

Turn Your To-Do List Into an Action Plan and Get Things Done

Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC

Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC is a social worker, ADHD consultant, and certified life coach. Her practice, Lotus Life Coaching Services, provides coaching services for adults, youth, and families impacted by ADD/ADHD and executive function challenges.

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APA Reference
van Rikxoort, N. (2019). Turn Your To-Do List Into an Action Plan and Get Things Done. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Oct 2019
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