Today I find myself pondering lists. For as long as I can remember (and that’s a pretty long time), lists have been a basic component of my life. It’s not as if I decided one day that I needed to keep lists; I think over time they just organically became part of the way I kept on top of everything.

For example, I have a magnetic grocery list on the side of the refrigerator. Whenever an item is used up, the empty container is rinsed and put into recycling, a replacement container is brought out of the cupboard, and then that item is added to the grocery list so I can get a replacement for the replacement the next time I’m at the store. That way, if I don’t slip up, we should never run out.

My paper planner contains several lists. One is the list of scheduled events for each day. Another is a list of tasks I plan to do between scheduled appointments. Other lists in the planner include bigger projects that I will be working on over the next weeks or months.

There are lots of other lists that help keep my life in order such as my digital contacts (previously known as address book), the calendar in my computer, my two Amazon wish lists (personal and professional), the list of songs I want to learn to play on the autoharp, and I could go on.

The reason I’m pondering lists is because I’m observing that lists of every sort can be incredibly helpful to those of us with ADHD — as long as we actually create them and use them. We have a hard time keeping things “in mind.” Lists help. We need to compensate for a challenge with our working memory (remembering what has to be done). Creating a written schedule for each day, even including appointments with ourselves, not only helps us remember what we need to do, but it also creates a structure for our day. (That’s a topic for a different blog entry.)

We need to “Externalize, externalize, externalize,” as Russell Barkley says. What he means by that, as I understand it, is get the information outside of our mind onto something external where we can see or hear it, to compensate for our poor working memory. Traditional lists are only one way of accomplishing that. Dr. Barkley suggests other means of externalizing information such as “sticky notes, cue cards, . . .  posters, signs, and other prompts . . . “.  He also mentions that older kids and adults might use “personal journals, digital recording devices, Watch-Minder watches, day planners, personal organizers, and computer organizers.”  (“ADHD, Executive Functioning, and School Intervention,” 2010 pdf by Dr. Russell Barkley)

Each of us is unique. We can experiment and come up with a solution that works best for us today, recognizing that in a few weeks or months we might become bored with that solution and want to use our creativity to come up with a new one. Great! It’s part of the adventure of life to watch ourselves grow and change and increase in understanding and appreciation of ourselves. Don’t forget to write those observations down in a list! You’re likely to forget them otherwise.

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