How to empower neurodiverse brains: ADHD bullet journal ideas

An organizational system that works

Many people, not just those with ADHD, or who are neuro-diverse, have a hard time being organised. and could benefit from adhd bullet journal ideas. Life is so fast paced and we have competing demands from every aspect of it. It can be hard to keep up a level of organisation that is required to harness all your activities.

In trying to be organised and efficient I have tried many methods of diary organisation, from a daily planner to the online organisational systems like Asana and Trello.

Some blog posts that I have created around organisation and goals, that you might find useful, are:

Work bullet journal spreads: How to achieve any goal
How to improve your executive function: 10 journal organization ideas
How to manage stress with journal prompts for stress and anxiety

Part of the problem, for me, is that my day is fully of demands that other people place on it. So one of the biggest challenges is recording what people ask of me during the day in the best way so that I can remember important information for later on.

Before I started reading about bullet journaling I didn’t really think about its application for people with ADHD. I wasn’t really sure what it was. It seemed very fiddly. I’d seen lots of pictures online of very in-depth graphs and charts that people had created to log the important things in their life. It seemed a bit irrelevant to me. And it seemed to have a high learning barrier to entry. So much learning was required just to get to grips with whatever system was being promoted.

Woman writing in a journal. Accompanies the blog post on ADHD bullet journal ideas

Time Management

All systems will work if you work those systems. It’s a bit like all diets will work if you follow the diet. The question really is, are you ready to learn some new habits and find a system that really works for you. While I am very happy to recommend the bullet journaling method to you, any system will work and keep you time efficient if you continue with the practice and master it.

I know of one friend’s father who had ADHD and he wrote out his todo list on an index card each day. He kept the card with him every day and that’s how he ran his working life. It worked for him.

So essentially what I’m saying is that any system will work for you, but I’m also saying that, having read and researched the bullet journal method of productivity, it is a great system of organization and you will probably really benefit from using it.

Managing your life

Despite being last minute, forgetting things, and feeling like I am playing catch up for most of the time, I actually really enjoy doing things in advance. I like being prepared. Your bullet journal can help keep you on track and, yes, even in advance of what you need to do.

For me, this is one of my self care methods that I overlook but which means a lot to me. Not being rushed, not forgetting an appointment, having time to process information, not being the last one to arrive, being in control of my work and not panicking when someone asks me a question are all factors which make my life better.

Your bullet journal can also give you back this sense of being in control of your own life. Whether it’s just keeping a list of things in one place, or tracking something without forgetting half way through that you are tracking it, use your bullet journal to help you to manage your life.

Structure it in such a way that suits you so that you enjoy it and find it so much easier than you used to.

Meal planning using the bullet journal method

I love the idea of meal planning, the only problem is that I don’t allocate enough time to plan. I just like to ‘do’. Lack of planning is part and parcel of the joys of living with your ADHD brain. The more you can automate tasks, or create simple strategies that work for you and that you don’t forget, the better.

One area is meal planning. You can use your bullet journal to create food / grocery lists and to create a weekly menu. If you do this a week in advance you can shop in advance too.

Plain paper journal hand stitched binding open with two blank pages. Sitting on a pile of antique letters and envelopes. Accompanies the blog post on ADHD bullet journal ideas

The Layout of the Bullet Journal Method: What’s involved

Daily Log

“The Daily Log is the workhouse of your Bullet Journal. Its streamlined template is designed to capture your daily deluge in real time. When you’re in the thick of it, you can rely on your Daily Log to keep your thoughts organized with very little effort so you can focus on the task at hand.”

Ryder Carroll

Ryder Carroll has likened having ADHD as being like trying to catch rain. Ideas don’t stop for people with ADHD. They just keep coming. It feels like it’s impossible to organise them or keep them in any sort of order. One idea seems as important as another. Each idea sparks thoughts of at least one other idea.

How many people with ADHD live with scraps of paper littered all over the place from the bedroom to the boardroom? It feels like if you could only capture every thought and hold it in place at some point the rain would stop, you’d have the opportunity to get organised and life would be calm and organised.

Except it never feels that way when you have ADHD.

The daily log, or daily spread, is your starting point to every day. You add the date to the top of the page, plus the page number and you are all set to Rapid Log your Tasks, Events and Notes as they happen during the course of your day. Rather than letting them pile up, get in the habit of continually using your Daily Log to unburden your mind and get it logged and recorded.

Daily Tasks

Being able to record your daily tasks is a great way to help the ADHD brain become and stay organised. Being able to fill those blank pages with proactive organisation that will really help your life is really good news.

Daily Life

I quite often feel totally overwhelmed by my daily life. I look around and see other people coping with it really well. And it exhausts me. I know that the level of stress that just getting through one day to the next day requires is not good for my mental health. That’s actually one of the reasons that I started journaling. It was a good way of understanding myself better.

Ryder Carroll has an ADHD brain and so is very understanding of the fact that we lack a certain amount of executive function. All tasks seem to have equal importance to those of us with an ADHD, or neuro-diverse, brain. So to have a system in place that helps us navigate daily life is, quite literally, a life saver.

Daily to-do lists

Your approach to your work and life in general will be quite different once you start using the bullet journal method. One area that will be quite different is your approach to your daily to-do list. There is a good post on the approach to the to-do list on the bullet journal website. Essentially the difference between what you might be doing now with your to-do list and how you might change it once you’ve researched the bullet journal method a bit more is this.

The bullet journal method will help you be strategic about what goes on your to-do list. It will no longer be one long list of everything that is coming straight at you during the day. That’s what the daily log is for. So this is one area that will really help prevent overwhelm and anxiety, particularly for the ADHD brain which tends to suffer from both of those, on a daily basis.

Rapid logging

Rapid logging is the way that we use language to record our daily logs. It’s a streamlined process to get thoughts on paper so that you remember them, and can use the information too. It’s like a continual brain dump that just carries on all day, every day.

The Bullet Journal method book shows you how you would write in traditional planners compared with how you would use rapid log your thoughts using the bullet journal system.

A traditional entry might be, “Call Keith back to figure out where we should eat this weekend.” The Rapid Logging version entry is “Keith: Call re: Saturday dinner” and is preceded by a dot which indicates it is a task. More of symbols later.

The Weekly Spread

The Bullet Journal Method book does not indicate how to set out weekly spreads or a weekly log. It does mention that they are useful for some people and some projects which require a closer overview than the monthly log.

For some people, have a weekly spread as well as a daily or monthly one is a vital part of their personal organisation. It certainly is for me, and you might want to consider creating one too. In which case use the same set up method as for the monthly log below, but obviously rename it to weekly rather than monthly.

The Monthly Log

“If each Bullet Journal is another volume in the story of your life, then the Monthly Log marks a new chapter.”

Ryder Carroll

You set your monthly log up by using up a spread of facing pages. Use the left page as your Calendar page and the right page as your tasks page. The topic of this Collection is the name of the month and you add that to both sides of the spread.

Calendar Page

On the Calendar page, which is the left hand side, write out the dates of the month on the left edge of the page, followed by the first letter of the corresponding day of the week. Use this page as you would any calendar and enter any important dates, events. You can use this page to keep track of appointments which are coming up.

Tasks Page

The right hand side is your Tasks page. This page serves as your mental inventory page which is great for the adhd brain because this is the place where you take your thoughts captive. What is on your mind for this month? What do you need to get done?

When you have thought through this month, go back to the previous month and see what tasks you have remaining. Transfer the important tasks over to the new month’s tasks page.

In this way tasks won’t get left unfinished or forgotten and you can keep on top of tasks and bypass the feeling of overwhelm that so many ADHD brains experience.

The Future Log

The Future Log is a collection. It lives at the front of your journal after the index page and before the body of the journal. Ryder Carroll recommends allocating one to two spreads of facing pages for this collection.

The process is that each day you continue to write everything in your Daily Log including anything that is planned for the future. When you get to your Daily Reflection you then transfer any bullets that relate to the future from the Daily Log and into the Future Log. Then, in your Daily Log, mark that entry with a < to indicate that it has been dealt with and moved to your Future Log.

The Future Log is a great way to calm the ADHD brain. It stops you feeling like everything is happening all at once. And it also restores calm to the ADHD brain which sees the tasks allocated to a time in the future thought organization, not through neglect.

The Index

“The Index provides an easy way to find your thoughts days, months, or years after entrusting them to your notebook”.

Ryder Carroll

The Index lives at the beginning of your journal. Allocate two spreads, that’s four facing pages, for your Index. All the pagination that you do for the ensuing pages and collections is stored on your Index page for rapid search and finding at any time you need. This is one of the best things for the ADHD brain because we can never find anything and never remember anything. So to have an index to all our thoughts and tasks and actions is a really great idea.

Different Symbols

Different symbols represent different functions within the bullet journal world:
A dot is a task
A circle is an event
A dash is a note

close up of a woman writing in her journal with a pen. You can only see her fingers, the nails are painted a very pail pink/white colour and the journal and pen. Accompanies the blog post on ADHD bullet journal ideas

Embellishing your journal

The Bullet journal method is a system for organising your life and your brain. It’s not strictly speaking a creatively visual way of journaling, although if you do want to express your creative side there are plenty of ways of decorating your journal.

Colouring in, colour coding, using washi tape, and even using stencils are common creative ways of creating a visual pleasing journal. So, go ahead if that’s what you’d like to do. Many ADHD brains are hugely creative and you only need the most basic supplies to make your journal look visually attractive, so go ahead!

Your secret weapon?: A basic habit tracker

One of the ‘problems’ with the lack of executive function which ADHD brains tend to experience, is that the creativity of the ADHD brain which is a great quality, if not the superpower, of the ADHD mind, tends to fail in the execution. Either we start projects and forget that we have started them. Or we get side-tracked by another good idea, think we will return to the first idea and never do. And our brains just won’t remember. For this reason, learning to track your habits and keep track of your thoughts and your daily schedule and your to-do lists can be really vital.

I do know people who then forget to use their journal which is a whole other problem. And I won’t address that here.

The daily reflection can also really help you to stay on track. If you are noting your thoughts and feelings in your daily log then you will not only be tracking your progress but also tracking the motivation, or lack of it, behind your progress. The two go hand in hand: your mental motivation and the tracker itself. Tracking your progress isn’t just about the progress itself but is also about cultivating self-awareness.

Being self-aware for the ADHD brain is a hugely useful tool. When you can observe the motivation for your actions from the point of view of the observer you will be in a much better place to be able to work out how to manage your everyday life as well as your specific goals. ADHD brains often run at 100 miles an hour through life, motivated by feelings.

Being able to take a step back and observe your own behaviour and thought process is a powerful tool that will help you achieve your goal.

How to deal with the advantages and disadvantages of the ADHD brain

The benefits of journaling

There are as many advantages to having a neuro-diverse brain as there are disadvantages. Problems can arise though as we navigate through a world that is predominantly neuro-typical.

ADHD brains just don’t think like other brains. This can be hard work for us, because so much time can be spent just dealing with a world that doesn’t allow for the way we think.

For this reason I think journaling is a great place to create our own world. When we are journaling we can write about what we want. It can be random things that we find interesting, it can be our next big project. There is not right way or wrong way to journal so you can just get going and create something that you want to create. It’s your own happiness project, your own universe.

So don’t just think of journaling and bullet journaling as a way of being organised and keeping to some strict method of living your life. It is entirely up to you. Your choices are great! Something that I suffered with greatly was not trusting myself. I thought that I was consistently making bad choices. In fact I was making great choices for me.

Having the world tell me that they weren’t the best wasn’t very helpful because I was simply making decisions about what felt right to me in my situation with the particular circumstances that I had. You may be the same too, in which case I really recommend that you use your next bullet journal or blank notebook as a compassion journal and label it as such.

Mosaic tray, two journals, a silver pen and a cup of tea in a white mug on the tray. A knitted cream blanket is in the background. Accompanies the blog post on ADHD bullet journal ideas

The benefits of an ADHD bullet journal

The biggest benefit for me in using a bullet journal is keeping track of my thoughts and my todo lists. We know that one of the symptoms of ADHD is that executive function is lower in ADHD brains, but I still surprise myself with what I forget which is really important to remember.

One of the biggest breakthroughs for me was being compassionate on myself and being able to accept that this is just how it is and that all I need to do is learn to manage it. I started to journal about my feelings and learnt to be compassionate to myself.

Learning to accept yourself and how ADHD bullet journal ideas can help

I think one of my biggest difficulties has been that for a long time I resisted accepting how I was behaving and therefore I wasn’t able to reflect on it and address it. I just thought that I kept getting things wrong and that if I only tried better or harder I could get it right.

What I really needed to do was set up systems for myself that helped me be me in the calmest way possible. Another way to explain this is to say that I was always measuring myself by how other people were behaving. So other people seemed to be fine socialising all the time and didn’t need a break to be on their own.

Other people seemed to find it ok to sit in an office for eight hours every day and not be outside in the sunshine or need to just go off and do their own thing. And they seemed to think this was a valid way to live your life. Other people seemed very organised but a little boring. Other people talked about dull stuff all the time.

I thought if I learned to behave like that I’d fit in better, find life easier, somehow discover why everyone seemed to get it right, but not me.

In short I spent a lot of time thinking I was wrong or that I had got ‘stuff’ wrong, or got life wrong. But I hadn’t. I just needed to get to know myself better, understand what my needs were and start looking after myself and my needs as a priority.

How I learnt to get to know myself better

I have about a hundred new ideas every day. Mostly to do with my work. Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration. But like the Queen says in Alice in Wonderland, sometimes she thought as many as six impossible things before breakfast. I thought everyone felt the same but it turns out that they don’t. Learning to write down my ideas was the first step.

The second step is to record my ideas in a way that I can find them later. You could start a new collection called “Ideas for the future”. Or you could group your ideas into collections and each time you have a great idea for a particular subject area you write it in that collection.

You could also start a new blank journal and call it, ‘Ideas I want to come back to’. The problem for me is that unless I remember that this journal is in existence, after a couple of days of not writing in it, I might forget and not go back to it. So I’ve also had to learn how to track my activity.

Remembering where things are

One of the little things that I love about the Bullet Journal method is that it helps you create an internal architecture for the brain. The journal is just the external structure, and the internal architecture is what really helps.

So, what it is teaching me to do is to learn how to construct my life so that I don’t forget things, and to learn how to keep my thoughts together, to not get distracted and remember what my goal is.

Some people are really good at holding a lot of information in their brain. I am not one of those people. I judge people who hold lots of information in their brain as intelligent. I want to be considered intelligent and so I criticise myself and think that I am ‘less than’ because I don’t meet my own criteria.

That’s slightly ridiculous, but I don’t know if you are the same. We decide that one particular attribute is a sign of X and then if we don’t meet that criteria ourselves we criticise and berate ourselves.

So, then I found Dave Allen. He says, minds are for having ideas not holding them. What a great phrase! A phrase that suits me much better than thinking that unless I recall every little detail of something I am a total failure.

Keeping a journal helps you to hold those ideas. It frees your brain up to do what it does really well, especially if you are neuro-diverse, and that is have great ideas and think creatively.

Coping with work

I have to be honest and say that coping with work has been the most stressful part of my life in the last few years. Learning to deal with the anxiety caused by being in the workplace has been a huge journey for me.

Adult ADHD in the workplace is no laughing matter and if you are struggling with this, too, then you have my sympathy.

Aside from journaling I have found listening to calming background music really helpful. I was recommended to listen to binaural beats, but I sometimes find them a bit distracting. I mainly work remotely from the office so I also found that when I was really overwhelmed sitting with a cup of tea for ten minutes in peace and silence was a great way of dealing with work-based anxiety.

I also have classical radio playing in the background sometimes, for example in another room but still audible. I didn’t know why I was doing this, all I can say is that I felt better. Then, when I was talking to a friend who studies trauma and I told her about this she said that one of the recommendations of people who are suffering trauma (small t trauma rather than big T Trauma) is to listen to classical music or Gregorian chant as this calms the heart.

I always wanted to work for myself, felt very drawn to work for myself, and then due to various circumstances I found myself in the workplace again for a period of time and I found this enormously stressful. The first two jobs I had I found less stressful but that’s because I wasn’t stretched at all, I was working well within my capabilities.

The third job I got stressed me out beyond belief. The department was in chaos, my job was disorganised, I didn’t know where my responsibilities began or ended, I had to learn so much new information to do with systems and software. ADHD brains love new things, but new things plus remembering new things plus things flying at me all day, ever day, was very very stressful.

Plus I had to deal with the criticism of my work, because I was just learning, and so I was getting things wrong. And I’d get this constant feedback about the things I needed to put right.

It just wasn’t a brilliant environment for my brain. But somehow I had to learn to adapt. I’ve listened to lots of podcasts about women in the workplace managing their ADHD and that has been really encouraging, particularly Tracy Otsuka’s podcast.

Because work is so fast-paced I need to write quick notes as I am working in order to remember what has been said. This has been the most challenging aspect about my work: being able to track and record it. I’ve always recorded my work but this was taking it to a whole new level. I wasn’t really intending to use the bullet journal method, but I did some research on it in order to write a blog post.

Well, the research led to the website, which led to the book which I bought, which led to more research on YouTube. If there’s one thing the adhd brain is good at it’s research right!? And then I thought I should give it a go myself and see whether the daily logging works for me.

two journals, one pink one white, on top of which sit two pencils, one with red lead and one with purple lead. Accompanies the blog post on ADHD bullet journal ideas

One thing that creating ADHD bullet journal ideas for myself has taught me is learning to slow down, reread my notes and then summarise them. By summarise them I mean decide what to do with them. Some tasks get moved forward, other tasks are finished, other tasks require additional external assistance from colleagues. While I am not at a stage of mastery or even competence in this area I am finding that the system of logging everything all together and then deciding how to deal with all the information, really useful.

I hope you have found some of this useful as you navigate your ADHD journey. All you need to do is learn to navigate it. That’s my biggest learning. Stop fighting what you are not, embrace what you are and then learn to create an amazing life for yourself around your gifts and talents. Take anything from the blog post that you find useful and add it to the other methods that you find useful. Step by step you will build a system for yourself that works for you and your brain. Good luck!

Other bullet journal blog posts you might like to read on this website are:

How to prioritise your wellness with Bullet journal mental health spreads
How to use fitness bullet journal ideas to motivate you

And a couple of organisational themed blog posts are:

How to organize a journal for the life you want
How to inspire your life: 18 Journal notebook ideas

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