Maybe she's born with it? Maybe it's ADHD... (AKA Planning with ADHD)

Maybe she's born with it? Maybe it's ADHD... (AKA Planning with ADHD)

I have always been a huge stationery fan - the perfection of the right pen and notebook combo can not be understated. If you get it, you get it. Over the years of being an adult, somewhere along the line I became someone who really cares about planners. Like to the point where my family start collectively groaning around mid-October when I start considering what planner will help me sort out my life for once and for all. They know they have a good couple of months of planner-related musings to get through while I go back and forth on my options. I even bore myself, if I am being brutally honest. You would think now that I have my own planner company, that this decision might get easier, but it does not. Now there are all the options out there in the world already, plus I could potentially design something else entirely...

I think I am so into planners because it has become a way for me to outsource some of the stuff swirling around my brain, and place it somewhere concrete. At least since having kids (when the level of chaos plus the things to do and remember seem to double each day), I have been incredibly reliant on a planner to get things done, to make sure that things don't fall through the cracks. And when things inevitably do fall through the cracks and I forget to do something important, I have to admit I may tend to blame the planner just a wee bit for not being perfectly designed enough to stop that from happening. 

For a while now, more and more things have been dropping through the cracks, to the point where I thought I was actually starting to lose my marbles. No perfectly designed planning system could stop me from forgetting where I was going and driving in the opposite direction multiple times on one trip to the shops, or walking away from the meal that I started preparing to discover it abandoned later that day. 

Just before Christmas I was diagnosed with ADHD (the inattentive type) which has been a bit of a journey, shall we say. From one day to the next, I was suddenly confronted by the realization that many of the things that I thought were just me and my very own personal personality, are actually a list of symptoms or a series of elaborate coping mechanisms.

A massive struggle for many people with ADHD is a tricky relationship with both the perception of time, and difficulties around planning. I have always thought of myself as someone who loves the planning process. I really enjoy thinking about what needs to be done, and breaking it down in to manageable and logical next steps. Most of all, I love figuring out the best way to present the Big Plan in a visual way that is helpful, but also interesting.

The problem is, for the most part, once I have crafted my big plan, I get bored with the actual implementation. It's as if in my head creating the plan was exactly the same as doing the actual work, and now I'm over it.

I usually get all the work done - eventually - but I do it in my own time, working on things when I feel like it, rather than what my big plan tells me to do. I hate being told what to do, even by plans I made myself only moments earlier. It makes perfect sense, and also no sense at all. 

I can spend days at a time in hyper-focus doing the more creative tasks which are interesting to me, so much so that I sometimes struggle to get anything else done. A lifetime of proof should have also clued me in to the fact that for things I don't really want to do, I work best when under a looming deadline. I always put this down to being a serial procrastinator, but people with ADHD have problems with task initiation and have extreme difficulty making themselves do tasks that they don't want to do. I 100% need the adrenaline of the omg this has to be done tonight panic, to get myself to actually do the things I have been putting off. 

Looking back on my planner fascination through the lens of an ADHD diagnosis, I can see that I was always searching for calendars and planning tools that make sense for the way that I think about time. Of course they also had to be well designed because I can't concentrate if I'm surrounded by things I don't find aesthetically pleasing. I thought I was a planner-obsessed design snob who just hadn't quite found the right tools to help turn all those ideas and plans into actual action. Turns out, I'm an artist and designer with ADHD.

I have always created versions of any of my Big Plans in lots of different formats. I need to see the bigger picture view in front of me or I literally forget what I am supposed to be doing. I started making giant calendars because I needed one for myself that was big enough to be helpful, clear enough to not be confusing, and well-designed enough that I might actually look at it. In the midst of home schooling, teaching sculpture classes via Zoom, and all the other joys of pandemic life, I no longer had the time or bandwidth to do any design work for clients. Launching my calendars with a new online store became a bit of a life-line for both my sanity and our finances. 

Generally speaking, I tend to be ridiculously unrealistic about how much I can get done in the amount of time that I have. Apparently I believe in miracles or my ability to bend the space-time continuum, so I give myself way too many things to attempt to achieve in any given time-span. Whenever I stop to review my progress, I am inevitably disappointed in myself. Like so many of us, I often don't celebrate what did get done, but instead I get frustrated by all the stuff that didn't get done. Actually, that's not even true, really I get annoyed at myself for thinking I could get so much done, when decades of experience should tell me otherwise.

I honestly always thought I was just endlessly optimistic when it comes to time management, but again it turns out that is most probably my ADHD. Another fun symptom is an inability to accurately predict how long tasks will take or have a clear relationship with how much time is passing. I set multiple alarms to remind me to go places or check things or take the laundry out of the machine, or take dinner out of the oven. If I am absorbed in something that is interesting to me, I become completely oblivious to both the hours ticking by and everything else around me that I should be doing.

There have been many revelations things about discovering I have ADHD but one of the weirdest realizations is that I literally created a business trying to solve my problems with planning - by trying (repeatedly) to design the planning tools that would work for me. My whole adult life I have been looking for the system to make everything come together - the plan and the action. It never occurred to me that maybe no planner layout will ever be able to magically order my mind and my life. 

I feel like I am still trying to slowly process the impact of my diagnosis on my personal and professional life. Some realizations have been really helpful though - now I know that I need things to be interesting for me or I'm really going to struggle to get them done. I have always known that intrinsically, but always thought of it as a me-problem, a not trying hard enough issue, like why can't I just power through and do it anyway? Now I realize that it's an ADHD thing so I need to accommodate that as much as possible. 

Sort of related / possibly not related, is the additional realization that ever since I started this business, if I am honest with myself, I have felt a bit of imposter syndrome. Not because I don't believe in my products - I really do stand behind them and think they're both helpful and attractive. The feedback I have received from customers tells me that there is a need for Plan The Things and that I'm designing products and tools that other people are looking for and using successfully, which makes me really happy. 

The imposter syndrome stems from my preconceptions of what someone who runs a planner business should be like - someone who is effortlessly organized and efficient and well put together. The manicured nails and the immaculate office. That is... not me. I have pink hair that I cut and dye myself, with varying degrees of success, I live in jeans and hoodies and pom-pom hats in winter. I often lose my glasses - except they're not lost, I'm wearing them, and my house and life are honestly pretty chaotic. I have no problem showing that version of myself as an artist or lecturer - being a bit of a mess is pretty much expected if you're an artist - it's creative, right? But running a planning company? That feels like you should be professional with a capital P. 

I watch Plan With Me videos and follow so many planner lovers on Instagram and TikTok. I am fascinated to see what they do and how they do it, but I am often left thinking that I am just not that kind of planner, that maybe I don't care about it like they care about it. One day recently it suddenly hit me - maybe I haven't been really into planning for all of these years because it is an inbuilt love, maybe it started as of a means of survival. 

I don't really know where I am going with all this. I know that what you see on social media is not the raw truth, maybe other planner people are also chaotic behind the scenes. I never set out to pretend to be someone who has it all together - I couldn't pull that off if I tried. But I also can't pretend that I have figured out the perfect system for me, one that you too could start using to be perfectly effortlessly organized.

I guess the search for the system is a form of self-discovery for all of us. As our lives change, our needs change, and so our systems should change too. I will keep on designing and sharing planning tools that can help make some order out of the chaos that can be life. Hopefully along the way I can use what I now know about ADHD to create products that can be helpful for more people. This business can't be all things to everyone, but for fellow minimalists who maybe struggle with time and management and planning (and those who do not) I am committed to making a vast variety of planning tool options, so you can figure out what works for you, for now, for today. 


2 Responses


March 22, 2023

Thank you so much for sharing this reflection. I, too, was diagnosed with ADD as an adult several years ago. My life-long struggles to self-regulate, plan, remember, and follow through on important things were so discouraging but finally made sense. I’ve learned to view my past with greater self-compassion: look at what I managed to do, to accomplish, to create, and I didn’t have any help with or knowledge of my ADD that whole time! The quest for the “perfect” system or planner is also something I relate to, even creating my own planning tools that I lost interest in using. I know now (especially for the neurodivergent brain) that it’s more about creating your own system and processes than finding the right planner. Your planner designs are beautiful, calming and visually coherent—just what this ADD brain craves. :)


March 22, 2023

I love stationery. I love beautiful stationery. I’ve just searched for over an hour for the “right wall planner” and found your site. I hope you do really well. Good, functional and beautiful planning tools help us to be more productive or effective in life and work. Filofax was massive. Digital doesn’t cut it!

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