Coach Training Tools: Getting Personal With Your Planner – Part 1

Our guest blogger, ADHD Coach Becky Wheeler, shares tips for coaches, coaches in training and ADHD clients.

My ADHD clients often seek help with planning, time management and accountability, and while they share concerns from remembering appointments to completing tasks on time, the causes, and the solutions are as unique as the individual.  Using a planner, or agenda, is the standard answer but ‘how you use it’ can transform a planner from a solution that’s not working to one that is.  Let’s explore some variations on the four essential steps for effectively managing a planner.  (Names have been changed to protect privacy.)

Step 1:  Thinking It Through

Earlier this summer, Nathan, a student, was excited about an upcoming job interview.  I suggested we determine his availability before the interview.  He replied, “It’s all good, Mrs. Wheeler, I’m free all summer – I can work any time they want!”   I proposed he open his currently blank planner saying, “Let’s just have a look at your month-at-a-glance agenda.”  (Getting an overview of the coming months will help him visualize the big picture and he’ll then plan in more detail week by week.)

I prompt Nathan with, “Didn’t you tell me you were going on vacation with your family soon?”  “Oh yeah,” he says, “from June 20 through July 2.”   He writes “VACATION” in blue on June 20, adding arrows on each succeeding day through July 2nd.  He then remembers his crew camp, his weekly coaching appointment, his SAT tutoring program, the week his nieces and nephews will be visiting, his church mission trip and so on.  We record his social and extracurricular activities in blue, school-related activities in red and save green for his available work hours.  When we finish plotting, Nathan concludes laughing that he has too much going on this summer to work and should put the job on hold until fall.  I agree.

Conclusion:  Nathan lives in the moment and struggles to keep the future on his radar.  He’s discovered his internal voice, the one that asks the important questions, is faint, and he’s realized he processes information best verbally.  We list general questions he will ask himself daily and he determines he can stay organized by talking out his schedule (with me, his Mom or a friend.)  We dub this the ‘buddy system.’

Step 2:  Writing It Down

Kate complains that homework is always assigned as the bell rings.  “I try to remember it because there isn’t enough time to write it down and get to my next class,” but Kate admits it isn’t working out.  I ask her to ‘guestimate’ how long she thinks it takes to record a standard assignment and she predicts two or three minutes.  I suggest, “Let’s try something.  When I say ‘go,’ write this down:  Read pages 15 through 23 and do the assignment on page 24.  Be prepared for the quiz tomorrow and don’t forget to go on Blackboard and comment on what you’ve read.”  Kate guesses three minutes have passed and is surprised to learn it took just 40 seconds to record the assignment in her planner.  I suggested an abbreviation key could get that under 15 seconds.  Here’s what she came up with:    R p. 15-23, do p. 24. Cmnt on BB.  Q 2mrw.  “Fourteen seconds flat – perfect!”

We review the process for potential roadblocks and create the following plan.  1) As the class begins, Kate gets her planner out to avoid digging for it later.  2) She writes the subject before every assignment.  3) She draws a box in front of each task to check when it’s completed.  And, 4) she’ll star items that require she bring home a book or handout, making grabbing those items from her locker easier when she’s hurrying to catch her bus.

Conclusion:  Kate playfully diagnosed herself with “TD” – ‘time distortion.’   She finds time has always eluded her and determined she’s going to create a time dictionary to record how long different tasks take.  As Kate raises her self-awareness, she’ll be able to block out realistic chunks of time for tasks, and now that she has an accurate estimate of the time it takes to write her assignments, she’ll make that a new habit.

Stay tuned for next week’s Steps 3 & 4.


Becky Wheeler is an ADHD & Life Coach dedicated to helping clients untangle their lives and find the strategies and systems that work best for them.  For more information, visit