First Published: November 9, 2022 | Last Updated: November 9, 2022

The gist: A lot of productivity methods don't work for ADHD brains, but I believe the bullet journal does. Here's why and how to get started.

I know I'm not the only ADHDer with a...complicated relationship with planners.

We're drawn to them because they promise to tame mental chaos, which we have a lot of.

But they often fail us because they're too rigid for the way our brains work.

All of that, combined with the fact that I always wanted to have a journaling habit but found it hard to build one, was why I first tried bullet journaling in 2014.

Seven years later, bullet journaling is probably one of my longest running productivity systems.

And I'm sure that has a lot to do with the fact that its creator, Ryder Carroll, originally created it for himself to manage his own ADHD.

And while it's now spread so far and wide that most people online have at least heard of it, it's worth remembering that bullet journaling was originally created for an ADHD brain.

If you've been burned lots of neurotypical productivity systems in the past, it's understandable if you're hesitant to try another tool that promises to organize your life.

So let's talk about why I think anyone with ADHD should at least give bullet journaling a try.

But first, in case you're unfamiliar:

What is bullet journaling?

The bullet journal system is a cross between a planner, diary, notebook, to-do list, and sketchbook. It was originally a personal system built by Ryder Carroll to manage his own ADHD brain.

It uses concepts like rapid logging and collections using a specific syntax to create a flexible, modular personal management system.

You can learn more about the concepts in Ryder's book, or my summary of it.

6 ways bullet journaling helps ADHDers

1. It gives you a balance of structure and flexibility

Bullet journaling is a great way to organize your thoughts because it provides structure, while also being flexible enough to meet your needs.

In his book, Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carroll talks about how it's more of a toolbox than one specific tool. It's a container, and you can switch out which tools it contains as you need to, without needing any new materials.

This combination of structure and flexibility makes it ideal for people with ADHD, since our needs can change depending so many different factors.

It gives us some structure to wrangle our thoughts, but we can still customize it to our needs.

This also helps combat boredom.

If you get bored of a certain spread or setup, you can just switch it out for something else next week.

2. It helps you externalize your many, many thoughts

People with ADHD often have trouble organizing our thoughts. Our minds can move faster than we can follow.

But bullet journaling and its rapid logging offers a quick place to externalize any thoughts you want to "keep" throughout the day.

You can worry about organizing them in collections or actually taking action on them later.

(This is where bullet journaling intersects nicely with David Allen's GTD, another system I recommend trying for ADHD.)

3. Bullet journaling has mindfulness mechanisms built in

Additionally, bullet journaling can give you all the self-awareness and mindfulness of any other kind of mental health journaling, but with less effort and more flexibility.

For example, there's often pushback to the idea of migrating unfinished tasks.

Why rewrite it over and over again?

Because that forces you to confront it...why is it still undone? If you've been able to put it off this long, does it really need doing?

It makes you think.

And while people can and do bullet journal digitally, journaling by hand makes an even more mindful activity.

It forces you to slow down and only think as fast as you can write.

Need help filling your journal?

Get it started with a brain dump! You can download our free braindump trigger list cheat sheet full of questions to get your mind going.

4. It can help you prioritize and organize tasks of any kind

Another part of bullet journaling's appeal for ADHD is that you can track anything you want.

You're not limited to the neurotypical, self-helpy options in pre-printed planners.

And because of that, there are a lot of possibilities for how you can use bullet journaling to help you with your ADHD.

Want a rolling to-do list instead of assigning tasks to specific days? No problem.

Need to track when you take your meds? Easy peasy.

How about how much time tasks take you, to help fight the planning fallacy? You got it.

Want to build an elaborate spread tracking elements of a special interests? Bujo was built for this, baby!

5. It's easier to pick up and put down than dated planners

ADHDers are consistently inconsistent, which makes dated planners not just a waste of money, but a huge shame trigger, too.

I used to have a whole shelf of partially used planners I "fell off" or lost track of midyear, staring at me in judgement.

Now, if I stop using my bullet journal for a week or two, I can still pick it back up and turn it to the next blank page.

No shame, no wasted paper.

This also means bullet journaling can be done very inexpensively, despite how viral Instagram reels might make it seem. All you need is a blank notebook and pen or pencil, maybe some highlighters too if you're feeling fancy.

6. It lets you express as much creativity as you need

Finally, let's talk about the elephant in the room: aesthetics.

Most people's first impressions of bullet journaling come from social media, and seeing elaborate spreads made by artists.

But keep in mind that's what goes viral, not what's most popular or effective.

If you are artistic and are looking for a place to express your creativity, then aesthetic spreads and decorating your journal can fill that void.

But if you're not, none of that is necessary. 

My own bullet journal is very minimalist, just bulleted lists with occasional doodles and highlights.

This is another way that bullet journaling can stretch and flex to be whatever you need.

How to start an ADHD-friendly bullet journal

Between ADHD stuff and comparing yourself to bullet journalers on social media, it can be easy to want to dive in deep with a complex journal.

Fight this temptation.

Remember how much of the beauty of bujo lies in its flexibility.

Start simple, and if you find you need something, you can add it in at any time.

The basic spreads I suggest starting with are:

  • An index
  • A future log
  • The current monthly log
  • The current weekly log
  • A brain dump spread (download our free list of prompts)
  • Custom collections for the most important things you need to track (the first ones I ever set up for myself were health, project due dates, and writing word count)

And I also suggest keeping the design simple too.

It really doesn't need to be anything more than basic grids for calendars or trackers and bulleted lists for everything else. If you have the time and the inclination to pretty it up more, that can also come later.

Need help filling your journal?

Get it started with a brain dump! You can download our free braindump trigger list cheat sheet full of questions to get your mind going.

ADHDers: give it a try

Bullet journaling is a great way to tame the mental chaos that often comes with ADHD. It's flexible, easily picked up and put down, and lets you express your creativity however you want.

If you're looking for a planner that will work better with your ADHD, bullet journaling may be just what you need.

And if it's not, you can just turn the notebook to the next page and use it for something else!