Got ADHD? Write Down (Don’t Type) the Important Stuff

by Amy Lawson Moore, PhD

I recently read a delightful and comprehensive compilation of organizational tips from ADHD experts in ADDitude Magazine. From ways to track your to-do list to keeping your desk organized to having a consistent “home” for each of your belongings, the strategies for staying organized and helping remember important things in our lives were great. And worthy of saving in a folder somewhere on my laptop. A file probably labeled “ADHD Resources” that contains hundreds of articles all with similar titles and content that I will read once and then forget about. Out of sight, out of mind. But, I digress.

I got to the end of this particular article and had to read it a second time. Something seemed to be missing and I needed to make sure my ADHD brain hadn’t just skipped over it. But, no. Not there. Nothing about the importance of handwritten notes. (Techies…please keep reading. I’m not going to pitch an antiquated habit for no good reason.)

My purple daily planner holds both my appointment calendar and my to-do lists. In fact, they’re integrated. I write in my meetings and appointments at their designated times and pencil in my specific to-do items in between the scheduled events. For example, yesterday I had a podcast interview at 9am followed by two hours of work on a research article followed by a lunch appointment at 11:30 followed by a quick meeting at 1pm followed by two more hours of work on a time-sensitive conference presentation followed by another podcast interview at 3pm followed by an hour of planning for next week’s meetings followed by a counseling client at 6pm. Everything was written in order, in pencil, on my planner page.

I’ve only missed one appointment in the last year, because I had neglected to add it to my planner. If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. Fortunately, it wasn’t a high stakes meeting and one that was easily rescheduled. Why is this method of keeping track of my insanely packed schedule so effective for me? Because our brains actually encode our own handwriting differently and more comprehensively than they encode the type-written word. We remember things better when we’ve picked up a pen or pencil and written it on paper than if we add the same information to a digital app or device. Did you hear that? We remember things better when we write them down. ADHD Warriors like me need all the help we can get in the memory department. Why in the world wouldn’t anyone mention that in a list of techniques for helping us keep our lives organized?

My team and I did a study a few years ago on more than 5,000 children and adults who had been diagnosed with ADHD. We looked at their cognitive profiles across the lifespan and found that their greatest deficits were in working memory, long-term memory, and processing speed…not attention. We’ve got memory issues, y’all! But instead of choosing a technique that will actually exercise our memory skills, we’re so quick to let technology just be our memory. That’s like taking the elevator instead of the stairs because we’re a little out of shape. Both methods get us where we want to go but taking the stairs actually works our legs a little and improves our physical condition.

Here is a fantastic article that summarizes what happens in our brains when we write things down. It links to some great research. Maybe it will inspire you. Or maybe you’ll just file this away in your ADHD Resources file and forget about it. But, as a brain training researcher, I always want to choose the option that makes my ADHD brain work better. Even if it takes a little extra effort to make that happen! As for the “expert” lists, I’d love to see this idea included on the next one.

From my brain to yours –

Dr. Amy

About Dr. Amy: Dr. Amy Moore is a cognitive psychologist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the headquarters of LearningRx, the largest network of brain training centers in the world. She specializes in cognition and learning in neurodevelopmental disorders, brain injury, learning disabilities, and age-related cognitive decline. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Modern Brain Journal, a board-certified Christian counselor, and co-host of the podcast Brainy Moms. Learn more about her work at

For further reading:

40 ADHD-Friendly Tips for Getting Things Done
(The delightful and comprehensive ADDitude article referenced above)

Why You Remember Things Better When You Write Them Down

Neuroscience Explains Why You Need to Write Down Your Goals If You Actually Want To Achieve Them

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking

The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children

The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults