Organisation & Planning for ADHD

A lack of organisation in ADHD students, along with poor planning skills, can impact their success in school. But fortunately, there are behavioural, environmental and cognitive supports that can help.

Up to 70% of children with autism also have ADHD. ADHD prevalence in all children is 5-8%, and this decreases with age. This indicates that people can develop enough strategies and neurological development by adulthood to reduce the disorder over time. Both autism and ADHD are highly genetic, meaning that the developmental neurological differences are not due to environmental factors as much as the genes passed down from parents.

Organisation, as a part of executive functioning, is one area where children with ADHD often struggle. It’s seen in the forgotten notes from school that never make it out of the bag; the assignments that are forgotten and due dates missed. The lack of organisation is seen in messy bedrooms, in incomplete assignments and in lost items like keys. A lack of organisation is often a contributor to a lack of academic success for students with ADHD.

Russell A. Barkley, an ADHD expert, talks about how children with ADHD:

  • have low working memory so find remembering information tricky
  • have low motivation for getting organised
  • have low levels of attention and self-restraint to remain on task (especially if it’s boring)

How can children with ADHD be supported in their organisation?

Addressing the key issues that are blockers for children with ADHD, here are some evidence based strategies for increasing organisation.

Increase motivation with rewards

This 2008 studyby Langberg et al of upper primary students increased the motivation of students with ADHD by providing rewards. If students completed their organisational checklists/tasks, then they were given free time. This free time could be playing games or cards at the end of homework sessions after school. This study found that increases in organisation continued for months after the study intervention, even when rewards were removed.

Adult support to set up organisational strategies

Young children with ADHD are unlikely to come up with organisational strategies themselves. An adult will need to support them to set up an organisational system. This might be a school binder with coloured tabs for each subject or coloured notebooks for each subject. It might also be using folders for homework or a strategy for organising the locker.

One study by Langberg et al that included adult support to set up organisation found that this increased the organisation of students. For these upper primary school students, the benefit was long lasting. Again, increases in organisation lasted for up to two months after the intervention (which was the maximum duration of the study).

Lists, list, lists

In another study by Canela et al that looked at successful adults with ADHD, lists featured prominently. Participants reported using lists, schedules, and planners to map out their days, weeks and every bit of time they had. Lists helped to break down tasks into smaller steps. This became a strategy for planning as well as organising available time in the week. Lists also helped reduce procrastination or unproductive time. One participant reported that if they got stuck with one task, they used their list to move to the next task. This avoided time wasting in non-productive activities.

Make the steps visible with a planner

Using a planner to record a list of steps required in a task is an aspect of organisation.

This study says:

Students with ADHD often take the time to make a rough plan for their activities(Johnson & Reid, 2011). However, possibly due to impulsivity, they will not reflect on which behaviors are essential to complete a particular activity.Therefore, students with ADHD will follow their impulse when embarking on a particular activity. Even when students are encouraged and guided to develop a plan, they rarely follow it. (Johnson & Reid, 2011). Students with ADHD will choose a strategy that requires the least amount of cognitive effort. They will require direct and explicit instruction in planning and using strategies (Johnson &Reid, 2011, Daley & Birchwood, 2009).

So, being successful in planning out steps will require regular check-ins (below), motivational rewards (above) and adult support (above). Adult support may also be in breaking a task into smaller chunks, and prioritising steps. In addition, adults can help with predicting the time required for each step.

Regular check-ins

Having the motivation and support of regular check-ins also supports the organisation and planning for ADHD students. Check-ins may be daily, or multiple times a day. This study by Creelman says that students with ADHD will not remember how to do something after only one occasion of instruction. So, repeated instruction and regular check-ins are required.

Use time management strategies

Effective time management also goes hand-in-hand with organisation and planning. These executive functioning skills are required to do well in school and life.


Canela C, Buadze A, Dube A, Eich D, Liebrenz M (2017) Skills and compensation strategies in adult ADHD – A qualitative study. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184964.

Creelman, KeriLyn (2021) “A Literature Review of Understanding and Supporting Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the Classroom,” Northwest Journal of Teacher Education: Vol. 16 : Iss. 1 , Article 3.

Langberg, Joshua & Epstein, Jeffery & Urbanowicz, Christina & Simon, John & Graham, Amanda. (2008). Efficacy of an Organization Skills Intervention to Improve the Academic Functioning of Students With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. School Psychology Quarterly. 23. 407-417. 10.1037/1045-3830.23.3.407.

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