Breakthrough Solutions

for Attention Deficit Disorder Adults

Bonnie Mincu

Senior Certified ADHD Coach

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It's not ADD to write things down

To organized people, taking notes is just common sense

Have you been embarrassed at not remembering what you're told at work?  Have you had to admit that you “mis-remembered” what you needed to do?

It's not your memory that's the problem!  It's the belief that you should be relying on memory in the first place.  Yet I've often heard ADD / ADHD adults say they don't take notes in meetings, or when they're given direction on the job, thinking that one shouldn't have to write or record things to remember them.

Imagine if your doctor listened to your symptoms, prescribed medication, and never wrote or typed anything into your medical records.  What if, when you asked if this information would be entered into your file, the doctor responded, “Don't worry, I'll remember.”  Wouldn't you feel rather nervous about that?

No matter what your profession, getting information right should not be a feat of memory.  This is especially true if there are multiple steps involved, or uncertainty of how to interpret the information.

Putting instructions in writing is a key to ensuring there is no misunderstanding.

So why do so many people with ADD continue to try to depend on memory when writing things down would be so much more reliable?

ADD / ADHD BELIEF:  It looks bad if I don't remember what I'm told.

REALITY:  In a work situation, taking notes makes you appear more interested and organized – not less.

  • Example:  Jackson agreed to find out several pieces of information for his prospective client during a sales proposal.  But after the meeting, he wasn't quite sure if he remembered them right, and felt uncomfortable calling back and asking.  As a result, he left out key information and didn't get the account.

Once you acknowledge that you've heard something that was said to you, the other person assumes you've “got it” and will therefore expect you to follow through.  It's up to you to ask for clarification if you're not sure what was meant.  Not doing so can make you appear disorganized or indifferent.


  • Always have a notepad or note-taking device with you when you talk to a boss or client.  If you have trouble with writing while you're trying to listen, carry a pocket-sized recorder or smart phone with you in your pocket.
  • When given a number of steps for follow-through, summarize them in an email back to the person who gave the directions, asking them to confirm that you've gotten them right.  This makes you seem on top of things, and can serve as a written record if you ever need one.
  • Writing things down only works if you can find the information when you need it!  Dozens of sticky notes or random scraps of paper don't cut it.  Having one notebook or smart phone where you keep information is much more effective, along with a habit of checking it daily.

Have you ever felt awkward about writing things down to retain the information? How did you get over it? Please comment!

Author: Bonnie Mincu
Senior Certified ADHD Coach, Founder of "Thrive with ADD," Bonnie has been coaching adults with ADD / ADHD traits since 2001. She has developed numerous training programs to help with the challenges of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.



    I’m pretty good about writing things down – and much, much better about writing things in one notepad rather than scraps of paper – but the crux of my problem is organizing and following up on those notes. First of all, there are just to many things to do. Second, I need a system for reviewing notes. My brain seems to think that once I’ve written something down, I can then forget about it.

    Bonnie Mincu

    Lauren, I know what you mean! I’ve actually thought I’d sent emails that I later find unfinished because I’d been interrupted. Dealing with notes and reminders about various things throughout the day should become a daily ritual. Create one or two times each day when you automatically look at your notes and file them or record them on your calendar in a way you’ll deal with them. It could be just after lunch, or before you leave work. If you do it often enough, it will become a habit.
    (NOTE TO MYSELF: Do the same for checking my piled-up emails that I’d left open for action!)


    Oh, Bonnie, this really hits home! I do always take notes, but as you said in the second part of your post, my problem becomes READING THEM AFTERWARDS! LIke Lauren, my brain thinks that writing things down (step 1) means I know what I’m doing and that executing the project will be easy. But yes, I absolutely end up with scraps of paper, post-its, odd bits of mail I’ve written on, etc. cluttering up my desk, and things get buried and forgotten. It seems to me I’ve tried the notebook idea before, but I ended up not being able to find things, or forgetting to go back to them because I’d accumulate too many notes on too many things before accomplishing any of them. I’ve actually begun taking the time to draft instructions for projects that happen regularly and keeping them on the computer so I can always find them that way — as long as I remember what I call them!

    Bonnie Mincu

    I think another term for ADD / ADHD should be “Little Scraps of Paper Syndrome.” It’s because we are so impatient that we grab anything at hand to write on, instead of spending the second or two to locate the ONE notebook we should be writing in.

    It really all comes down to habit, habit, habit.

      Habit of writing everything in that one notebook.
      Habit of keeping the notebook in the same place (maybe next to the computer)
      Habit of daily “downloading” what you write in there to more specific and actionable places to deal with each thing (calendar, project folders)

    It really doesn’t have to be a notebook that you write random to-do’s in. It certainly could be a computer or iphone. Just keep all the random stuff in one place or one e-file.

    HINT: I love Evernote for “dumping” random information. If I don’t remember where I’ve filed something in my Evernote cloud, I can just type in a keyword. I can click on any email or document to have it go to Evernote, and add my own big bold title on top of the email to make it easier to find at a glance.

    Gail Johnson

    Taking notes is not my orientation. I have been working on changing that and not using my brain as RAM. I make a big boo boo recently. I was doing some work and told to do something. I wrote it down–put in on a sticky note and put it on my computer. I put stickies on my computer and then weekly I type up the notes and have them available for me to check. Unfortunately this note fell off my computer. This was a very embarrassing situation. When you don’t do something for a month you aren’t going to remember all the details. When I use stickies (hate those things) I will TAPE them to my computer.

    Bonnie Mincu

    I stopped relying on sticky notes when I realized that my eyes never really noticed them. I ended up with loads of unread notes. I call my ADD the visually oblivious kind because I may not see things that are right in front of me. But if the notes system works for you, it’s a good one.


    Part of a bigger problem (regarding note taking) is that even bosses feel that their intelligence is proven by the fact that they are not writing things down (?!?!).

    Currently I am working for someone who is very intelligent. The person switches from one thing to another very quickly and is always on the mark. All the “to-dos” really do matter, and I sympathize with this person wanting to make things progress at lightning speed everyday in a big way! Kudos for ambition & the know-how talent!

    This boss says a word and… BOOM, I slap that word on the paper/s handed to me. Then more papers, more words… BOOM other sloppy word post/notes slapped on the paper to keep things moving and make work happen right the first time every time!

    Then one day… this person said to me “you don’t have to write a post-note.” This boss had written a note on each of the papers… and then said a few words to explain (but of course we all know our own notes are more effective). Sometimes I think that the urgent look of our own panic-scribble has meaning!

    I happen to think this very intelligent boss is a bit ADD but does not know it.

    Another experience with this person is that the person says things on top of things and the word can become very intelligent rapid fire… (my pen is reeling away, firing out the ink and words like a smoking gun).

    Sometimes I feel the person is confused. It could be that I am the 1st person to not get frazzled and get the work 50-80% wrong with this boss. I hope the person can see that I want success for them!!! But this is what people have to deal with in the world of no note taking (and taking pride in memory). I think pride is one of the 7 deadly sins.

    ADD or not, people think proving they don’t have to take notes is a reflection of their intelligence. This is a shame. People should realize the importance of note taking, and they should noticing that life can be a series of rapid fire issues every day.

    Another factor for pros/cons on note taking (in my opinion) has to do with environment. People have to take stock and notice if their life/job has a proactive or reactive process environment. But that could be a whole other blog!

    Thank you Bonnie for your helpful advice!!! Thank you for creating this blog, and thank you for keeping things real/interesting!

    Bonnie Mincu

    Anne, funny you should say you think your boss is ADD. That thought popped in my head as soon as I read he “switches from one thing to another very quickly and is always on the mark.” It reminds me a bit of a boss I once had who told me years later that he was ADD.

    In a work environment, rapid-fire intelligence is only as good as the ability to communicate it, and for people listening to keep up with it. Your boss would be more effective if he could take a breath and consider that people can’t write at the speed of sound. Would he be open to being asked to slow down so you can take down what he says?

    Memory alone is not a measure of intelligence. One can be brilliant and forgetful, or have a memory like an elephant and still be stupid.


    I did think about how to suggest that he slow a bit. Today I noticed a new level of trust. Perhaps there is a way to find that middle ground. Thank you!


    Bonnie… I remember another time you mentioned that Evernote is a good tool/application. Do you have an opinion on Toodledoo?

    Thank you!

    Bonnie Mincu

    I don’t know Toodledoo. Does anyone else know it?


    Toodledo is great. It is a web-based to-do list manager But has apps for the iPhone, etc. I use the todo app for the iPhone because it allows me to enter a phone number todo from my contact list and tap it to call. It is so handy that I paid for a subscription because it will show me the ones I’ve completed (sometimes I forget I I’ve done something). I recommend it highly for add people.

    Bonnie Mincu

    Fred, thanks for the Toodledo recommendation! It sounds worth checking out: Click here for


    Bonnie, I LOVE your comment: I think another term for ADD / ADHD should be “Little Scraps of Paper Syndrome.” I remember back to when I was co-manager of an extremely large US Customs company. When hired, I was given a large book-form calendar and told that, except for official forms and work-orders, every single note, phone number, client’s name must be written on that day’s page. Initially I thought it was annoying. I grew to appreciate the efficiency! NOW, when recognizing my scraps-of-paper-problem, I can see how I must learn to take regular sessions at transferring or downloading so much information into the correct locations… and not fall into my “I’ll do it when I get a chance”-syndrome.

    Bonnie Mincu

    I think we should have a contest for the most creative way to describe ADHD as a “syndrome.” By the way, Judi, that must have been a really huge calendar!


    Great post!
    I haven’t known about it before. This article is very helpful!
    Thank you so much!

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Bonnie, there are no words to express how deeply I’ve been affected by your blog! I’ve only read a few things, but they have created such a complete mind shift that the tears shed have washed away my struggles forever!

For the first time in my life I feel understood and hopeful that I can put some tools and systems in place to help me overcome!”

—Michelle near Seattle

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