Tips & Stories

Finding Focus: How to Take Control of ADHD with Evernote

Finding Focus: How to Take Control of ADHD with Evernote

Posted by Pamela Rosen on 13 Oct 2016

Posted by Pamela Rosen on 13 Oct 2016

October is ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) Awareness Month. We asked Nikki Kinzer and Pete Wright, hosts of Take Control: The ADHD Podcast, for their thoughts on how Evernote can help children and adults with ADHD keep their jobs, studies, and lives in order.

As a certified ADHD coach, Nikki Kinzer knows how deeply Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder can impact people’s lives. ADHD is often associated with children, but only about 40 percent of children with ADHD will ever outgrow it. The remaining 60 percent will carry ADHD with them into adulthood. Approximately 8 million adults in the United States, or 4 percent of the adult population, is estimated to be struggling with this challenging condition, although most cases are undiagnosed.

The stakes are high. According to a study published by Contemporary Pediatrics, 50 to 60 percent of students with ADHD who start college will not finish with a degree. High school students with ADHD are less likely to attend college at all, and those who do can expect to have significant problems adjusting to the fast pace and independent lifestyle of the college environment. Without some help and accommodation, college drop-out rates are high.

The ADHD Brain in College

But the news isn’t all bad. More colleges are recognizing ADHD as a legitimate brain disorder (as opposed to a behavioral problem that can be corrected) and are designing accommodations for it. Kinzer’s clients are increasingly successful in both college and the workplace, but they still need some one-on-one support.

Nikki Kinzer, ADHD coachNikki Kinzer

“If someone calls me, they usually feel overwhelmed, or there’s something that’s challenging them with their ADHD,” Kinzer explains. “I work with them on a weekly basis. We go over goals, find strategies to help them reach those goals, keeping ADHD in mind. ADHD brains have to get there a little bit differently,” she says. She works with clients individually, usually over the phone, to help them organize and increase productivity, breaking down projects into smaller pieces.

For college students, Kinzer says: “Our main goal is to get them that college degree. In that aspect, it’s about time management and project planning. I get their schedules, their syllabi, and we meet twice a week to make sure they’re on schedule for tests and papers. I remind them to do their laundry or their shopping.” She sometimes takes on the role of counselor and confidante, particularly to newly-diagnosed students. “We talk a lot about how much they should disclose to professors or employers about ADHD, and I let them know that their symptoms are common. I give them tools and strategies. The goal is not to have a coach forever, but to get through the tough parts and learn to manage on their own.”

ADHD in adult life

One person who can testify to the benefits of coaching is Pete Wright, who shares the podcast with Kinzer. A technologist and educator, Wright was diagnosed with the disorder himself 15 years ago. Evernote made the difference for him, but he concedes that even that was overwhelming at first.

Pete WrightPete Wright

“I was one of the early beta users of Evernote,” he says. “Evernote is wide open, and it’s so deep, you can do anything with it. And that can be a huge stumbling block for someone with ADHD.” For Wright, the discussion is always around accomplishing tasks by taking baby steps and a functional approach. “What do you want to accomplish?” Wright asks his podcast listeners. “Notes for college? If you’re always losing pages, leaving them laying around, you’re going to be an absolute disaster for studying. You want to invest in Evernote one issue at a time, and expand from there.”

Focus on the Elephant

Wright tells podcast listeners to approach Evernote based on the first problem they need to solve. “If I can’t keep track of my notes, then I use Evernote exclusively for notes. I just need one notebook called “Notes,” and I just want to focus on the little green elephant. I know that’s the function that will be addressed by the elephant.” That singular focus is crucial. Wright explains: “If you can commit to one thing, you’ll be more interested and have more affinity for it. If you have it in your mind that ‘the green elephant means notes,’ you don’t have to think about all the other things that Evernote can do or all the complexity it offers. You don’t have to think about fifty notebooks, you don’t have to think about tags, you only have to think about the elephant.”

Kinzer and Wright disagree on the topic of tags in Evernote. Wright swears by them, but Kinzer sees them as a distraction that could set the ADHD mind off course. “I use tags for course IDs of the different classes I teach so that I can isolate all the materials from a particular class at once,” Wright says. Still, he uses them sparingly, and to create context and meaning. Kinzer, on the other hand, doesn’t use them at all. She instead focuses on a methodical use of Evernote that helps build habits, something that is crucial to successful organization with ADHD.

“For people with ADHD, out of sight really is out of mind,” Kinzer explains. “People with ADHD don’t intentionally choose not to use the tool that’s going to help them the most, but unless it’s right in front of them, they aren’t going to think about it. Evernote works best if they put everything in it and set it up with a system of reminders, so it’s always in their sight. They have to have something poking at them all the time. So when I work with my clients, I’m always reminding them, ‘did you use the elephant? Did you remember to write it down and put reminders in the elephant?’”

“Evernote can change their lives”

Kinzer describes the delight her clients feel once they discover that, with the help of Evernote, they can be organized people. “I had a client this week who was doing some remodeling,” she recalls. “I told her about Web Clipper, and it was like Christmas morning. She kept saying, ‘really? I can do that?’ She’d been pulling photos from Instagram and storing them on her phone with photos. But then, she couldn’t find again. There was no organization.”

Kinzer sees such scenes again and again as students and adults alike learn to manage their lives in spite of their disorder. “It’s illuminating to see,” she says. “Evernote can change their lives. Once they get one part of it, and it becomes a habit, it can open up a whole new world for them. They don’t have to remember; they don’t have to worry about losing papers, or missing appointments. They only have to think about one thing—whatever they need, it’s in Evernote.”

To learn more about how you or a loved one can take control of ADHD, visit Kinzer’s website and sign up for weekly updates. You can also subscribe to the podcast from there.


Evernote Premium

Upgrade for features to help you live and work smarter.

Go Premium
View more stories in 'Tips & Stories'

36 Comments RSS

  • Tiffany

    This is a great article and resource. I have used Evernote for over 7 years and can also be both awed and overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the platform. I love the idea of being laser-focused and using a class “notes” notebook as opposed to being overly prescriptive. I started a “filing cabinet” notebook for all of my household items such as taxes, receipts, bills, etc., but often thought “is that too broad”? But it works! Any more complicated and I can’t find anything or get discouraged and end up half-adopting a system which isn’t helpful. Looking forward to tuning into the podcast….

    • Eric Lorenz

      Tiffany- I know! When I started using EN, I did it like I did in Dropbox- strict (and massive) folder hierarchy. It was all i knew. Then I found out about EN’s search capabilities. and it’s OCR capabilities. Woah! I mean, if it can read the text, just about anything becomes searchable! So I’m not as concerned now that my Inbox is just…well, very full. I can still find just about anything in there. 🙂

  • Andrew

    I have ADD/ADHD. When I found Evernote in 2008 it completely changed my life.

    • Bill Matejka

      how did it change your life?

  • Ryan McRae

    What a great article. As an ADHD fella, I love Evernote and write its praises all the time.

    Great work.

  • Grant Crowell

    Great article and thanks to Pamela, Nikki & Pete! I’m a proud ADHD’r who has been using Evernote for 3 years now at multiple social media jobs that are rife with digital distractions (not to mention a lot of organic ones in office environments that would make anyone cringe!) I have an advanced tagging system that did take me a couple years to properly build a taxonomy around, so I can definitely understand why it could be better for newbies to start with Nikki’s setup (and then maybe work their way up to Peter’s.) I’m such an evangelist for Evernote with helping ADHD folks that I created a presentation for it!

  • Nashvillian

    Evernote is SO great for ADD. I have set up organizational structures in the past and, as ADD sufferers know, it quickly becomes so much more work finding a place for everything where you will remember where you put it that your “time management” method ends up costing MORE time than it saves. The ability to search for words within the notes and EVEN FOR WORDS IN SCANS AND PICTURES is the most incredible time saver. The only real downside is that it’s not great for taking notes in a meeting or class because, even after years and years of feedback, for some reason they refuse to bring it up to the standards of even the most elementary word processing program. It’s a mystery why there’s that flaw in an otherwise absolute gem of a program.

  • Brian Joseph Staver

    My problem is not allowing distractions to keep me from what I should be really working on. Evernote does not help. But this is a big problem

    • Hank

      I have ADHD and use Evernote to manage my daily life. For the distractions, I use a technique called Pomodoro Timer – I essentially ask myself to focus on one thing for 15 minutes, and set a timer… if want to switch tasks, I simply look at the time, remind myself I have x minutes left, and that USUALLY helps. I use Evernote, with the Pomodoro timer, and Personal Kanban as tools in my toolbox to manage my ADHD.

  • Renee

    This is an interesting article, but I really wish that you would not refer to ADHD as a “disorder.” Also, it’s crucial to understand that ADHD manifests differently in different people. I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, over a decade ago. My parents still don’t believe the diagnosis because I was always an excellent student — I graduated with honors from an Ivy League university and an Ivy League law school, and was working at one of the top firms in the country when I was diagnosed. However, looking back, even at my school years, the signs were there. I was very organized — hyper organized, in fact — but I developed that habit largely as a strategy in response to the impending sense of overwhelm I felt by all the moving pieces. I attended a rigorous high school where we studied a dual curriculum – 8-9 subjects and intense final exams. I found it quite difficult to study for more than one exam at a time. Even today, I do my best work when I can schedule time for deep work so that I can immerse in one thing at a time.

    As for Evernote, I have been using Evernote since 2009 and I have over 6500 notes in Evernote. Unfortunately, it is a black hole. For me, Evernote is where things go to get lost. I recently needed to find something and spent hours trying to comb through the search results before I gave up. I have dozens of notebooks and hundreds of tags. At the beginning I thought maybe I needed to use it more for it to prove what it can do. But after all these years, it now feels like I’d have to scratch everything and start again.

    I’m fully invested in the system at this point – I use an Evernote Moleskine, I have a ScanSnap scanner, etc. But if I want to find something later, increasingly Evernote is not the place for me to put it.

    It would be helpful to see some concrete examples of tag/notebook structures that work, rather than merely descriptions of strategies.

    To give you an example of the volume I manage: I am running 1 business with multiple clients/projects (each project is in effect its own business); I am a student in many courses, and I develop my own courses and trainings. Plus I use it for recipes and other clippings I want to save. It would be great if I could find what I need when I needed it, instead of resigning myself to the fact that anything that goes into Evernote is unlikely to surface when I need it.

    • roger tubby

      I have only just really started using EN as my information repository in the last year. My new job is in the health policy arena and there is so much new information that I want to collect it to have available in the future.

      While I try to use the tagging system to cross-reference notes (don’t think the folder structure is useful and may be distractive), there are so many more ways that I could do searches if true (nested)boolean searches were available. Personally, I’d like the full Lucene syntax or even better a EN version of regex.

      The other items that would help tremendously would be a ranking of search results and a concept-map or nearby-relevant terms (word cloud). I’m in the process of inventing both of these but would far rather have them baked in.

    • Bruce Gudmundson

      Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
      attention deficit disorder, hyperkinetic disorder (ICD-10) the name disorder is part of the acronym. Overtime you use the term ADHD you are implying disorder. The author is just trying to be helpful to millions that suffer from this challenging disease. Props to that person for reaching out!

    • Hank

      Renee – do you use Stacks? I personally use them to group items at a higher level (i.e. personal vs work vs documentation (receipts, invoices, copies of work orders, etc.)). I then break them down into Notebooks (typically organized by project). I use tags that may go across multiple areas (i.e. taxes, status (To Do, Doing, Done), receipts, etc.)). There is some duplication, as this is not truly a database, but it keeps it organized for me.
      As for your particular challenges, perhaps it would be worth finding an Evernote Consultant near you…
      I hope this helps.

    • Katy

      ADHD is a disorder. Current scientific study shows that ADHD brains do have structural differences, as well as communication differences between different parts of the brain. Additionally: Impairment is a prerequisite for diagnosis. That doesn’t mean that every diagnostician is good at what they do, of course. But it is a heavily scientifically studied brain based developmental disorder. I realize this bothers people for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t make this article invalid in any way. In fact, I was surprised at how good this article was, I’m used to ADHD being discussed in blogs and many other outlets in ways that are far from scientifically based, so I’m delighted to see this article.

      That doesn’t mean that a lot of us with ADHD aren’t capable of learning, growing and doing amazing things. We are. But if we try to pretend that we don’t have a disorder…that doesn’t usually work out well as a long-term strategy.

      I look forward to trying Evernote as a tool for managing my own ADHD.

  • Brian

    I started taking ADHD meds about 3 years ago and it really changed my life. I have had my Evernote account since 2012, but I had one earlier that I never used because it always felt like way too much freedom. I never knew what to do with it.

    I listened to a few podcasts about GTD and they explained some ways how they were using Evernote. I was able to latch on to a couple of them and I put them into practice. But, without taking ADHD medication I was making To Do Lists and never really doing much. Once I got meds and had Evernote I felt my productivity increase at least 10-fold.

    There is so much more that I could do with Evernote, but as with most projects it is easy to get lost in the project for seeing the whole picture versus breaking things down. Oh well.

  • James

    Honestly, I think this article was kind of pointless. I love Evernote but this article didn’t actually cover any info on how to use it with ADHD.

    • Pamela Rosen

      Hi, James, thank you for writing in. The article was meant to be informative, not prescriptive. As the article points out, ADHD coaches work to find all sorts of accommodations that work specifically for their clients. It’s the same with Evernote. People can use it so many ways; there is no single “right” way to use it, and that’s true whether a person has ADHD or not. Use Evernote to help with ADHD in a way that is repeatable, and that makes the most sense to you. -Pam R

  • Elizabeth Dias

    Wow, I’d never thought of using Evernote as a tool for ADHD! I use it at work because I found myself losing notes and it was much easier to keep everything centralized and in the cloud so I could access it on my phone. My son is in third grade and has ADHD. Thinking about how I could apply technology to help him succeed in school, now and for years to come, is something worth spending more time on. In classrooms these days, kids are asked to bring tablets in so I’d love to see teachers start to adopt other ways of using it. I have ADD just trying to deal with all the ways our kids teachers try to communicate with US (email/paper/learning tools/parent portals) as parents, I can only imagine all the things kids have to remember and keep track of (passwords, papers, assignments, due dates, etc.) I’d love to hear some more prescriptive ways of using Evernote to manage ADHD/ADD in school!

  • Bob

    I am 68 and have ADHD. I must say that for someone who has it your article was WAY to long. I just skipped to near the end and realized you are talking about an app so I just went to Play Store and downloaded it. Once I give it a try I will decide if I like it. I am retired but I still work. I am a Construction Superintendent for building and remodeling Wendy’s restaurants. So being able to remember everything that is going on with all the subs is very important for the job. Hopefully your app will work. Just have to remember to use it. Yea right. with my memory!

  • Gracie

    I feel descriminated against. I have ADD and this is basically saying “people with ADD have something legitimately wrong with them and they need serious help.”

    • Pamela Rosen

      Gracie, I’m sorry you feel that way. ADHD is recognized as a legitimate disorder in medical communities throughout North America and Europe. Some people who suffer from ADHD are interested in suggestions that can make our lives easier, but not all. The article does not suggest ADHD sufferers need help, it suggests that if we want help in the form of Evernote, we can choose to use it in that way. Thanks for writing in! -Pam R

    • Ron

      Gracie. Sometimes our feelings lie to us. 🙂 You are not discriminated against because people are trying to help you. They are seeing your/our struggle, giving encouragement, and opening a path to a solution. Tell that voice in the back of your head (which probably isn’t the real you) to calm down and be thankful. My guess is you’re just having a bad day, and most days you are more optimistic. Not trying to bash you, because I can totally relate to how you feel (some days). I have learned that the negative voice I hear is the echo of a couple people from my past. Not the real me and, to quote Michael Scott, “has no idea how high I can fly.” 🙂

  • Vickie Haynie

    It’s so crazy—I was going to suggest to Evernote —that they use ADHD as a platform so to speak for future forums about the awesome way Evernote helps ADHD users learn to organize…. Dang—I opened up my email and there was the link to Find Focus: Take Control of ADHD– and I was really trippin’…

    Congratulations guys—this is a huge step for us ADHD users and the Article is smashing it…

    You guys rock!!!
    Thanks Vickie Haynie

  • Kevin Oleary

    Great article. A few words to the other commenters on this thread who, like me, have ADHD.
    ADHD is your superpower, you just need to learn how to use it. Your brain works differently than other peoples brains. You notice things other people do not notice. You make connections other people would not make. Have you noticed you are more creative? Of course you have, that’s not a coincidence.
    Yes, take medication, you need to remember your keys and your wife’s birthday, but embrace the distraction, at least for part of each day. It will lead you to places others can’t get to. It’s led me to a rich and fulfilling career as a user experience designer in a tech startup; it’s where I get my best ideas.
    Yes we find it hard to focus, but just remember, the rest of the world finds it hard to change focus, and if you can’t change focus you’re going to miss alot.

  • Ken

    I’ve been using Evernote since 2008. I started slowly using EN just for notes and compiling online research using the clipper. Today, EN is at the center of my daily life. I use a combination of EN and Dropbox to create a very mobile environment for both work and personal endeavors. I have never been formerly diagnosed with ADHD, but I’m pretty sure that I would be, if tested. I currently use EN with a tagging structure to track all of my projects, to-dos and daily action plans. It works great!

  • Emily Flynn

    I am interested in re-posting this blog on our assistive technology weekly blog. Who would I speak with about re-publishing this article on our site?

  • Randy

    Just a brief comment on tags vs. complexity. I agree it’s generally more helpful to keep notebooks broad, as a writer/teacher I have a notebook titled “Articles,” for example. Every article I want to save goes in there. But what was an article about? That’s where tags come in: history, culture, philosphy, art, etc. They are still very simple, don’t complicate anything but easily add a powerful layer of organization. Students described in this article could do the same without getting overwhelmed: a notebook for all your notes but simply tagged “physics” or “biology,” etc.

    • Karen

      Now this is what we need to here. Just simple recipes for how to use Evernote. Always you just hear ” just start” then get bogged down in the how.

  • Jason

    Great article. I first discovered evernote as a resouce for chats, but I also used it for to-do lists.

  • Nii

    I have ADHD but it never stops me from computer programing I love evenote because I can put my computer design out there anyway, I suffer with ADHD but I love the condition because it makes me a different person even though I want to be like everbody else.

  • Mark

    Please make a video for this article! I need something to watch and listen to..

  • Mark Oatman

    I am a brain cancer survivor with trauma to the brain. My speech therapist suggested Evernote to help me with daily tools. Theproblem was she didn’t have the time to help me organizedwith the program. I have a lot of dysfunctional catagoires of Notebooks and Notes all spread out through the program. Referring to youtube I was able to create Notes but unsure how Notebooks would come into play.
    I am grateful being a brain cancer survivor but the lack of support and help specifically to the example for ADHD is commendable but Evernote’s possblites are endless, please
    Do not keyhole Evernote.

  • Tony Frighetti

    Does anyone do webinars to teach how to use Evernote more efficiently?

    • Bob

      There are a few useful sites, plus various YouTube videos. Start with The Secret Weapon which uses Evernote with the getting things done (GTD) philosophy. I use Evernote for notes & information vs. a task manager, but the .What, .When, .Where, * .Who is the basis for my note system. Learn to use characters such as @, a period . or numbers to help structure your tags. Evernote does not need this structure, but the visual organization will help you keep the organizational image in your head. My first tag after .What is A–Projects. I can nest tags with starting with a 1 after that to prioritize projects. For .Who, I break it down to .Organizations and .People to separate firms, departments, etc. from individual people.

      Obviously I am in the few notebooks/many tags camp. Another article worth looking at is

      I hope this helps.

  • Amado Bustos

    I have ADHD and I can’t get my brain to finish reading this, but it SEEMS great. I myself use Evernote to help me with my business. Thanks Evernote for existing.

  • Tamara

    Honestly I love Evernote… It’s perfect for all my mental struggles. I can use the notebooks for school notes which helps with my ADHD; the share feature I find particularly appealing for when I’m having super rough days with my BPD and Depression, I can vent about it in a note and share it with my therapist. I keep all of those notes in a specific shared notebook so that we can bring up what I wrote in session, which also helps because the combination of ADHD and BPD really messes with my memory!