Color Coded Filing System and ADHD

by | May 11, 2023 | ADHD Success Skills and Tools | 0 comments

color coded file system for ADHD

A few weeks back, Angel R. emailed me asking why I don’t recommend color coded filing system for ADHD. Let’s spend some pixels answering Angel’s question. 

Here’s Angel’s question:

I was reading your tips for filing, and I saw that you don’t recommend color coding for ADHD….my issue is I have to color code some things. My brain associates different colors for each of my kids, my husband, and a few other things, but each has a color for everything! Can you offer any tips for this? 

Yes, many people with ADHD respond to color just like Angel does, yet I encourage you to gently apply a color coded system. Color coding can get complicated.

A Color Coded Filing System Example

I tried an elaborate color-coding system when our daughter was younger, and I was her chauffeur. As a working, ADHD mom, I was desperate to reduce the chaos in my life.

My beautiful system went something like this: work was green, personal things red, extended family was orange, Favorite Daughter blue, Favorite Husband got yellow, Goof Ball Pets (dogs, cats, and rats) all had purple.

Here’s what I quickly discovered… I’d look at my desk and online calendars, marked up in six different colors, and my brain would explode. I’d get bogged down in trying to remember what shade belonged to whom. Then spend time making sure the right hue was chosen (why are there so many close shades of blue)?

And it didn’t stop there. I’d misplace my purple highlighter or run out of blue folders and substitute a different color, thinking I’d go back and fix it later. But did I? Of course not! I reside in ADHDLand. Later rarely happens.

So things would get mixed up and become harder to prioritize. I’d sacrifice vital brain power to process. What sounded like a good system was too complicated for me to maintain.

And there’s the problem: when you have ADHD, maintaining a color coded system can be oh so complicated. And, when systems get complicated, we struggle to maintain them. 

Mistakes happen. Maybe accidentally using the wrong color or having to make too many decisions gets hard, so we procrastinate. We have to think too much. Our brains get jumbled and we exhaust ourselves remembering the system we created to remember.

The system can easily fall apart…quickly.

Now I Use a Simpler Color Coding System

So, when the elaborate color coded filing system didn’t help my ADHD, I did what I usually do. I stepped back and got curious. I asked myself, what was really important? Was it the who (the person/pet) or was it something else? 

And I realized what was really important was knowing where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there. When I knew both of these, I was ready for whatever was up. 

So I simplified my calendar and reduced it down to two colors: green for places I need to be and orange for places extended family need to be. 

  • Green means I need to get going and be somewhere. Client sessions, doctor’s appointments, meeting a friend or going somewhere with my husband or our daughter, etc. The green catches my eye. I pay closer attention to it. It’s simple and the only thing my brain needs to be responsible for.
  • Orange means I don’t have to do anything, but be aware of what my people are up to. Daughter in class, Husband at a Search and Rescue training, Brother camping, etc. Orange is something my brain can tune out when overwhelmed, but allows me to easily refocus and find when the information is needed.
  • I use different colored file folders, but they don’t mean anything. They just keep things pretty. Somehow that works for my ADHD.

Tips for Color Coding Filing Systems for ADHD

So I’m not saying don’t use color if that helps your ADHD. My recommendations are:

  • Simplify as much as you can. Get curious: What do you really need to know?
  • Do you really need a different color for each child, person, and pet? And why?
  • And most importantly: can you maintain your system for more than a week or two?

Remember, with ADHD, we’re energized by creating complicated systems. Complicated is exciting! Complicated sounds like the answer that will finally get us together!

But the deal is, complicated systems are too hard to maintain. They become one more shiny thing that we leave behind as we move on searching for the next thing that might work. 

Angel, if you can keep this color coded system going long-term and it works for you, that’s fantastic. Don’t go changing! We are all different. There is no one size fits all approach to living more easily with ADHD. Color coding included.

Let me know if color coding works for you – I’d love to hear!

Need a system to organize your life and files? Check out:


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