A Binder System that WORKS for Teens with ADHD

I have this great, comfy jumper I like to wear when I’m working. 

(Thankfully I work from home, so I can show up as comfy as I like.)

It’s green; it’s loose; it has pocketssssss. 

I don’t have to feel restricted or have any kind of belt making me uncomfortable and distracting me from my work.  

The only problem is… my husband thinks I look like a construction worker, and my boys make fun of me for wearing a onesie.  

It doesn’t really matter what they think because it’s something that helps me be productive. 

And now that I have a mobile desk, I can work anywhere around the house and set up my “construction zone” wherever I like.  

Now… this is completely different from working in an office setting where I would have to wear nice, restrictive clothes and stay immobile. It would work completely against my natural tendency. 

And one thing we don’t always realize as parents of teens with ADHD is that they feel the same way about our systems for organizing their school papers. Read on to see my tips for binder systems that work for teens with ADHD.

Stuffers vs. Binders: ADHD study habits

I recently finished a study skills course- it was fabulous and I’m super excited to bring it to my high schoolers this year!  One of my most favorite parts of the course was all about organization and systems.

 I’ve been working with teens for a while now, and I’ve noticed that most of them fall into the  two categories discussed in my study course.

They’re either “stuffers” or “binders”. (And, truly, most of them are stuffers.)

When they go to their classes, every handout ends up in the same place. Papers, homework, assignments, that note from their classmate… it all ends up stuffed in their backpack, locker, binder… 

And to us parents, that’s a huge mess that can cost them dearly. 

Like I tell all my teen clients, “Loose papers lead to zeros.”

An Academic Filing System for Teens with ADHD

But it’s their natural way of doing things, right? It’s a habit that will be hard to break. I know I may get some resistance from my teens and I’m ready for it!

So the best way to help a stuffer (or a binder) get organized so that they can always find everything all in one place is to create a system that works with their natural tendency and not against it. 

One thing you don’t want to do is try to make a stuffer use a detailed filing system (like multiple folders, multiple binders, etc.). 

  1. They won’t stick with a detailed system. (too many steps)
  2. They might be too perfectionistic and the focus could become maintaining the system rather than letting the system work for them. (oh the colors and stickers!)
  3. They will forget where things go because there’s too many moving parts. (Need the K.I.S.S. thought process!)

For a stuffer or a binder, it’s a really good idea to have one universal folder for every subject.

The ARC System

As I just mentioned, I finished  a study course last week  to better equip myself for my teen clients this coming year, and the instructor recommended the ARC system for organizing school papers. 

The whole gist of it is that your teen is still stuffing, but they are “stuffing” into a system.

You have all of your subjects in one binder, but it all lays flat. And you have all of the to-dos in one folder and the to-turn-ins in another folder.  (cue happy moment as this is something that I’ve been doing with my own son!) 

At the end of a unit, they would take all of the school papers they’ve “stuffed” from that unit, staple them together, and clip them into a hanging system . 

That way, when they have to study for a test, they can just grab the whole packet and study. 

The system isn’t overwhelming, and it works with their natural tendency to stuff everything into one spot (with a little more categorization so they can find everything when they need it). And it can lay flat on the desk so they don’t have to take anything out of the binder to write on it or look through it. 

The whole point of the ARC system is that: 

  1. It works with your teen’s natural stuffing (or filing) tendencies. 
  2. It’s not too restrictive.
  3. It helps them focus on the work rather than the system itself.
  4. IT HAS POCKETSSSSSS so that they can put the important papers into one place and pull them for studying later.
  5. It doesn’t take up as much space on a desk! 

You can’t change the way your brain is wired

Like I always say… parenting a teen with ADHD is all about understanding brain wiring and being willing to do what works for your teenager. 

This goes for understanding the best way to study with ADHD, organizing and cleaning their rooms, and everything in between.

As a parent, you might have a particular system of organization that works for you. But your teenager’s brain is wired differently. They wouldn’t maintain your system. They wouldn’t enjoy it. 

Just like my comfy green jumper, it wouldn’t be effective to try to force them into a system that is too restrictive and unproductive. It would limit their ADHD Hyperfocus superpower we’ve all heard so much about. 

But loose papers lead to zeros. So they do need some kind of system that works with their natural tendency and still helps them find everything when they need it. 

How to create a binder system that works for your ADHD teen

Your teenager already has a system in place. It’s just that it’s not working for them. 

Work together with your teen to figure out their natural study tendencies. Help them understand what’s going to work for them. 

Avoid the pitfalls of being too restrictive or too detailed. 

It should be easy enough that they can put away a paper in the right place without having to think about it or look for it. 

And if you think the ARC filing system would work for your teen, you can check it out here. Let me know how it goes!

I also highly recommend the Order Out of Chaos Planner from Leslie Josel. It’s a planner that works great for teens with ADHD. I use it with all of my teen clients to simplify their schedules and keep everything on track throughout the school year.  Seeing when you have time is critical to being productive!

If you’re looking for an “ADHD coach near me”, be sure to jump in the Facebook group and browse the tips about ADHD teen study skills, social skills tips, self care ADHD for teens and parents,  and how to motivate a teenager with ADHD.

There are so many great topics in the guides section and so many great questions happening on the discussion board. Can’t wait to see you there!