ADHD & Time Management: Where did it go?

Cindy JobsHealth and Well-Being

Here are some comments (or variations thereof) I hear very frequently from my clients :

  • “I wish I was better at turning my projects in on time.  I have so much on my plate. I’m continually disappointing my boss.” (Prioritization)
  • “I am always late meeting my friends and they are really getting tired of it.” (Time estimation)
  • “I don’t know what to do next so I am constantly behind.  I’m really tired of playing catch-up.” (Process management)

Why do people with ADHD have more of a challenge with time management than others?

ADHD brains are challenged with executive functioning capabilities that are critical for managing their time well.  Executive functioning challenges affect:

  • Prioritization
  • Time estimation
  • Process management

Prioritization: When we are challenged with a lack of prioritization, things kinda fall apart.  When we don’t know what to do next, sometimes we do the wrong thing or do nothing at all.  What stands in our way of effective prioritization?

  • There are too many interesting things from which to choose.
  • Everything appears to be of equal importance.
  • Clearly defining the difference between what we “need to do,” “should do,” and “want to do” is a challenge.

What to do?

  • Use the Eisenhower Urgent/Important Matrix to determine the highest priority.
  • Say “no” to non-essential tasks.  There is only so much time, when we say “yes” to something, we may be saying “no” to something more important.
  • Partner with your boss/partner/friend to get their input on what’s important.  It may be entirely different that what you thought.

Time estimation: “Some experts think that individuals with ADHD perceive time not as a sequence but as a diffuse collection of events that are viscerally connected to the people, activities, and emotions involved in them.?” (ADDitude Magazine) How does this show up?

  • Lack of ability to readily remember past experiences (drive time to meet friends) in relation to when we need to our end goal.
  • Hyper-focus inhibits our ability to track time and make transitions.
  • Previous lack of sustained attention on similar tasks to completion.

What to do?

  • Use a timer to track how long things take.  Does it take 10 minutes to drive to the restaurant or 30?  Write it down for later reference.
  • Use a timer to manage transitions.  If you need to leave the house at 6:30 AM to get to work, set a timer for 6:15 AM to start your “get out of the house” routine.
  • Put analog clocks in every room at home and work.  Our brains internalize an analog clock and the passage of time differently than a digital clock.

Process management: People with ADHD are challenged with sequencing events in appropriate order to accomplish process objectives.  What is the challenge behind this process?

  • In general, ADHD brains see things in total, not in chunks.
  • Everything appears to be of equal importance (prioritization).
  • Breaking down large tasks into small tasks is challenging.

What to do?

  • Create a mindmap of the project.  Once a complete list of components has been accomplished, sometimes the process reveals itself.
  • Work backward from the critical end time (for example the project due date), creating multiple completion dates throughout the process.
  • Just start.  Sometimes we don’t actually have to start at the very beginning. I’m betting some popular authors write the end of their books first.  🙂

Changing our relationship with time may be a challenge and will require a lot of self-awareness.  However, once the relationship with time and the management of it becomes more reliable, life gets easier.

For a list of my favorite ADHD resources, check out my website for more information.

If you think you have ADHD and would benefit from some coaching, here’s some ADHD Coaching information.

Cindy Jobs

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