Managing your time can be challenging with ADHD, but these strategies can help you develop the skills to stay on schedule.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and time management don’t always go together because of the way the brain tends to process things when a person is living with ADHD.
If you’re unaware of how much time has passed or not sure how long a task will take, it can be difficult to stay on track.
Time management requires planning, focus, and forethought. Managing your time and staying on schedule are tactics you can learn and develop. Once you learn these strategies, you may find your life can be a little less frustrating.
Do you find that you’re always late? This may be because of something called time blindness.
Time blindness is the lack of perception of time. Research shows those living with ADHD have difficulty estimating how long a task will take or how long they just spent on a task.
Experts found this is because ADHD can cause the brain to create distortions of time. “Brain areas that have been associated with time perception include the left prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, and the supplementary motor area,” explains researchers in a
Managing time blindness can be as simple as learning a few new strategies.
Experts recommend that those living with ADHD consider trying several strategies to help manage time and complete tasks more efficiently and effectively. You can try a few or try them all.
When you have too much on your plate, it can feel overwhelming. But if you break down things into chunks, it can feel more manageable and may even help you preserve your attention, explains Rebecca Phillips, licensed therapist residing in Fresno, Texas.
Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Greenwich, Connecticut, explains, “Chunking your time makes it easier to accomplish one goal or task and then move onto the next.” She says, “You also get that sense of accomplishment as well as momentum to keep going and checking things off your list.”
For example, if you’re writing an essay, you could decide to sit down and only focus on the research and the thesis in the first sitting. Then after a break, you could try writing a few body paragraphs.
Plan your schedule around your attention span, says Dr. Houyuan Luo, a clinical psychologist in Ontario, Canada. If you know that you can only maintain your attention for 20 minutes, then only plan your schedule in 20-minute intervals.
For example, if your goal is to study or work at your desk, only schedule this task for 20 minutes and then take a 5-minute break, followed by another 20-minute interval, and so on.
You could put a timer on so you know you only have to focus for a set amount of time, and then you can take a break. During those 20 minutes, try to remove as many distractions, such as a cellphone, as you can. You could even let friends, family, and colleagues that you will not be reachable for that set amount of time because you are trying to focus.
Lack of preparation can also lead to feeling overwhelmed, says Phillips. She suggests meal prepping or setting out your clothes ahead of time. This can make your life a little easier, especially when you’re short on time.
Having a plan going into each week and each workday for how you are going to accomplish your goals in a timely manner can be helpful.
One tool becoming increasingly popular for treating ADHD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on training your brain to reframe the way you think and improve the way you function.
For example, when you live with ADHD, procrastination may prevent you from completing your everyday tasks. However, CBT can give you the tools to learn how to reprioritize your time.
“Prioritizing tasks can help you manage your time better. Make sure your high-priority tasks are first, followed by tasks that you can work on later,” says Schiff.
Another strategy you may learn in CBT is prioritizing your tasks into three categories based on the priority level, explains Lou. These categories (e.g., priority 1, 2, 3) can help you be mindful of the nature of the task that you’re trying to accomplish.
Licensed clinical psychologist Steve Cisneros from Chicago, Illinois, says to try and resist the urge to do your “C-list” or “easier” tasks first just because they’re easier. Start with your top priority and work your way down.
“Routines can help us remember what we may otherwise forget,” says Phillips. She suggests having both a morning and nighttime routine.
A morning routine may consist of brushing your teeth, taking your medication, and having a cup of coffee. Phillips explains that doing these three steps can help you stay on track and even on time.
Similarly, a nighttime routine, again brushing your teeth, taking your medication, and setting up your coffee pot can help you remember things you don’t want to forget (like taking your medication) as well as set you up for the next day.
You may have heard the popular saying by Benjamin Franklin, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” This holds true for those living with ADHD. Staying organized is key when it comes to time management.
Organize your home in a way that when you go to look for something, you know where it is, says Phillips. This means putting everything back in the same place each day. For example, if you keep your keys in a bowl by the front door, then make sure they are always in the bowl and not in a drawer where you can’t find them.
A. Jordan Wright, a clinical associate professor of counseling psychology in the department of applied psychology at NYU and Clinical Advisor for Parallel Learning, suggests building in breaks throughout your day. He says, “Brain and body breaks are important for everyone, so make sure you schedule some downtime, whenever possible.”
These breaks can also include moving your body. Philips suggests doing a few stretches or walking around the office in between meetings or tasks.
Ask yourself, “Where do you work best?” If you know that you’re distracted easily, then make sure you’re in a quiet space where you can stay focused. “Don’t put things that can distract you in your workspace,” says Lou.
If you know that every time your phone pings you will look at it, then place it in another room or silence alerts. If you know that a messy environment will distract you from getting things done, then find a tidy space.
Buffer time is planning for the unexpected. It’s adding time to a task, so you know you won’t be late. “However long you think it may take to accomplish a task, add time before and afterward,” says Wright.
If your job begins at 8 a.m., then tell yourself it begins at 7:30 a.m. This will allow you more time for your morning routine. “You’ll be surprised how quickly those extra 30 minutes go by, and soon you’ll be wondering how you thought you could get away with arriving on time,” says Cisneros.
Managing your time can be challenging when you have ADHD; you may find it difficult to stay focused and on task. You may even feel restless or not be able to sit for a long period of time.
However, there are strategies you can employ to make life more manageable, like preparing things ahead of time or creating routines. You can also try to build in breaks or try CBT to help you learn how to prioritize your tasks better.
To help you better cope with your ADHD symptoms, consider talking with a therapist or an ADHD coach who can give you additional time management strategies that can be more tailored to your specific needs.