Wasting time is one of the biggest frustrations for adults with ADHD. Maybe for you, too.
And, while you may have a sense you waste time, my guess is you have not identified all the ways you do this. So, you obviously can’t come up with workarounds.
Below are 5 strategies you can use to stop wasting time now. Hopefully, these examples will also prompt you to think about other ways you may be wasting time, as well as workarounds you can use.
How To Do What Is Most Important Today
Do you ever get to the end of your day and think, “I didn’t get anything done! What a waste of a day!” I hear this lament time and time again in my conversations with clients.
And, true, sometimes they mean they really didn’t get much of anything done. Maybe they watched TV, surfed the internet or were active on social media. But that really is the exception.
Often, they were on the go all day and did a lot — answered emails, went to meetings, dealt with requests, etc. But, because they were in a reactive mode and didn’t necessarily do what was most important to them, it felt like the day was a waste. Sound familiar?
The key to feeling like you are running your day and it is not running you is to be intentional and that means having a plan.
While planning may not be your strong suit, don’t worry, really. You can still plan on a smaller scale by deciding the top 1-3 tasks you must get done each day and making the list visible someplace, like a whiteboard or piece of paper on your desk, where you will be sure to see it.
Then keep coming back to these tasks so you will have a better chance of completing them. And, then at the end of the day, instead of feeling like you wasted your day, you will feel like you did what was most important.
How to Save Time When Switching Activities
Do you also find you often forget something your need for a task or activity, and then either need to backtrack to get it or just muddle through the best you can?
When you need to get someplace — work, a meeting, home, etc.— and are feeling rushed it is really hard in the moment to remember everything you need to bring with you. In part, this is because, as an adult with ADHD, your working memory and long-term memory is, well, a little wonky.
And not having what you need not only waste time, but also can add to your frustration and overwhelm, right? One way to stop this cycle is to create launching pads, like the examples below.
- Before going to bed gather everything — bag, key, wallet, etc. — and put it all in one place.
- When starting your day think ahead and plan what you need to bring to each meeting so you are prepared.
- Take stock of what you need to bring home and put it all in one place before starting your last task or going to your last meeting of the day.
By preparing in advance and creating launching pads, like the ones above, you do not have to rely on your memory when you are feeling so rushed.
What are other ways you can use launching pads to be more prepared throughout your day?
How to Stop Hyperfocusing On the Wrong Task
No doubt, there are certainly times when focusing intently on one task and tuning out all other tasks and distractions can be really helpful.
But doing so — hyperfocusing — is problematic when it leads you to ignore your other commitments or go down one rabbit hole after another. Here are some strategies you can use to leverage your ability to hyperfocus, but not let it get in your way.
- Have a clear plan for your day so you have a reason to stop an activity. If you are not clear on what you are moving onto next, you may just go down one rabbit hole after another.
- Decide in advance how much time you are going to spend on a task and set a timer.
- If you are in hyperfocus mode, though, you may ignore the timer. So get up and stretch or take a short walk when the timer goes off. Physical movement can help you get out of hyperfocus.
- After the timer goes off you may even want to change your environment by moving to a different location to work.
- If you know it will be hard to stop working on a task because it is particularly captivating, do it only after finishing your less interesting tasks first.
- Don’t start, really. If you know it will be hard to stop, and you don’t have enough time to engage in a task the way you want, don’t start it. Do it when you have more time.
The bottom-line is to leverage your hyperfocus, but don’t let it get in your way of doing what you decide is most important.
How to Stop Wasting Time By Multi-Tasking
Instead of hyperfocusing, when you are overwhelmed you might try doing more than one task at a time because you believe you can get more done this way. But, because your attention is divided, you may end up:
- being less productive as you switch back and forth between tasks.
- losing time to distractions because, as you transition back and forth, it is more difficult to tune them out.
- making more mistakes, and then needing to spend time fixing those mistakes.
- not doing the tasks as well as you would like.
You waste time!
This is one area where the research is unanimous in its conclusion that multitasking does not work. In his book, Crazy Busy, Dr. Ed Hallowell refers to multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.”
One way to address this challenge is to:
- set a timer to work on one task.
- remind yourself, “I am doing this and not that!!”
- write down thoughts and tasks on a piece of paper next to you as they pop into your head so you can continue focusing on your task and be confident you won’t forget the ideas later.
One thing at a time is the way to go.
How to Stop Kinda, Sorta Working and Really Focus
When you are overwhelmed you might spend a fair amount of time switching between tasks or trying to decide what work to do because you could focus on:
- email notifications that keep popping up
- the research you want to do for a new computer
- the leak in the kitchen sink
- phone calls you need to return
- the conference you need to plan
- your summer vacation plans
- the email from your boss requesting that you see her today
And, because you are overwhelmed by all of these options, you may not act at all. Alternatively, you may choose whatever catches your attention just to avoid the discomfort of not being able to make a decision.
Either way, at the end of the day, you probably feel like you wasted your time. And, while it may seem counterintuitive when you have too much on your plate already, sometimes the best course of action is to stop trying to do any work.
Take a break.
Go for a walk, make lunch, play the guitar… By taking a break you may find you can clear your mind, make better decisions and be pulled back to do your work.
Next Steps For You
Choose one place where you are wasting time and try one of the suggested workarounds above.