I know you likely make some of the ADHD time management mistakes below. Do any of the following phrases sound like ones you’ve used recently?
- “I’m sorry I’m late. I lost track of time…”
- “The time just disappeared… I’m not sure what happened. It’s really frustrating!”
- “Oh no, I should have left already! I’m going to be late.”
- “I can’t believe I spent all day working on that!”
- “I have no idea how long this is going to take.”
If you find yourself uttering variations of the above on occasion, like many adults with ADHD, time can be an elusive concept for you.
More often than not your orientation is in the here and now. That is, your tendency is to think of time as now and not now — sometime later.
Why Time Can Feel Endless and How to Motivate Yourself to Start Now
One of your challenges can be that time feels endless, like you have all the time in the world. And, as a result, you have a hard time working consistently on long term projects.
There are two primary factors that contribute to this challenge.
One is that you have a difficult time estimating time, and may often think you have plenty of time and can do the task, well, later.
The other factor is that you may rely on urgency — the adrenaline rush you get when you are backed into a corner at the last minute — to motivate you. You may even tell yourself, “That is how I work best — get stuff done,” in spite of the potential cost to:
- your health and wellbeing.
- your relationships.
- the quality of your work.
Because of your difficulty with estimating time and reliance on urgency you tell yourself, “I can do that later…” And in the moment you focus on something — anything — in your immediate environment that is more intrinsically interesting or seemingly urgent.
To address the challenge of not getting started because you feel you have plenty of time:
- above all, adopt other strategies to motivate you to work in a more sustainable way, so you can rely less on urgency and adrenaline as your primary means of motivation.
- get support to help you estimate the time needed to tackle projects in a sustainable way
- learn how to estimate time better on your own (see below).
Using the above workarounds will make it easier to choose to work on a task now, rather than waiting until later when you have no other choice.
2 Strategies You Can Use To Get a Better Sense of Time
A heads up. While the two methods below can definitely help you improve your sense of time, they do take time and may seem tedious. I know…J In the long run, though, getting a better sense of time will help you save time, really.
First, to get a better sense of where you spend your time now, track everything you do for 2 weeks. You can do this by setting a timer for 1-2 hours, and writing down what you were doing when the timer goes off. I bet you’ll be surprised at what you discover!
In order to get better at estimating time, use the method below to track various tasks for two weeks.
- Write the name of the activity.
- Estimate the time you think it will take to accomplish that activity.
- Look at clock at the start and end of an activity or use a timer, and record the time it actually took you to accomplish the activity.
- Note how you were feeling while you were working. By doing this you will get a better idea of what factors impact how long it takes you to complete a task.
- Add comments about how you can change your approach in order to work more effectively.
Below is part of the tracking Bob did this week.
|Activity||Time Estimate||Actual Time||Feelings / Mood||Other Comments|
|drive to work||20 min.||32 min||fine||Left later than usual so more traffic – need to leave by 7|
|prep for staff meeting||30 min||1 hour||stressed, distracted by incoming emails and other work||turn off email notifications and work at table in my office|
|read yearly report||30 min||didn’t finish||bored and tired||better to read in the beginning of the day than end of day|
|make kids’ lunches in the morning||10 min||20 minutes||overwhelmed, couldn’t find lunch boxes or the right food||too much to do on the morning – make lunches at night|
If you want, track the same activity under different conditions. For instance, in the above example, Bob could prep for the staff meeting first thing in the morning away from distractions and see how long it takes him.
Why You Need Buffers to Deal with the Unexpected and How to Add Them to Your Day
Yes, you can definitely get better at estimating time under different conditions. But, if you are like most people, though, you don’t have total control over your time.
Things are going to unexpectedly pop up during the day you need to attend to. And, because transitions — starting, stopping, switching between tasks — are so hard for adults with ADHD, these surprises probably really throw you off.
While, of course, you can’t anticipate the exact nature of these suprises, if this regularly happens, it might be time to expect the unexpected, right?
One way to account for the unexpected is to add buffers throughout your day so you can more easily recover and switch gears. Check out these 6 ways you can add buffer time to your day.
Over time you really will feel less overwhelmed when you have more spaciousness in your schedule.
How Not to Let Hyperfocusing Eat up Your Time and Get in Your Way
Of course, no matter how much buffer you include in your day, time can disappear easily if you hyperfocus on a task for longer than you intended.
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, hyperfocusing, of course, is problematic when doing so leads you to ignore your other commitments or go down one rabbit hole after another.
Here are some strategies you can use to be intentional with your time.
- Have a clear plan for your day so you have a reason to stop. 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 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. Try using a Time Timer to get a better sense of how much time you are spending on a task.
How Multitasking Can Hinder Your Productivity and What to Do About It
It is not uncommon for new clients to tell me when we first start working together that they are good at multitasking. What we usually uncover, though, is that they are not working effectively or efficiently when they are switching between tasks frequently.
You may also try to multitask because, when you are feeling overwhelmed, it can seem like you don’t have a choice and everything needs to be done right now, right? I know.
Though you also know there are costs to switching frequently between tasks, such as:
- forgetting where you left off.
- needing to spend time ramping up and reengaging in the task each time you need to start again.
- not doing your best work because, when you are switching frequently, you don’t have enough time to be creative and thoughtful.
- not doing your best work because you are not totally engaged in any one task as you are constantly thinking about what you are not doing.
- losing time to distractions because, as you transition back and forth, it is more difficult to tune them out.
- making more mistakes and spending time fixing those mistakes.
- becoming overwhelmed…
But, when you start to drop balls operating this way, you may see this as evidence you need to work more and faster — multitask. Makes sense.
The antidote to this cycle is to trust that slowing down and doing one thing at a time for a sufficient amount of time will save you time in the long run.
You can do this by:
- setting a timer to work on one task at a time.
- reminding yourself when you are tempted to jump around, “I am doing this and not that!”
- writing down thoughts of other tasks as they occur to you, rather than jumping to that task.
As Dr. Ed Hallowell notes in his book, Crazy Busy, multitasking is a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.”
Next Steps to Fix Your ADHD Time Management Mistakes
Choose one of the above areas that is most challenging for you and experiment with one of the strategies this week.