Adults with ADHD who want to learn how to manage their time better need to upgrade their skills before they can effectively use any new tool or strategy. Here is how you can do that.
- learn 2 strategies to address your challenges with ADHD time blindness
- learn 5 strategies to address your ADHD challenges with organizing your time
- understand the importance of being flexible with your time and learn 3 strategies to be able to do this
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Estimating Time Table
|Activity||Time Estimate||Actual Time||Feelings / Mood||Other Comments|
|drive to work||20 min.||32 min||rushed||Left later than usual so more traffic – need to leave by 7|
|prep for staff meeting||1 hour||30 min||alert||better to do in the morning when not tired|
|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’re an adult with ADHD wanting to manage your time better, you probably tried many tools. I bet you are still struggling to manage your personal professional activities. You need to upgrade your skills first. Before any tool will work well for you.
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused, Done – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills, to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins, and I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to reimagining productivity, with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
Do your days often seem like a struggle with time, feeling the stress of falling behind, wanting more hours in the day, experiencing the overwhelm of the minutes ticking by even on those days, when you start with a plan. And then, when you don’t feel you accomplished enough, do you work long past the time you intended to stop?
We all know there are just so many hours in the day. And trying to power your way through each day to get more and more done usually ends up backfiring. That is, rather than getting more done, you end up with diminishing returns. Yet, you may continue the cycle of working because you still think spending more time equals getting more stuff done. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, you continue this way out of habit. You do what you do because, well, that is what you do.
And at the end of those long days, you think to yourself, “I didn’t get anything done. If only I managed my time better… Why can’t I get my stuff done just like everyone else?” Then this thinking might lead you into a shame spiral, further hindering your productivity. So maybe instead of doing your work, you start Googling some variation of ADHD and time management or best apps for time management.
And you convince yourself it’s a good use of your time. Because, if you could just figure this out, you would stay on top of your work once and for all. Let’s take a look at how you can upgrade your time management skills. So you can stop feeling like it’s a race against the clock every day. The first step you’ll need to take is to understand more about your perception of time, as well as identify the habits you have around dealing with time. Of course, I’ll focus on characteristics ADHD adults likely share. And you can decide whether they sound true for you. First, as an adult with ADHD, one of your challenges is that time can feel endless when you’re not driven by a sense of urgency. So, it feels like you have all the time in the world.
This is definitely one of the factors related to your ADHD that makes it hard to work on something that either doesn’t have a hard deadline or has a deadline that just seems too far in the future. Your additional ADHD challenges with breaking down a task into its component parts, estimating the time needed to complete those parts and then sequencing them over time, of course contribute to the difficulty you have with seeing that you really don’t have all the time in the world.
So, in the moments when you are deciding whether to work on something or not, and it seems like you have plenty of time, you say to yourself, “I’ll do that later. It’s not urgent. I have other things I need to do that are priority right now.” Therein lies another challenge, which is you over rely on urgency for motivation. You know, that adrenaline rush you get when you are backed into a corner at the last minute.
While this may have come about to compensate for your ADHD challenges with starting tasks that are not intrinsically interesting, stimulating, it has also become a habit. And so now you tell yourself, this is just how I work best to get stuff done. Despite the potential cost to your health, relationships and even the quality of your work. So you continue to haphazardly choose to work on whichever activities, capture your attention in the moment. Because they are interesting or feel urgent.
Yet, I know you want to be more intentional. The first step you’ll need to take is to address this ADHD related challenge of time blindness is to get a better sense of how you currently spend your time and how long different activities take for you to complete. One caveat before I begin. While the two methods I’ll share can definitely help you improve your sense of time they will likely seem tedious to you.
But I’m hoping you’re still willing to try them because of the payoff, which is that you will save time in the long run. Really. The first method you can try will help you get a better sense of where you are spending your time now by tracking everything you do for at least a week, more if you’d like. One way to do this is to set a timer for two hours or one hour, if you want. And then write down what you were doing when the timer goes off. I bet you’ll be surprised at what you discover. Some people are even motivated to change how they use their time after doing this. You might, too.
Here is a method you can try to get better at estimating time. I’ll include a link to an example with the podcast on my website so you can see what I’m describing for you here.
On a word doc, or even better an excel spreadsheet, you’ll have five columns. In the first column, write down the activities. For example, driving to work, prepping for staff meeting, making the kids’ lunches. In the second column, write down the time you estimate it will take. And then in the third column, write down the actual time it took. You’ll obviously need to time the activities. Then in the fourth column, write a little bit about how you were feeling or your mood. This can give you a sense of what might have impacted your ability to work on the task. For example, were you bored, tired, feeling not very well, frustrated? You get it. Then in the last column, the fifth column, note what, if anything, you’d like to change to approach that activity more effectively. Let me share an example.
Let’s say you want to get a better idea of how long it took you to drive to work. You estimate it takes 20 minutes. But when you timed it, it actually took 32 minutes. In terms of your mood, you were feeling fine. But you noted you left later than usual. So there was more traffic. And you really need to leave by 7 to get there in 20 minutes.
Another example is prepping for a staff meeting. You think it takes an hour. When you timed it this week, it actually took only a half an hour. You noted in the fourth column that you were feeling good. And it felt like you had very little resistance to doing it, which usually isn’t the case when you prep in the afternoon. In the fifth column, you noted that you want to continue doing this kind of work in the morning so it doesn’t take so long. Because you aren’t as tired.
When you have a better sense of how you’re currently using your time and how long your various activities take, the next step is to decide where you want to go big. I know you may think time management is about being efficient, getting as much done as you can. And, if this is your goal, then you may race through your day trying to fit in as much as possible. Maybe even doing easier task or ones that take less time, just so you can get that dopamine hit from ticking off the boxes.
Sure, you might momentarily feel good about getting a lot of stuff done. But eventually the temporary sense of reward you get from just getting stuff done will subside. Then, when you don’t make headway on what is really important to you, regardless of how much you did in a day, you might decide you wasted your day.
You may even tell yourself, “I didn’t get anything done.” And then you might not feel like you’re enough. So before you start filling up your time with what you think you should do, decide, as Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, suggest, where you want to excel, go big. Whether you want to excel in a hobby, parenting, your profession, whatever, the next step is to decide what actions you need to take to make this happen. Because, remember, being productive is doing what’s important to you.
For example, scouring the internet to learn the most popular baby names by decade for the last hundred years might be a form of procrastination for some. But, as is true for a former client of mine, if you want to be a trivia master, this would definitely be a productive activity, a good use of your time. I guess it worked because she did land a spot on Jeopardy, a lifelong dream of hers.
Then, after making these two decisions, where you want to go big and what activities will allow you to do that, you’ll need to decide the best way to execute on these activities. That is how do you organize your time. And this is the hardest part for ADHD adults, no doubt. In fact, I’ll say it again. This part is really hard! And, while I won’t be able to tell you exactly how to organize your time, I can offer you a few suggestions to take into consideration as you think about how to best create an environment that will allow you to be productive day to day – do what is most important.
So, let’s start with the first one. It’s definitely hard to break old habits. So I know you still try to be efficient even as you’re starting to do things differently. And that might mean trying to put in as much as you can into your schedule each day, hoping you can get it all done. But, as a former client said, hope is not a strategy.
So since cramming as much into your day as possible isn’t working now, first plan your day before you start. And include enough buffers between activities. That is, just don’t start with a list of things you need to do. Actually decide when you’re going to do the different activities. And just make sure you’re not trying to fit them in like Lego pieces in your calendar. Because you know stuff happens. Always. And, in addition, as an adult with ADHD, you just need more transition time to switch between tasks and be able to ramp up to start another one.
Another tendency you might have right now is to multitask. That is, you switch back and forth between task probably, in part, because, while you’re doing one task, you’re worried about all the other tasks you’re not doing. So you jump to doing something else. But, because your attention is divided, you may actually end up being less productive, as you switch back and forth between activities.
Also, losing time to distractions. Because, as you transition back and forth, it’s more difficult to tune these out. You probably also make more mistakes. Then spend time fixing those mistakes. And of course, you’re likely not doing the task as well as you would like. As hard as it might be, the trick is to remind yourself, “I’m doing this and not that. I’m doing this and not that.” Because you know really that you’ll do better work this way. The third tip is don’t be afraid of scheduling downtime out of fear you won’t get enough done.
Because I bet right now, if you find yourself procrastinating, like when you’re just surfing the internet, it’s because you’re trying to get the downtime you really need. But it may not be quality time that gives you the respite and rejuvenation you really do need. Instead, be intentional about scheduling time to get the rest you need, whether it’s from exercising, reading, knitting, or whatever it is you need to recharge for downtime.
And, also, you want to be judicious when it comes to using this fourth tip, which is to add some rinse and repeat structure to your schedule by putting in reoccurring appointments for specific activities. So you don’t need to worry about, “when am I going to do this or that.” How much structure you decide to add into your schedule will, of course, depend on your preferences. And you’ll also need to take into consideration, as is true for most ADHD adults, that too much structure will start to feel onerous. And you’ll stop honoring it. An example of what you might do is having time for miscellaneous work administration or even home administration at a certain time, either each day or week, depending on how much you need.
Ok, the fifth and last tip that I’ll share with you is to help you put this all together is you’re going to need to take time out for upfront thinking. Because you just don’t have the time, day to day, moment to moment to make the kind of decisions you need to make, to decide what you’re going to do with your time. While there are certainly other times you want to do upfront thinking, adopting a process to do weekly review and planning is one of the ones that you can’t really do without. And I’ve included a link to an article with suggestions on how to do this on the podcast page of my website.
So far, I’ve covered two skill areas. One is learning more about how you use your time and how long activities take. The other skill area covers how you decide what to do with your time. This last one that I’m going to share is short and sweet, but also very difficult for ADHD adults. That is, you might, as happens for many adults with ADHD, get frustrated when plans change. As they always do. And, if that’s the case for you, you might need to upgrade your ability to be flexible. And switch things up when needed.
There’s certainly a lot entailed in this. But one tip I can offer now is to stop, breathe. And think about the implications of the change in what you need to do. For example, let’s say you are supposed to be at a meeting at one o’clock tomorrow and your 10 o’clock for tomorrow just got moved to 11. You know you have to drive cross town. Your gut is telling you you might not get back in time.
But, maybe in the moment you decide, “oh, it’ll work out.” Because you just don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to figure out what to do. Then, when you don’t make it back in time for your 1 o’clock, you’re frustrated both at yourself and frustrated that you disappointed the person you were supposed to meet with. So, when things change, slow down and take the time to consider the implications on the rest of your schedule and what you might need to do. And, if you need to process it with somebody else who can help you, go ahead and do that.
Managing your time is a lot more complicated than getting the latest and greatest tool. So, before you go looking for the holy grail of tools, think about where you might need to upgrade your skills as they relate to time management.
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, please do check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you have, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles, you think might also benefit. And, until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done. And I’m Marla Cummins, wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.