Time management can be a real struggle, and those with ADHD know too well how it can affect their relationships and their jobs. It’s frustrating knowing you’re trying everything to do to be on time, and yet you still rock up ten minutes late, or you haven’t allocated enough time to finish a project. I’ll be discussing why we struggle with time management, as well as some tips that you can use to help combat ineffective time management.
Why Do We Struggle With Time Management?
Time management is an executive function, which are the cognitive skills we use to plan, organise, and regulate our behaviours and actions. ADHD is classed as an Executive Function Disorder, which as you guessed, means we lack the skills to plan, organise, and regulate our behaviours and actions.
We can break down where our poor executive function skills can lead to poor time management in to five categories:
- Time Blindness
- Decision Making
- Forward planning
- Not knowing how to start a task
We’ve all been there, you have 30 minutes until you need to leave the house and you think ‘eh, I’ve got loads of time’ so you just potter about the house taking your time, until you look at the clock ‘crap, I need to leave in five minutes and I’m nowhere near ready! I don’t know where my keys are, I can’t find any matching socks, and I haven’t thought about eating yet’. That’s what time blindness is, the inability to gauge the passing of time, and not knowing how long a task will take.
Time blindness can and will crop up in time management, because how is it possible to plan your day or week when you don’t know how long each task will take? Or you have a task that you think will only take a couple of hours ends up taking the whole day to complete? It seems impossible, but it’s not!
Having a long to-do list but not knowing where to start, or what’s more important can be debilitating. You feel anxious knowing something needs to be done, but what do you pick first? Washing the car? Ring the bank? Do laundry? Go shopping? It’s stressful not knowing what should be done first, or what order they can be done in, so we’re left in a state of decision paralysis where we don’t do anything.
This decision paralysis can cause us to unsuccessfully plan out or days and weeks as you’re not sure where and when each task should be completed.
So you’re past the decision making stage, and we’re at the part where you need to start that essay for school or that report for work. But you can face two different problems here: you don’t know how to start, or the mental energy and attention that the task requires just isn’t there. These are two very difficult problems to overcome, with both of them with time spent not doing anything, which means that tasks that come after this one are pushed back further and further as you try and muster the energy and focus to get started.
We often don’t account for these kinds of problems when planning out our time because we often try and plan our time similar to those without ADHD, but this doesn’t work. I stated earlier in the post that those with ADHD struggle with planning and organising, and this applies to when completing projects, so you need to factor in this time to plan what you’re doing first.
The most common theme among ADHDers is procrastinating. We procrastinate for a number of reasons (I will be creating a post about that soon!), but all of the reasons above are why we procrastinate. Similar to starting tasks, we don’t consider the time we might spend procrastinating in to our schedule, so when we need to start that task but instead we procrastinate, it means we’re pushing our schedule back further.
I went over some tips on how to beat procrastination in my previous post, but often we need to figure out why we’re procrastinating. Is it because we’re tired or hungry, or is it because you don’t know how to start? Identify the problem, and then see if you can work it out from there.
How To Manage Your Time More Effectively
I briefly stated that the way we manage our time will differ from those without ADHD, and so we need to look at how we can do this.
Double (or triple) The Task Time
We often underestimate the length of a task because of our time blindness, so if you think a task will only take an hour, allocate two or three hours to the task instead. Doing so allows you more time for organising and planning the task out, any problems you might encounter, or any extra breaks you might need (or getting distracted by social media!).
This also means that if you finish the task early you can take that extra time as a nice break, or you can start the next task immediately meaning you should finish earlier in the day.
Don’t Overstuff Your Timetable
Filling out your timetable to the brim at the start of the week might feel really good, but you’ll find yourself tired and frustrated when you find that the things you wanted to accomplish just aren’t happening. You need to really consider how you can effectively use your time, and stuffing your whole week with activities won’t work, you’ll just find yourself burning out much quicker.
If you struggle with understanding if your time plan is possible, try break down each of the tasks in to step by steps and then figure out the length of each step. Doing so will not only help you figure out the true length of each task, but will also help you in planning the task so you’re not as stuck when it comes to starting it.
If you’re still struggling, ask a friend or a family member to go through your timetable with you. Explain each of the steps that the project will entail, and they can tell you if they think it’s possible for you. Having an extra person can help you realise where you under or overestimate your abilities so you’re not left frustrated with yourself.
Add Buffer Breaks
I spoke earlier about how sometimes we just cannot find the right energy and focus levels for the task at hand, which can leave us unproductive and frustrated with ourselves. If time allows, add blank periods where you don’t have anything planned, or small tasks that aren’t time constrained.
Adding these periods allows you to move your timetable around if you feel that the project you need to complete isn’t matching your energy levels, but it also gives you a peace of mind if one of the projects took longer than expected.
Use Timers and Stopwatches
If your time blindness is getting the best of you, consider using stopwatches and timers to understand your habits.
If you find you never know how long particular tasks take, e.g getting ready for work, or doing the washing up, try setting a stop watch a couple of different times to see the average length it takes you. Being able to see the solid time it takes you means you can properly allocate that task in to your schedule.
On the other hand, timers can be a great way to identify when you need to go, or when you need to stop. You can set a couple of reminders before leaving work, and each timer will tell you what needs to be done next. For example:
Timer 1: 20 minutes before work
You need to be dressed
Timer 2: 10 minutes before work
You need to have eaten and brushed your teeth
Timer 3: 5 minutes before work
You need to have everything ready to go, keys, wallet, etc
Timer 4: 0 minutes
You need to leave now
Using timers effectively means you have something else to gauge your time, rather than relying on yourself.
You can also use timers when going on your phone or social media as a break. I use two timers timed a minute apart as I often turn off the first timer with out realising, so the second timer acts as a backup if I mindlessly turned off the first.
Find What Works For You
The most important thing for time management is finding what works effectively for you, and no one else. It took me a year and a half with my support tutor at university that rigid, time-constrained timetables just don’t work for me, I prefer to use blank timetables where I can fill in the outline of what I want to accomplish that day and then compare my energy levels to the tasks at hand.
Allow yourself to try different methods of time management, and don’t get frustrated when the first one fails, it takes time to understand how you work best, no one is the same.
Remember to not beat yourself up if you struggle with time management, I’m absolutely appalling at it still, even though I try my hardest (this post was meant to be posted yesterday!). It’s a problem that is incredibly hard to overcome, but beating yourself up will only lead to stress, and as previously discussed, ADHD symptoms get worse when we’re stressed.
If you fail, take the time to identify where and why it went wrong, and then come up with a solution that would stop you next time. Failing is a part of life, and are important lessons for ourselves, so don’t waste energy getting frustrated and angry with yourself, it’s just not worth it.