When you think of time management, what comes to mind? Getting to every appointment 5 minutes early? Organizing your time so that you can accomplish that important project by end of day? Prioritizing your to do list to make sure you get important tasks done and not waste time on Facebook or Instagram?
Time management is defined on dictionary.com as “the analysis of how working hours are spent and prioritization of tasks in order to maximize efficiency in the workplace.” The key words in this definition are “how time is spent” and “prioritization of tasks.” If you have ADD/ADHD both of these can seem daunting, if not downright impossible.
“Efficiency in the workplace” is not the only thing that suffers when you have poor time management. More often than not, being late to appointments or with work projects impacts your relationships, reduces trust in you and literally can cost you a job. Many of my clients come to me after having just lost a job.
On a deeper level, this inability to control oneself, in relationship to time, begins to impact self-esteem and the sense of self-efficacy in the world. Often my clients complain about being out of control or chronically behind the eightball. I myself struggled with time management, particularly with getting to places on time. I believed that it was OK to arrive five to ten minutes late to an appointment. “Cut me some slack,” I would think. “It’s just five minutes.” Through my own personal growth work I learned that not everyone lives in this “grey area” of time, where being late a few minutes was acceptable. Most people, I learned, believe that being on time was a black and white issue: You’re either on time or you’re not.
Why do individuals with ADD/ADHD struggle so much with time management?
Psychologist and author Dr. Russell Barkley refers to ADHD as EFDD (Executive Functioning Deficit Disorder). First coined in the 70’s by Karl Pribram, executive functions are closely related to self-regulation. Those with ADHD struggle with executive functions such as time management, short term memory, planning and problem-solving, self motivation, inhibiting actions, poor self-awareness and emotional self-regulation. These are functions needed to complete daily tasks within a specified time. While these executive functions are generally fully developed by age 30, the ADHD brain is 30 to 40 percent behind in learning these executive skills.
But don’t worry. With a conscious effort, executive functions can be learned and mastered.
Strategies for Better Time Management
In this post, we’re going to identify some other reasons for poor time management and some suggestions to help. Improving poor time habits just involves unlearning the self-defeating habits, and replacing them with better productivity systems.
Below are some tips to help ADHDers improve their time management:
The key for me in breaking this habit was simple. I learned that others value being on time more than I did, and that if I was late they felt a loss of trust in me. They respected me less. No one said this to me directly, until I joined a men’s support group, where honesty was valued, and men told me straight up how they felt about my tardiness. I also began to get in touch with the shame I felt each time I was late and saw the look of disappointment on the other’s face. Once I realized being late had a big impact on my relationship with the other, and on my feelings about myself, I tried my hardest to be on time. Then when I was on time, I realized I felt much better about myself; the shame was gone. This then carried into my interactions with the person I was meeting. Now I’m at the point in my life where I can hold others accountable for being on time.
Many individuals with ADD/ADHD are “people pleasers.” This is born out a years of disappointing friends and family and letting others down due to their ADD/ADHD symptoms. There is also a belief, in taking on another task, that: “This time I’ll show them I can be productive and successful!” This leads to chronic over-commitment. People with ADD/ADHD become “Yes Men” (and women) taking on too much and failing to deliver. Often much of my work with my ADD/ADHD clients is in setting boundaries and learning it’s OK to say, “No.” People respect the word, “No.” It’s much better to say “No” than to say “Yes” and fail to deliver on time. Pick and choose which work or household projects you can realistically finish and go with those.
Now that you are more comfortable saying “No”– limiting the projects to ones that you can actually get done — it’s important to set realistic deadlines. Here is another trap for men and women with ADD/ADHD. To overcompensate for their weaknesses, those with ADD/ADHD offer unrealistic deadlines, trying to show how productive and efficient they can be. When they fail to meet these unrealistic deadlines, they fall into the black hole of self loathing and self doubt. So, manage your bosses or partners expectations by adding more time to the deadline. Believe me, YOU WILL NEED IT. If you don’t have a deadline, set one (adding in more time than you think you’ll need). This will provide external motivation for reaching your goals.
Procrastination is one of the biggest problems for people with ADD/ADHD. The first question, when procrastination hits, is: “How do I feel about doing this particular task?” Perhaps the work is boring or you’re overwhelmed with the size of the task. Or, you plain just don’t find the task enjoyable. Maybe your feelings are a clue that you need to say “No” to this task or similar tasks like this in the future (see Over-commitment). If the project is necessary and you can’t say “No”, then cut the project into small pieces. You don’t “do” a project; you do a task. For example: If you have to clean the garage, then break this project down into ten tasks. It’s much easier to get started on one small task (throw away junk), then to get started on the larger project (cleaning the entire garage).
If you have ADD/ADHD you probably have a weak internal motivation system. The inner voice that tells you to do something is much weaker for those with ADD/ADHD. Therefore it’s important to externalize the motivation by setting a realistic deadline (always add a few weeks) and adding a reward. Give your boss or partner a realistic deadline and give yourself a reward for completing the project on time.
Work for 25 minutes and then take a break. Research shows that most people can only focus for 25 minutes before a break is needed. Using a timer (online at Tomato-Timer.com) and set it for 25 minutes. Take a break for five minutes after and let your mind refresh and recharge. Play a video game or laugh with a YouTube video.
Traditional planners don’t seem to work for men and women with ADD/ADHD. I believe the out of sight, out of mind axiom is working here. Therefore, I always recommend a white board or sticky notes for planning large projects. Being able to erase easily and rewrite new information makes the planning efficient. And you will be forced to see if everyday, increasing motivation. I encourage my clients to also add a reward to the white board—something they will give themselves once the project is completed.
Time Management Review
- Be on time or early for appointments. Do it for you. It’s an act of self love.
- Don’t be a “Yes Man” or “Yes Woman.” Learn to say “No.”
- Set realistic deadlines that you know you can meet. Always add more time than you think you’ll need. Realistic deadlines will help increase your motivation and prove to your boss or spouse that you can meet your goals.
- If you are prone to procrastination, check in with yourself about your difficulty moving forward. Maybe you need a new project or a new career!
- Cut the project into smaller manageable tasks. Use a white board to list the tasks and track your progress.
- Give yourself a reward for completing the project.
What do you think of the techniques above? Give them a try and let us know what worked for you!
George Sachs PsyD is a child psychologist in New York City, specializing in the testing and treatment of ADD/ADHD and Autism. Dr. Sachs offers parent coaching, psychotherapy, neurofeedback training, medication management and social skills groups for children and teens. Dr. Sachs has appeared on NBC, CBS and Vice Television. He is the author of three books, including his most recent Helping Your Husband with ADHD: Supportive Solutions for Adult ADD/ADHD, and Adult ADD Solution, all available on Amazon. To reach Dr. Sachs, please contact his office at 646-807- 8900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org