By Dronile Hiraldo
Time management. Two words that when used together can make even the most meticulous professionals cringe. If you’re impacted by ADHD then just the thought of time management can make you want to run for the hills. But why? What actually causes this push and pull between what you’d like to do and what you actually get done?
“ADHD involves executive functioning deficits in the brain; which are essentially the brain’s CEO, responsible for planning, organizing, self-regulation, and working memory, to name a few,” says Billy Roberts, a Columbus, Ohio licensed therapist who specializes in ADHD. “Time management struggles are thus a core feature of ADHD, which in some cases can result in being ‘blind to time.'”
Now, let’s be clear: Being “blind to time” does have its perks, like becoming so focused on one task or project that you spend all night working on it. On the flip side, though, it also makes prioritizing, planning and getting organized a bigger mountain to climb. If you’d like to harness the superpower that comes with your intense focus, here are a few best practices to make time management work for you (and not against you):
1. Time Blocking
Because of time blindness, it can be easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to get a task done. Rather than trying to tackle everything at once, time blocking encourages scheduled focus and can even work great for kids.
Kate McCann, a Massachusetts-based licensed mental health counselor, offers this advice: “Use an egg timer for how long you want to spend on a task or project. Or set alarms that you have to physically get up and go turn off, rather than an alarm on your watch or computer that is too easy to dismiss or ignore.”
Digital time trackers, like a Pomodoro Timer, when used purposefully, can be a great place to start for focused work and study time.
2. Prep for the Next Day
At night, set aside five to 10 minutes to set your bag, pack your lunch or put your clothes out for the next day. Parents of children with ADHD can help their children to learn these habits early.
For those who need help prioritizing, McCann also suggests writing tasks on paper to keep track of important to-dos. “Using a planner or whiteboard helps get an overview of the day or week and helps with defining priorities for the day,” she says. “People with ADHD might resist writing down to-dos because they may be afraid of a resulting huge list. But writing it down is better than the anxiety that results from trying to hang on to everything in your head.” Plan for the day or week ahead by placing a planner, whiteboard or sticky note in a place you’re sure to see every day for a quick reminder.
3. Use Meaningful Measures of Time
As a society, we’re accustomed to measuring time with clocks. Yet for many individuals with ADHD, it’s better to personalize measurements of time beyond just a clock. “Scales of time management that are meaningful to a child” — that’s what Allison Tyler, a New Jersey therapist and ADHD expert suggests when working on time management and better executive functioning skills. Meaningful scales can look like using a child’s favorite TV show to signify bedtime, time for school or other new activity, as well as the end of a song. Tyler gives the example of using a song to mark the length of time a shower should take for individuals who deal with time blindness.
4. Leverage The Power of Habit
Harness the power of your habits to create new schedules and routines. Tish Taylor, Ph.D., a Kansas City, Mo., child psychologist who works with teens to regulate emotions and build organizational skills, emphasizes creating routines and habits that are simple. “Having some kind of schedule and routine” helps ADHDers because then they’re “not shirking responsibilities” like forgetting to pay the electricity bill or a big project at work or school, Taylor says.
In his book, “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg suggests connecting actions we already do on a continual basis, such as brushing our teeth, with a new action to make the routine easier to remember.
5. Batch Your Tasks
Now that you know the power of time blocking, you can take your time management to the next level with batching. This is a time management tip that many creatives and executives like to use because it helps them focus on a key area or skill before having to switch their brains to another task. For example, if you’re a student with a number of papers coming up, you can use this tip to do your research, outlining, and writing on separate days.
Like any other skill in life, time management takes practice. As Roberts says: “Folks with ADHD might struggle to get started and to complete tasks, as ADHD folks tend to avoid tasks they find repetitive or boring. On the other hand, ADHD can also be a superpower. When an ADHD person finds a topic they are interested in, they can hyperfocus — which often leads to bouts of extreme creativity and productivity.”
To make time management easier, try a variety of methods to find what works for you. While there are a number of mobile phone apps and digital tools that can help, a good old pen and paper or a planner can work, too. Whichever method or tool you choose, it’s important to give yourself time in building this new skill.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg