ADHD and time management

ADHD and time management

ADHD presents a wide range of executive functioning challenges that can have a significant impact on daily functioning. ADHDers may struggle with working memory, maintaining focus and attention, and inhibitory control. Research suggests that these differences in executive functioning affecting the prefrontal cortex may in turn cause critical secondary characteristics, such as difficulties with time perception and managing time effectively.

Managing time effectively requires a number of skills, such as planning, focus and forethought. It is possible to learn tactics to help staying on task or managing your time effectively. These strategies may require some time to master but once they become routine, your brain will accept them as automatic, and difficulties will feel more manageable.

Tips for time management

Externalise time

Individuals diagnosed with ADHD often encounter challenges initiating tasks, leading to a tendency to postpone activities until the last minute that will in turn create time management difficulties. To address this, it may be beneficial to engage in prospective thinking by projecting yourself into the future. Consider envisioning the potential consequences of procrastination, such as the emotional impact of unfinished tasks. For instance, ask yourself: ‘How will I feel on Sunday night, if this project due on Monday remains unstarted?’ Conversely, envisioning the satisfaction and relief of initiating work ahead of time can serve as a motivational tool. Reflecting on how it would feel on Sunday night to have already commenced the project rather than procrastinating can aid in fostering proactive behaviour.

Work backwards

Frequently, ADHD causes individuals to underestimate the duration required to accomplish various tasks. Engaging in a structured approach by asking yourself questions such as, ‘How long will I need to complete this task?’ ‘When should I start it?’ and ‘What time should I leave the house?’ can be helpful. It may also be beneficial to initially time yourself while completing a specific task to determine whether you tend to underestimate the time you need for an activity and to what extent. Additionally, integrating reminders, such as sticky notes strategically placed in frequented areas like the bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom, delineating the time allocation for transitioning during the morning routine (such as ‘Bathroom routine completed by 6:50am’), along with visible clocks placed in each room, can serve as a useful aid for time management.

Break down tasks into smaller chunks

This strategy is important to accomplish one goal at the time and move to the next. Sometimes big tasks can feel overwhelming, and we may not know where to start. This may contribute to procrastination. Breaking down a task into smaller tasks helps making it feel more manageable and getting started. For instance, the daunting task of ‘cleaning the laundry’ may become: ‘clean up two shelves’, ‘fold one basket of clothes’, ‘fold second basket of clothes’, ‘wash the floor’. These can be done on the same day, one after the other, or allocated to different days.

Insert your to-do list in calendar

After creating a to-do list, or a list of small tasks to complete, inserting it into a calendar proves beneficial to help us stick to it. It is important to also include in the calendar any travel time before and after the activity. Furthermore, incorporating designated intervals for lunch breaks and pauses, alongside employing a system of colour-coded differentiation for various tasks, will enhance organisational clarity and make us more likely to manage time effectively. Emails and technology can also distract us from our to-dos. Unless the nature of your job requires that you constantly check your emails, it may be useful to schedule dedicated “email time” in your calendar, perhaps once or twice daily, and then closing emails during the time allocated to other tasks. This will increase your chances of not getting distracted and completing tasks within the timeframe allocated. While this may feel daunting initially, following a structured approach gradually facilitates its assimilation into routine, prompting the brain to perceive it as automatic over time.

Create deadlines and accountability

You can create your own deadlines and integrate them into your calendar system.

For instance, if the objective is to thoroughly clean a room in your house, setting a self-imposed deadline for completion, such as the upcoming Saturday, is a viable way to increase the likelihood of completing that task within the timeframe. Then, you can follow the steps above: break it down into smaller tasks, work backwards the time you will need to allocate for each task, insert these small tasks in your calendar on the days/times you allocate for the clean-up, insert the final deadline in your calendar. Additionally, introducing external accountability mechanisms can bolster motivation and adherence to the established deadlines. For instance, informing a friend of the planned clean-up and scheduling their visit for inspection on the designated day will increase the likelihood of having the room completed by that day. Alternatively, organising a synchronized video call with a friend wherein you both engage in household clean-up simultaneously can provide mutual support and encouragement. The perceived presence of an observer, whether physical or virtual, often serves as motivation for task completion.

Use incentives

You can set up incentives in advance for when you reach a goal, and these will make it more likely for you to remain motivated throughout the task completion activity and therefore remain within the timeframe limits. Incentives can be anything from a coffee with a friend to taking a nice hot bath after cleaning the laundry.

This blog was written by Psychologist Jessica Pezzato. Jessica makes clients feel comfortable and creates a safe space to build on clients’ strengths and improve their difficulties.

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