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Time Management for People with ADHD

Add structure to your life

Time Management for ADHDPeople with ADHD normally are not good time managers and are frequently disorganized. The underlying neurological problem makes it difficult to pay attention, sustain effort and complete tasks. Most ADHDers do better with structure. So use a planner for your goals, action items and appointments. Schedule short periods of time to work on your projects. Write everything down, Make notes when talking on the telephone or in meetings. Never rely on your memory. And use timers or alarms to signal when it’s time to start or stop working on a specific project or activity. In short, make your life as structured as possible.

Develop a time policy

It help get things done on time if you develop a routine, pattern or time policy for working on the different tasks or activities. For example, in the morning, until the break, work on your priority task for the day before checking email or anything else, After the break, you can return any phone calls, check and respond to email, and initiate any calls for information or to set up meetings. Immediately after lunch you can work on your priority tasks again. Following the afternoon break, you can once again handle your email, return calls, work on routine tasks from your “To Do” or “Action” list, and check your plans for the following day. Set up a routine that will work for you.

Allow enough time

Most ADDers underestimate the amount of time a task or activity will take. A good policy is to allow about 50% more time your best estimate. This 50% factor applies to meetings and commuting & traveling as well as scheduled activities and projects.

Exercise is good for the brain

When scheduling projects, tasks or activities in you planner, be sure to include time for regular exercise. Exercise is good for the brain as well as for physical health, and according to Dr. Hallowell in his book Delivered from Distraction, it is an excellent treatment for ADHD, depression, and most mental ailments.

Prepare the night before

If you have a problem remembering to take items with you in the morning when you leave for school or work, get everything ready the night before and leave it by the front door (If that’s the exit you use.) If there are items that you cannot prepare in advance, or that must remain refrigerated, stick a note to the materials by the door as a reminder. If you take a computer bag or backpack, you can pack everything the night before. If you only have to take small items such as coins or keys, you might by a door hanger containing zipper pockets or pouches. One such item is advertised at www.annsullivan.com. Also, review your planner the night before, taking note of any activities you have scheduled that require materials.

Everything in small doses

Work gets done faster in sprints than marathons. There is less opportunity for interruptions, distractions or mental excursions. For example, work on major projects an hour at a time, file for 10 minutes at a time, check email 20 minutes at a time, and make phone calls 3 or 4 at a time. And take short breaks. If you’re one of the few who can focus without distractions for hours at a time, fine. Otherwise, handle everything in small doses.

Diagnostic criteria Time management strategies
Difficulty getting organized Build the habit of writing down everything in your Taylor Planner. This includes things to do, assignments, due dates, follow-ups, important contacts, and more.
Chronic procrastination Block off chunks of time in your planner to actually work on the major tasks; don’t leave them on your “To Do” list. Schedule important tasks in your “prime time.”
Not completing projects Estimate how long the project will take, add about 50% more than this, and schedule enough one-hour appointments with yourself during the week to actually work on the project until it’s finished.
Easily distracted, Trouble focusing When you are working on a scheduled task, turn off any radio, close the door if you have one, engage voice mail and ignore email until you have finished that 1-hour segment.
Tunes out, problem listening As your mind starts to wander, try to keep it relevant to what the speaker is saying, such as guess his or her conclusion, summarize what has been said or evaluate the information. Eliminate background noises.
Impulsive, changing plans & priorities Write everything in your planner in ink. Pencil indicates something is tentative and too easily changed. Only schedule time for the priorities and leave routine items on your “Action List.”
Trouble starting Make it a habit to start your priority project first thing in the morning during your prime time – before you check email or do any other work.
Chronic lateness Record the time you have to leave the office or home, not just the time of the appointment, meeting or event. Always allow about 50% more time than you think the trip will take.
Forgetfulness Write everything into your planner. Use yellow sticky notes to highlight urgent items you must do. When interrupted, write down what you are working on so you can resume the task.
Daydreaming Work for shorter periods of time with frequent breaks. Stand up and stretch whenever your concentration starts to drift.
Needs immediate reinforcement Write everything in your planner and cross off items on your “Action List” as you complete them. Put a checkmark through the scheduled tasks. Reward yourself when you complete a project . (Coffee break etc.)
Frequently has self-esteem problems Remind yourself frequently of all the things you have accomplished by leafing through past pages of your planner.
Needs direction, structure Besides the planner, use a Personal Organizer to make notes on telephone call, meetings, & assignments.
Often lets little things slide, like remembering birthdays Place colored self-adhesive labels in the daily “Follow-up sections of your planner, with notations such as “Joan’s BDay” or “School play.”
Poor sense of time passage Set alarms on your smart phone or PDA to indicate when the time scheduled for tasks is over. Or use a desktop clock with alarms.
Poor time management skills Use the strategies outlined above, and read the book “Making Time Work for You” by Harold Taylor. (2011 edition, available on this website)

If you’d like to read about ADHD in relation to technology check out this article from our blog

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