Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on
August 14, 2021
Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on:

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

The lack of effective time management can be one of the huge ADHD symptoms among people, especially adults – “I’m running late,” or “sorry I lost track of time,” or “start without me” or I’m so sorry I’m late” can be the most common phrases you are known for among your friends and family, and, admit it, it can be super embarrassing at times. 

The good thing is that this nasty ADHD symptom – lack of proper time management – can be managed effectively even without medication by using practical methods that involve, well, time management. 

Time Management with ADHD

People with ADHD often have trouble estimating how long specific tasks will take and adjusting their schedules accordingly. 

As a result, you may frequently be late to events or often have difficulty in finishing particular tasks due to time constraints because you fail to take into account how long things will take properly. 

Also, if you have ADHD, the laws of time have a cumulative effect – you can lose time to things you can’t even track. So, in this post, we talk about how you can master time management with ADHD. 

Let’s get started.

Tips to Time Management with ADHD

You see, if you have ADHD, you are most probably influenced by what is going on around you. On the contrary, those without ADHD find it easier to ignore external stimuli. 

Neurotypicals often use their executive function to decide what to do based on what they want to achieve. However, as someone who might have ADHD, any possible reward or punishment does not motivate you, especially if they are not too close yet. 

For example, your Friday deadline does not really bother you until Monday (when it’s been well overdue); setting a 5 am alarm for tomorrow does not get you to bed at 10 pm tonight. 

Don’t get me wrong, though, people with ADHD understand that it is best to act sooner than later, BUT they just have difficulty taking action. So, here are a few practical tips to help you with time management and ADHD: 

Externalize Time to See It 

As someone who might have ADHD, you most probably don’t understand time as clearly as you should:

  • What tasks are due on what date? 
  • How long will each task take you to complete? 
  • How long have you been doing each task? 
  • Is it time to take a break or stop working and go home? 

Don’t be discouraged, though. You can start by supplementing internal abilities with external tools, such as having plenty of timepieces within your eye-shot. 

If you ask me, analog clocks work better than other clocks because they help you see the passage of time way better – they are easier for you to see the exact time and help you look at those clocks more intently to think about what time means and ask questions, such as: 

  • Should I keep doing what I’ve been doing? 
  • Is it already time to do something else? 

Remember that your success at time management with ADHD starts with awareness, which requires intention. 

Maximize Your Motivation to Feel Time 

Even though you believe in natural consequences, you should not forget that they also have their limits. If you have ADHD, one of your persisting problems might be that the last dreadful, late-night movie marathon does not affect current events.

Even if you know that you should get started earlier, you do not feel the pressure soon enough. Consequently, your present temptations create an imbalance and unfair fight – making the future fight a losing battle. 

So, for you to feel the consequences of the future, it helps to remember your past experiences about wasting time and bring that nasty feeling into the present. 

And try to imagine the future in as much detail as possible, such as: 

  • Feeling much better on Thursday night by preparing for your presentation on Friday morning. 
  • The varying feelings you will have on Thursday night and Friday morning – all based on your current decisions and actions. 
  • How you will feel if you wait until Thursday night. 

Remember that the more you imagine the consequences and your feelings more clearly, the more you get motivated to do the things you need to do, thereby managing your time well.  

Help the Future Win

Time management with ADHD can often feel overwhelming, or probably, for you, it’s a foreign concept that somehow impacts your life significantly. 

If you ask me, it is, indeed, a tug of war between favoring the present or favoring the future. Now, I understand that the temptations of the present are often hard to resist, so it is best to exert intentional efforts to keep your future goals front and center. 

Most often, time management and ADHD involve helping your future goals win over the temptations of the present.

How to Help Your ADHD Brain to See Time

There are several ways to help your brain see time more efficiently, and here are the most helpful tips: 

  1. To help with your morning routine, post notes in your bathroom stating the exact time you need to leave that bathroom. Place similar messages in different areas of your house, such as your bedroom and kitchen, and ensure that you have clocks in these rooms that you can see easily. 
  2. Make sure to include preparation time and travel time when including appointments in your schedule, and ensure that you have your alarm set before your preparation time begins. 
  3. Ensure to plan your priorities each day, every day and when you start working on each priority – take a couple of minutes to do so. 
  4. Set a shut-off timer on your TV, lights, and other devices to remind you to go to bed and sleep quickly. 
  5. Use internet-limiting devices or other time management apps for ADHD to limit wasting your time online. 
  6. When scrolling or streaming through social media, make sure to turn off auto-play so that you can see the time each video takes. 

How to Be Mindful of Time

There are plenty of practical ways to help you become more mindful of time as someone who might have ADHD, and here are some of the most effective ones: 

  1. Ensure to schedule recurring meetings or check-ins with your boss or other coworkers so that you can prevent procrastination. 
  2. Have someone hold you accountable by telling that person what you need to get done and ask the person to check in with you regularly. 
  3. Set up immediate deadlines for your tasks, especially on big projects (e.g., finish the report by Saturday, start the first draft by Tuesday).
  4. Make sure to prioritize sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise because these will ultimately help you in mastering time management with ADHD by giving you more energy. 
  5. Ensure to create rewards or incentives for yourself after completing each task (e.g., taking a well-deserved 20-minute nap after completing the first draft).
  6. Follow a strict schedule for your bedtime – this will help you feel more pressure and get things done earlier in your day. 
  7. If you’re being affected by delays financially, such as paying for late fees, motivate yourself to master time management with ADHD by imagining what you can do with all the money you can save by acting sooner and getting things done earlier. 

Challenges that Adults Deal with Regularly When It Comes to Time Management and ADHD

Time management and ADHD come with struggles of their own, and when combined, it is almost always wreaking havoc in your life. 

So, we listed the most common challenges that adults with ADHD face regularly and their no-fail solutions (if you follow them intently). 

Planning Too Many Activities 

Over-scheduling in people with ADHD often occurs because sometimes, you overestimate the number of tasks you can get done in a certain period. 

Or you can’t just say “no” to the requests at work or from people in your life. Remember that over-planning and over-committing are recipes for time management and ADHD disaster. 

Solutions

  1. Have an activity planner that works well for you, especially in feel, size, color, technology, portability, and ease of use. 
  2. Make sure to mark out times for known and set events, such as work hours, appointments, meal times, and carpools. 
  3. List the items that you “must do” versus the things that you “want to do.” For example, you must prepare for a presentation that is due tomorrow instead of filing your disorganized drawer just because you want to.   
  4. Ensure to have a to-do list daily and choose only three to five high-priority tasks that must be completed within the day. You can also mark your tasks using a color-coding system and put them in your planner – place the “want to do” tasks in your free time.
  5. Be prepared to swap or remove tasks in your daily plan. Remember that you only have finite hours in a day, and you are only one person. However, if you have the means, delegate your less important tasks to others. 

Getting Out of the Door on Time with Everything You Need 

Do you often NOT have the things you need whenever you need to get out of your house? Missing keys, eyeglasses, phones, wallets, IDs, masks, etc.? 

Solutions 

  1. Make sure to establish places near your door where you put your keys, purses, wallets, and backpacks, and ensure to build a habit to place your things in their designated areas every time you walk in the door. 
  2. Develop a habit of putting all of your necessary items for going out in their designated areas near your door in the morning. Encourage your housemates to do the same. 

Having Tons of Tasks in the Morning 

Imagine this scenario: you’re having trouble deciding what to wear for the day, and when you finally decide, that shirt is wrinkled, so you have to iron it. You’re now ready to get dressed, but one of your shoes is missing from your drawer. Stressful, isn’t it?  

Solutions

  1. Prepare all of your things the evening before so that you lessen your stress in the morning – before you go to bed, prepare every single item, such as your outfit for the day, the shoes you will pair it with, and the accessories you’ll wear. 
  2. Try to list your morning routine and make sure to only tackle those tasks in the morning, not squeezing in anything else. 

Lacking Internal Cues to Help You Determine the Passing of Time

As someone who might have ADHD, it’s most probably a frequent occurrence that you become so engrossed in an activity, especially on your phone or computer, and you keep losing track of time. 

This behavior of getting too involved in an activity and losing a sense of time often results in undesirable outcomes like forgetting to pick up your kids from school on time or missing a very important meeting. 

Solutions 

  1. Be strategic in setting timers that ring and vibrate as your easy-to-setup external cues of the time passing. 

You can maximize the use of your devices by setting up a vibrating alarm on your smartwatch and using a standalone timer that is set 5 to 10 minutes later than your smartwatch so that you can get off from any activity you shouldn’t be spending too much time with.

  1. Set your watch or phone to alarm every 5 to 10 minutes, and every time the alarm goes off, build the habit of checking the time to orient yourself to the time passed. And always ask yourself if you are where you need to be, doing the most important task that needs to be done at the time. 

Estimating the Time of Each Task Takes 

As someone who might have ADHD, it could be difficult for you to determine if there’s enough time to finish certain tasks, such as making “just one stop” before going to the doctor’s office or taking that one phone call before dropping the kids off to practice. 

Solutions 

  1. Try to double-up or triple-up the amount of time you think will take you to tackle particular tasks and plan them well. 
  2. Establish a rule for yourself that you will stick to your to-do list and deadlines to avoid doing that “one last thing” before doing the thing that you need to be doing or going to a place where you needed to be an hour ago. 
  3. Practice your sense of time by estimating how long your tasks will take. Then, write your estimated schedules on your planner and make sure to keep track of the actual time spent. 

Look for patterns – do you often underestimate the time it takes you to drive from point A to point B in your daily routine? Or do you overestimate the time it takes you to complete your reports at work?

By practicing your sense of time more intently, you will become more effective in estimating your time and identifying the actual time taken for each task. This way, you’ll be more in control and finish things on time or arrive at places on time and consistently. 

  1. Make sure to determine the exact amount of time it takes you to get ready and leave your house each morning – account for everything that needs to be done. 

What other challenges do you face in time management with ADHD? Make sure to bookmark this page, so you can access it any time, and feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be struggling with time management and ADHD.

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