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Water Cooler: Tools for time management

UPDATED: Sun., June 13, 2021

People with ADHD typically have difficulties with executive functioning, which are the fundamental cognitive processes involved in setting and completing goals. That said, even someone without an ADHD diagnosis can experience executive dysfunction, especially during times of stress or depressive episodes.

A common executive dysfunction in those with and without ADHD is poor time management. This may be expressed in many various ways, such as struggling to finish tasks, inaccurately estimating how long tasks will take or easily losing track of time.

Although many people with ADHD often use medication to help manage symptoms, it is also common to implement certain tools and behavioral tactics to improve executive function. Here are a few suggestions and practices for bettering time management that can be used by anyone who struggles with it.

Surround yourself with tools to track the time. Try wearing a watch so you have the ability to track time with ease and in moments when you can’t access your mobile phone. Put clocks in areas of your room where you get ready for the day, such as the kitchen, bathroom or bedroom. The more effort it requires for you to check the time, the more likely you are to default to guessing how much time has passed or how much time you have.

The same thing applies to planners. Digital calendars accessible from your phone or computer are great tools as they often allow you to set alerts before an event. Try setting one alert for an hour or so ahead to give your brain ample time to process what you will need to do in order to be ready on time. Set another alert for when you need to leave (or just a few minutes before) in case you get sidetracked while getting ready.

Daily planners, digital or paper, are excellent for staying on task throughout the day, while weekly or monthly planners are essential for providing a snapshot of upcoming plans. This greatly reduces your mental clutter and can help you notice patterns of things that regularly go unfinished. Check your planner at the beginning and end of each day.

Time your usual activities, such as getting ready in the morning or preparing dinner so you have an accurate estimate of how you spend your time. This will help with being on time as well as finishing tasks. Often tasks are left incomplete because we underestimate how much time they will take to complete. Keeping a time log can also help you identify activities that you didn’t realize were wasting a significant portion of your time.

Say it takes you an hour to get ready in the morning. Break down that hour into segments. Maybe showering and brushing your teeth takes 20 minutes, getting dressed takes 5 minutes, drinking coffee takes 15 minutes, etc. It is helpful to write these segments down so you have a visual breakdown to reference.

You can also use this tactic to break up tasks. Think through the steps of a task and estimate how long each step will take. Assess which steps you can complete with your available time. Commit to finishing the steps you can now and plan to set aside time for the remaining steps later.

This two-pronged approach of breaking tasks into steps and figuring out how long each step takes will help set you up for success and avoid becoming easily overwhelmed when trying to finish something.

Many might see these tips as common sense, but those who do likely don’t have significant difficulties with executive functioning. Although these tools are simple, they provide essential reminders and tools for growth for those who may feel like time is always against them.

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