Always Late?! ADHD-Tested Strategies to Improve Your Sense of Time

People with attention deficit experience time differently — and lose track of it easily. Structure and strategies can help you become the man (or woman) of the hour.

A Nonlinear Sense of Time

CHALLENGE: For Jill, time felt anything but linear. "In my brain, everything's either now or not now."

WHAT WE TRIED: I worked with Jill to break down her day into a beginning, middle, and end. We listed what she usually did during the day, and assigned each task to one of five slots: 1. Morning Wake-up 2. a.m. Work 3. p.m. Work 4. Evening Personal 5. Bedtime.

Tasks that required the most focus were done in the a.m. Work slot, and those that required the least were done in the p.m. Work slot. By doing the same types of things at about the same time each day, Jill gradually began to feel that her days did have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

When she found herself distracted by personal tasks at work, she'd say, "Oops, this is not the time to do this. These things should be done in the Evening Personal slot. I can do them when I get home from work." She saw her day as a progression of events, which improved her sense of time. Planning things became less confusing when she separated her to-do list into personal and work chores. Her day became more linear.

Losing Track of the Minutes

CHALLENGE: Gerry loses track of time during transitions from one activity to another — especially at work.

WHAT WE TRIED: I asked Gerry to tell me what kept him from getting up and leaving. "I turn off my computer, get ready to leave, and when I get into the car, I look at the dashboard clock in horror, realizing I am already late for dinner." Then I had him look at his departure in more detail. He realized that, on his way out, he talked with colleagues about a baseball game or updated someone about an unimportant matter. In Gerry's mind, these chats would take only a couple of minutes, but they turned into a half-hour.

Gerry's family eats at 6, which means he has to leave at 5:30 to be home on time. To do this, he set his computer alarm for 4:45 and 5:00, giving himself 15 minutes to wrap things up, and then a half-hour of wiggle room before he has to leave for home. On hectic days, he uses the half-hour to talk with supervisors and coworkers about project details. On calmer days, he makes it home a half-hour early and he can play with his kids.

To make sure Gerry doesn't miss his 5:30 deadline, he sets an alarm on his watch, to tell him when it's time to go. When the alarm goes off, Gerry puts up his hand and says, "Gotta get home for dinner! I'll catch you tomorrow."

SANDY MAYNARD, M.S., a pioneer in ADHD coaching, has been working with clients in the Washington, D.C., area for two decades.

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