Time & Productivity

It Always Takes More Than “Just Two Minutes”

It’s true: Your ADHD or ADD might be the reason why you are constantly running behind. But it doesn’t have to be. Learn how to be realistic about how long tasks take and set multiple reminders to keep you on task.

Close up of person with ADHD adjusting their wrist watch to better manage their time
Close up of person with ADHD adjusting their wrist watch to better manage their time

Why Am I Always Late?

Time management is a big problem for people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Everyone is late on occasion, but many with ADHD run behind schedule more often than not. They are late to meetings. They stand up their friends. They pick up the kids late from school. They leave others waiting as they scramble to finish last-minute tasks or find misplaced wallets, cell phones, or keys.

People with ADHD don’t intend to be inconsiderate or disrespectful. It’s not an attitude. But because of chronic tardiness, they’re often perceived that way. That misperception is one of the reasons why people with ADHD have trouble maintaining good relationships with friends, family members, and co-workers.

What It Means to be “On Time”

Adults with ADHD often think they should arrive at the scheduled start of an appointment or meeting. Big mistake. It’s always safer to plan on arriving 15 minutes early. That way, if you run into traffic or experience some other delay, there’s a good chance you will still make it on time.

When setting a time to get together, take a lesson from effective salespeople: Underpromise and overdeliver. That is, say you’ll be there by such-and-such a time, but get there early.

If you’re worried that you might become bored if you have to wait, bring along a book or magazine — or plan on using the time to write a letter, make a phone call, or take a walk.

[Get This Free Guide: Be On Time, Every Time]

How Long Does It Really Take?

Time yourself on frequently traveled routes. You may be surprised to find that your “10-minute” trip to the grocery store really takes 20 minutes. Stop underestimating your transit time.

If you’re planning a trip you’ve never made before, look up the route on an online service, like Google Maps, to find out how long the trip will take. If you’ll be traveling during rush hour, add an extra 20 percent to your estimate.

Not One Alarm, But Two

Starting with the time of your appointment, work backward until you figure out when you need to leave your home or workplace. Set an alarm clock or watch (or a cell phone or computer) to go off five minutes before that time — and a second alarm to go off five minutes later.

When the first alarm sounds, stop whatever you’re doing and jot a quick sentence or two on a sticky note indicating where you left off. Try to be out of the door before the second alarm sounds.

[Click to Read: Hate to Wait? Here’s Help]

Getting Out the Door

If you’re among those who suffer from I-can’t-find-it syndrome, the best remedy is obvious: better preparation. Think about what you’ll wear, and lay out your clothes in advance. Place everything you’ll need to take along by the door in cubbies labeled by day. Think about where you’re going, and make sure you have good directions and the telephone number of the person you’re meeting — in case you get lost or run into traffic.

Because they’re so distractible, it’s almost impossible for many with ADHD to make it out the door on time. It can help to develop a system that stops you from doing “just one more thing.”

Some of my clients find that they can avoid being sidetracked on their way to the car by reminding themselves of what they’re doing, out loud and repeatedly: “I’m going to the car, I’m going to the car, I’m going to the car.” Other clients use some sort of visual cue, such as the dial of a Time Timer device. Find what works for you.

Imagine Failure — and Success

Those with ADHD often underestimate the consequences of showing up late to important meetings. To counter this tendency, spend a few seconds imagining what the waiting person would think and feel. What would she say? What sort of facial expression would she have?

Now imagine the look of approval and the friendly greeting you get when you show up on time. Bask in that feeling of success as you move toward your goal.

[Read This Next: Are You Time-Blind?]

Michele Novotni, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

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13 Comments & Reviews

  1. Are the adatations we make for our less than perfectly functioning brain similar to the ones people who are Blind or Deaf or parapalelegic etc. If so why does society expect perfection from us but not them Society more and more is adapting to their disability.
    For Two days each quarter, i worked in a mostly rural area where road and air travel was an adventure. Timeliness was always ish as at 8ish. These were employers with 2 or 300 employees and I would be meeting senior HR , Finance, and in some cases the COO. Everyone understood the vagueries of rhe travel involved and unforseen delays might occur. 8ish always meant before 815 or i will call.
    There was never the feeling of running late. Everyone i met with continued working until I arrived sometimes longer and then we met. If there were subsequent appointments that would curtail the meeting time I was given advance notice and extra effort was made to arrive early in some cases an hour would be spent parkednearby. This adaptation to my ADhD brought 3 days of feeling like a normal person and gave me the break i needed to get through another 3 months of a foreign time system.

  2. Ah, I laughed out loud at “I’m going to the car, I’m going to the car.” I’ve learned to talk out loud to myself just like that to stay on track – but somehow seeing it in print is just so funny. If we can’t laugh, we’re hooped!

    1. Me too! That and “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important dat…” I say that all the time!! I haven’t gone as far as telling myself I’m going to the car, but I do repeat things out loud that I don’t want to forget, like “phone phone phone phone” and/or whatever else I may need to repeat! 🤣

    2. OMG! That’s hilarious. I recently kept getting sidetracked while trying to find my glasses. I finally resorted to chanting to myself out loud “ glasses glasses find your glasses, be the glasses” until I found them.

  3. LOL! Absolutely blows me away how I think I’m reading about myself when I come across an article or essay about life w/ ADHD. This one really nails it…and it doesn’t just relate to me as I have 2 friends with patterns and behaviors identical to mine. After 30+ years of being looked down upon and asking myself “what’s my deal?”, to know I’m not at all alone and I’m not just a screw up has changed me

  4. My Lord, I was late to my own wedding! I am ALWAYS running behind no matter what time I wake up. I start everyday during the week with frustration and panic as I run around the house like a mad woman, then after calming down I feel bad. I feel bad because I’m late again and because I just acted the way I did. I do hate the way people will make comments, and I understand where they are coming from, but do they ever think about how I’m feeling about it?!

    I am so glad this was written and that Im not alone with this exact thing! I cant wait to try what is suggested in this artical, and pray that It works and I can get it together! 🙏

    1. Lol I’m not married so I haven’t been late to my own wedding but my best friends husband is always saying I’m going to be late to my own funeral 😂. Unfortunately though my issues with being late recently cost me my job. Also my doctor dropped me as his patient. What’s frustrating is no one seems to understand that it’s not an attitude issue.

      1. Me too. I totally know how you feel. I am so aware how I affect others but it seems impossible that I get affected too.

  5. I’m in denial about how chronically I am late, because I’ve gotten better. Still, with my particular job, being late can cost me over $300, worry, stress, and potential explosieve arguements when I impulsively speak about this stress to my partner. He has just recently come to the place where he no longer believes ADD/ADHD is a moral failure

  6. So why can’t people understand us? Why do we have to fix ourselves for them their the normal typical brain, were not
    Honestly thinking about people how they would take it if I was late, how disappointed they be puts me and I’m sure others, in a funk like depression, just know they’re there and they came why does it have to be more then that

  7. For me being late has everything to do with not only ‘time blindness’ on some level – often miscalculating the time it will take to do things – but even more so a struggle with the stress of being over-focused and transitioning from one state or task another. For me even thinking about transitioning is stressful. Somehow it is very difficult for me to stop doing one thing and start doing something else. What’s really ridiculous about it, and it makes me feel stupid, is that once I do get started with something else I am perfectly fine about it; go figure. I’m often reminded of the axiom in physics that “A body in motion tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” That’s the way it feels to me, like whatever state I am in, or whatever my current vector is, it’s stressful to change it. It seems to come back to either the stress of it, or being over-focused with what I am doing and not thinking enough about what else I need to do as well. It may be that the over-focused state is actually serving as a preferred alternative to the stressful feeling of the transition to something else. At the end of the day I just find transitioning to be very stressful, and I really don’t do stress well.

  8. Meetings are 90% of the time USELESS. They waste everyone’s time. This is coming from someone who worked in corporate America for about 20 years.

    Also, unless you’re relieving someone or having to actively tend to customers, who cares what time you show up? Flex time has gotten popular in the corporate sphere, thank goodness. The last actual job I had I showed up somewhere between 9AM and 9:30. I made note of the time I arrived and made sure I worked 8hrs. No big.

    So very nice to have my own company now. My partner and I have a lot of impromptu “meetings” where one of us asks the other if it’s a good time to talk and then we have quick, productive chats about things we need to run by each other. And I work whenever is convenient for me. I tend to time work around Adderall and my body clock. Add me to the “stupid in the morning even when medicated” camp. I like to get in a couple of cups of coffee and a quick workout before I sit down at my desk.

    ADHD folks can be rock stars if given the right task and if people will quite trying to jam us into their neurotypical boxes.

  9. This article sounds like it was written about me! I was early ONCE. The day I was born. My family once lied to me about Thanksgiving starting at noon so I’d be on time. My husband knew and we got there about 12:30. Dinner didn’t start until 2pm. My husband used to always ask me: Why don’t you understand what 5 minutes is!? I recently sent him the article about Time Blindness even though we’ve been divorced a decade. I now wear a Fitbit and I use the vibrating timers on it many times a day. My phone calendar has 2 alarms for every appointment. I use Alexa for timers too. I can’t believe you mentioned being bored when a person is early. I feel major discomfort when I’m early. I get antsy and always carry a book or a craft. I can’t just sit.

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