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.
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.
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.
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.
Michele Novotni, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.
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Updated on May 27, 2020