Time & Productivity

“It Can’t Be Time Already?”

Does a faulty sense of time leave you running late, rushing around, and losing track of your schedule? Try these tips to beat the clock once and for all.

ADHD woman is shocked when she looks at the alarm clock and sees that she overslept
ADHD woman is shocked when she looks at the alarm clock and sees that she overslept

We all have an internal clock that tells us how much time has passed.

For some, the clock ticks loudly and consistently, so they’re pretty good at judging the passage of time. They use that knowledge to guide their behavior and to make necessary adjustments, such as speeding up when running low on time or re-prioritizing their activities to get the most important tasks completed when circumstances change. They have a schedule in mind, and they know where they are on that schedule — what they have left to do and how much time they have to do it.

People with ADHD usually know what they need to do, but they have trouble doing it. Their internal clocks tick softly, too quiet to guide their behavior. As a result, they stay absorbed in fun activities when they should do more important, less thrilling things. Or if they are doing something important, they may not notice the need to shift to something else, like going to a meeting, getting to bed, or picking up the kids.

Blind to Time

Do the following scenarios describe you and your life?

Time is fluid. Ten minutes doing a boring thing feels like an hour to you. An hour spent doing a fun thing feels like 10 minutes.

You underestimate the time required to do a task. It’s hard for you to predict how long things will take. When planning to do a project, you underestimate, not overestimate, how long it will take to complete.

You run late. You don’t realize when it is time to leave for dinner or a business appointment, because your internal alarm clock hasn’t rung yet.

You get to bed too late — every night. You play catch-up all day, and this pushes your bedtime later. You don’t track the passage of time through the unstructured evening hours at home, so you don’t realize that it’s bedtime.

You are always speeding and scrambling. Because you’re in a rush, you feel stressed by the time you get out the door, and you make up for lost time by driving faster.

You are seen as a time waster. You are criticized for doing less important tasks first and not getting to more important ones — though it’s not a conscious choice.

Hang in There

The goal is to go through the process of committing to time-control strategies based on your strengths, weaknesses, and what you need to get done. I guarantee that the following strategies are good ones and will get the job done. It all comes down to using them. So take the pledge below, but don’t do it lightly. Think about it for a day or even a week. If you’re going to do this, give it your best effort. You deserve it.

I want a better life, so I commit to:

  • making changes and trying something new
  • doing my best to use these strategies diligently, even when I don’t feel like it
  • being open to learning from these experiences
  • being flexible when a strategy isn’t working
  • abandoning a strategy only when I can replace it with another that may work better.

Set Your Internal Clock

1. Put a clock in every room. The more clocks you can see (without having to look for them), the more likely you will be aware of time.

2. Check the time regularly. Make a point of checking the time throughout the day. Regular check-ins will make it less likely that time will slip by unnoticed.

3. Wear a watch. Your phone has the time on it, but you’re more likely to look at the time if it’s on your wrist than if you have to pull out your phone.

4. Catch the vibes and beeps. Many digital watches can be set to beep or vibe at regular intervals. These reminders notify you that another block of time has passed. They can break your hyperfocus if you’ve been stuck on something too long. You can download apps for your smartphone to accomplish the same thing.

5. Ask yourself a question. If you find yourself wondering why you spent so long doing something too often, make it a habit to ask yourself, “What should I be doing now? Is this the best use of my time?” If it isn’t, switch gears to something that will be more productive.

6. Hang up signs around the house. Figure out how long it takes to do your morning routines, then count backwards from the time you need to be walking out the door and when you need to be finishing each activity (finish breakfast at 8:30, get dressed by 8:10, and so on). Then put up sticky notes or signs in each room that tell you when you should be moving on to the next activity.

Notify Yourself that Time is Up

7. Set an alarm. Instead of relying on your internal clock, let technology keep you aware that it is time to start or stop doing something.

8. Use countdown timers. You can use your digital watch or one of those inexpensive kitchen timers to alert you that a designated amount of time has passed and it’s time to do something else. Timers relieve you of having to track how much time has gone by. If you’re working at the computer, use Outlook or other programs to alert you.

9. Set a get-ready-for-bed alarm. Late starts in the morning often begin with late bedtimes the night before. If you get caught up in activities and miss your bedtime, set an alarm to go off when it’s time to start getting ready for bed. Obey it-unless your house is on fire.

10. Use browser add-ons to limit your time online. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re on the Internet. One link leads to another…and another….Download browser add-ons, such as Leechblok for Firefox and Stayfocsed for Google Chrome, to limit your time on specific sites, as well as your time online.

11. Set your TV to turn itself off. Many televisions will automatically shut down after a certain amount of time or at a specific time.

12. Put your houselights on a timer. To break you of late-night hyperfocus, replace the wall switch with a programmable switch. The darkness will remind you that it is time to get up and move to another task or get to sleep.

13. Peg your schedule to someone else’s. By going to bed, waking up, and leaving the house at the same time as a family member, you can follow that person’s lead on what time it is and where in the process you should be. At work, you can match your schedule to someone else’s by leaving for a meeting at the same time.

Schedule Your Time

14. Write down a schedule for the day-and check it. It’s hard to know whether you’re ahead of or behind schedule if you don’t know what your schedule is. Don’t schedule every moment, only specific events or tasks (leave for bank at 3:30, do laundry before lunch). Refer to the schedule to guide your actions.

15. Adjust your schedule as circumstances change. Rarely does a day follow a schedule perfectly. Keep your schedule nearby, so you can refer to it when something new comes up. Don’t commit to anything new until you’ve checked to see how it fits into your overall plan.

16. Add in time to get ready. People with ADHD fall behind when they don’t factor in the time it takes to go from one activity to another or to leave the house or office. To leave for a business meeting by 2 p.m., start gathering materials and walk to the car by 1:40.

17. Add 50 percent or more to all your estimates. If you have an activity that you haven’t timed, then you need to guess how long it might take to accomplish. Everything takes longer than we think it will, so pad your estimates. If you get done faster, consider it a gift. And as with any gift, don’t count on getting it every day.

Excerpted from Understand Your Brain; Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook, by Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., MBA. Specialty Press, Inc. Copyright 2012.

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