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How I Became Liberated (and Organized) in 15-Minute Increments

Like many young adults, I rejected the strict routine and structure my parents had devised to help me thrive as a kid. And just like that, my world came crumbling down. Here’s how I reassembled my life — and learned to love a good planner.

In elementary school, every minute of every day was laid out for me. My parents were my alarm clock, personal stylist, chef, tutor, chauffeur, and around-the-clock cheerleader. They woke me up 2 hours before school, laid out my clothes the night before, had breakfast waiting for me on the table, reminded me to brush my teeth, and got my sister and me to school at least 15 minutes before the bell rang at 8:30.

At school, the structure continued. 10:30 recess, 12:30 lunch, and by 3 pm we were home free! Well, not quite.

We played outside until 5 pm, when we started homework. Dinner was at 6; I usually just pushed my peas around the plate until just before my favorite show came on at 7 pm.

At 7:30 pm we were rushed upstairs for a bath and to brush our teeth, then sent off to bed with lights-out by 8.

The next day it started all over again…

In my teen years I rebelled against the system. No way someone was going to tell me what to do and when to do it! I was independent! My rules, your house… whatever, I was the king of the castle!

As the systems, scheduling and routines fell to the wayside, so did my self-confidence, grades, and ability to succeed. My grade 12 report card told it all: 131 missed classes. There was lots of talk about what I should do, but not once did the school intervene to walk me through what I could have done to change my situation. I’m not sure if I would have listened anyway.

In my 20s, I bucked the system any way I could, which left me in menial jobs with no room for advancement, living day-by-miserable-day. I would put on a happy face and tell everyone I was doing awesome, but most could see right through it.

It wasn’t until my mid 30s, following my ADHD diagnosis, that I had a major perspective shift and embraced the value of maximizing time and productivity.

I went back to school at 36 to become a clinical social worker/ADHD coach. I enrolled at the Nova Scotia Community College in Human Services with a concentration in Community Disability Supports full-time during the day, did ADHD coaching school two nights a week, and ran support groups for students with both ADHD and mental health challenges on a weekly basis. On my first day of school, I showed up prepared with about $500 in binders, highlighters, pens, fancy notebooks… you name it! But I still didn’t have a clue of how to use any of this to my advantage.

I quickly learned that the only way to manage this transition was to face my arch nemesis — time management — head on. I had no idea where to start.

Four weeks in, I noticed a young women sitting in the front of the class with an absolutely flawless binder. Everything was color-coded, not a paper out of place. She also had everything written in her weekly agenda that was broken down into 15 minute increments. She never missed an assignment or broke a sweat managing her own full-time course load and full-time job at Staples. I sat down beside her one day and asked if she would teach me her exact method of getting organized.

This is how you do it:

1. Wake up at least 1.5 hours before work or school. Can’t get up on time? Check out these alarms:

2. Write a S.M.A.R.T. to-do list to start the day. If you can complete a task in 5 minutes or less, do it right away.

3. Schedule your entire day/week in 15-30 minute increments:

  • At-A-Glance Quicknotes “My week” — Model # 76-950F-05
  • Make sure to pick up an At-A-Glance zippered cover – Model # 80PJ2F-05 for extra notes, pencil, flash drives, and so on.
  • Also see
  • Don’t forget to block time for: travel time between appointments, 3 meals a day, personal, social and volunteer time, plus both short and long term goals.

4. Color code tasks using:

5. Online options: Google Calendar or Outlook. Keep it as simple as possible; cloud based is best as you can access it from multiple devices.

6. At the end of the day, compile a done list! Reflect on what worked, what didn’t work, and carry over any tasks to the next day’s to-do list.

7. Disconnect from technology 1.5 hours before bed.

Then do it all over again tomorrow…

Let your parents, educators and employers get back to being your #1 fans, providing accountability in a collaborative role while you take control of managing your own time and creating your own routines!

This post originally appeared on Educate, Empower, ADDvocate: strADDegies.

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