Ask the Experts

Q: “My Teen Has Poor Time Management Skills. How Can I Help Her ‘See’ Time?”

Poor time management is a common problem for children and teens with ADHD. The best way to improve these skills is by learning to “see” time instead. Here’s how.

GaudiLab/Getty Images
Image: GaudiLab/Getty Images

Q: “I am trying desperately to teach my daughter time management. She never knows how long it takes to get from one place to another or how much time she really has to do something. It’s frustrating! When I try to teach her, she just shuts down. How do I show her the concept of time without telling her?” – Time Management Mom

Hi Time Management Mom:

I love that you want to show her and not tell her. Visualizing time is no easy task since it’s not a physical object. Think about it: You can’t see or hold time in your hands. This makes the concept of time very difficult to understand and invisible to most of us.

Learning to see time in more tangible ways can remove its invisibility. Here’s one of my favorite student coaching stories to illustrate my point.

My 16-year-old client, Michelle, couldn’t understand why she never had enough time to get a significant amount of her homework done before leaving for swim practice each day. She was a star swimmer and practiced every day after school, traveling 3o minutes to and from practice.

By the time she returned home in the evening, showered, and ate dinner, she faced mountains of homework. Michelle could only complete what was due for the next day. Because of the late hour, she put off larger projects and studying.

[Free Resource: ADHD Time Assessment Chart]

When I first met with Michelle, she mapped out her after-school schedule for me. She left school at 2:45 P.M. and needed to be at swim practice by 5 P.M. In her estimation, she had approximately two hours to finish her homework before practice.

But Michelle never considered her travel time home from school, after-school responsibilities, and even the time it took to leave class, gather what she needed for the evening, and walk to her car.

However, I knew that if I told her this, it would be hard for her to grasp. I wanted to make a more realistic point that would pack a “visual punch” once she saw how she spent her time each day before practice.

I had Michelle track, on paper, how she spent her time for a week.

It looked like this:

  • 2:45 P.M. School Over
  • 3 P.M. Leave School for Home
  • 3:10 P.M. Arrive Home/Have Snack
  • 3:30 P.M. Walk Dog
  • 3:45 P.M. Change for Swimming
  • 4 P.M. Homework
  • 4:30 P.M. Leave for Swimming
  • 5 P.M. Arrive at Swimming

The two hours of homework time Michelle thought she had was really only 30 minutes! Huge difference.

[Free Resource: Routines for Morning and Night]

Have your daughter track how spends her time over the course of a few weeks. It’s something she can easily do to gain an honest and accurate portrait of her time.

In other words, let the data tell the story. And as the saying goes, “You can’t argue with the data.”

Good Luck!

Poor Time Management: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

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