There is Eastern Time, Central Time, Pacific Time — then there is ADHD Time.
Our internal clocks weren’t made with Swiss precision, nor do they keep time in seconds and minutes. We see time not as a sequence but as a parade of events that are connected to the people, activities, and emotions involved in them. We feel time rather than experience it. This explains our stormy relationships with clocks and deadlines.
What can we do? Here are some great life hacks that ADHD experts use themselves — real world strategies that have allowed them to befriend Father Time.
ERIC TIVERS, LCSW, MSSW
ADHD coach, host of the podcast “ADHD reWired” (erictivers.com)
1. I do not answer my office phone until I have written down my plan for the day. I love technology, but I use paper and pen for planning purposes. They allow me to see a lot of information at once. With pen and paper, I can create a visual plan. When I write something down, it creates a stronger connection in my brain.
2. I don’t just plan my day; I plan my week and my month. By planning days, weeks, and months, I make time to do things each day that are important to me. This strategy lets me see the big picture and the daily details.
3. When I work on my computer, I use the Pomodoro technique — 25 minutes of working on one task, using a timer, followed by a three- to five-minute break, also using a timer. I repeat the sequence four times before taking a longer break. Twenty-five minutes is the ideal amount of time to maximize focus while staving off hyperfocus.
4. I limit the amount of things that I work on during the day. I often have several projects going on at any given time, but I limit myself to three (sometimes two) a day. When I try to focus on everything, I get nothing done — the key word being “done.” There is a difference between being busy and being productive. To me, productivity means working on something and finishing it.
5. The key to productivity has more to do with energy management than with time management. When I get good sleep and exercise, I accomplish more because I have more energy. This makes the difference between remembering that I need to return a call and returning it right away.
6. I always wear a watch, and I have my daily plan in front of me all day.
TESS MESSER, MPH
Founder of primarilyinattentiveadd.com, author of Commanding Attention: A Parent and Patient Guide to More ADHD Treatment
7. I put every appointment/meeting/lacrosse practice/robotics competition/social event/payment due/important task in the electronic calendar on my phone, and I use Google Calendar. I set the entry so that my phone beeps and displays a reminder of the task. I set the reminder for at least an hour before the event or appointment, and sometimes I set it a week before for a bill that is due.
8. I review my calendar for the upcoming week every Sunday night before I go to bed. I am ready to go on Monday morning.
9. I do tasks, if possible, right away. Otherwise, I’ll forget them or procrastinate.
10. I do not argue, disagree, or get difficult when someone (spouse, child, friend) suggests a different time schedule for getting to an appointment or completing a task. Just about everybody’s sense of time (how long it takes to get somewhere, how long it takes to do something) is better than mine.
NED HALLOWELL, M.D.
New York Times best-selling author and a leading authority on ADHD (drhallowell.com)
11.Watch out for unintentional time sinkholes, the most notorious being screen time on your devices. Cut back on “screen sucking,” and you will have more time to do important things.
12. Do what matters most first.
ADDitude blogger (“Executive Dysfunction“), founder of 18channels.com
13. I use a kitchen timer when I’m struggling to stay on task. Just knowing that it’s there, ticking away, helps me stay more focused. The other benefit is that I can break down long tasks into smaller ones. If I have a task that I know will take hours to finish, I don’t focus on the hours. I set the timer for 20 minutes. That’s a length of time that isn’t intimidating. Use any increment of time you want. I feel a sense of accomplishment after 20 minutes. Then I take a break, or I set the timer for another 20 minutes if I’m feeling motivated.
14. When I work on a couple of tasks at a time, I switch back and forth between the two. It’s easier to keep working that way, instead of focusing on only one thing.
15. I dread starting if I know that there’s a big project looming. But if I write down how I’m going to finish it, it’s easier to start. For example, if I have a paper to write or a home project, I might list all the parts of the project, then decide which days I’m going to finish them on. Write on paper, or on a calendar, whichever works for you, and make sure your plan is in a visible place. I used to print the months of my calendar and leave the current month on the table, so I could see and remember my plan each day. It’s satisfying to cross off each task as you complete it. This was an important skill for me in college and grad school.
TERRY MATLEN, ACSW
ADHD coach, founder of addconsults.com, author of The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus, and Get More Done
16. I write every detail down in my At-a-Glance planner. I love this planner because it has big boxes to write in. Besides my work-related schedule, I write down everything I have to do for that day, including appointments, exercise, and so on. If it’s not written down, I don’t remember it.
17. For the more detailed things that I need to do daily, I have two systems:
> I use a project planner notebook that is like a to-do list in notebook form. Every night, I make a to-do list for the following day. I place a star next to things that are important. I circle things I didn’t get to, so that I can look at the sheet the following day and address those things immediately.
> I jot down anything that I have to do out of the house (errands, appointments, shopping) on a sticky note and put it in my pocket. That way, I always have it with me. I usually stick it on my car dashboard for reference.
18. I e-mail myself reminders, lists, and the like. When I’m out of the house, I check my e-mail frequently to make sure I haven’t forgotten something. I have all kinds of backup systems to prevent a “fail” day.
19. I keep a list of items I typically buy at the grocery store on my phone (I use the “note” function on my iPhone — it’s free, so why bother with expensive apps?). I don’t waste time wandering through the store. I can e-mail the list to my husband if he’s the one shopping.
20. To stop wasting too much time doing things I shouldn’t be doing (like pigging out on Facebook), I visualize the things that are waiting to be done, like the pile of laundry that’s been sitting around for a week. Then I ask myself: Will I feel better about playing around on Facebook, or will I feel better getting the work done? If I get the work done, then I reward myself with down time.
21. I use the calendar function on my Mac computer to help with reminders, and I sync it with my iPhone. The bubble that pops up with reminders irks me so much that I want to get things done so I can turn the thing off.
ADHD coach, and author of the ADHD Success newsletter (danarayburn.com)
22. I take great care of my brain. All the task lists and reminders in the world won’t help me if I don’t eat right, exercise, or get enough sleep. My brain care determines how productive I’ll be and how I’ll manage time.
23. I write my plan for the day every morning as soon as I get up. Setting priorities and seeing the tasks I want to get to gives me direction and allows me to accomplish my goals.
24. I keep a list of things to do when I don’t have anything to do. Activity voids make people with ADHD uncomfortable. Instead of thinking, “Ah, I get a break,” we think, “Oh no, I don’t have anything to do.” My backup list of productive and fun stuff is on my phone, where I can easily find it during those rare times when the planets align and I don’t have anything to do.
SANDY MAYNARD, M.S.
ADHD coach and founder of Catalytic Coaching, in Washington, D.C. (sandymaynard.com)
25. If a task takes two minutes or less, do it then and there. Adding an item to the grocery/shopping list, filling up an ice cube tray, emptying a wastebasket, hanging up a coat, or returning any item to where it belongs can save you time in the long run. Some things, like filling up your car’s gas tank, take more than two or three minutes, but it can be a lifesaver when we are running late for an appointment, and are forced to be even later because we have to stop for gas. Worse yet, don’t gamble on getting to the appointment on fumes and miss it completely.
26. Under-promise and over-deliver. Instead of telling the boss what you think he wants to hear, make an honest assessment of what you know you can do, and give yourself extra time to do it. Your boss will let you know if he needs it sooner, and you can ask for advice on prioritizing so you can get the project/task done as requested. No one will ever complain because they got something sooner than requested, but we know what the response will be if we turn in something late.
Under-promising gives you the chance to over-deliver and make a favorable impression. It feels especially good to tell someone that you will turn a project in on Monday (knowing that Friday is doable), and then get it done by Friday. I don’t mind doing work over the weekend, but it is great when I don’t have to.
27. Make time to exercise. Exercising regularly gives us energy, improves our mood, and increases our ability to stay focused. It improves the quality of our sleep as well. Steady exercisers feel less tired and get more done in a shorter time. I sleep so soundly when I exercise routinely that I get by on seven hours of sleep instead of eight.
28. Set boundaries around your schedule. If someone asks you to do something and you don’t think you can spare the time, say, “Bummer, I can’t do that. I’m flattered that you asked me, and I hope you will keep me in mind the next time you need help with xyz, but right now is just not a good time.”
Adult ADHD coach and founder of adhdsolutions.net
29. Find a trusted system that is easy to use that keeps track of your tasks and prioritizes them. I like Google Tasks, because I can access it from my computer, phone, and iPad. I like being able to “drag and drop” my tasks to put them in the right order.
30. Banish the words “let me just” from your vocabulary. Once you decide what you want to work on, don’t say, “Let me just check my e-mail” or “Let me just check Instagram.” Remember, nothing ever takes just 30 seconds, and your day will get away from you if you keep putting other (less important) things first.
Founder of the ADDiva Network (addiva.net), author of Confessions of an ADDiva: Midlife in the Non-Linear Lane
31. Clocks! Lots of them, in every room, including bathrooms, walk-in closets, the laundry room, foyer, garage, deck, garden. Important note: You should be able to see the clock no matter where you’re standing or sitting. I have found a clock to be an inexpensive lifesaver — in terms of helping me meet deadlines.
32. Become a time efficiency expert — dice all the veggies you’ll need for the week, say, and store in plastic bags, instead of dragging out the cutting board every day.
33. Visit shops that are in the same area at the same time to avoid extra trips. It saves gas and time. Some smartphone apps plan the quickest route.
34. Begin with the end point and work backward from your appointment time. Say your appointment is at 1 p.m. Estimate your prep time (90 minutes to shower, dress, drive, park), then subtract from your appointment time. This means you should start getting ready no later than 11:30 a.m.
ADDitude blogger, mom to a son with ADHD, wife to a husband with ADHD
35. Allot one hour for you to get ready to go somewhere. Add 45 minutes per child, then pretend your event takes place half an hour to an hour before it’s actually been scheduled. This means you’ll arrive around 15 minutes early.
36. For grocery shopping, make elaborate charts that detail what you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire week. My BFF does it. Or you can plan an extra hour or so to visit the grocery store each evening. If you can’t spare that hour, you’re eating a) pasta, b) sandwiches, c) takeout.
37. Put everything into your phone calendar. Everything. Even if it’s just a let’s-get-together-tomorrow play date or a recurring “damn-I-should-remember-this” sports practice, put it in your phone. Otherwise you will double-book, forget about it, or show up at the wrong time. Set two reminders.
Senior certified adult ADHD coach, founder of thrivewithadd.com
38. When putting appointments and meetings in your calendar, don’t forget to block off the time it takes to get to and from the meeting. Travel time might include parking, walking from your car, waiting for a subway, or even taking a slow elevator.
39. Consider whether you’ll need to look for anything before you start a project. If so, include extra time for the “search for” step. Once you’ve spent an hour looking for things you can’t find, taking time to organize starts to seem more attractive.
40. Does your brain flow better doing certain kinds of thinking or at particular times of the day? Take advantage of your best times for creativity, analytical thinking, or administrative work by planning to do that type of work when it’s easiest for you to do.
41. Any time I have to call tech support for my computer, I’ve learned that it will take at least an hour, most of it spent on hold. So I use that time to work on administrative tasks — cleaning out my inbox or sorting papers.