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Time Management: ADHD, Productivity, and Satisfaction

By Dr. Geri Markel on January 7, 2019


ADHD Time Management: Daily Hassles

  • Ari, an executive VP, is late almost every day and his team is aggravated. Their project is on a tight deadline and his tardiness slows their efforts.
  • Samantha, an engineer with an MBA, has been promoted and can’t get through the administrative tasks. She’s slow at reading reports and can’t seem to manage others as effectively as she does technical tasks.
  • Frank is an attorney in a solo practice. He is a whiz in court, but a snail when it comes to business responsibilities. His collectibles are piling up. He’s late getting the invoices out and terrible at following through.
  • James, a stay-at-home dad, is late every day to pick up his preschoolers. The children stand outside feeling sad as all the other kids are picked up.


What is Time Management?

“’Time management’ is the process of organizing and planning how to divide your time between specific activities. Time management is part of executive functioning and includes the ability to shift attention from task to task, priority, plan and organize time (and space).

Good time management enables you to work smarter, not harder—so that you get more done in less time, even when time is tight and pressures are high.” Whether you have ADHD or not, there isn’t enough time in any day to complete all that is required—or desired.

Much of what passes for work is wasted time. For example, the average workday is 20% “crucial and important” work. The remaining 80% is doing “things that have ‘little value’ or ‘no value.’” The key to managing time is to identify the tasks that are crucial and important. Those tasks need to be defined, prioritized, and scheduled.  In other words, time management is task management. Both MindTools and The Productivity Institute have valuable content learning to manage tasks and time well. 


ADHD and Time Management

Time management is the bane of existence for adults and adolescents with ADHD. Many feel lost in time and space. They are consistently late for most activities. This includes simple tasks like getting out of bed, getting to work or school on time, or doing chores. Even more important things like initiating and follow up leadership responsibilities, going to the bank, paying the mortgage, insurance, or medical bills fall to the wayside.  Some call this condition time blindness. “Time blindness isn’t just a matter of ‘feeling like’ time is moving quickly or slowly. It’s a failure to view time as linear, concrete, or even finite.” 

Time awareness depends on attention and short-term memory. These are deficits observed in ADHD adults and teens. It is easy to lose your sense of time if you can’t keep in mind other things that must be done. Those with ADHD may become hyper-focused on an activity when it is interesting or stimulating. For example, you may get lost in a movie or game or hobby and not remember an appointment. Emotions also influence your perception of time. If you love doing something, time flies. However, if you are doing a boring or tedious task, time drags.


ADHD Characteristics and Time Mismanagement

Several symptoms of ADHD have a direct impact upon your ability to manage time effectively. See several symptoms below, compiled by CHADD

  • Impaired Executive Functioning: Difficulties with prioritizing, planning, sequencing, and organizing, will lead to other issues. This feeds into problems identifying the critical tasks, scheduling them, and moving from intention to productive action.
  • Distractibility: If you are glancing around with your attention diverted to external signs and sounds, you will lose focus and time. If you are daydreaming or worried, it is difficult to focus and complete tasks on time.
  • Impulsivity: If you flit from thought to thought or begin an activity without thoughtful planning, you feel rushed and stressed. It is difficult to stay on task or follow a schedule.
  • Hyperactivity: Constant fidgeting and moving around to get rid of excess energy, makes it difficult to stay put and finish a task.
  • Poor memory: When you can’t remember directions or facts, it is difficult to start and stay on task. You interrupt the flow of your thought processes and become frustrated.
  • Disorganization: If you can’t find your files and other materials, you lose time and energy. Sometimes you give up and postpone doing what is required.


Time Management Challenges for ADHD Teens

Ask an ADHD adult about time management and you’ll hear about problems that began as a teen. Whether writing a paper, completing assignments, or studying for tests, ADHD students procrastinate. Then, with an adrenaline rush, they complete the task at the last minute. As courses become more complex and the competition keener, this modus operandi becomes less and less effective. And, the teen becomes more and more frustrated and stressed. Parents and teachers view poor time management as a sign of laziness, insensitivity, or obstinacy. More commonly, the student is trying hard, but lack the strategies to manage ADHD symptoms.

Here’s an example:  James entered a highly competitive university with a GPA of 3.9. As a freshman in Engineering, he earned a 1.3. He was smart and had ADHD. He reported high distractibility and fidgeting. He never learned to pace himself in high school and never had to. However, procrastination frequently leads to failure while in a competitive and fast-paced major.

James benefited from working with an academic coach and using two time management digital aids. First, he set his phone alarm to help him remember, “I need to begin my assignments right now.”  Second, he used an app to work for 25-minute intervals with a 5-minute break.

He said, “Just having a timer to work 25 minutes and then take a break helped me stay on track. I used to procrastinate and get overwhelmed. Then I’d try to study without a break for hours—but then I’d just quit. I was really sad and frustrated.”


ADHD Time Management Across the Lifespan

At home, work, or school, those with ADHD struggle with time management. This includes planning what to do, when to do it, when to start and when to stop. If procrastination or lateness is a chronic problem for you, then consider reaching out to an expert. Discuss symptoms with an expert such as a psychologist, social worker, physician or ADHD Coach. Inadequate time management drags down your productivity and pushes your stress up.  


You can change unproductive time management habits. Are you interested in greater efficiency and productivity? Contact Geri: