Good time management isn’t about choosing a magic app. It’s about understanding ADHD behaviors, like inattention and impulsivity. Managing our time well requires replacing some of our behaviors with healthier habits and routines. Here are my 10 best time-management tips.
1. Learn how and when to say “no.”
Saying “no,” when you are used to saying “yes” to everything, is uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier with practice. When asked if you can do something (rather than being assigned to do it), practice saying, “Let me take a look at my schedule and see if that is something I have time for.”
When you are assigned more than you can handle, respond, “Right now I am working on XYZ. Is this new assignment a priority? Can you wait on XYZ?” Your boss may decide to delegate the assignment to someone else once it is clear that you already have enough on your plate. Impulsive responses get us in the most trouble, so pause, take a breath, and say, “Can I get back to you on that?” Give yourself time to make a wise choice given your workload.
2. Use the two-minute rule:
If the task takes two minutes or less to complete, stop and do it now. Telling yourself you will do it later is a fib that’s too easy to believe. All those things we say we will do later, which don’t get done, take up too much “bandwidth” in our brain. Doing a simple task right away, like capturing and labeling a new contact in our phone, saves a lot of time later when you have forgotten, say, the plumber’s name! As my wise grandmother used to say, “A stitch in time saves nine.”
3. Limit and set clear boundaries
Set limits for checking Facebook, Twitter, email, and newsfeeds. Restricting social media to a lunchtime activity or the commute from work to home is a good rule of thumb. To avoid being inadvertently distracted, move any app with a notification icon off your home screen. Be brutal and unsubscribe to emails, newsletters, and organizations that aren’t necessary and that wind up wasting your time.
4. Check your calendar and “to do” list morning, noon, and night.
Keep your planning simple. Ask yourself what you want to get done by lunch. After lunch, re-assess and decide what you want to get done before you leave work. When you get home, decide what you want to do that evening. Simple is best and less is more are good rules to apply to time management and organization.
5. Double the time
Many adults with ADHD are poor at estimating how long things will take, and almost all of us are poor at estimating the time needed for organizational projects. This is because organizing requires a lot of decision-making, and most of us can complicate the heck out of a simple question like, “Keep or toss?” Having to stop in the middle of an organizing project because we ran out of time is not a pretty sight, as most of what we are organizing is scattered all over the place. Make sure you have plenty of time to finish what you’ve started by doubling your estimate for completion.
6. Use a timer
Set a timer to tell you when to stop what you are working on if hyperfocus and losing track of time leads to missed appointments or lateness.
7. Establish morning and evening routines, and stick to them.
When those two routines are consistent, other routines can be built around them. Deciding what not to do each morning and night is as important as deciding what the routine will consist of. Getting a good night’s sleep and starting the day on time are necessary and healthy steps for better time management. Be patient and don’t give up on establishing consistency with getting up and going to bed on time.
8. Learn how and when to delegate.
Don’t fall into the trap of “If I want it done right, I’ll have to do it myself,” or “I need to do it because it will take me longer to show someone else how to do it.” Be patient and take time to mentor others. It can save you a lot of time in the long run. Don’t just delegate down; delegate up by asking for help when you need it. If you are assigned something at work that you have never done before, time can be wasted trying to figure out how to proceed. Ask for more detailed instructions, where to find pertinent information about the task, or an example you can use as a template. “Could you walk me through the process?” is an appropriate question to ask.
9. Beware of multitasking.
Multitasking saves time only if the tasks are simple and familiar. If the tasks are complex and unfamiliar, it’s more time-efficient to do them one at a time. Helping your child with addition problems while cooking a dinner you’ve made a hundred times is OK, but if you’re trying out a new recipe and helping your kid with calculus, chances are, you’ll burn dinner and your son or daughter won’t do well on the quiz.
10. If you are in the middle of something, don’t allow interruptions.
Politely say, “Just a moment, I’m right in the middle of something,” and continue with what you are doing until you are at a good stopping point and can re-direct your focus. Sometimes a hand signal works well. Constant interruptions ruin our efficiency, so even if you have an open-door policy, do not hesitate to put a “do not disturb” sign on your door when you have a project that requires your sustained attention. It is difficult for us to minimize our internal distractions, so any boundaries we can set to minimize external distractions helps us become more time-efficient.