Among college students that I coach, time management is the #1 skill set that’s a huge obstacle. Much like managing money, time management can be learned. And it can be taught, which is good news for everyone. If you have a younger child, that’s great. Start now! If you’re older, start now too. These steps will help.
Typically, people will tell you, “Use a timer,” but they don’t really tell you how it all fits together with acquiring time management skills. You know how we tell kids, “One more sleep” because they don’t understand the concept of tomorrow? Or we say, “When the big hand is on the 9, you have to get ready for bed,” because they can’t use a clock or watch? For many with ADHD, their sense of time is fairly elementary, like: “If I have a timer, I’m good to go.” But time management is more than just telling time or counting minutes. Time management is understood physically and with your senses.
Here’s what I teach my clients (both students and parents). Each step may take a couple of weeks to a month or so to master or feel comfortable with.
Time Management Step 1
Most people with ADHD think tasks take a shorter time than they do then get upset when it takes so. much. longer. It’s good to take a task and double the time and then see how long it actually takes. For instance, if I have to clean the kitchen, logically, it might take 1 hour. For me, though, with my penchant for taking breaks, it probably will take 2 hours. I like to work and then play some Candy Crush, and then work again. We aren’t always conscious of our breaks. We also aren’t always conscious of our tangents. Tangents aren’t bad but they do skew our sense of time.
So step one is double the amount of time to get a task done.
Time Management Step 2
Now you can start using a timer. I often see articles about how you should work for 20 minutes and then take a 5 minute break, then work for another 20 minutes, and so on. Where does it say that 20 and 5 is the universal correct amount of time?
When I’m cleaning, time goes by slowly. I do about 5-10 minutes on and then a 5-10 minute break. I hate cleaning.
When I’m working on something, like this blog post for example, I can go for 90 minutes at a time and then take a 5 minute break and go another 90 minutes. I love writing. BUT… in that 90 minutes I will flip back and forth for a matter of 10 seconds to 90 seconds, to check in on Facebook or check email. It works for me. It doesn’t work for everybody. Also, if I take a break that’s longer than 5 minutes, I may not be able to refocus for a few hours.
Using a timer makes you conscious about how you use your time, not necessarily so that you can change it (unless it’s not working for you) but so that you can learn your natural rhythms. This helps with scheduling appointments, tasks, and social events. Time management, then, becomes more than just about time. It’s about being aware and being able to respond to your needs.
Time Management Step 3
Now that you have a better sense of how you work with time, you can start to play. Use your time and try doing something for a bit and then guess how much time has passed. Keep doing that over and over again. I’m rarely shocked at the time anymore unless I’ve been asleep. I’ve learned to read things like how long it takes before my hands hurt from typing. Or how long before I need to get up and do some stretches.
There are so many signs but we’re not used to reading them, or we think we should be able to read them right away or we’re failures. This is a new skill, like sailing a boat – learning the tricks, gathering tools, and then practicing.
If you are a parent with younger kids, or you yourself are a kid at heart, you will need to turn all this into a game. The more regimented you make it, the more likely you are to give up.
What is your biggest time challenge? Share with us in the comments!
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