If I had a dollar for everyone seeking ADHD time management hacks, I’d be a millionaire.
Figuring out time management hacks and healthy time habits is an inside job for each of us. Managing your time has a lot to do with building self-awareness and shifting bad habits. Self-management is challenging already, and it can be even more so with ADHD on board.
But all is not lost. Most changes, no matter how small come along the way as part of a journey toward aspiring to manage time more effectively. And it is totally possible to improve your ability to navigate in time and space, with or without ADHD.
The key to managing time effectively though, is not in any hack, or best tip. Instead, managing time more effectively has to do with managing yourself. And in order to improve self-management, you need to begin with self-awareness.
As an ADHD Life, Productivity & Business Coach, I’ve witnessed many people solve long-standing time management issues through creating deeper awareness around time. The key, of course, is to find what works FOR YOU.
The Universal ADHD Time Management Hack
It seems everyone with ADHD looks for the ‘holy grail of time management’. It seems in their mind’s eye – that somewhere… out there – exists some concoction, silver bullet, magic pill, potion or elixir to hack their endless time troubles. However, as long as I’ve lived, I’ve never seen a simple solution to an immensely complex conundrum like managing time. If you’ve looked yet never found your hack or special tip, it’s time you looked deeper.
Instead of searching for something outside yourself (such as a swanky new planner or the hottest new app) let’s look at what you already do for creative clues. Reality has predicted the only true universal hack is to build your time systems to be unique and specific to your needs, habits, vocation, and lifestyle.
Therefore, the universal ADHD time management hack that’s missing is a new perspective. In other words, each of us MUST flip the script! Instead of looking for an external fix, tool, system or hack, you need to start with yourself.
You see, your time problems are not solved outside of yourself. YOU are the common denominator to managing time. So instead of looking outside yourself, let’s start with you – first. Let’s get curious about what you already do, and what you do not do that either helps you or hurts you.
And since no ADHD time management hack works for everyone, your key to consistently getting time on your side and working for you will be to develop your own time management system, habits, and tools you can trust and will USE consistently.
Ideally, your ADHD time management hacks must solve for 9 gaps, consistently. Any time management system must, without fail, consistently help you do these 9 things repeatedly. And, once you decide, you need to give solutions a fair try. Aim for at least 21 days to see how you do, and then decide whether it will work for you. Here are the 9 things your time and task management systems must do to instantly improve your life.
1. Instantly Capture Anything
If you can not reliably capture random information consistently and instantly, your time management system will fail. The average human brain can only keep about four sets of information in working memory at one time. But, of course, an ADHD brain may even struggle to remember that many. So to boost your brain’s working memory and recall ability, you must figure out a way to capture your thoughts and ideas, reliably and easily.
When you have ADHD, working memory (keeping thoughts in your head and remembering them later) can be a real challenge. So, whether it’s a thought, an interesting article, or a great new idea, your time management system needs to help you instantly capture random bits of information consistently.
With ADHD Writing Things Down Helps Your Brain Work Better
2. Categorize and Organize Data
Your time management system should help you categorize and organize ideas, tasks, appointments, updates, and interesting fun facts.
Your time management system should be organized enough. Although ADHD will have us searching for ‘the best way’ or ‘most efficient approach’, the goal is to be able to create actions, remember important details, and find what you need when you need it. So, to be effective, your time management system should help you organize and distinguish between thoughts, ideas, projects, appointments, and tasks. And, an organized information system will make prioritizing easier and intuitive.
Organizing information includes creating categories that help you find information or activate behavior later. In fact, the factor that distinguishes those who can organize easily is one’s ability to see patterns. So for pattern recognition to occur, you need to observe how your brain ‘names’ and categorizes things already. And how you categorize information may be unconventional. An example follows.
I worked with an ADHD client who was a high-end carpenter. He struggled with staying organized and client communications. And, when we worked on his office, I noticed all of his files were unlabeled. I asked why, and he said that he could never remember clients’ names. His ADHD caused a glitchy working memory. Instead, he ‘nicknamed’ people. One client was Greaser, he named one Blondie and another John Deere. So, to help him track, store and find information, we labeled and organized his files based on the nicknames he assigned clients. This allowed his brain to remember what it already did, and with proper labels that matched his brain-categories, suddenly he was able to find their work orders, specific information and then put it away when a job was complete.
With ADHD, often your brain works too fast for us to differentiate between thoughts, tasks, critical information, and random ideas. That’s why your time management system needs a way for you to easily organize and categorize what you capture.
Categorizing Makes Prioritizing Easier
And when you have ADHD, prioritizing can be a challenge. When you have too many tasks, choosing where to start is tough. Prioritizing is easier when you discern between important and unimportant tasks. When you have an organized task list, you realize what to let go of unimportant tasks on your to-do list. Ideally, your system should help you organize your day and prioritize time for the most important things while reminding you of appointments. With ADHD, in order to pay more attention to time, you need to be where you said you’d be on time, avoid double-booking and block out time for important things.
Time-blocking is a technique that is helpful. But it only works when you have a reliable and consistent approach to scheduling. Although I’m a huge fan of a paper-based system, my scheduling hack is a hybrid approach. I use Google Calendar to manage, organize, and prioritize my tasks daily. It’s easy to set notifications and reminders for both events, tasks and recurring
3. Time To Plan Regularly
You must be able to consistently PLAN your years, months, weeks, and days.
4. Simple Prioritizing Method
Your time management system should help you prioritize what to work on and when to work.
One of the most important things to hack in your own time management system is a consistent way to adequately prioritize what to work on when. There are many systems to help you prioritize, you must first discern between important and urgent. Too often we are stuck working on things that are urgent, yet not making time for the important things on your list.
Your time management system has to help organize thoughts, ideas, and tasks in order to support your ability to prioritize. Prioritizing is only possible when you discern between important and unimportant tasks. When you have an organized task list, you realize what to let go of unimportant tasks on your to-do list. Ideally, your system should help you organize your day and prioritize time for the most important things while reminding you of appointments. With ADHD, in order to pay more attention to time, you need to be where you said you’d be on time, avoid double-booking and block out time for important things.
5. Use Time Blocking for Work, Preparation and Breaks
Managing time effectively means you block time for different kinds of work. consistently show up and are capable of handling different types of work.
One of the harsh realities of time management that continues to be a challenge is having time off. Everyone needs downtime to think. And with ADHD, you need breaks even more often.
So, when do you think?
If you’re like the rest of us, we’ve exchanged ‘think time’ for ‘do’ time. And it seems the busier we get, the less time we have to prepare and plan.
You Need Prep Time So Plan For It
One of the most difficult aspects of managing time for most ADHD folks in understanding the concept of preparation. Some tasks require time between tasks needed for preparation. The busier you become, the more attention you need to pay for preparation. This is even more of a challenge if you have ADHD due to two unique traits referred to as impulsivity and temporal discounting.
You Need To Manage Your Impulses And Stay Focussed
People who manage time well tend to regulate their impulses more readily, and they often have a good sense of temporal (time) reality. This means they estimate time tasks more effectively and have an easier time staying on task. Good time managers more effectively estimate how long tasks actually take and then plan time to prepare.
Conversely, people with ADHD tend to diminish long-term payoffs, give into impulsivity, underestimate how long tasks actually take and forget about preparation altogether. No wonder time management is a struggle. Many of the executive functions necessary for success can be sticky, dark, and sluggish when you have ADHD.
Now & Not Now – Temporal Discounting
Do you experience the ‘Now/Not Now’ phenomenon? It’s a thought pattern and awareness gap that Behavioral Science refers to as temporal discounting. In other words, with ADHD, we tend to diminish the value of long-term work and trade it for short-term payoffs. For most people with ADHD, future rewards lose value and become less important. As a result, impulsivity and immediate gratification are sought out instead of grinding away at tasks with long-term payoffs.
When you’re looking at a seemingly endless task list, try these two approaches. First, start at the top of the list and try to estimate how long each task may take. Write that time estimate in minutes next to the task. Second, review the list and distinguish between the tasks (transactions that can be accomplished easily) and projects (these are more complex, requiring multiple decisions, transactions, or outputs). Doing so may help you get started.
The Now/Not Now phenomenon results from diffuse and distracted thinking, vs intentionally-directed attention. If you have habitulaized postponing till later, try to work your list using the 2 approaches above and see if this helps you get started.
6. Store and Retrieve Information
Your time management system must allow for STORAGE & RETRIEVAL. Your system should allow you to easily find important info when you need it. A storage system is only as good as its the ability to help you find things when you need them. No one likes ‘knowing’ they have information or details, yet not being able to find something you need when you need it. So in order for success, you need to consider your storage and retrieval while building your system.
Digital information is searchable by name, date, categories, and/or tags. That is what makes tools like Google, Amazon, Bing, and Alexa so useful. These tools allow you to fluidly move from thought to instantly take action on that thought because of their robust searchability. All you need to do is create a search query. So, learn from the masters. In the same way, your information capture and storage system should be built by making important information easy to find.
To find things easily, think in broad informational categories. Use familiar constructs like Contacts, Actions, Appointments, Follow Up, or Reference. If you capture an idea or item – make sure it has a category that makes sense and helps you remember how to find it.
7. Ways to Remember and Remind
You’ll also need to create a way to adequately remind yourself of what you have scheduled. When your time management system is built with a reliable and redundant REMINDER SYSTEM it will be more successful. Electronic reminders help puts important items on autopilot. Having adequate reminders saves you from having to store crazy details in your fabulous mind. Remember your brain is built for problem-solving, not storage. Whenever you can, create ways to help you remember what you must do and when you must do it.
8. Maintain and Equalize
No system will work without MAINTENANCE.
Every system needs periodic maintenance. What would happen if you never changed your oil, or vacuumed your home or emptied the dishwasher? Your system would no longer work! So, in order to develop healthy time habits you have to make time to maintain systems.
- How do you manage your schedule and make time for the things you need to do and appointments you make?
- What helps you prioritize what is most important to complete by what deadlines?
- How are you able to retrieve the information you need when you need it?
- Do you stay on top of appointments and use reminders to remember what should be done? (alarms, reminders, notifications, timers, online calendars)
- And how do you track tasks you Complete?
In order to improve your overall time management approach, you need to develop consistency to determine your natural time habits. Most often, what’s really missing to better manage time is practicing good time habits consistently. To practice healthy time habits, you have to first choose habits to work on. And then you’ll need to consistently practice that new habit to gather data and see how it works for you. Establishing a habit means you have to do it more than one time.
Look for what’s missing in your current systems. How do you consistently approach these 9 time management categories? What’s working? And what is not working in your current system? Approaching each idea individually may help you find simple if unconventional ways to approach and master your time. And when you do, you’ll find that once difficult time management issues are much easier to hack.
Coaching is a great sandbox to get curious about your own time troubles. Working with a coach can help you build awareness to hack your magic time management formula and experiment with options until you have your hybrid system in place. If you’re interested in learning how coaching may help you create ADHD time management hacks, please book a Discovery Call, and let’s explore your needs together.
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