File this under “what is it like to have ADHD?”

Time estimation and everyday problems

ADHDers – and folks who have challenges with executive functioning skills, talk a lot about time-blindness. You missed an appointment because it took you longer to get ready and show up than you thought, or you hear feedback from others that your estimates on the length of time for a project are way off.

A key to improving your results

If you work with a professional on your ADHD, they will probably tell you that one of the most effective ways to become more focused and organized is to build daily practice into your routine. This is because the parts of your brain that are strengthened when you work on time management are the same ones that help you with other aspects of executive function – attention, memory, and even emotional regulation.

This means that any work you do practicing time estimation, scheduling, and prioritization will also help your brain make decisions, keep track of multiple priorities, and stay calm in case you drop the ball on something.

Resistance to dealing with Time

I feel an internal resistance to anything that has to do with planning or tracking time. When someone (ok, my wife) talks about scheduling, I feel like I am being told to sit in the back of a tiny car while wearing huge boots. My mouth goes dry. I start pacing.

Why? Who knows. I guess if I am weak on a skill, I can either choose to work on it until it gets better, or favor other skills that compensate. Add that up over decades, and maybe it’s a combination of nature/nurture.

Sometimes I need to make a list of all the things I have lost because of my trouble with time management – jobs, grades, other kinds of opportunities.

Another way to overcome internal resistance is to negotiate a small change, instead of a huge one.

Building the skills – start small with an activity you enjoy

I built a morning routine for myself that I have used to build on gradually. I call it The Three Tuitions. It involves some meditation, some journaling, and some reading. When I do this faithfully, I always look up from the page feeling a sense of calm control over my life.

At first, I built this exercise just to do a little brain training, to carve out a time to make lists and do some planning, and to generate ideas. In fact, that’s where I cooked up the ideas that became this blog.

After about 6 months of daily practice, I have noticed big improvements in my ability to keep important work and home tasks on track.

I started small, carrying around a small notebook, writing down all the tasks I needed to do for each day, then checking the list every so often to cross stuff off.

Building slowly

Then I began wondering how long some of these tasks were going to take. I would make a bet – 30 minutes to mow the grass, 15 minutes to catch up on email. Then I would write down the start and end times for each task. Lots of surprises there. But what did not surprise me was that I started out being terrible at estimating time, and got steadily better.

I moved from making a simple to do list to making a list, putting priority numbers next to the big ones, and finally to adding scheduling to each item.

Now I write the list, think about priority, schedule the big things, and try to sneak in the smaller stuff whenever I can.

When I start the next day’s list, I carry over the things I did not get to the day before.

Work in progress

So far, my experience would indicate that the research is right – that regular practice on time management skills does help with other aspects of executive function. My mood is reliably brighter, I am less panicked about forgetting to do important things, and on the inevitable occasions when I do drop the ball, I am less likely to panic, freak out, and completely shut down.

Your turn

What tricks do you use to keep better track of time? Have you noticed that they help you in other aspects of your struggle? Share in the comments.

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