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ADHD Adults: Improving Time Management Skills

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The core symptoms of ADHD predispose adults with ADHD to have difficulties with planning, organizing, and managing time. Here's some help.

Gee Whiz, I Missed It Again: How Can I Improve My Time Management Skills?

The core symptoms of ADHD predispose adults with ADHD to have difficulties with planning, organizing, and managing time. Here's some help.Bill told his wife to meet him for lunch, only to discover, after his wife was already at the restaurant, that he had a meeting with his boss. Sandra stayed up all night for two nights in a row finishing a major sales report that was assigned three months ago, and got to the sales meeting late. Peter aimlessly drifts through his day, feeling like he is getting nothing accomplished.

These three adults with ADHD are experiencing significant problems with time management. The core symptoms of ADHD- inattention and poor behavioral inhibition- predispose adults with ADHD to have such difficulties planning, organizing, and managing time. For most busy non-ADHD adults, a key element of effective time management is the use of a day planner. Many of you reading this sentence will lament, "But I have owned hundreds of day planners, calendars, etc., and I can never get myself to use them, if I can even find them." This may be because you went about using a day planner in the wrong way, perhaps trying to bite off more than you could chew all at once.

Forget about these past failures. Wipe them out of your mind. I am going to give you a simple, step-by-step approach for successfully using a day planner and taking charge of time rather than letting time pass you by. The key to this approach is that you take one small step at a time. Continue that step for one or more weeks and become comfortable with it. Only when you have mastered each step should you move onto the next step. Also, make a list of rewards or privileges which you can indulge yourself with for successfully completing each step. These might be special activities or purchases. After you have successfully carried out each step of this program for one week, pick one activity from your list and reward yourself for your efforts.

If you still find that it is too difficult to carry out these steps, ask a spouse or friend to help you. If that is not sufficient, seek out the help of a coach or a therapist, who will help you break tailor this type of program to your special situation.

  1. Select a compatible day-planner. At a minimum, a day-planner is a device that includes a calendar, space to write "to-do" lists, and space to write telephone numbers, addresses, and other basic identifying/ reference information. It can be a paper-and-pencil model, as with Franklin Planner or Day Timer brands. It can be a fancy electronic organizer such as a Palm Pilot, or it can be time management software on a laptop or desktop computer. Electronic organizers do have a number of advantage. They are compact; they provide audible reminders that can serve as memory management aides; they can sort, organize, and store more information more efficiently than paper and pencil planners; and they can easily exchange information with office and home computers.

    If you are a gadget-oriented person who learns new technology easily, pick an electronic organizer. If you are not technology oriented, pick a paper and pencil model. Go on an outing to an office supply store and carefully review a number of different types of day planners to see which one you feel most comfortable with. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, with different types of daily, weekly, and monthly views. Carefully inspect the different types of daily, weekly, and monthly pages. Do you schedule many appointments on the hour or half-hour? Then, you need a clear daily view. Are you making "to do"lists but not scheduling many appointments? Perhaps you need a weekly view with a lot of space for lists.

  2. Find a single, accessible place to keep the day-planner. After selecting a planner, the next step is to start keeping it in a single, accessible location at home and at work, so you will always know where to find it. The location should be clearly visible from a distance, even in a cluttered room or on a messy desk. Convenient locations might be next to the telephone, on a table near the front door, on the desk at the office. If the day-planner has a strap, it might be hung on a hook next to the front door, above the telephone, or together with the car keys. Select a place to keep your day planner at work and at home. Carry to and from work, and practice keeping it in the designated locations for a week.

  3. Enter the basics in the day-planner. You are now ready to enter basic information into your day planner. Gather the most common names, addresses, and phone numbers which you use. Enter them into the planner in the alphabetical name/ address section, or in the case an electronic planner, into its memory. Consider what vital information it might be helpful to have in the planner- insurance policy numbers, computer passwords, equipment serial numbers, birthdays and anniversaries, etc., and enter this information.

  4. Carry the day-planner at all times. Now that there is some information in your planner, you should carry it with you at all times. Many of my patients tell me that they have carried their planner with them at all times, but they forgot the great idea they thought of while shopping. "At all times" means whenever you leave the car to go into a store or whenever you leave your desk to attend a meeting. Work for several days on carrying your planner with you at all times.

  5. Refer to the day-planner regularly. Many adults with ADHD write things in their planners but rarely look at what they wrote, relying instead on memory, with disastrous consequences. Before you can use the planner as a calendar or for "to do" lists, you need to develop the habit of checking it regularly. You should start by checking your planner a minimum of three times per day- once in the morning to plan/review the day's upcoming events, once in the middle of the day to make any mid-course corrections and/ refresh your memory about the remaining day's events, and once in the evening, to plan/ review the next day's events.

    What can you do to help you remember to check your planner? First, if you have an alarm wrist watches or alarms on your electronic planner, set them to go off at regular intervals when you wish to check your planner. Second, you could associate checking your planner with habitual activities that you always do at approximately the same time each day, e.g eating meals, getting dressed in the morning or ready for bed at night, entering or exiting the office, etc. Third, you could leave yourself reminder notes in strategic locations (on the desk in the office, on the mirror in the bathroom, on the dashboard or door handle of the car) to remind you to look at the planner.

    You should practice checking your planner at least three times per day, using the reminder methods outlined above if necessary, for at least one week, before going onto the next step.

  6. Use the day-planner as a calendar. You are now ready to learn to use your planner as a calendar. Make a list on scrap paper of all the appointments which you have scheduled at any time in the future. Then, write these appointments in the appropriate time slots on the pages of the planner for the particular days and months. Review the scheduled appointments for that day each time you check the planner. As you go through your day with your planner by your side, write in any additional appointments as soon as you schedule them. Use your planner as a calendar for the next week.