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“Why Am I Always Late?” ADHD and Time Management (Plus 10 Top Tips for Being on Time!)

A woman with ADHD keeping track of appointments and deadlines in calendar diary
Getty Images / AndreyPopov

Procrastination, hyperfocus, and “time blindness” are common saboteurs for adults with ADHD. Terry Matlen explores the complicated relationship between ADHD and time management and the damage it can cause in an ADHDer’s world. But it’s not all doom and gloom! Terry also shares her Top 10 Time Management Tips to help you get up and go.

Do you wait until the last minute to hand in a work or school assignment?

Are you consistently late for meetings, doctor's appointments, or even events you want to attend, like weddings?

Do you get penalized for getting your taxes or bills in late?

Do you have a love/hate relationship with deadlines?

Welcome to the world of ADHD Time Management, where our internal switch goes from "now" to "not now."

Without a strict deadline, that report, bill payment, or article won't get done for months. Worse, we may only start once the repercussions are too much to bear. 

And what finally gets us moving at the eleventh hour?

Usually, it's a last-minute panic. We start right at the last second and pray that we can finish what needs doing in less than half the time it should take. Sometimes, the consequences can be as minor as a telling-off or missing out on sleep. Other times, you could risk losing your job, relationship, or house if you don't act. 

ADHD issues with time management may link to time perception

Some adults with ADHD may have difficulty with time perception and reaction time. This means we can wildly under (or over) estimate how long a task will take to complete.

It's not that you're lazy, incompetent, or don't care. It's truly part of how your condition manifests. Your sense of time may be impaired. Experts in the field have coined this "time blindness."

Underestimation can lead to us kicking back and procrastinating. If it only takes an hour, I can do that when I "feel more ready," right? Unfortunately, we rarely "feel ready," and the task comes with a million fiddly hurdles we never considered.

Likewise, overestimation can lead to the same outcome. Picturing hours of forced, focused misery ahead, we procrastinate until the last minute to reduce the time spent on an unpleasant task. While procrastination can be used to our advantage, it can also cause much more misery than necessary. The job may not be as grueling as we expected, making us wonder why we put it off for so long in the first place. But, by the time we've ticked it off, we've usually created a bottleneck for ourselves or someone else. 

Shaky time perception skills may be why some people with ADHD have problems with poor time management and fail to meet deadlines.

Our ADHD brains distract us and make everything an equal priority

It's no secret that our ADHD easily distracts us. Your noon lunch date with your old college friends can end up with you arriving just in time for dessert. 

Imagine this scenario, so familiar to many adults with ADHD:

It's 10 a.m. You're reading your email. Then you remember you have a lunch date but suddenly realize you have nothing clean to wear. You rush to throw some things in the washing machine and notice that the kitty litter hasn't been emptied in three weeks.

So, you hustle to take care of that. As you dump the litter in the trash, you remember that tomorrow is garbage day. Isn't now an excellent time to clean out the refrigerator?

As you start dumping out rotting food, you realize you're out of bread and make a mental note to stop at the market later.

You return to your computer and check social media to see whose birthdays are today. Seconds later, you get caught up in cute puppy videos, which you forward to your friends. Someone posts about the terrible weather they're having, so you check the local forecast and see it's coming your way.

You remember you left your umbrella at the restaurant last night, so you called them to see if it's still there.

It's now noon, and you suddenly remember your lunch date. Yet, your clothes are still in the washer, forgotten and soaking wet.

Having ADHD means the scenario above is a common one.

Sure, lots of people lose track of time every now and then. But as an adult with ADHD, it's a common occurrence that profoundly affects your self-esteem. Two hours can feel like 20 minutes when we're lost in a daydream or hyperfocusing on an activity

Persistent time management issues can derail entire lives

ADHD time management difficulties can mean marathon-working late into the night, ruining relationships, and compromising your job and career.

In the office, the quality of your work may be top-tier. But if it's three weeks late, managers will suspect you're slacking off. Your supervisors will question your professionalism if you're always rushing in late with un-brushed hair (or worse!). 

Being consistently late to dates or forgetting birthdays can stop a relationship dead in its tracks, even if you’ve made your partner aware of your ADHD.

Kids can become resentful if they get in trouble for being late to school, sports events, or extra-curricular activities. Forgetting to sign forms can lead to missing out on school trips. 

And don't even mention the financial disasters that spring from unpaid, overdue bills. 

But don't let poor time management convince you to "throw in the towel." 

That doesn't mean you should throw in the towel, though. Many tips will help you stay on top of your game, even when your brain wants to sabotage you.

10 ADHD-friendly time management tips

Here are my 10 essential time management tips for anyone living with ADHD:

1. Write in your planner or calendar daily 

And not just "Doc Apt" or similar. Remember: What, When, and Where. 

“Doctor's Appointment with Dr. White, 11/07/2023 @12:30 p.m., 17 Cherry Tree Lane, 08060.” 

2. Check your planner throughout the day 

Three times minimum.

3. Use the reminder programs on your computer or phone

If you need more than the calendar app, many purchasable ADHD-friendly apps are designed to help you remember what you need to do.

4. Write and follow a daily to-do list

Make sure it's in your eye-line as much as possible. You could put a copy in every room of the house. 

5. Visual reminders work well

I learned this from working with adults with ADHD. Use Post-it notes freely! Place them on your computer screen, your bathroom mirror, and everywhere. 

One time management tip I like is having a sheet of paper saying, "WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING RIGHT THIS SECOND?" pinned up in every room. It may seem excessive, but “loud” signs can help you pay attention to your actions and remind you to refocus on what you need to do.   

6. Instead of asking yourself when you need to be somewhere, ask yourself, "What time do I need to leave?" 

If you need to be somewhere at 6:00 p.m., but it takes an hour to get there, you should be channeling your focus on 5:00 p.m. 

This simple change of perspective can save you a lot of anguish.

7. Have everything you need together ahead of time

If you leave for work at 8:00 a.m., packing your lunch at 7:45 a.m. asks for trouble. You'll still need to locate your keys, bag, coat, phone, etc. Make lunch the night before and keep it in the refrigerator. 

Have your briefcase, purse, wallet, phone, keys, and other essentials in the same spot. Put them close to your chosen exit without making them a trip hazard. Make that spot your "landing pad." That way, you won't be scrambling for your things and causing delays in leaving the house. 

Your landing pad could be a small basket at the front door or in a cubby near the door that leads to the garage.

8. Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier 

A morning routine can be vital for those of us with ADHD. If you're a morning person, set your alarm a half-hour earlier to have more time to prepare for the day. Remember to go to bed a half-hour earlier!

9. Set multiple alarms to keep you going

For example, 6 a.m. to wake up, 7 a.m. to wake up the kids, 8 a.m. to get them out the door, etc. 

For places where constant alarms won't be welcome (at work, say), opt for your phone to flash onscreen or vibrate. 

10. Invest in some battery-operated clocks

Have a wall-mounted clock in every room so you always know the time. Keep spare batteries in an easily visible, accessible basket, so you won't end up with seven stopped clocks around the house.  

The takeaway

Changing the way you look at time management won't happen overnight. Be kind to yourself and figure out what works best for you. The ideas above are just starting points.

But once you understand and respect how your brain works, you'll be able to figure out strategies to help you stay on track. You may even arrive for your next lunch date on time! 

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-01026 JUNE 2023

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