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E20. ADHD and Time Managing Tips

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about ADHD and planning our time. Very often, when people think of working with an ADHD coach, when they're considering that, one of the first things that they want to tackle is their time and planning it.

They may feel like their days are running them, that they just react all day long without a plan, without intention, and it can be very stressful and overwhelming. They want to get a better grip on their time. They want to get more control over how they spend their time.

Something that is true for a lot of us is that we really need some structure to our time, but we also really need flexibility. Most of the people that I know will just wilt under too much rigid structure.

We often need some flexibility, even with the structure.

People can have the impression that there is some "ADHD method", there's some way for all of our brains, and that's just not true. You may decide to use one system for managing your time and need to change it at some point, and that's fine. That often helps our brains stay engaged with using a system for managing our time. The reasons why a system works for us will remain the same.

I'm going to talk today about some suggestions I have for people when they're trying to figure out "How do I go about this?" "What are some steps that I can take to figure out what works for me and what works for my brain?" These are just suggestions. Some things might work for you, some things might not work for you, but I've tended to see these as a trend in the people I work with, and definitely for myself. Some of these elements need to be there for us.

Tip #1: Brain Dump

The first thing that I suggest people try when they're learning to manage their time is the brain dump. What's a brain dump? It's the process of taking the things that are bouncing around in your head and getting them out of your head and onto a list.

This could be a digital list; it could be a file on a computer. I tend to like to write, so mine's usually a written list. The first step is just getting everything out. Even if you're somebody (and I've definitely met people who can do this) who can hold all of your to dos in your head relatively easily, you don't realize that it really is taking up real estate in terms of your mental bandwidth!

You're burning mental energy to carry these things around with you and when you give them a place to live outside of your head, you free up mental energy. It can make a huge difference in that feeling of overwhelm that we often deal with.

When we're talking about managing our time, the brain dump step has two parts.

1. Putting all the stuff down on the list, whether it's a bullet journal or a file, an app, a whiteboard, it doesn't really matter.

2. The second part of this is having a system for checking that list, looking at that list. You're prioritizing what's on it and then transferring those priorities to your monthly, weekly, daily list; however you're going to approach structuring your time.

Tip #2: Have a System for Scheduling Items on Brain Dump List

What I do now, I might be doing something different by the time you listen to this, but what I typically do right now, is that I use a bullet journal to do brain dumping because there's a system for going back and finding what you have recorded because you have an index.

You might have different brain "dumps" in that book. These are work ideas, Christmas ideas, appointments that I need to schedule, whatever. Whatever makes sense for you, whatever you're trying to keep track of, but (the index) is a time-saver when you're trying to find a piece of information that you know you've recorded somewhere.

Before I knew to work on this, I was so haphazard. I would just write an important thing on the back of an envelope, somehow thinking I was going to find that. I knew that I needed to record it, I knew that I wasn't going to remember this thing, but I had no real system for once it was written down, how I would retrieve it, how I would know where it was, how I would remember to reference it.

I operated that way forever and I was always frazzled and frustrated. It was just so difficult to stay on top of life that way. Having some systems around this really does help cut down overwhelm and frustration in your day to day.

Tip #3: Image "Future You" to Help Prioritize

Once you have this set up, you have your brain dump happening regularly and you have a time that you're going back and referencing it so you actually know what's on the list, how do you go about prioritizing, planning, sequencing and putting those things on your day-to-day list of things to do?

I think sometimes people feel like this should be automatic for us, this should be easy for us.

We're "just" talking about making a list of things to do, planning our time. We're adults, we "should" be able to do this.

It's important to remember that everything having to do with managing your time is very heavy in executive functioning skill demand and those are skills that can be very difficult for us. There is nothing about this that "should" be easy for you. In fact, if you have ADHD, it is very likely going to be hard for you.

There are things that you can do to make it easier and to manage that and to build these skills, but take that whole idea that we "should" be able to do this and just toss it. Inherent in ADHD is difficulty doing just this; managing time, planning, prioritizing, sequencing; those are all executive functioning skills.

Let's break this down a little further. We've talked about the brain dump, we've talked about building a system, which is some kind of a habit around going back and checking that list, and, ideally, you're going to take from that list and you're going to put it on to your weekly plan, your daily plan.

It depends on how you want to operate, I just do a weekly and a daily, I don't usually look at my whole month in view, unless there's a reason I need to. Some people may prefer to see a whole month in view, but typically, for me, I'm going to take it from these lists, I'm going to prioritize it and I'm going to transfer them over to the week's list. Then from the week's list, I'm going to decide which days I'm going to be taking care of the things on that week's list. It sounds so simple, right?

It's not simple. There's nothing about it that's simple, because in order to take something from that list, that big "master brain dump list", you have to be able to prioritize, number one, that can be so hard. There's lots of reasons that's hard for us. One of those reasons is that it is hard for us to think about future, our future selves, future outcomes.

Taking the time to figure out what's the future outcome if a thing doesn't get done or gets done. Realistically, we can't do even a fraction of what we think we can do. So, in order to prioritize, we have to think about what's at stake and that absolutely requires some amount of practicing the future, imagining the future.

Tip #4: Recognize that what feels urgent may not actually be urgent.

What many of us do is go by the "feel", what feels urgent. If your brain is like my brain, that urgent feeling doesn't necessarily mean that the task needs to be a priority for my day. Maybe it's just something that I'm really interested in, or something that I'm preoccupied about and so I'm having a hard time deciding that this thing is better dealt with on a different day. Even though we're talking about schedule, suddenly, we're talking about prioritizing and even impulse control, right? Can I resist my impulse to do the thing that feels more urgent and approach it in a different way?

It's funny, I had a new client who just started working with me and she said, "I probably need to work on schedule, but I would like to take a look at emotional regulation". And I said, "You know, it really doesn't matter what we start with, because all of these things are kind of interrelated".

Dealing with time is a perfect example. This seems like it should be a really practical "numbers game". It's not. There's so much involved in managing time.

Tip #5 Strengthen your sense of time by estimating time

Another executive functioning skill that is relative to how we manage our time is kind of an obvious one, our "sense" or feel of time. Now I've done a whole different episode about our sense of time and how this tends to be an issue for people with ADHD. (you can listen to that here).

When you're looking at taking, let's say something from that master list and putting it from that master list of your week to your day, you need to have a good sense of how much time you're working with and how much time these tasks take. This tends to be really hard for many of us.

We either underestimate the amount of time that something's going to take, and we jam pack our schedule full of things, a really unrealistic number of things, and we feel discouraged that we're not getting more done in our day, or we overestimate how much time something's going to take and get completely overwhelmed and have a hard time even getting started on something.

Another helpful thing, when you're looking at planning your day/planning your time, is to guess (time). Try to judge how much time each of the things that you have on your list for are going to take and then to see what's the reality, it's really surprising.

Sometimes when you look at what you think a task is going to take versus what it actually takes, it can be eye opening. When we do these kind of exercises, this is a big part of planning your time and coming up with a system of planning your time.

Tip #6 Plan Time for Daily Tasks and Plan a Time Buffer for Transitions

What also ties into our managing time is that you may be getting better at judging your time (and can more accurately say "this might take 45 minutes, take an hour", you can better plan your time), but you may not think to plan things that aren't pressing appointments/concrete commitments, but are still necessary for taking care of yourself.

An example is planning time to eat, planning time to exercise (if that is something that's important to you), planning time for transitions, this is huge. Often our time "sense" is an issue, so we will spread ourselves really thin by not taking into account how much time transitions take.

For example: If you know that you need to be on the road at 10, then things like getting your keys, getting your shoes on, switching from the activity that you're doing to actually leaving the house, all of this is what you would call a "transition" and it might take you 10 minutes or so.

When you're thinking about planning your time, you may not be accounting for that time at all. Thinking about transitions, not just from a practical sense, but even from an emotional sense, helps. Just giving yourself a little breathing room, a little space for switching between activities, for getting to appointments, building in time in your day that is padded, so you're not just running from one thing to the next thing and having that frazzled, scattered feeling. Give yourself a little "buffer" when you're looking at planning time to give yourself the space to breathe.

Okay, wrapping up, we covered some really important beginning steps for how to manage your time and take control of your time, especially if this is brand new to you, if you're just used to always "flying by the seat of your pants" and you're realizing this is not working for you anymore.

The first thing that I talked about, which I think is really key for most people, is having some place, some container to hold your thoughts, obligations, plans, worries, concerns; all of it, that you can hold it there and reference back to it when you're deciding what's important, what you want to fill your days with.

The other part of that is having a routine to check that container, whether it's a bullet journal, whether it's a file or an app, or anything, but having some habit built in after I'm brain dumping when I'm thinking about these things. At a certain time, I go back, and I look at those lists and I decide what I'm going to prioritize for my week, for my day, and use that as a jumping off point for how I'm using my time.

We also looked at prioritizing and broke down what might get in our way here when we're trying to prioritize. We know it's difficult. We know it's difficult for different reasons, but how can we help support ourselves so that's a little bit easier?

We talked about picturing our future self, thinking about possible outcomes if it's hard for us to prioritize. What happens if I don't pay the mortgage this week? Well, it's not due for three weeks, maybe it can be on the next week's bills. What happens if I don't get back to our HR person about whether or not I'm opting in for the insurance with the due date being tomorrow? Well, that's probably a pretty high priority. I don't want to miss out on my insurance plan next year.

It's that kind of future thinking that helps us really decide what's urgent versus what my brain is pulling me towards, what I'm having an urgent feeling about. That might be "Oh, I'm going to reorganize my spices". We could do a whole other episode on how sometimes our feeling of urgency is actually just pulling us off of something uncomfortable.

We get used to honoring that urgent feeling and we don't even realize that this urgent feeling to organize my spices right now has to do with the fact that I'm kind of overwhelmed with picking an insurance plan.

Even though that's due today, my pull towards organizing the spices is just my brain's way of protecting me from something that feels uncomfortable. If I really look at that list, and I'm trying to prioritize what needs to be done today, I'm going to realize that "future me" is going to be very happy that I pushed through the complicated decision and picked an insurance plan.

We also looked at time "sense" and how that can impact how we're managing your time, how we're planning our days. Not only will a better awareness of how much time things take help when we're planning these days, but (it's important to) plan for some buffer time so we're not feeling so pressured and under the gun, so our days aren't overfilled with commitment without any space for life to happen, for the unexpected happen, or space for us to just have some ease in moving between activities.


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