How to time management? ADHD Edition
December 6, 2016 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I have ADHD and am struggling with time management at work. If you have ADHD, how do you get things done in a timely manner?

I have read all the pertinent ADHD-filter questions, and I have been scouring the Internet and library books for pointers, but I am still coming up short, so specific suggestions would really help.

Background: I just started a new job about two months ago, and I am noticeably struggling with time management. I often require help from coworkers to complete all my tasks for the day, and regardless of their help, I often hold up the progress of the end-of-the-day meeting because I am running behind and do not arrive in a timely manner. This is acceptable when one is new, but my newness is definitely wearing off and I am expected to have my shit more together. While this is a new job, this is just the next step in my already-established career in my industry. I know how to do all the tasks I have to do, and have been doing the same type of work for a while, so the issue is not really a learning curve.

I am on medication and am in the process of adjusting it, but due to logistics nothing can change for another week or two. Previously I was in more of a team environment so I think my time management issues were harder to see. I am considering disclosing my ADHD but I have heard that rarely helps, and sometimes makes it worse.

There are tasks that must be done daily, and then after I finish those I am expected to work on the tasks that need to be done weekly or monthly, and then projects (which I have a ton of great ideas for and would love to work on). However, it is a serious struggle for me to even finish the daily musts.

The musts are mostly discrete cleaning tasks, which I get stuck on because I hyperfocus on doing it perfectly... then I only have time to do a rushed job with the other cleaning tasks that must be done.

There is also a creative component where I have to come up with novel ideas/objects and make stuff (this is also a must), but I often underestimate the time it will take to make these objects or get stuck on coming up with some incredibly complex idea where something more simple would have sufficed. I try to come up with ideas at home but I can only think of ideas in the moment I feel like.

People have told me things like I am moving too slow, or will give me suggestions to speed up, so I am concerned that my perception of time is driving this struggle. I wear a digital watch, and giving myself time limits really stresses me out cuz it feels impossible to do the tasks in the time I should.

I have tried breaking the tasks down and scheduling them (like 8:00 I sweep, 8:05 I rinse), which works until I get off schedule, then I can't do it. Plus, the variability of this job and the fact that sometimes other things happen that also need to be dealt with means it is hard to follow a schedule like this. Maybe I will try making a new schedule each hour. But this is pretty stressful for me. I have asked my coworkers how long it usually takes them to do x task and that is what I am using as a guide, plus my own experience of what is reasonable.

Each task varies in how long it should take from 2 minutes to 15 or 30 so I don't know that setting an egg timer would help, as continously setting it might be inefficient. I am not allowed to have my phone on me during work.

I am considering getting an analog watch and more clocks (I don't have any where I spend most of my time). This is not a desk job so there are no computers where I spend most of my time.

I am also considering getting one of those Watchminders or whatever they are called to remind me to focus and prioritize (like I probably shouldn't spend 10 minutes scrubbing a corner when I am already falling behind and still have a lot more to clean).

This is a job I have been trying to obtain for years. With the cleaning part, I love getting gross things clean so that is why it is hard for me to stop hyperfocusing. I am also concerned with doing a good job. But while the cleaning part of my job is the priority and must be done every day, the projects and monthly/weekly tasks are also important and it is imperative that I figure out how to make time for them. The quality of my work is good, but the quantity is bad (unless I am really behind then both are bad!).

Thank you for any help! Book recommendations would also be appreciated.
posted by tweedle to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I have ADHD inattentive and tend to hyperfocus on certain things as well. Here are some of the things that help me:

Trying to time starting my most important tasks to start right when my medication "kicks in" (catching the sudden task-oriented drivenness and turning it to the way that's the most productive for me)

Trying to frequently remind myself of how long I've taken on a task. I don't necessarily "set a time limit" as this also is not incredibly helpful to me, but telling myself something like, "Okay, you've been researching this one idea for 15 minutes of your open hour, let's go with what we have and move on to the next task," or "Another 5 minutes is reasonable for this." An analog watch might help with this for you. Most of my stuff is on the computer so I use the time on there and also set a lot of google timers (just to make me aware of how much time I've spent on something.)

Getting an idea of how long a task "should" take did actually help me. In my case it was discussing with my supervisor that I was having some time management questions/concerns and getting her take on the averages of how long certain of my tasks should take. At the time I wasn't "out" at work as having ADHD (I am now) so I just framed it in terms of being newish and wanting to compare with her.

In terms of not getting enough tasks done - I wonder if it would help you to go through ALL the daily cleaning tasks first, and do an okay job, and then do a second runthrough to make them extra shiny. Sometimes I'll do this with paperwork tasks - I'll go through and get all the questions answered and my parts written, so that I can get it turned in as is if needed, and then I'll go back through and just spruce things up. This approach has really helped me with being more timely with daily paperwork tasks.

Hope that this helps!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 12:38 PM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I understand how it would be hard to set a timer if you're hyperscheduling in 5 minute increments (sweep, rinse, scrub, rinse, dry, restock, done) but what if you added that up to 30 minutes, and set a 25 minute timer. Then when the timer goes off, you've got 5 minutes to stop what you're focused on doing, bang through the minimum list and leave on schedule. Also consider picking up where you left off before - i.e. if you scrubbed the sinks to perfection yesterday, you're not allowed to do more than a quick wipe today, but maybe you're allowed to scrub the one corner that's been bugging you, that you didn't have time for yesterday.
If you break your day up into 30-minute chunks, then you can just have a kitchen timer in your packet that's always set for 25 minutes, and you just restart it for each job segment, do the blitz to finish that (assuming ASAP is approximately 5 minutes), then press go again when you start the next job segment.
posted by aimedwander at 1:01 PM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

For the end of day meeting, spend a week emphasizing being on time or one minute early. If you're not done with your tasks, so be it, but consider it your top priority to be butt in chair in the meeting room, at or before the precise moment you're expected. Maybe that won't fly with your team, and you'll have to work on adding that final task back in, but there's some value in practicing the "drop everything I must be on time to this" skill. For many people, myself included, that is a learned skill. The advanced-level skill is determining which tasks take priority over which meetings, but for that decision to be effective, you have to practice the level-1 skill of showing up at the meeting on time no matter what.
posted by aimedwander at 1:03 PM on December 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

For the end of day meeting, spend a week emphasizing being on time or one minute early.

I would go even further than this and say that you should set a goal of being 15-30 minutes early to the meeting.

In the mornings, when I'm getting ready for work, I set "reminder" alarms on my phone at various intervals. For example, it takes me 30-45 minutes of staring at my computer before I'm functional enough to get dressed/put on makeup/etc. So, I have my multiple wake up alarms, and then I have a "you should start getting ready" alarm set for 45 minutes after I wake up. I also have a 5 minute warning alarm, set for 5 minutes before I need to leave, and then I have a "You should already be out the door" alarm.

Another thing I have to be very conscious of is that I'm bad at predicting how long certain things will take. For example, I tend to ignore the time it takes to gather up my stuff and get from my apartment to the car, for example, which is actually the main reason why I have a 5 minute warning alarm set.

Also, for anything really important, I just plan on being ridiculously early. It's the only way to ensure I'm actually on time, especially if it's the kind of thing where you don't want to be sliding in at the last possible second.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:33 PM on December 6, 2016

I still struggle with this, but my greatest success has been to write my to-do lists on paper in a way that is both comprehensive and flexible--if I didn't clean this on Tuesday, I will do it Wednesday and check it off then. I'm still working on an item from October, but it's marked on my planner and when I complete it I will go back, check it off, and unmark it as a to-do. It is immensely satisfying to check/unmark items, so I work towards that pleasure.

I also build in the leisurely time-wasting things in my planner. Right between "pay rent" and "send thing to person" is "complete 5 levels in Two Dots." Relaxation is important, and it's a productive time in its own way. Building it into your plans is a good protection against the shame-spiral that often comes with wasting time on random crap.
posted by witchen at 3:08 PM on December 6, 2016

I strongly recommend the (cheap) book Getting Things Done. I have ADHD, and have been working on it for a long, long time now, and the only two things that have really helped me were 1) Adderall and 2) GTD. (In that order.)

With stimulant medication, it's really important to direct the ability for focus and sustained attention that it gives you. Example: A lot of people make the mistake of taking their meds, and then doing something while they "wait for them to kick in". I don't think that really works. If you're playing a video game when your meds kick in, you'll probably be playing a video game six hours later. I find it's a lot easier for me to find something productive I can start half-ass doing before my meds kick in, when I have my GTD next actions list to choose one from.

GTD is made for everyone, but the kind of skills it gives you a system to automate and make into superpowers, are exactly the skills that are deficient in us ADHD folks.

My final GTD tip is to keep it simple. I've personally never made it work in an electronic system, and I don't know anyone who has, so I strongly recommend you take the advice to use paper for your organization. I also encourage you to trust the advice in general; when I've disagreed intuitively w/ the author, and chosen to do something a "better" way, in each case I've eventually realized I was wrong and he was actually right.
posted by teatime at 3:36 PM on December 6, 2016

The only problem that I'm going to address here is that you are, without a doubt, cleaning too hard. Whether it's setting a hard time limit on cleaning tasks or learning to accepted a state of "clean" that would not normally be your choice, you need to spend less time on each cleaning task.

As far as solutions, here are some ideas:
1. Get a tiny little notebook and pen, and start filling it up with "creative" project ideas whenever they come to you. Try to write down three ideas during project time before you start on one. Maybe your second or third idea will be more realistic that day, but you can keep the others for later.
2. Consider working on your "projects" before doing the daily cleaning (if that's possible). It seems like you like the cleaning (can you come to my house, please?), so it should be the reward for finishing other things.
3. It's a less efficient way to do things, but what if you forced yourself to alternate through tasks? Sweep for 5 minutes, dust for 5 minutes, scrub toilets for 5 minutes, repeat. If you "touch" all of the cleaning tasks a couple of times in an hour, say, I bet you will be able to get everything to a "pretty good" state, and then you can say "ok, cleaning done for the day, what's next?"
4. Related to all the above, you definitely need a watch, but you don't need to be rescheduling yourself every hour.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:45 PM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

One thing I've been doing about things like this is not to schedule them. Instead, I've been estimating the time it will take to complete each task, then comparing those with reality after I'm done. It's been a bit of an eye opener, where before I thought nothing of throwing 8-10 items down on my daily todo list, but I figured out that I can really only accomplish one, maybe two, of the ones that are estimated at 2+ hours, so scheduling 14 hours of tasks for a day when I am waking up at 10am is not realistic, especially since I'm lazy.

It sounds like your work schedule is a bit more regimented than that, though, so I'd recommend starting at the perfectionism side of things. You know the saying, "good enough never is?" Well, for a perfectionist it kind of is. Start quarter-assing it a little bit, because that's still probably 50% better than anybody else. Timebox a little , "only 20min for this one."
posted by rhizome at 4:44 PM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had to give up paper to do lists because it was always in a different room. found Google Keep. I love it.

I have it on my smartphone which I keep at a small table next to my chair where I read and watch movies at night. On my smartphone it is easier to move each item to the top to make it a priority. On the desktop app in my office it is buggier. but that's ok because I can sit there in the evening and drag items to the top by priority. this is a real problem - being able to prioritize things you have to do when they all look equally like emergencies. Keep makes this SO much easier than a paper list.

I have 4 main lists. shopping, my personal, my work, my partner's list. on my partner's list I put everything that is supposedly his responsibilty even if I know I will have to do it just so my personal list is not so daunting. if you finish a one time task you can delete it or if it is recurring you can just check it and it will be at the bottom ready to be unchecked in the future.

the main problem Keep solved is being able to access my list from anywhere but to be able to easily prioritize tasks is hUGE. you can also easily share a list with someone. so if you go to the store you can be like "did Jane already pick up the green mango powder? I'll just check our Keep shared list"

also, I can prioritize lists - if I have nothing on my shopping list I can un-pin it and it won't show up at the top.

*I do not work for Google.
posted by cda at 6:18 PM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I used to do housekeeping for a couple ladies. After a couple instances of it taking 16+ hours to clean about 1200 sq ft, including a kitchen and 1.5 bathrooms, I had to change how I was cleaning. I made "Finished Not Flawless" my mantra. Then I made a list of all the "projects" I wanted to do, things like scrubbing down the oven hood, pulling out the washer and dryer to clean behind, cleaning light fixtures, scrubbing baseboards, etc. I allowed myself to do one of those deep cleaning projects a week, even though my brain wanted me to do them all right now.

Then, the super hard part: actually sticking to it. I had to remind myself over and over that I only had to get things "Employer Clean," not "The Almighty Mommy Goddess Clean." In other words, I only had to clean to her expectations, not mine. I'd time myself doing a task, then the next time, I tried to beat that time. And through it all, I was repeating to myself, "Finished Not Flawless, Finished Not Flawless, Finished Not Flawless, Finished Not Flawless..."
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 8:07 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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