Recently we discussed strategies to help those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) overcome the disorganization and excuse making so common to those with ADHD. Strategies to improve these areas included both physical and mental activities that make a big difference. (You can view that article HERE.)

The series continues in this article where we will address the issue of time management. Poor time management not only affects those with ADHD but also everyone who must interact with them. Parents, teachers, children, spouses, co-workers, and even doctors frequently express frustration when the person is continually late with seemingly little regard for what others need.

While time management is often taught as a kind of “just do it” campaign, the reality is more complicated. Those with ADHD aren’t trying to aggravate those in their life. There is a disconnect that must consciously be overcome.

Though lack of organization is one of the primary complaints of those that live and work with people with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), it is quickly followed by irritation over a lack of time management.

Children dilly-dally and miss the school bus. Parents forget to pick up their children or arrive late because they lost track of time. They are late for appointments and sometimes forget them entirely. Not only do these issues cause irritation among the individual’s loved ones, they can also cause problems for the individual (such as getting fired for constantly being late to work).

The concept of time is an agreed upon social convenience that our society has understood for a long, long time. Once this parameter was in place, commerce could advance as well as progress in our civilization.

During present times, the clock often feels like an enemy. It can evoke fear when you must leave in 10 minutes but have 25 minutes’ worth of chores that need to be done before leaving the house.

For unique learners, it becomes even more difficult. Adults and children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a different rhythm and different sense of time. Time, however, must be respected. Living in the modern world demands timeliness no matter what your disability.

Reduced Sense of Time

Those with ADHD often have a reduced sense of time. In other words, they don’t have the internal awareness that informs the brain of how long something may take or how much time is passing.

Time management often isn’t a priority to those with ADHD, because they lack the sense of time to know they are misusing it. This is maddening for those who have a very strong sense of time and must interact with them.

It is important to remember that this reduced sense of time is a result of something happening within the body, not because of a character flaw or thought process on the part of a person with ADHD.

Ultimately, the interplay of space and time can be associated with our early understanding of rhythm. When these developmental building blocks don’t fall into place, the result is often issues with time management.

Introducing rhythm, sequencing, and timing at an early age will assist children as they mature and begin to function within the complex pace of modern society. Later in life, music, games, and activities that tap into rhythm allow rudimentary building blocks to reestablish and this can lead to improvement in processing rhythm, timing, and spatial concepts.

Try Differently

Those with ADHD may have an emotional response to time management. This is often impacted by a lifetime of judgment directed toward them by family members, friends, and authority figures who express impatience with the person’s lack of timeliness. The general belief held both by the person with ADHD and those around them is that they just need to try harder.

Other than exhausting attempts at time management that quickly fail, trying “harder” will never work for the person with ADHD. Rather, they must learn what works for them and try “differently”. There are strategies that will help, but they are far from what neurotypical people use to manage time.

The person with ADHD must accept that there is another way to learn time management that is better for the way their brain works – and forget what anyone else thinks about their new strategies.

The time management strategies suggested here are not meant to try to accomplish more and more in a given amount of time. Instead, the strategies will help the person with ADHD to improve their sense of time.

Make Technology Work For You Not Against You

Technology can be a huge distraction for people with ADHD. With their reduced sense of time, hours can slip by while they browse Pinterest, watch silly videos, or “catch up” with all their friends.

Technology can also be a wonderful tool when used wisely. You can take care of banking, order groceries, and pay bills in minutes. You are unlikely to lose your phone (at least not for long) and there is even an app that can help you find it again. This makes it much more likely that you will grab your phone to do the job for you which will help curb procrastination.

Calendar and reminders can help you stay on schedule with appointments and commitments. Get in the habit of entering a new appointment, the time you need to pick up your child from practice, or that task you wanted to complete immediately. Use the reminder and alarm features to not only bring the commitment to your attention but also to build in a margin for leaving at the right time.

There are many apps for your smartphone that will help you manage your time. Some are like a to-do list while others are more like an advanced alarm clock and announce how many minutes you have left before the appointed time. Check out this list of apps from ADDitude Magazine.

Here is a list from that will help you manage the time you spend on social media or other favorite apps.


A person’s ability to sense time is tightly connected with their sense of rhythm. Though some find this surprising, bouncing a ball, jumping rope or just clapping in a steady rhythm can have a dramatic effect on a person’s ability to sense time.

A simple but effective exercise is to take a small ball (which will bounce) in your hand. Release it and as it rebounds, and you catch it once again say a letter in the alphabet, a word, or a number.

Release, bounce, catch – A
Release, bounce, catch – B

And so on. Remember skipping rope as a child? Those rhyming songs were helping you to stay in rhythm longer and teaching your brain far more than how to jump rope.

How Long Does It Take?

Practice the concept of time by using a simple clock or timer during day to day activities. Set the timer on your phone or get a simple push button kitchen timer. As you use the timer, you will gain an internal and more intuitive feel for what 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 30 minutes feels like.

In 5 minutes you can do a final check of your apartment before leaving, grab your coat and shoes, work materials, and gym bag. Within a 10-minute time frame, you can make your bed and brush your teeth. Within a 30-minute time frame, you can make a quick sandwich and throw breakfast dishes in the dishwasher.

Use the timer when you drive to a usual destination such as the store or your workplace. If it normally takes 15 minutes to get from point A to point B, but sometimes it takes 20 minutes, plan on allowing 25 minutes every time.

Once these 5, 10, and 30-minute concepts are ingrained internally, begin to time yourself in more high-stress occasions, such as during work tasks or when running errands. Knowing the exact length of time it takes to complete a task or to run an errand can help you make a well-informed decision down the line. For example, given the length of time it takes to run to the grocery store to buy cream, it would be more efficient to substitute the milk that is available in your fridge for the cream called for in the recipe.

Mental Shifting

Faster progress can be made if the person with ADHD will attach emotions to time management. For example, as you employ the timer strategy, you will find yourself being early. Learn to enjoy the feeling of being early and give yourself a mental high-five. Decide to associate the awful feeling of being late with not leaving on time and the good feeling of being early with leaving at the right time. This strengthens the new habit very quickly.

Relaxation exercises can help with associating emotions with your actions as well as help refute irrational ideas that you may hold toward yourself regarding the need to “improve” in your ability to utilize time. (Bonus Content! Click HERE and HERE to get your free download of how to use affirmations and relaxation exercises.)

Like the progress that can be made with organization, time management tackled in one small area at a time begins to add up. By taking small, but consistent, steps, time management skills will improve. This often results in your overall quality of life improving. Each small success motivates you to try another.

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Suzanne Cresswell Administrator
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