Productivity for Adults with ADHD


“Where did my day go?!?”

This is a common lament among adults with executive function challenges, especially now that so many of us are working from home, and our daily routines are off-kilter.

Without commutes and Little League practices, we may feel like we have more time — but that doesn’t mean we should fill every minute doing “stuff.” The key to effective time management is in our relationship with time itself. Making smart choices doesn’t mean adding in more activities, but improving the ways we choose to spend the time we have.

We can think of time the same way we think of money. We are constantly advised to invest, to set an emergency fund, to track our expenses, and to spend our money with intention. So why not invest and bank our time more intentionally as well?

You wouldn’t spend the day idly dropping dollar bills around the house, but chances are that you often waste valuable bits of time each day – in the grip of social media or gaming, scrolling though endless streaming content, procrastinating, or mindlessly perusing the fridge for the tenth time. Before you know it, the day is over and you guiltily settle into the couch for a binge watch before bed, vowing to do better next time. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. But there is a way out.

8 Strategies to Use Your Time Wisely

1. Conduct a Time Inventory

For two or three days, keep an hour-by-hour journal of how you spend your time. That includes work, exercise, meals, social media — even procrastination and avoidance.

[Click to Read: How to Get Things Done Without Getting Bogged Down]

Then, without judgment or self-criticism, review:

  • Where did your time go each day? How was it spent?
  • What times of day were the most productive?
  • When was your brain least energized? When was little accomplished?
  • Where were the pockets of “wasted time” that could be used more intentionally?

By really examining your time inventory, you can see more clearly what exactly is getting in the way.

2. Create a New Daily Plan

Planning your day is like mapping out a trip to an unknown destination. You wouldn’t set out on an adventure without a GPS to guide you – so don’t start your day without one.

Using what you observed in your time inventory, create a new and improved plan, starting with a list of everything you need to accomplish that day. Follow up with those tasks or activities you want to accomplish. Now, establish a timeline, task by task, taking you through your day from start to finish. Try to arrange tasks in an order most likely to lead to success.

If exercise is something you will put off and then possibly abandon, do this first thing in the morning. Save calling your best friend or online shopping until the essential tasks are done. Streaming or gaming? Put off till evening. Be sure to schedule brain intensive activities for when your mind is at its sharpest. Save easy and more enjoyable tasks for when your mind is less resilient and your willpower is draining. Keep your daily plan visible, sticking it on the fridge or above your work computer.

[Read: “My Daily Schedule is in Tatters!” How to Build Routine and Boundaries Now]

3. Create Time Intentionality

Make it a habit to stop and think before starting an activity – is this intentional? Am I choosing to jump on Instagram or clean out the kitchen junk drawer, or is it a result of avoidance or boredom?

Picture a jellyfish in the ocean, bobbing and drifting through the water, versus a salmon, swimming upstream toward its singular goal. Are you being pulled mindlessly through your day, drifting this way and that by impulses and whims, or intentionally moving forward, choosing each task and activity according to your goals and larger daily plan?

Taking a quick Candy Crush break or stopping to play with the dog during a busy day is not a bad thing if you are intentionally choosing to do so. The problem is when these activities become distractions and avoidance mechanisms.

4. Prioritize

If you could do one new thing with the time in your day, what would it be? Maybe it’s a hobby, craft, or learning a musical instrument. Writing letters or reconnecting with friends or family. Maybe it is doing absolutely nothing at all! Take one of those ideas and intentionally work into your weekly schedule a short, dedicated block of time for it.

5. Schedule Time for “Dreaded” Tasks

Calling a doctor’s office, paying bills, cleaning the bathroom – we all have chores we avoid and often waste precious time putting off. Schedule specific “appointment” times in your daily schedule for these tasks and then just get them done.

6. Establish Task and Time Goals

The ADHD brain often see-saws between the extremes of inattention and hyperfocus, depending on the activity. Setting goals and limits helps you stay focused and flexible.

Establish a time limit and set an alarm before starting an enjoyable task into which you might get sucked. Likewise, set a work or time goal for obligations you dislike. Committing to “I’ll write just one page of this report” or “I need to spend 30 minutes on my taxes before I have lunch” cuts through procrastination and moves you forward toward your larger goal.

7. Schedule in Down Time and Regular Breaks

Walks in nature, reading, watching a sun set, listening to music, even just gazing out the window – a regular, daily “downtime” block, no matter how small, goes a long way toward a healthier lifestyle.

We are prone to overlook breaks when we feel we’ve spent time inefficiently or that we’ve wasted it with mindless activities. But our brains need to be regularly recharged, even for just 5 or 10 minutes, so be sure to plan in regular breaks during the day.

8. Anticipate Roadblocks

What’s most likely to hijack your time and energy and pull you off track? Phone or internet? Friends or family requests? Avoidance around difficult tasks? All of these distractions can get in the way, making it harder to return to your daily plan.

Technology has become the number one distraction in most of our lives. If this is true for you, set firm limits around your use of gaming, social media, and streaming content by intentionally scheduling short blocks of screen time into your day, preferably after all obligations are complete. Turn off alerts and badges on your smartphone and, if possible, practice putting your phone away for longer durations before checking for messages.

Work emails can also be a time drain. Schedule in one or two email “read and respond” sessions a day, and then forget them about them in between.

Changing our habits around time and how we spend it can take effort, but with persistence and practice, investing more wisely in each day can become part of a more balanced and healthy lifestyle that leaves more time for the things we truly enjoy.

Use Your Time Wisely: Next Steps


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Updated on February 26, 2021





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