Make Time Visible to Make it Manageable

Professor Russell Barkley is one of the foremost researchers in the field of ADHD. His theory on ADHD and Executive Function (EF) was first published in 1997, and he has recently refined it. The link to his fact sheet is provided at the end of this post.

According to Professor Barkley's theory ADHD is essentially a disorder of self-regulation, a process that relies on Executive Functions (such as working memory, internalisation of language, manipulating information to plan ahead, and the regulation of emotions). These Executive Functions start to develop in infants, and are visible at first. For example, toddlers talk themselves through actions as they complete them, and manipulate blocks to understand shape and space. However, by adulthood, EFs are invisible to others. They occur in mental form, allowing people to engage in them privately. ADHD prevents this internalisation from occurring efficiently. For example, people with ADHD experience great difficulty representing and manipulating information held in their minds. They also have what Professor Barkley calls "Time Myopia". Their actions are controlled by their immediate context, rather than future deadlines or events. It makes sense, therefore, to make time visible to those with ADHD, in order to help them use it effectively.

I once read a quote by Dr Ed Hallowell (co-author of Driven to Distraction). He stated that time was invented to divide days into chunks, which help people to plan their actions. However, when people have ADHD, he said, "time is a black hole that swallows you". Experts agree that ADHD is not a disorder of knowing. It is a disorder of DOING what you know you should do, when you should do it. It is important to teach people with ADHD to manage time by making it visible, and by creating a visible environment which will enable them to do what they know. Because everybody with ADHD is unique, as an ADHD coach, I work with clients to custom-design the best system to suit their situation. Here are 5 tips to get you started:

1. Buy a diary / planner / organiser / app and USE it.

I have lost count of the number of people with ADHD I have met who purchase a diary and never use it. It is essential to keep track of your time commitments, and in order to do so, you need to use a medium that suits you. If you're not a paper-person, get an electronic system going. Use an electronic planner, smartphone app, internet calendar and enter your appointments, social events, and projects. This will reduce your tendency to "take on too much". People who don't have a clear idea of their commitments are far more likely to agree to more work ("I'm busy anyway - I can get it done"). They also lull themselves into a false sense of available time. For example, if they have something due in a week, they assume that they have a week to complete it. In fact, they sometimes have just a small window of opportunity between other commitments, which they miss. And then they pull an all-nighter to get things done.

2. Tune into sounds to get your morning routine running smoothly

Mornings can be challenging for some. I've had clients who wake up really early, but still can't get to work on time. Somehow their internal clock goes absent between 6am and 8am, as time swallows them in a continuous stream of unnecessary but appealing tasks. Using a wind-up kitchen timer to ring at 15 minute intervals can help in these situations. Make a list of essential items that will get you out of the door, and check it each time the timer rings. That way, if you get distracted, the most time you will lose is 15 minutes. My friend Liz suggested using a radio station to provide prompts in the morning. If you tune your ear in to the news bulletins / "tears on toast" / joke of the day / traffic reports, which occur at roughly the same time each day, they can help keep you on track.

3. Set regular reminders to mark time passing

If you have a problem staying on track at work or at home, set a regular reminder on a computer programme or app to bring you back to the present and check your to-do list. For example, a Microsoft Outlook alarm can be "snoozed" at specific intervals. Apps like 30/30 can be programmed to cycle reminders at different time intervals. If necessary, leave the reminder device across the room so that you have to get up from your desk to switch it off.

4. Change up the sounds

Of course, most reminders can become part of life's soundtrack after a while, and we don't even hear them. To avoid this, change the sounds at regular intervals. For example, choose a different alert tone on your app, or have a selection of alarms which you can cycle through when you become accustomed to their sounds.

5. Choose to change

The best laid plans can go wrong, but making a commitment to change increases your chance of success. An unproductive day due to "Time Myopia" is frustrating. Choosing to ignore your sound reminders is stubborn. If you are tempted to ignore a reminder, ask yourself: "How will this choice help me?" Stick that question up where you can see it.

Work to find the sounds and systems that best suit you. And persevere. Don't beat yourself up about a bad day. Instead, celebrate the good days, and reward yourself for them. Let me know how you go, or contact me if you think I can help you to identify the best system for you.

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