Time Management & Organization

Lew Mills, PhD, MFT

For adults, time management and keeping organized are often the lingering symptoms of ADHD that extend past our childhood. Getting a handle on these skills is usually a priority for ADHD adults. A good place to start is a good book.

There are two kinds of books for "Time Management" and "Organization." Knowing the difference may be the most important thing you can learn. The difference is this: Some of authors know that you have ADHD, and others don't get it. When an author gets it, you'll harvest the three nuggets I have laid out for you below.

The nuggets are:

  1. Know yourself and work with who you are.
  2. Keep it simple.
  3. Don't fight yourself.

Let's start with the authors who don't get it about ADHD. A typical approach to procrastination, for example, is to suggest that you take a look at the unconscious reasons why you might delay important work. Are you anxious about failure? Are you afraid of success? Do you think that if you are successful, you will have to live up to unrealistically high expectations from now on? Those could be interesting questions, but for the ADHD adult, it is the wrong place to start.

Here's what really matters. If you have ADHD, you don't see time the way others do. You don't spread it out on a line, in equal minute increments, one following the next at a constant speed. Yes, you know that this is the way everyone says you are supposed to think about time, but that is not how you do it.

No amount of cajoling about getting an earlier start is likely to be helpful in changing this pattern. (I am writing this expert opinion on this matter about three hours after I should have finished it up. Trust me: knowing better doesn't count for much!)

Which brings me to a test for those authors who "don't get it." If a book suggests that you should just try harder and get started earlier, you should save your time by not reading it. You have probably already "tried harder" repeatedly. The suggestion that you "try harder at trying harder" this time is nonsensical.

So nugget #1 is that you need to understand how these things work for you, not for some ideal person. Learn about yourself and accept what you learn. Work with how you are, not how you should be. The good news is that there are ways to work with the kind of person you are. Good books show you how.

Here's another clue that you are on the wrong track. Your book's project plan to get you organized is detailed in chapters 33 through 39. You now embark on the 18 step, process. You pick up the 23 items you'll need at four different stores and lay them out on your living room floor, by categories. You have made a special note of 14 things to keep in mind as you proceed to get organized…

I'm sorry! If you got this far, you may not have ADHD. Go check out the Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder website. Getting organized for a pwADHD (person with ADHD) has to be simple.

So here is nugget #2: Do it slow and simple. It actually takes years to learn to organize yourself and manage time. Don't expect to get it done in a weekend. It is worth it, but know that you are in for the long run, and take it easy.

Now, here is a part that is most difficult and has the biggest payoffs. Nugget #3 is, "Don't fight yourself." Why would you fight yourself? Who knows! But we do fight with ourselves constantly, and we usually lose!

A quality that often comes with ADHD is a penchant for fighting with "authority." Most rules just seem stupid to a person with ADHD. Maybe it's true and lots of rules are stupid. But we can't let it go. We have to show everyone how stupid those rules are. Rule-makers don't enjoy this much and often have the power to make us suffer for sharing our wisdom.

But therein is the tougher challenge. When we try to organize ourselves, try to manage our time and so on, we are managing ourselves. What? I just became a "manager" and a rule-maker? That's right!

Now that you are a manager, this is your chance to make the kind of rules that work, not stupid ones, not the ones that a person would resent. You need patterns and structures that help you get things done. Those are rules. You don't need new ways to punish yourself when you break your own rules.

So reward yourself when you get it right. When you screw it up completely, make your failure into a success. When you procrastinate, remind yourself that you had a good time doing it. When you take a break, go do something fun! Get off your back. Make the best of what you were able to do, forgive yourself, and move on.

We do constantly disappoint ourselves, as we do others. But it just doesn't do any good to punish yourself for it. Self-recrimination wastes energy. Skip fighting with yourself, have a reasonable break, and then go back to work for a self-"manager" that you like! You don't need more "self-discipline." You need some "self-reward."

That's nugget #3. Don't fight with yourself. Catch yourself doing something right and give yourself a raise.

Remember nugget #1? Know yourself and work with who you are. And #2: Keep it simple.

OK. I think that a few good books are in order. I have created a few links on the CHADD website where you can look up books that are specifically geared toward ADHD adults. Check out which resonates best for you. Don't buy them all today, right? Just get a start on it. Read the introduction and leave it out on your kitchen table, where you can see it. A good book will come back to you.

FEATURED: Time Management and Organization Books

Time Management for Unmanageable People
by Ann McGee-Cooper, Duane Trammell (Contributor)

ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life
by Judith Kolberg, Kathleen Nadeau, Sam Goldstein

View from the Cliff: A Course in Achieving Daily Focus
by Lynn Weiss

You Don't Have to Go Home from Work Exhausted!: A Program to Bring Joy, Energy, and Balance to Your Life
by Ann McGee-Cooper, Duane Trammell (Contributor), Barbara Lau (Contributor)

Organizing for the Creative Person
by Dorothy Lehmkuhl, Dolores Cotter Lamping (Contributor)

More ideas:

Creative Commons License This work by Lew Mills is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License