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Why Am I Always Late? ADHD and Time Management

Reading time | 5 mins

Do you wait until the last minute to hand in a work or school assignment?

Are you consistently late for meetings, doctor’s appointments, even weddings?

Do you get penalized for getting your taxes or bills in late?

Do you have a love/hate relationship with deadlines?

Welcome to the world of ADHD, where our internal switch goes from “now” to “not now.”

If we’re not faced with a strict deadline, it might as well be two months from now that the report, bill payment, or article gets finished (or even started). And what finally gets you moving at the eleventh hour?

Usually it’s the last-minute panic that pushes you to get it done before the last possible second. Or, the reality sets in that you could lose your job, your relationship, or even your house, if you don’t take action.

Some adults with ADHD may have difficulty with time perception and reaction time — meaning that our understanding of how long something takes may be different than others’. This may be why some people with ADHD have problems with poor time management and fail to meet deadlines.

It’s not that you’re lazy, incompetent, or that you don’t care. It’s truly part of how your condition manifests. Your sense of time may be impaired. Experts in the field have coined this “time blindness.”

It’s no secret that we are easily distracted. Your noon lunch date with your old college friends can end up with you arriving just in time for dessert.

Imagine this scenario, so familiar to many adults with ADHD:

It’s 10 a.m. You’re reading your email. Then you remember you have a lunch date but suddenly realize you don’t have anything clean to wear. You rush to throw some things in the washing machine and notice that the kitty litter hasn’t been emptied in three weeks.

So, you hustle to take care of that. As you dump the litter in the trash, you remember that tomorrow is garbage day, so you figure now would be a good time to clean out the refrigerator.

As you start dumping out rotting food, you realize you’re out of bread and make a mental note to stop at the market later.

You return to your computer and check social media to see whose birthday is today and get caught up in the cute puppy videos, which you then send on to your friends. Someone posts about the terrible weather they’re having, so you check the local forecast and see it’s coming your way.

You remember you left your umbrella at the restaurant last night, so you call them to see if it’s still there.

It’s now noon and you suddenly remember your lunch date. Yet, your clothes are still in the washer, having totally forgotten to transfer them to the dryer.

Having ADHD means the scenario above is a common one.

Sure, lots of people lose track of time every now and then. But as an adult with ADHD, it’s a common occurrence that deeply affects your self-esteem. Seeped in a daydream or engrossing activity, two hours can pass and yet it can feel like only 20 minutes.

Difficulty tracking time can mean marathon-working late into the night, ruining relationships, and compromising your job and career.

It means parenting challenges (getting your child to his/her sports events and other extracurricular activities late; not getting their school paperwork signed and returned), and facing financial disasters thanks to overdue bills.

And so much more.

That doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel, though. There are many tips that will help you stay on top of your game, even when your brain wants to sabotage you.

Time Management Tips

Here are a few of my essential tips to effectively manage time when you’re living with ADHD:

  • Write in in your planner or calendar daily: where, what, when.
  • Check your planner throughout the day, three times minimum.
  • Use the reminder programs on your computer or phone, or purchase the many apps that are available to help you remember what you need to be doing.
  • Write and follow a daily to-do list.
  • My experience in working with adults with ADHD shows that visual reminders work well. Utilize post-it notes freely! Place them on your computer screen, your bathroom mirror, everywhere. One tip I often share for those who are time- challenged is to have sheets of paper in every room that say: WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING RIGHT THIS SECOND?
  • Instead of pacing yourself as to what time you need to be somewhere, ask yourself what time you need to leave. That’s a very different concept for many and can save you a lot of anguish.
  • Have everything done ahead of time. If you know you have to leave the house every morning for work at 8 a.m., don’t start making your lunch at 7:45 a.m. Make it the night before. Have your briefcase, purse, wallet, phone, keys, and other daily essentials in the same spot. Make that your landing pad. That way, you won’t be scrambling for your things and causing delays in leaving the house. Your landing pad could be a small basket at the edge of your kitchen counter or in a cubby near the door that leads to the garage.
  • If you’re more of a morning person, set your alarm a half-hour earlier so you can have more time to prepare for the day. Remember to go to bed a half-hour earlier!
  • Set multiple alarms to keep you going. For example, 6 a.m. to wake up, 7 a.m. to wake up the kids, 8 a.m. to get them out the door, etc.
  • Have a clock in every room so you always know what time it is.

Apps that may help

There are so many time-management apps now available. Here are some that I’ve found especially helpful for adults with ADHD:

The takeaway

Changing the way you manage your time doesn’t happen overnight. Be kind to yourself and figure out what works best for you. The ideas above are just starting points.

But once you take notice of how your brain works, you’ll be able to figure out strategies to help you stay on track and maybe even get to your next lunch date on time.

For more information on how to manage ADHD,  reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.