4 ADHD time management strategies that actually work

time management for adhd

It’s no secret that people with ADHD often struggle with time management. Hyperfocus can leave you with little time to address the less-enthralling tasks on your list. Distractions can kill your productivity. This article will offer four time management tips to help you get things done even with ADHD as well as some tools that can help improve your time management. 

How to manage time with ADHD

1. Become friends with deadlines

Deadlines are every procrastinator’s worst enemy. Or are they? According to ADDitude mag, deadlines are actually neurologically useful to brains with ADHD. A deadline brings your main task into focus while boosting your adrenaline, both of which can help shift you into hyperfocus and harness your ADHD as a superpower rather than a hindrance. 

Sportswriter Dave Hogg finds impending deadlines to be very helpful for his ADHD. “It is why I'm a sportswriter,” he told me.

If no one is imposing deadlines on you, it’s time to do the job yourself. Set a deadline for anything you really want to get done. Then, write it down somewhere you can’t miss. If possible, set reminders so you don’t forget. 

To make deadline setting even more powerful, combine it with time blocking your calendar. Whatever the task is, create an event in your calendar, name it after the task, and make it as long as it will take to complete. If it will take multiple sessions, block them all off on your calendar. 

2. Reward yourself

Another way to cajole your ADHD brain into optimal time management is to reward yourself for completing a task. So often we think about punishments for not doing something. And while fearing punishments might work to motivate us sometimes, neuroscience research indicates that rewards might actually be more motivating than threats of punishment. Fearing negative consequences is a pretty painful way to achieve productivity. If rewards work better, and are more fun, why not try that instead?

Hogg also uses little rewards to motivate himself. He told me he tells himself, "If you get 30 minutes done on this, you can look at something fun online."

A trick I use is to set a 45-minute timer on my desktop. While the timer is going, I’m not allowed to open Tweetdeck. But if I stay on-task the whole time, I can tweet away for a few minutes when it’s over. 

3. Earn your own trust

Visakan Veerasamy is a writer and YouTuber who manages to get a ton of writing done despite, or perhaps in part because of, his ADHD. He suggests people with ADHD work on developing trust in themselves by setting small commitments and then following through. 

Without effective coping strategies, many people with ADHD will miss deadlines and disappoint people. This leads to a vicious cycle where we don’t expect to follow through on our word because we haven’t in the past. So we just repeat the cycle endlessly unless we take active steps to break it. 

The best way to start is small and the best time to start is now. Build trust in yourself by setting small goals and accomplishing them. Try putting an event on your calendar to take a walk between 2:15 and 2:30 today or tomorrow. Then, when the time comes, just do it. Whether or not you take a 15-minute walk one afternoon might not make any difference in the grand scheme of things. But the fact that you said you would do it and then did it will start to build up your confidence in your ability to follow through on what you say you will do. 

4. Look for patterns

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to remember many of the times when you were unproductive or neglected a task or project? It would be easy to conclude from this that you’re just a lazy, unproductive person. But that’s not giving yourself enough credit. As it turns out, most people have an easier time remembering times they failed than times when they succeeded. This is part of a bigger cognitive bias called negativity bias

To combat it, instead of focusing on times when you were unproductive, think about times you were in the zone and working efficiently. What did these times have in common? Was it a particular time of day, kind of task, subject matter? When you find patterns in your peak performance you can more reliably get into those flow states. And you can arrange your day around peak productivity.

ADHD time management tools

Many people find it useful to implement the Pomodoro technique for staying on-task for long stretches of time. The key is the built-in breaks that make focus a little more manageable. There are many great Pomodoro timer apps that can help automate the process for maximum productivity. Try combining your Pomodoros with small rewards to keep you motivated. 

Another great tool for productivity with ADHD is a task manager. Writing down what you need to get done helps you stay on task. 

Larisa Berger, Director UX Design at HMBradley has ADHD and finds to-do lists useful. “I keep multiple lists for different aspects of my life,” Larisa said. “For me that’s: job / life / music / design.” She also keeps a list she calls “intention capture.” She writes down ideas that pop into her head when she’s working on other things so she doesn't forget them or let them derail her current work. “It’s been critical for me to capture ideas as they fly past without letting them interrupt my flow,” she said.

Another great tool for people with ADHD is Clockwise. Part of good time management is staying on-task. And that’s extra hard when you’re constantly being interrupted by meetings. Clockwise reworks your work calendar to automatically open up long blocks of time to go deep on a task. 

Going forward

Time management is different when you have ADHD. But it’s not necessarily worse, as long as you have the right habits, systems, and tools in place. The key is to work with your brain, not against it. Deadlines, rewards, trust-building, and pattern-matching can all help you manage your time, and your stress, better going forward.

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