As an ADHD life coach, I get to work with some of the most amazingly creative adults living with ADHD every day. This week I met with a new client to talk about how ADHD was impacting her life and begin helping her design initial ADHD coaching strategies to better manage these challenges.
For this client, like many ADHD adults, she struggles with overwhelm, racing to finish things at the last minute, felt disorganized and frustrated at not being able to complete everything on her “to do” list. When experiencing these common ADHD behaviors, most adults will negatively label themselves as a “procrastinator”. However, this young woman used a more positive term I had never heard before. She described herself as ”a time optimist”! She confidently planned her day full of “things to do” and when she found herself being constantly late…to work…to bed…to appointments…to unmet deadlines she figured she just needed more time.
Knowing whether you procrastinate (put things off to the last minute) or are a “time optimist” (underestimating the amount of time you have to do things) is important. When we procrastinate we are motivated by the urgency of the deadline. The “time optimist” on the other hand typically misjudges the amount of time actually needed to accomplish even normal everyday tasks.
Most people aren’t aware that lack of “time awareness” is a common symptom of ADHD in Adults. It includes, the inability to estimate how long a task will take to complete. For instance we might plan for the ½ hour commute to work, but don’t take into account the extra time that is needed to get out the door, parking and slow elevators. The result, racing to work, being late…feeling overwhelmed. The challenge ADHD adults have with “time awareness” also can affect their ability to sense the passage of time. For instance 5 minutes can feel like 2 hours and 2 hours can feel like 5 minutes. So, we sit down to answer that one email before we leave the house and 20 minutes later we are racing to get to work….late again…unaware of where the time went. Some ordinarily intelligent adults with ADHD even describe this challenge with “time awareness” as not being able to remember the day of the week, the months of the year or even seasons of the year in order. For some adults with ADHD it even affects their ability to recall certain time periods of their life.
Understanding that this is just one of the many ways that ADHD can challenge our lives is the first step. For many “time optimists” keeping a log for a couple of weeks of when and how long it is really taking us to complete everyday life tasks is a huge eye opener. More often than not we underestimate how long something will take and end up being frustrated by not being able to accomplish more. What most discover after this exercise is that it would take a miracle of a 27 hour day, to get accomplish everything we think we can or “should” do on our list in a day. After discovering how long it REALLY takes to complete some of your “to do’s” you can then be more of a “time realist” when planning your day. Your “to do list” will be realistic and manageable and overwhelm won’t add to the frustration. Another strategy to help ADHD adults who have challenges with “time awareness” is to use what I call “external” reminders. Basically, clocks everywhere! Clocks and timers with alarms are even better. Use analog clocks throughout your home and workplace…set the alarms on your phone…wear a watch with a timer. Having all these reminders is what seems to help the best with keeping aware of the passage of time, learning how long something really takes to do and creating a realistic plan. “Procrastinator” or “time optimist”, which one are you?