Growing up I would visit my grandfather on his farm in Eastern Washington State. It was a small but fascinating place to me because at the top of each hour the house would be filled with the sounds and bobbing heads from the numerous cuckoo clocks my grandfather collected.
On rare occasions my brother, sister and I would be invited up the narrow staircase to the attic which had been transformed by hundreds of clocks of every shape and size. Cuckoo clocks, mantle clocks, wall clocks, ships clocks, grandfather clocks, grandmother clocks, even pocket watches…all meticulously catalogued and cared for by my grandfather. I remember waiting those last long minutes before the big hand on the clocks reached twelve when the attic would be filled with the cacophony of sounds from every cuckoo, chime, and clock gong imaginable. Pure magic.
Years later when my grandfather died I was honored with a gift of some of his clocks and to this day they sit next to me as I work… alongside my own clocks I have begun to collect.
When I understood that ADHD was genetic, this “hobby” of my grandfather’s made even more sense. In his day without the technology of iPhone or timers, his interest in clocks probably emerged from his own challenge with time.
Time is a finite resource. As much as we would like to solve the problem of “not enough time” by adding another hour or two to the day, it is not possible. Eventually we are still limited by this fixed, yet allusive commodity.
Time robbers are those “things” that steal valuable time away from us. Some of these time robbers are imposed upon us by others or circumstances, and are less in our control. Other time robbers are self-inflicted. In other words, we allow our valuable time to be stolen. Whether time is lost to other people, an unexpected situation or something we cause ourselves, we still can minimize the damage.
Here are three of the biggest time robbers and some ideas on what we can do about them:
Interruptions– Life is full of unexpected surprises, often in the form of interruptions. Some of these are completely unnecessary, while some are necessary, but simply come at an inconvenient time. The solution to minimizing the time lost or stolen by these interruptions is to prepare for them.
For an unnecessary interruption, such as when a person interrupts you and it is their emergency not yours, it is important to give yourself permission to set boundaries. Quickly saying “I am busy”, or “we need to find another time to sort this out” or “how can we solve this in the shortest time possible” will work. Having these phrases in your back pocket to use when interruptions are unnecessary, and can be handled at a later time, limit the time wasted.
Raising my four children, preparing for interruptions by being clear about what was and what wasn’t an emergency or necessary was crucial to my sanity.
I set clear rules about interruptions. It was necessary for my work. First I prepared them for when I needed uninterrupted time, letting them know when and when I would not be unavailable. I used timers so we all knew the parameter. After that in my house, interruptions were allowed only in the case of an “emergency”. “Emergency” meaning there was blood and/or someone was not breathing or both.
Being clear about rules, definitions and boundaries can save you a tremendous amount of time when an interruption is about to knock on your door.
Waiting-So much time can be wasted while we are waiting for someone or something. This time robber is one of the most frustrating because it feels like we are at the mercy of someone else’s schedule, senseless request or disorganization. It can often be downright painful for people with ADHD to wait. The trick is to not waste time while we’re waiting.
First, if waiting involves someone else, be sure to tell the other person your need for promptness. It’s okay to tell someone you are in a hurry or have only a certain amount of time to wait.
I have used this strategy when I have waited an extended length of time in a doctor’s office. I really believe that if they expect me to be on time, that anytime my wait is longer than 15 minute I reschedule. This may seem severe, certainly surprises the receptionist, but I’d rather reschedule, enjoy the gift of the extra time then continue with the appointment frustrated.
Another way to deal with the time robber of waiting, is to take advantage of the time or use it for what you want.
During my “Mom Taxi years” of driving my kids back and forth to school, activities, sports, etc., I began to resent the hours I spent waiting. So instead I created my own “survival car kit”. I always made sure it was stocked with a really good book , a notepad for jotting down ideas, and even a ball of yarn and crochet hook so I could whip off another granny square to donate to my church’s afghan brigade.
Planning ahead with things to do while you wait, is less painful, will help pass the time faster, and is more valuable than worrying or getting angry about things that are out of your control.
Time Optimism– Some would say that procrastination is the greatest time robber, however, equal to the time actually lost putting something off, is the time lost when we take too much on.
Time optimists classically have what I see as “can do” attitude and use phrases such as “it will just take 5 minutes” or “just this one more thing”. Simply, because they know they can get it all done, they pile on a superhero’s to do list, get most but not all of it done and at the end of the day look back and feel they were not productive. Sound familiar???
At the core of time optimism is the common challenge people with ADHD have of estimating how much time something will actually take to do. Time optimists underestimate the time it will take to complete a task, to run an errand, or get something done. Inevitably one task runs over into another, to dos are skipped and time runs out. Now in complete overwhelm, the Time optimist stays up all hours of the night still thinking they should be able to get it all done.
Staying out of this overwhelm is essential to protecting our time.
When we actually know how long something takes to do, it allows us to plan, break larger tasks into smaller tasks with more actually being accomplished.
If you think you might be a “time optimist” try keeping a “ time log” for even a few days…track when you actually start something and when you actually finish it…you may be amazed at how different time “feels” than how you use it. Most people find that tasks take them about twice as long as they estimated or allowed.
The love of clocks I learned from my grandfather and the fascination with time, remains with me to this day. Having ADHD sometimes means that we have a different sense of time than others but it doesn’t mean our time is less precious. Being limited to only 24 hours in a day may not seem like enough…but protecting those hours from time robbers is how you set yourself free.