Are You an Adult ADHD Procrastinator or a Time Optimist?
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 began helping her design initial ADHD coaching strategies to better manage these challenges.
Time Management Is a Common Problem for ADHD Adults
For this client, like many ADHD adults, she struggles with feelings of being overwhelmed; racing to finish things at the last minute, feeling 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 half-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” can also 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.
Time Management Solutions Prove Helpful
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 accomplish everything we think we can or “should” do that 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 feeling overwhelmed 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?
Dupar, L. (2011, September 1). Are You an Adult ADHD Procrastinator or a Time Optimist?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2011/09/are-you-an-adult-adhd-procrastinator-or-a-time-optimist
Author: Laurie Dupar, PMHNP, RN, PCC
Funny, when we are planning to do a task or go somewhere, my husband will say, "That'll take about 20 minutes," at the same time that I am saying "40". We joke that he's too optimistic. Also, I am a parenting coach, I observe families, and I ask parents to observe how long certain tasks take. For example, it takes 10 minutes just to get in the car!
I have been both - these days, if I'm going to mismanage time, I definitely procrastinate. I was thrilled when, in treatment for PTSD, I discovered how long time takes. Now I can manage everyday activities like grocery store trips and commuting pretty well by slightly overestimating how long it will take. Often, my work tasks trick me, because I can't find the motivation to start them too far in advance of the deadline. Then time gets away from me and suddenly I'm hustling to get done - which is "OK" because I work better under pressure. I am practicing keeping a to-do list - which is very stream-of-consciousness - and then once or twice a day organizing my to-do list into an actual timeline to make sure I block out enough time.
I am definitely a time optimist!! These are great tips for those of us who aren't officially ADHD, but who have filled our schedules so full that we react in exactly the same way. Thank you!
Hi Gile! Yes, it never ceases to amaze me that we all benefit from some simple planning reminders. Time optimist...huh? What do you try to get done in an hour? :)