Focus, business woman and graphic designer on computer in office at table working on deadline. Creative, serious and professional at desk, editing software and retouching project in startup at night
Have you ever been told to ‘just try time management’? If you’ve got ADHD, it’s likely that you’ve tried every time management hack in the world, but none of them seem to work.
We often know what to do, we just can’t do it. Having a brain that only experiences time as ‘now’ or ‘not now’ can make it extremely difficult to plan ahead, organise our time, or prioritise our work. This is linked with the 30% developmental delay in executive functioning skills such as memory, self-awareness, and motivation - it is not your fault.
Having a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes means that we might zoom ahead on the things we’re interested in, but crash into walls when we need to slow down. At work, this can be extremely difficult as we try to juggle endless competing demands.
As neurotypical solutions don’t work for neurodivergent brains, here’s 3 ADHD-friendly time management hacks to thrive at work:
1) Hack your interest based nervous system
People with ADHD have interest based nervous systems, which means we thrive off interest, adrenaline, and novelty. By understanding what interests you, and how you can incorporate gamification and fun into planning ahead, you can stay one step ahead of procrastination by planning ahead.
As an ADHD Coach, I’m constantly supporting clients to figure out the ways that work best for them to manage their time - from colour blocking their work in their calendar in advance and wearing watches, to setting up calendar reminders and arranging weekly body doubling sessions to focus on the things they don’t want to do. You can also never have too many clocks around you!
As we have a limited number of ‘spoons’ of energy, it’s also sensible to hack your days by doing something you don’t want to do first thing in the morning. For me, this is going to the gym - I incorporate my interest based nervous system by sleeping in my gym clothes and finding accountability buddies!
2) Turn marathons into sprints
As our brains are constantly seeking dopamine and stimulation, we can turn long term projects into sprints by incorporating artificial deadlines and accountability. It’s much easier to work with short term goals that feel immediate and urgent, which can be harnessed with regular 1:1 meetings and dopamine boosts such as positive feedback celebrating our ‘wins’.
For example, I break down long term objectives into three month goals. Setting short term priorities can help us to break these down further, such as by setting weekly or daily goals, and to share these with another person for accountability, checking in on how it went at the end of the day.
Instead of trying to do everything on your to do list, picking just one thing to get done can help you to get started, overcoming the common challenge of ADHD decision paralysis.
Having visual reminders of short term sprints can be highly effective and motivate us to get them done, such as by visualising our progress with trackers. This also helps us remember what to not do - if something isn’t one of our sprint goals, it’s a ‘not now’! Writing down distractions or ideas in a notebook enables us to return to these when we review our next set of sprints.
3) Ask for help
Asking for help at work may feel overwhelming for people with ADHD, but it’s important to remember that you deserve to be supported - and this helps everybody! One highly effective technique for time management at work is by asking your team to use a briefing document for new work.
This sets out in a shared document what a project will involve, breaking objectives into short term actions, and scheduling any check ins with colleagues as needed. In general, it can be very helpful to have written instructions for everything in the workplace, and to regularly ask your manager what you should prioritise and how you will know when a piece of work is complete.
Having additional check ins is a common reasonable adjustment employers can implement to help employees with ADHD to manage their time effectively. This could be with a colleague, or externally with an ADHD Coach, for example.
Ultimately, it’s important to have a foundation of psychological safety at work to empower you to feel safe enough to focus on the ‘not now’. Having colleagues who clearly set out expectations and support you to ‘do what you know’ empowers you to use your super whizzy brain within a structure of safety and support.
It might feel like we’re surviving from day to day, but creating an environment tailored to our brains can enable us to use these unique traits to thrive at work because of our ADHD, not in spite of it.