The Benefits of Working Backwards

Alarm ClockAs the days grow shorter and we face turning our clocks back an hour, it seems like a great ‘time’ to talk about the benefits of working backwards in the service of moving forwards. Backwards design means planning in reverse so that you can get to where you want to be in the future. Most people with ADHD have a great deal of trouble managing their time: they are often late, lose track of time or can’t estimate how long a task will take. These problems can be very frustrating to them and to the other people in their lives. The following tips for backwards design can improve time management painlessly and successfully!

1. Stop trying to plan your time from the front end. What this means is that you can’t begin thinking about how to arrive at an event from your current starting point. If it is 6:45 a.m. and you have to leave for school or work until 7:45 a.m., don’t think about how much you can do from now until then. “Oh, I have 30 minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, feed the cat and get my backpack (or briefcase) together. I have plenty of time to watch some tv first.” When you think about time in a forward manner, inevitably you underestimate how long things take and then run late.

2. In a calm moment, not in the midst of rushing around but likely afterwards, think about your targeted time for arriving at or departing from an event or completing a task. Then, starting with THAT time, work backwards, assigning increments of time to the various steps that you have to do. If we use the example from Step 1, this would look like: “Ok, I need to leave by 7:45 and before that I have to pack my backpack (or briefcase) which takes about 5 minutes, feed the cat which takes about 5 minutes, brush my teeth which takes about 5 minutes, make and eat breakfast which takes about 15 minutes, get dressed which takes 20 minutes (including my hair and make-up) so that totals 50 minutes. That means that I have 10 extra minutes if I wake up at 6:45. Is that enough? If so, what should I do with those 10 minutes? Do I need those 10 minutes for unpredictable things or returning phone calls or checking my email or Facebook or twitter?” Using backwards design requires an honest assessment of how long tasks actually take, not how long you think they should take.

checklist paper with pen on clipboard isolate on white3. Create a list or chart to remind you to use the steps that you have created.  Once you have tried this plan, you can alter it in any way that would make it more effective for you. You can also set an alarm on your phone to remind you when you have 5, 10 or 15 minutes to keep you on track. Remember, things often take longer than we anticipate so leave yourself some ‘just in case’ time to deal with the unexpected. When you have succeeded at doing this with one thing in your life, then you can apply it to others such as getting to the dentist’s office on time, arriving at a concert before it starts or showing up for soccer practice when you are supposed to arrive.

Being on time (or close to it) can be hard work and yet quite rewarding. Be sure to take pride in your accomplishment or to praise the success of a loved one with ADHD who is trying this. Next week, when you lose an hour to Daylight Saving Time, you can really ‘fall back to spring forward’ as the adage commands by using backwards design!!