Sometimes time seems like my nemesis. There’s either not enough of it and too much to do or there’s too much unstructured time and difficulty choosing how to spend it. Keeping track of time can be particularly challenging for those living with ADHD because of time blindness. Many neurodivergent kids and adults simply don’t feel time. It’s hard to keep track of when and how it passes. For me, there never seems to be enough time to do all of the things I want to do in a given period. Yes, my list may be unrealistic but still I wrestle with arriving promptly to activities and events more often than I would like to admit. In fact, I’m always a bit surprised when some of my clients who struggle mightily with organization, recall and prioritizing, arrive exactly on the hour for our appointment.
Our days typically run on appointments, deadlines and time-sensitive obligations at school, work and socially. Effective time management is an important executive functioning skill to master for considerate, effective living. Time blindness–the loss of awareness about time–makes it challenging to plan meetings or activities, shift from one thing to another and manage productivity.
Using Time Effectively
Understanding and using time effectively is a key executive functioning skill that takes maturity to develop, and, happily, responds well to direct instruction. Because this skill requires practice to master for kids (and adults) with ADHD, it’s important to start nurturing it early and consistently. Children and teens with ADHD have “Now/Not Now” internal clocks. They may have a hard time grasping that a few minutes feels different than an hour. Helping them develop an awareness of these differences by using a timer is the first step in setting them up for time management success.
Folks with ADHD tend to do two frustrating things related to time management that just don’t work. Either they underestimate how long something will take and then need to rush to get it done at the last minute OR they overestimate how much time a task will take, feel overwhelmed and don’t start at all. When people are equipped with useful skills and knowledge of how to track time with more awareness, it’s a win-win for everybody.
I’ve found that there are five effective strategies that parents of children and teens with ADHD can use to counter time-blindness. Let’s explore how each of these productivity tools will help your child get to where they need to be, finish tasks on time, and stay motivated. (And an extra bonus is that they may help you too!)
5 Ways to Help Kids Manage Their Time
You can think of teaching kids time management as laying the foundation for independence and success. Encouraging your child to think beyond the common Now/Not Now ADHD mentality raises their awareness of how they participate in the world and how their choices affect themselves and others. Task estimation and planning gives them more control while lowering stress and anxiety. Lastly, self-reflection and a growth mindset allows your child to assess progress and fine-tune their approach. These fool-proof strategies can help children of all ages take responsibility for managing their time appropriately.
Expand Now/Not Now Thinking
The best way of moving your child out of Now/Not Now thinking is by reminding them of the recent past and pointing out the near future. This promotes awareness of wider spans of time and encourages kids to consider events outside of their immediate experience. For younger kids, this may involve asking them to recount what they did in school or what they’d like to do with their grandparents during their upcoming visit. Tweens and teens can tell you about a party they went to or a trip to the movies. You can also ask for their help in planning a BBQ or lay out a craft project with multiple phases or components.
Teach Time Estimation Skills
Time estimation will get easier with time and practice. You can help teach your child this vital skill directly by making notes of start and end times of something you do together. Then you can use this information as guidance for estimating an equivalent activity. Some simple examples are timing how long it takes to walk between your home and school or a friend’s house or how long it takes to bake cookies, all the way from ingredient gathering to cooling and clean-up. Discussing how long things take further raises awareness of how long things actually take. So the next time your child tries to convince you that 20 minutes is plenty of time to whip up cupcakes before you leave for a party, you have a reminder that the last baking project took 45 minutes and then work with your child on getting the timing right.
Use Backwards Design
Backwards Design is a means of planning in reverse to get to where you want to be in the future. You work backwards and assign increments of time to the various steps along the way. “I have to be at school by 7:30. It takes me twenty minutes to ride my bike, lock it up and get to homeroom so that puts me at 7:10. Before that, I want to eat breakfast (ten minutes), go to the bathroom, brush my teeth and get dressed (fifteen minutes) which puts me at 6:55 am. Then I have to wake up. Usually I hit the snooze button once or twice which lasts another fifteen minutes. So that means I have to set my alarm for 6:40 if everything goes perfectly. Bleh. Maybe 6:30 is better.”
Show How to Budget Time
When you are not in a rush, sit down with your child and slowly go through the steps necessary for a given sequence of activities such as allocating enough time for homework or practicing piano before dinner. Listen to their estimates of applying time to tasks. Give them feedback about how long things really seem to take them, based on your observations. Talk about creating a cushion of 5-10 minutes for getting somewhere too. Together, set up alarms to alert them about deadlines, ends of gaming, practicing the violin or coming home from a friend’s house.
Remember That Practice Makes Perfect
Instilling routines related to time management habits takes time, practice and more practice. These habits grow as they are used successfully. You are looking for any wins that demonstrate there’s an effort to apply a new approach to managing the minutes and hours of our days.
Instilling effective time management habits is the best way to counter time blindness, reduce tardiness and decrease overwhelm. Stress goes down and a sense of personal competency goes up. These are the building blocks for the connected independence that we all want for our kids.