One of the largest complaints of adults with ADD/ADHD is their chronic tardiness. Being late for work can cause you to lose jobs, being late for family events can cause embarrassment and being late to pick up your children creates guilt. It seems that no matter the consequences, no matter how many times you promise yourself you will do better next time, many adults with ADD/ADHD still will arrive late.
There are a number of strategies that can be used to help improve constant tardiness. Some people may compensate by always arriving early. They may set their clocks and watches ahead. Other people may use their PDA or cell phone to set alarms to remind them of appointments or picking up the children. Although there is no real excuse for chronic tardiness, the first step to changing your behavior is to discover the reason behind your lateness. Below are a number of common reasons adults with ADD/ADHD are often late. If you aren’t sure the reason behind your tardiness, take a week or two to keep a log of all your activities. Make a note each time whether you arrived on time or late. Make notes of what was going on around you at the time. This information should help you discover the reasons behind your tardiness and help you to take action to change this behavior. The best approach is to be proactive and find solutions to your specific situation.
Lack of Interest
Suppose your job is just plain boring. Your task at work may be repetitive and offer no mental stimulation. Adults with ADD/ADHD often do well in high-stimulus jobs and activities that keep their interest, although sometimes it is necessary to take a job, any job that will pay the bills. Sometimes we must accept a job that is “below” our level of education or ability, just because we need a paycheck. Even when a job does not hold our interest, we still must show up on time and continue to keep ourselves motivated in order to continue to receive the financial rewards of working.
In these cases, you need to use internal motivation to help keep you on track. You need to use your desire to improve or your desire to change your lifestyle.
Change your outlook toward your job. By changing the way you look at your day ahead, you can change your performance. Martin Luther King once said, “If you are going to be a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.” Keeping this in mind as you go through your day at work can help you look at your job in a different light. If you can use the experience to improve any aspect of yourself, then it is a worthwhile job.
Maybe your job isn’t boring and menial. Maybe the job is difficult and frustrating and you aren’t confident in your ability to do it well. Your frustration could appear as a lack of commitment to the job. Your co-workers or bosses may feel that you do not care about completing your tasks well. Determine if there is some accommodations that could help you do better. If so, talk with your boss about some ways that you could improve your performance.
Besides work, there may be other commitments in your life that hold no interest. Maybe you really don’t want to attend. Maybe you are less than excited to go to the parent teacher conference. No matter what it is, if you don’t want to attend, there is a good chance you will allow other things to take your attention, causing you to be late. You may not have intentionally tried to avoid the situation, but in a way, that is exactly what you have done.
No matter what the activity, you can use the same change of perspective to help you. Instead of telling yourself that you do not want to go, change your view, even if it is “Let me go so I can get it over with.” Find some reason to get there, complete your obligations and move on to a task you are more interested in.
Distorted Sense of Time/Hyperfocus
Time, for people with ADHD, can be distorted. Time can pass much more slowly when performing an activity. Many times you may feel that you have plenty of time to complete other tasks before leaving to attend your obligation. With a distorted sense of time, it is easy to not realize how much time has past. You may feel that only 10 minutes has passed since you last looked at the clock, when actually 30 minutes has gone by.
Time management skills and not properly gauging how long something will take to complete are both reasons adults with ADD/ADHD often lose track of time. They may feel a task will take only 10 minutes to complete, although in reality it may take 2 or 3 times as long.
Hyperfocus is when you become totally engrossed in a project or task and everything around you seems to disappear. Hyperfocus can have many advantages, allowing you to get a great deal of work done in a shorter amount of time. It also has it’s disadvantages as you can lose track of what is going around you or causing you to forget other obligations or responsibilities.
One way to help you keep track of time is to keep a kitchen timer in each room in your house. Whenever you have a set amount of time to complete a task, set your timer for a few minutes less. For example, if you have 20 minutes until it is time to leave to pick up your children from school, but would like to get some housework completed, set your timer for 15 minutes and it will be a reminder for you to stop what you are doing and move on to the next obligation.
In addition to kitchen timers, most cell phones have alarm settings you can use or there are watches that will let you set numerous alarms per day or you can set them to beep to let you keep track of passing time.
Poor Time Management Skills
Time management skills require organization, planning and follow through. These skills are the very problems that plague most people with ADD/ADHD. Many adults with ADD/ADHD complain that they cannot seem to follow a schedule. They either take too much time on one task or do not leave enough time for additional activities or they just completely forget their schedule and become distracted doing something totally different.
In order for any of these to work, you first need to know how you spend your time. Take one week to write down everything you do and how long it takes to complete. (A daunting task itself, but essential if you want time management to work properly.) Make a list of what tasks are repeated each day, such as going to work, children’s music lessons, and making dinner. Using a weekly planner, write in all of the repeated tasks first. Add in “down” time to allow yourself to unwind each day. Hang the calendar in a place you can easily refer to it, such as on the front of the refrigerator. This way, as unscheduled commitments and events come up, you can quickly check your schedule to determine if you have time to commit.
If you are in a position where you are consistently asked to help out, get into the habit of always taking 24 hours before making a commitment. This will give you the opportunity to think about if you have the time and interest in the activity. Learn to say “no” to tasks that you do not have the time.
Streamline your life by deciding what is important to you and what tasks, projects and activities will help you realize your goals. Use a priority system to determine what you will become involved in and what you are able to do. Say “no” to all other requests.
There are many technology tools to help with scheduling, including home computers, PDAs, cell phones and online organizational tools. Some adults with ADD/ADHD use a coach to help them gain organization in their lives. Whatever method you choose, incorporate it so that it becomes part of your daily routine to give it the most chance of working to improve your life.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.