The most common complaints I hear from people coming to my coaching practice are about time management. If you, or someone in your life, struggles to manage time effectively, you need to understand what goes into “Time Management,” and what you can do to improve it! In this first of a series of articles on Time Management, you’ll learn what comprises effective Time Management, and what you need to do to make improvements that actually last.
First, it’s important to understand that “Time Management” isn’t a single skill or even a single set of skills, but a complex and interwoven set of skills and behaviors. There are lots of different aspects of our lives, and different activities that come into play with how well we manage our time. How long it takes to get things done, and how well we estimate and judge the passage of time come into play as well how much we can resist distraction and stay on task. How well we manage our calendars is an important aspect; how well we manage our tasks and the things we need to do is yet another. Time management is also impacted by how well we organize information and the “stuff” in our lives—physically and cognitively. And all of those aspects of our lives, and the underlying skill sets involved, can be intertwined with how punctual we are for and with the things we do every day. What it takes for an individual to be good at “Time Management” can be more like a tangled mess of spaghetti than any self-help book might imply. Especially if you have a “busy brain” like those of us with ADHD.
In coaching, the first strand we try to untangle from the time management mess is the one that leads to self-acceptance through education. Those of us who are ADDish often struggle with a wonky sense of time that we refer to as “Time Blindness.” We have difficulty judging the flow of time—what time it is at any given moment, how much time has passed, remembering how long tasks have taken in the past, and estimating how long tasks might take in the future. Obviously, this impacts our time management skills significantly!
Often, our sense of the flow of time is directly related to how stimulated by or interested we are in what we are doing at any given moment. The more stimulated or interested we are, the faster time seems to fly, and the less interesting something is, the more slowly time seems to drag along. This is why hours feel like minutes to your child when they’re playing video games, or to you when you’re surfing the tangled web of the internet! And why the repeated choruses of “Are we there yet?” on long car rides seem to go on and on forever.
If you have a “busy brain”, it’s important that you accept that “Time Blindness” is part of your brain wiring, so that you learn to let go of any blame, shame, or self-flagellation around your difficulty with time. I’m not talking about letting yourself off the hook for losing track of time or being chronically tardy–I’m talking about accepting the characteristic as part of who you are so that you can find ways to improve it. I’m talking about the kind of real acceptance that is necessary for many of us in order to learn and rely on the kinds of tools that will help us! If a client doesn’t accept their own manifestations of their brain wiring, such as their Time Blindness, they have a tendency to keep going back to thinking, “I should be able to do X. Everybody else seems to be able to do X. Therefore, I just need to try harder to do X.” It’s like telling a deaf person to listen harder!
It’s insensitive, it’s silly, and it’s ineffective.
Self-acceptance is the first step toward improving any of your challenges, and Time Management is no exception! There is no single tip or trick to make us all time management masters, but working on our own self-acceptance while we work on improving the skills that comprise effective Time Management is an important place to start. Start by paying attention to your thinking when you find yourself at odds with time. When you’re late, lose track of time, under or over-estimate time, or struggle with time in some other way, how you think about yourself and your struggles when it happens can either compound the problem and make you more likely to continue to struggle, or help you find strategies that work for you to make improvements.
Once you notice your thoughts, get analytical. Where did it go wrong this time, specifically? Was there something I could have done differently that would have had a better outcome (i.e., a cue I missed, something I did or didn’t do, a choice I made, etc.)? What can I do next time to improve the outcome? How will I remember?
And that last part… “How will I remember?” … is key! Don’t leave that part out.
Next time, we’ll talk about effective ways to combat typical Time Blindness and improve your sense of time.
And I’ll give you a hint: it does NOT involve setting your clocks ahead! (After all, aren’t you smart enough to do the math anyway?)
Until next time…