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Mastering Time Management with ADHD: Strategies for Success

Conquer ADHD time blindness and boost productivity using these 5 effective time management strategies.


Written by Sarah Talarico and Dr. Shawn Horn


Four people around a desk planning and working. Papers on the desk are related to scheduling, making lists, creating a time frame, and goal setting.

One of the most frustrating things someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can deal with is time management. ADHD can cause a sense of urgency and impulsiveness, making it hard to sort through meaningful tasks and efficiently manage their time. Problems with concentration and energy can also make achieving tasks more difficult. To make matters worse, people with ADHD struggle with time blindness, characterized by the inability to predict and sense time, like how much a task will take to finish or being late for an appointment because you have lost track of time. Lack of time management skills and time blindness can often lead to severe consequences in your personal and professional life. Fortunately, there are strategies to help you manage your time better and improve symptoms of time blindness. 


Here are 5 Effective Strategies for Time Management:


1. Pomodoro Technique


Fun fact: a tomato-shaped kitchen timer gave this technique its name! Francesco Cirillo, an Italian university student, struggled to focus and complete assignments and found a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to help him make each task less daunting. Instead of working for hours and hours, he broke up his time into intervals. Each time interval is named a pomodoro, which is Italian for tomato. A pomodoro is usually 25 minutes of working on a single task; at the end of 25 minutes, you can take a 5-minute break. After working for four pomodoros, you can take longer breaks, between 15 and 30 minutes.


Three tomatoes in a diagonal line. Image used to show what The Pomodoro Technique is named after.

In short, you follow these steps: 

  • Step 1: Start with a to-do list and pick one task to work on

  • Step 2: Set a timer, either physical or digital, for 25 minutes

  • Step 3: Work on the task without breaking concentration until the time is up

  • Step 4: Take a short 5-minute break and record what you completed

  • Step 5: Repeat until four pomodoros and then take a more extended break of 15 or 30 minutes, or until your tasks are complete!


If you have an interruption, you can take your 5-minute break and start over. It’s recommended that you record the interruption and devise a strategy to avoid it in the future. 


Having a physical display of time is beneficial for time blindness, and the smaller increments of work help minimize brain fatigue and concentration. Taking breaks is essential for our brains to retain information, too! 


2. The 25/5 Rule


Although the 25/5 Rule is still called Warren Buffet’s 2-List Strategy, we don’t know its origin story since Buffet debunked it in 2013 at a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. Despite the debunking, this strategy still works, focusing on manageable goals and efficiently spending your time. 


The 25/5 Rule is as follows: 

  • Writing a list of your top 25 ambitions (personally, academically, or professionally)

  • Pick 5 of the most urgent and important 

  • Cross off the other 20 on the list


Sometimes, people with ADHD get overly ambitious, so instead of multitasking and being overwhelmed, picking the five most important goals will make them more achievable and realistic. Narrowing down the list will ease the sense of urgency ADHD often gives. 


Stationary such as papers, pens, pencils, markers, highlighters, and sticky notes are on a desk with a computer and phone. Hands in the picture are marking a paper. Papers have lists and thought-maps on them.


3. The Ivy Lee Method


In 20th-century America, Ivy Lee was the modern founder of public relations and a successful businessman. Ivy Lee had met with Charles Schwab, one of the wealthiest men in the world, to consult him on boosting productivity, which is where the Ivy Lee Method was born. This method increases productivity by eliminating unnecessary filler in your schedule and prioritizing a small number of tasks to maximize efficiency.

Ivy Lee Method infographic. List of 4 steps to organize and manage time.

The Four Steps to The Ivy Lee Method:

  • Step 1: Write down six of your most essential tasks

  • Step 2: Prioritize your tasks into a list

  • Step 3: Work on one task until finished, then move to the next down the list 

  • Step 4: Move any unfinished tasks for the next day

You can only add more to your list once a slot opens. 


ADHD is often characterized by being distracted and having trouble concentrating. This method will help eliminate distractions and encourage concentration since it doesn't allow you to jump or skip ahead; you must concentrate on one task at a time and complete it before moving forward.


4. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix (Urgent-Important Matrix)


The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, was designed by US President Dwight Eisenhower during World War II. During the war, Eisenhower had to make time-sensitive difficult decisions. To decipher urgent versus non-urgent tasks, he separated them into a four-quadrant matrix. 


Eisenhower Matrix infographic. There are four quadrants displaying the matrix of time management and organization.

The Quadrants:

  • Do: This is the highest priority quadrant. Each task has firm deadlines and consequences. 

  • Decide: These are your long-term goals or tasks that are important but don’t have a deadline yet. Plan and schedule a deadline according to urgency. 

  • Delegate: Tasks in this quadrant are necessary but don’t require you specifically. These tasks are an excellent opportunity to practice delegation!

  • Delete: This quadrant is meant to eliminate distractions and other tasks considered a waste of time. 


This technique benefits people in a leadership position or those who struggle with prioritizing tasks. It also helps someone realize how many jobs distract them from achieving what’s important to them. As distractions, concentration, and prioritization difficulties often accompany ADHD, this strategy is very beneficial. 


5. Time Blocking


Time blocking is taking your schedule and sorting it into chunks. Each chunk is one task; for example, instead of spreading emails throughout the day, you would chunk them into a designated time. 


Here are some tips for time blocking: 

  • Preplan your schedule ahead of time

  • The smaller the time blocks, the better, but don’t underestimate the time you’ll need to complete each task.

  • Don’t overschedule your day.

  • Review what you accomplished and didn't at each day's end, and plan for next time.


A planner is laid out on a desk as well as a keyboard and computer. A person is scheduling and managing their time in the planner. They appear to be using the Time Blocking Technique for time management.

A common problem amongst people with ADHD is decision fatigue and budgeting their energy efficiently, often leading to burnout. Time blocking is excellent for reducing burnout as well as helping to bring you back to what you’re supposed to be doing with your time when you get lost or distracted. Visual aids have been proven to be helpful for ADHD, and time blocking is a great visual device to see where you’re putting all your efforts!


Remember, time is on your side!


Even though sometimes it doesn't feel like it as someone who has ADHD, time is on your side! You must learn how to make it work for you rather than against you.


Here are some key takeaways:


Overestimate rather than underestimate how much time it will take to do something. Whenever you’re trying a new technique or method, it’s always best to give yourself room to work with in case you need it. Once you know how long something takes, you can appropriately set aside time. At the end of each day, reflect and plan. Remember to be flexible and adjust; it’s okay if things don’t go exactly to plan. 


Use physical time measures like timers, clocks, planners, watches, and calendars. Utilize your resources and eliminate all distractions. Turn off your phone when working, set healthy boundaries, and take note of what works and what doesn’t. 


You can’t always work non-stop; you must schedule breaks, free time, and food into your daily life. Don’t over-schedule yourself! Life is more than work; you have to include play and health!



A woman is typing on her lap top. She is smiling and looks productive. This image is used to show time management leads to success and a better life.

We hope you found these strategies for time management helpful! If so, we would be grateful if you shared this blog with a few friends, colleagues, or family members. By sharing our blogs, you play a crucial role in helping us spread mental health awareness and craft more meaningful content for readers like you.


References


Deady, K. (2023, June 7). Time blocking: What it is and how to do it. Timely Blog. https://timelyapp.com/blog/what-is-time-blocking-and-does-it-work


The Eisenhower Matrix: Time and Task Management Made Simple. Luxafor. (2023, November 10). https://luxafor.com/the-eisenhower-matrix/


Ivy Lee Method. Ivy Lee Method - Workflowy guide. (n.d.). https://workflowy.com/systems/ivy-lee-method/


Mozafaripour, S. (2019, October 3). 9 popular time management techniques and tools: USAHS. University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. https://www.usa.edu/blog/time-management-techniques/


Schwantes, M. (2020, July 29). Warren Buffett’s 25/5 Rule Has Been Debunked. Here’s What You ... - inc.com. Inc. https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/warren-buffett-25-5-rule-career-goals.html


Scroggs, L. (n.d.-a). The Complete Guide to Time Blocking. Todoist. https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/time-blocking


Scroggs, L. (n.d.-b). The Pomodoro Technique - why it works & how to do it. Todoist. https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/pomodoro-technique


The Ultimate Guide to the Ivy Lee Method. Tweek Calendar - Minimal To-Do List and Weekly Task Planner App. (2020, October). https://tweek.so/calendar/ivy-lee-method


Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule: Boost focus and productivity. Timeular. (2022, November 9). https://timeular.com/blog/warren-buffetts-5-25-rule/ 


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