Time Management on the Job
The importance of awareness
For adults with ADHD, time management is the crux of whether or not they succeed. Learning how to maintain awareness that time is passing, and using time effectively, are the cornerstones of effective treatment.
A case in point is a lovely 48-year-old woman, “Joan”, with ADHD (Inattentive) who works in a job where she has to track and reach out to customers who are not getting appropriate service. When she started treatment, she had 25 single-spaced pages of names and contact information, and left work each day frustrated and discouraged as the list only got longer. Now, she is whittling away at the list and has reduced it to 17 pages and shrinking.
How did she do it?
First, we determined that Joan needed to perform the standard motivational and distraction-reduction steps:
- She turned her desk and computer screen so she does not make eye contact with her co-workers as they passed by with baby pictures or questions about weekend plans.
- She wears headphones with music playing loudly enough to drown out conversations by her cube.
- She has stopped pursuing customers who don’t respond to several outreach attempts and focuses on new individuals.
- She set regular meetings with her manager to go over progress and address problems.She set daily goals for progress.
However she still found that she was not moving through her list quickly enough.
Track time and effort
Our next step was to perform what early industrial psychologists might recognize as a limited ‘time-motion study’, to determine where Joan was not efficient. In the industrial studies, workers on production lines were watched and filmed to see where they wasted effort and thus slowed production. Then, the environment was changed (for example, the supply bin was moved two feet closer) and workers were trained in the most efficient processes.
In Joan’s case, the effort was mostly mental rather than physical, and thus harder to observe. But she did have her ‘list’ and decided to make notations on the right margin of her list, simply when she started working on a particular customer, and when she stopped. After doing this for a few days, she noticed that there were a few customers who took up most of her time, and that sometimes this was a good use of time as she got good results, but other times she reached a dead end. Examining the differences between these two types of customers allowed her to ‘cut her losses’ by recognizing the point of diminishing returns.
This was an expected result, but the most interesting one follows:
Just keeping track of time made Joan more efficient!
1. Barkley, R. (2000). Taking charge of ADHD: The complete, authoritative guide for parents (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.