Time Management for ADHD Adults is Unique!

by | Sep 27, 2018 | ADHD Productivity | 23 comments

Time management for ADHD adults is unique. And, that’s putting it mildly.

It’s why we procrastinate. Aren’t on time. Get distracted by the dings emitted from our phones. Watch TV when we’re supposed to be getting ready for work.

To succeed with time management, ADHD adults need a deep understanding of their relationship with time. So they can become better at Outsmarting their ADHD.

You see, ADHD brains are wired for stimulation. That makes us view the world through two time frames: Now and Not Now.

The Now vs. Not Now Effect:

The Now is whatever is in front of us at the moment. Those are the tasks we take action on.

The Not Nows? Everything else. No matter how high a priority. Or how essential it is to our success, peace, and happiness.

I’m convinced this “Now / Not Now Effect” is the root of much of ADHD’s procrastination and chaos.

The ADHD Now / Not Now Effect keeps:

  • The manager from writing her meeting agenda until moments before the staff meeting.
  • The hostess from cleaning her house and going to the market until the morning of her dinner party.
  • The dad surfing the Internet instead of cooking dinner for his family.

The Now / Not Now Effect is a real part of living with ADHD. It causes worry, stress, and feelings of inadequacy.

Time management for ADHD means unless we’re careful, we ignore the Not Nows. Putting them off to do later.

And, that’s where our trouble lies.

Until you get a handle on this, the only thing that will flip a task from a Not Now to a Now is a looming deadline.

Then you’ll be forced into frantic, immediate action.

The worst part is, it doesn’t matter how big the task or project is or what else is going on in your life. You’ve got a deadline and you’ve gotta meet it.

Yes, when that deadline looms, we’re focused and productive. But the stress can be unbearable.

So, what can you do about it?

How to Make Time Management for ADHD Easier

It’s hard to trick an ADHD brain to believe something is a Now when it’s still a Not Now.

But you can learn to soften the impact of this ADHD time management tendency.


Manage your time with the awareness that your energy and focus won’t happen until the task becomes a Now.

Plan to procrastinate. Do as much as you can ahead of time, but leave time in your schedule to complete a project right before the deadline.

If you don’t have a solid deadline, create one. Work with an accountability buddy or a coach. Someone to hold you accountable to get things done.

The Now / Not Now Effect has a huge influence over the lives of adults with ADHD. With awareness and a bit of planning , you can make time management for ADHD your friend.



  1. Sean Desilva

    Time management skills are indeed an important thing to learn to effectively manage our lives. Sometimes it can be difficult for someone with ADHD to prioritize. I think you’re right, it is best if we manage our time with awareness above all else.

  2. Danny

    Hey, so I am 24 and have had ADHD my whole life and I didn’t know. As an adult, it got so bad my brother’s ER doctor pulled me aside and advised me to call someone who dealt with ADHD just from watching me try to sit with my brother. I am in nursing school and am having trouble keeping everything straight and together, and when I look online all it says is plan, watch other people and how they plan, make a schedule, which is all great except if I could do those things I wouldn’t have a problem. This is the first article, book–anything I have found that says to work with how your brain is wired. Know when and how your brain works and use those strengths, like planning on procrastinating. It’s so simple and yet unheard of. Just how it’s defined here as “now and not now” makes it easier to work with, so thank you. I’m going to cite this in every paper I write.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Thank you! So glad to help. You’re right. If you could plan, etc., you would!

  3. Janice Soyster

    Being late has been a chronic problem for me but I always have thought that it was due to a lack of character on my part. I am beginning to believe that I have ADD. However, I also have been able to accomplish a lot. I am now 72 years old and have deteriorating physical health and it just takes longer to do things than it used to. When I retired early from being a registered nurse, I found that just taking a shower took me three times longer than before I retired.
    My current problem is that I am on a medication that necessitates frequent blood monitoring so I need to go to the clinic around once per week and that clinic is across town. I have already been excluded from one monitoring clinic due to tardiness but was fortunate to be accepted at the clinic where my doctor practices. They are about to discharge me also for the same reason. When I tried to tell the nurse yesterday that I thought this was due to ADD, she immediately went back to her underlying belief that I was having this problem because she thought that I just didn’t care whether I was on time or not. I was supposed to see my doctor to discuss this but missed that appointment by waking up late. I have a new appointment set with the doctor to discuss this but I am worried that I will either be late for it or not be able to make that appointment at all due to the same difficulty.
    Through the years, I have attempted several ways to circumvent this situation but always knew what the “real” time was for that appointment, class, meeting, or other event. So in my thinking I defaulted to that “real” time and continued to be late. Since I am the person who makes the appointment, I don’t seem to be able to outwit that inner voice. In addition to my inner voice, the clinic calls the day before to remind the patients about their appointments and of course, gives the time of the appointment. I could put an earlier time in my calendar but am reminded of the real time.
    I have trouble believing that this is due to ADD when I am told that it is just my character or habit, when I recognize that I have been able to accomplish all these things in my life to get me to 72, or when I can plan events and carry them out.
    I saw a psychiatrist for 10 years and we talked about the possibility of my having ADD and was tried on a medication for it but with no improvement. She did have me on Venlafaxine for depression which I continue to take. I feel that I am relatively stable with that medication.
    What is your assessment of this situation? Can the ADD meds be taken with other psych meds, or do you believe that trying the other suggestions before adding any ADD meds if necessary would be a better approach.

    Thank you very much for your insight into this.

  4. Dana Rayburn

    Hi Janice. Gosh, I’m so sorry you’re struggling so much. Please talk to your doctor about getting a diagnosis or figuring out what is wrong. I’m so sorry but I legally can’t give specific advice about medication. I wish you all the best.

  5. Ernest

    Wow. Thank you for the article. It is really helpful to understand how my brain works and what its influence on time perspective. It is relief to know that. 🙂

    • Dana Rayburn

      I am so glad to hear my article has been helpful for you! Thank you for your kind words.

  6. Connie

    This is me. Now vs Not now is genius and 100% accurate. Also hilarious how many RNs posted on here … also me lol. I always chalked it up to lack of self discipline etc. I am going tomorrow to talk w/ my doc re my sx… thank you for this awesome article!

    • Dana Rayburn

      You’re welcome, Connie. I hadn’t put together the RN connection. Yowza!! (BTW, anyone who can pass nursing school has ample self-discipline. It’s a structure and motivation issue. Both of which live at the core of ADHD.) Be well, Dana

  7. Sara Ballard

    This is a great way of looking at add. Even at this moment when I should be getting ready for work, i’m getting distracted because I think I have a lot of time (15 minutes) to get ready – i’m 62 and get so frustrated with myself because long term planning or assesssing how much money to spend or preventative maintenance type things or being consistently on time or not losing things are really hard for me. I take the meds and they help but still planning is tough. So anyway I appreciate this way of looking at the problem.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Sara. You are very welcome! Happy to help. Dana

  8. Peggy

    Hi Dana – as you suggested, I went to your blog to try & locate info on “disconnecting from tasks” bc THIS is why I am late, rushed…bf I leave for work I’m locked on to straightening up, dog water, doors locked (bc I know I miss some of these things & feel bad or have it pointed out by my hubby ). I have prayed, promised myself I am going to BE ON TIME TODAY NO MATTER WHAT! And there I go, gotta get the clothes in the dryer bf I leave etc. I seems almost impossible for me to disconnect from whatever there is to do, in office, at home. I am going to interject the NOW/NOT NOW gem in my thinking & see how that goes.
    And yes, like everyone who contributed here- my being late, keeping people waiting, getting to a meeting late, Drs appts etc- are, much to my surprise, interpreted as being thoughtless, rude, uncaring about friends- and I really am none of those. But- we do get evaluated based on behavior bc no one knows our intentions are sincerely good.
    As always, your dedication to our issues is much appreciated.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Peggy! Ah, that ‘one more thing itis’ Hope the NOW / NOT NOW helps. And, BTW, I know you are thoughtful, kind, and caring. Be well, Dana

  9. Karen

    I have a trick to being on time. It’s not about changing the time and tricking myself that my appointment is earlier, but consciously leaving early with the promise I have made to myself to sit in the waiting room and catch up on whatever book I’m reading or perhaps an article or game on my iPad. I tell myself I’m not allow to read any of it cuz it’s a reward. Just like getting to an appointment on time is a reward of self respect and respect for others- including other drivers! It took awhile but now I look forward to it. Even if I don’t arrive early enough for my reading or game, im still on time for my appointment. It sure does relieve a lot of stress. It makes the whole day more enjoyable.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Karen, Good for you! I’m so glad your reward system works for you!! Isn’t it nice to be a person of your word? That’s one of the best rewards for learning to live successfully with ADHD. Warmly, Dana

    • Sandy

      Love this idea!

  10. Linda

    This article is very promising! I’m 78 years old–a bit late to be learning this but not impossibly late. I’m known in my extended family as the one always late. It has been a problem as far back as I can remember. I’m the world’s greatest procrastinator! Anything I can do later is what I do later. Always late for appts, meetings with friends, late for school, late for work, late with meals, late, late, late! Even late getting my children to school and back when they were younger and even now I have feelings of guilt and shame for what I thought was selfishness and laziness. In more recent years I have recognized that I’m not a self-motivated person–maybe it’s ADHD! Years ago my daughter recognized that I can’t get anything done until the last minute! For years my friend has been asking, when I’m late for lunch, “Were you tied up with your computer work?” I’ve tried every trick I know to make it on time. I finally decided that I am just lazy, like my brother has always said. Can you tell I’m excited? What I read today is just like reading about myself! It gives me hope. Thank you so much for this article and your newsletter which I am going to subscribe to NOW. LOL

  11. Charlene

    You really understand me!!! Most people around me don’t have two clues about why I am the way i am…some don’t actually know what my real life is really like…or my brain for that matter…your articles are so right on the money….good stuff….a breath of fresh air….thank you!

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Charlene – thank you so much! I glad you found my site. And, that it helps. That’s what I’m about. Warmly, Dana

  12. Wilma

    So happy I found this site. Im 66 years old and was diagnosed with ADD only two. years ago. Im so happy to see comments from people near my age. Everything else Ive been reading refers to only the very young and I felt so out of place. Tardiness is a continuous problem for me as well as losing my focus on the task at hand. Thank you

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Wilma. And, welcome. You are not alone!! Dana

  13. Alex

    THANKyou! Newly diagnosed and the first five articles I found were all horrendoulsy, insultingly chirpy pieces that all amounted to saying “Just get more organised” (and these were all supposedly ADHD specific). What’s worse is several were laid out with lots of ads, arrows to push, no easy way to navigate back and forth without going through the whole damn list, and waaaaay too may “tips” to keep straight/sort through. I wanted to cry and smash things.

    • Dana Rayburn

      You are so welcome Alex! You’ve made my day. Dana


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