ADHD and Time Management

From the Archives

Why Standard Time Management Strategies don’t work for ADHD.

I am working my way through posts that are in draft stage. I believe I had this published and then took it offline again. Because now--almost exactly 10 year later--I have my ADHD diagnosis. And now I know this is an ADHD related rant. I wrote this several months after handing in my dissertation, and had time to reflect more on issues I had during my postgraduate degree. 

One of the main frustrations I had was that involuntarily I have always tried to hack my brain. I always knew that things just didn’t work the way it was expected. One of the biggest frustrations was that not a single time or workload management strategy that was hailed as effective, brilliant, easy, amazing worked for me. All I say is Pomodoro technique (yes, it is an effective strategy) just not for me, because my brain decides to focus on the timer and will sync in rhythm with the movement or noise and begin to obsess about the buzzer which is going to ring.
If you want to learn some tips focussing on supporting ADHD folk with time management (not just for academics!) the ADDitude magazine has some great articles and downloads:
Time Management and Productivity Advice for Adults with ADHD ( this one is particularly good.

So if you have always struggled and none of the productivity hacks ever worked for you. Your are not broken! Your brain just needs something a bit different.

Now the Productivity Blog Post

Postgraduate Toolbox has usually helpful tips for the suffering postgraduate student. Most of these tips even transfer to other forms of project management. However, today’s tip about Summer Productivity (this doesn’t seem to exist anymore) is totally off the rocker for me. They suggested to improve your productivity to divide your space.

Seriously anyone living in a 10m² student dorm room—try to divide your space!

I know, I know IKEA will help you!

On a more serious note I absolutely disagree that wearing pajamas is counter-productive. I am most effective when I am working in the garden, or at the kitchen table with some stupid TV show in the background, or on the couch. I absolutely disagree that closing the door makes you focused and work. What is this about?

I believe in the powers of doodle but this is a whole other topic

Aesthetic Spaces as Save Spaces?

Because all these spaces are safe spaces. Having a safe space is a condition for successful learning experiences. Welsch (1995) even states: there is no cognition without aesthetic—I refer to the origins of aesthetic here: aisthēsis, which is visceral experiences, it is the collaboration of cognition, senses, emotion. Somewhere in my dissertation I lead a more comprehensive argument how Boal’s (1995) aesthetic space is a learning space.

While Boal uses the setting of a theater for describing his aesthetic space, for me aesthetic space can not only translate into the classroom [yeah you get the picture teacher in front (stage) and children in the room (audience)] but aesthetic space is any environment you personally find conductive to learning. The visceral experiences: the smell of trees and flowers in the garden, the robin who comes hoping onto your table—nosy for what you are doing in his kingdom, the smell of coffee (or tea) you balance in a cup on top of the headboard of your bed while balancing the laptop on your knees, the cool crackling of crisp cotton sheet soft on your skin, the low afternoon sun coming through the kitchen window bathing you and your workspace in warm golden light tickling your neck, while the laundry contently hums and drums in the washing machine, and the jackdaws chatting over bird-food on your window sill, almost sounding human with their strange voices … all these are creative spaces for me; best lived-in by wearing pyjamas, having all the doors open—these are spaces more productive than any dark and dusty rooms or 60s office building with red ‘Warning Asbestos’ stickers on the ceiling, painted in dirty-yellowish and greenish colours, could ever offer.

Things that just don’t work

I remain however that time management and work mode are mental states.** I could never work at an exact prescribed time. I tried it. I freak out so much about the time and trying to judge how much that certain amount of time may be. How long would it feel today? How long does an hour last on Tuesday? After all on Friday an hour lasted two research articles read, a dozen emails answered, and a coffee made, but on Monday it lasted one email? In the morning? In the afternoon? It never is the same ‘amount’ of time, no matter what the clock tries to tell you.

My strategies cannot involve such time scales. I can work with: This report, paper, chapter or transcription has to be in by: Date, Time. Because from the word go until this Date, Time there is fluid space which I can work with, in, around, on top off, underneath. This Date, Time means that I can write 40.000 words in 3 months although working 21,5 hours a week. It also means I can wake up at six in the morning make a nice cuppa, have a cookie and cuddle back into bed and write 3.000 words before breakfast.

I decide I will work and then I work. When I am bogged down with a vast amount of work (which occasionally happens when you have 4 jobs at the same time next to a full-time PhD) I sit down and make a mind-map or list and then take it one step at a time…

Yes I know this is a fantasy… I take usually three steps at one time stumble, jump, go back, repeat two of the steps, force myself to take one step at a time until the next cluster of ideas crowds reason.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I know a couple of people for whom this whole time management thing is not working too well. I also remember feeling really guilty because time management (as suggested in all these helpful blogs, books, seminars) does not work and no matter how much and how often I tried to force myself into these kinds of structures. I spent more time structuring and trying to remember the structure than working. Until I read more and more about creativity about creative learning and realized that while we all need strategies in one way or the other there is no such thing as A STRATEGY to rule them all.


One strategy to rule them all, one strategy to beat them,
One strategy to combine them all and in academia free them.

originally published 13th July 2011

**Addendum 2021: I think what I meant was these are not just about doing things in a certain way, but are intrinsically linked to what you value about your work, expectations, and attitudes.)

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