“What will it take to get you here on time?”
I cringed when I heard that question.
It wasn’t directed at me, but it had been in the past. I cringed with recognition. I cringed with embarrassment for the person it was directed at. And I cringed because I knew, had I been asked a decade ago, I’d have no answer.
No answers, but questions came when I’d been asked in the past. Why couldn’t I get there on time? Shouldn’t I be able to do it like everyone else? Why was I always late?
Recently, hearing that dreaded question directed at someone else, my discomfort for the recipient was mixed with relief. Relief that it wasn’t me who was in the hot seat.
I squirmed in empathy. Watching her reaction, it was obvious that this poor soul had no clue what it would take to get her to arrive on time. My secret knowledge that she, too, had ADHD added to the poignancy of the moment.
How would I answer that question now, nearly a decade after I’d found out that I had ADHD? Now that punctuality was rarely an issue and certainly didn’t wreak havoc and heartache the way it had before my diagnosis at 47?
What did it take to get me to be on time?
There were several key elements involved in finally overcoming my time management challenges. Not that things are perfect on that front – they aren’t. They never will be. And that’s not the goal, really. Nobody’s perfect, so why should I be? Still, I’m hardly ever late for anything any more; I almost never miss appointments.
So how did I do it?
The first and most important step was understanding. I read everything I could about adult ADHD and how and why we have difficulty managing time. In learning that we tend to have a different relationship to time (no kidding) due to our different brains, I could finally let go of guilt and shame, let go of believing I should just be able to do it like everyone else.
Admitting I could never effortlessly arrive on time or slightly early (as others seemed to do) freed me up to start looking for other options, for strategies and workarounds to help me to be punctual in spite of my different sense of time.
Finally, I could stop expecting the impossible from myself. Expecting that I would function like non-ADHD people was like expecting a lizard to act like a cat. It wasn’t going to happen.
Accepting that I had no clue about how to arrive on time, my intermediate strategy was to arrive ridiculously early.
Accepting that I had no clue about how to arrive on time, my intermediate strategy was to arrive ridiculously early. If I had an out-of-town workshop or speaking gig, I’d add an extra hour or two to my roadtrip. That way, I could compensate for bad road conditions, accidents, or other holdups while in transit. I’d accommodate for getting lost (another common ADHD challenge). I’d make sure it was almost impossible to arrive late.
This wasn’t a perfect strategy. I spent a lot of time in my car or hanging out in a nearby coffee shop pre-event, nervously watching the time and poised to arrive at just the right moment. Ironically, even though I was close to the venue, I still worried about being late: there was still the danger that I’d get distracted and forget to go to the gig, even though I might be sitting a block away!
I’m still pretty low-tech when it comes to ADHD strategies, but several years ago I finally bought a three-dollar kitchen timer. I love it.
I use the timer to help with transitions – another element that can trip up the best-intentioned person with ADHD. Especially if we’re hyperfocusing, it can be nearly impossible to pull ourselves away from the task at hand.
By setting my timer for 15 or 30 minutes before I have to finish my task-in-progress, I use the self-created deadline adrenaline to help me focus on finishing or at least wrapping up my current activity, while letting my mind gear up to what I have to do to get out the door.
On the more esoteric side, I’ve written before about how meditation can alter one’s sense of time, one’s relationship to it. When I meditated regularly, there seemed to be more hours in the day. Time slowed down, or at least it felt like it to me. It was probably me who slowed down, the inner hyperactivity and mental chatter easing up enough so that I could focus better and more calmly on what I had to do, and do it more effectively.
(For more on ADHD and mediation, read Medication or Meditation? Non-drug help for ADHDers)
On the less esoteric side, ADHD medication initially gave me the boost I needed to focus better and therefore manage time better. If I could keep focused on needing to get to an appointment or lunch date at a certain time, I was more likely to be aware of when I needed to stop doing one thing and start to prepare to leave the house.
I’ve infrequently used the buddy system, having a friend call with a reminder to make sure I’d begun to get ready. I know others who regularly enlist friends to help them to stay on track. Best buds can be a great corollary to ADHD treatment, and helping you out with time management is just one aspect. Just make sure you can return the favor in kind if a friend is helping keep you on track.
(For more on friends and ADHD, read Friends: A Natural Treatment for Adult ADHD)
How about you?
If someone made that comment to you, would you be able to answer honestly and knowledgeably?
And should we expect our work colleagues, friends, or family to act on any answer we might give to that question?
Do we have the right to speak up and ask for help if someone asks this?
Can you see yourself answering, “Well, as a matter of fact, it would be very helpful if…”
We are responsible for our ADHD and its management. But when someone asks such a thing, it seems to me, they deserve a direct, knowledgeable, straight-forward answer. And if part of that answer is a suggestion for how they might help, one would hope they’d at least consider helping if they could.
It would be great if you could share your experiences or any tips you might have for when someone asks, “What will it take to get you here on time?”