Learning to Manage Time Better


Our 14-year-old son, who has ADHD, struggles with time management. He is perpetually late for everything and never leaves enough time to do his homework, finish his chores, or get to his after-school activities on time. Any ideas for helping him improve his time-management skills?

M. Kershaw

                                                                                                     Ft. Collins, CO

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Leslie Josel

Leslie Josel is the Principal of Order Out of Chaos, an organizing consulting firm specializing in student organizing and chronic disorganization. She is an ADHD specialist and the author of What’s the Deal with Teens and Time Management.

In order to be successful at time management, your child must know how long it takes to get things done. Having a time sense will help him establish routines, set limits, and learn to prioritize.

When I first start working with a student, I gauge their time sense by asking them how long they think certain activities take them to do. The answer I usually get is “about 20 minutes”—for everything! That tells me the student does not have a well-developed time sense.

To help your teen become more realistic about how long certain tasks take, have him write down estimates before doing them and then compare the estimates to the actual time it took to complete the task. The more he records and sees the difference between the estimates and how long it actually takes to do something, the better he will become at allotting time appropriately.

In addition, to improve his time sense, draw parallels between the time it takes to complete various activities by comparing an unknown period of time to something very familiar. Say something like, “It took you 30 minutes to read four chapters in your English book, which is the same amount of time you spend watching an episode of X.”

Visualizing Time

Learning to see time in a more tangible way may also help. Visualizing time is challenging; you can’t see it or hold it, which makes time a difficult concept for many to understand.

For teens who have trouble with this, it’s important to help them “see” where they’re spending their time. Have your son map how he spends his time over the course of a week or two. He can create a Time Map grid on the computer: Across the top list each day of the week. Down the left-hand column list waking hours in 30-minute increments (8:00 a.m., 8:30 a.m, 9:00 a.m, etc., until bed time). First block out the non-negotiable time, such as the time spent in school. If he has any free periods make sure they’re left open. Next, fill in after-school activities and other commitments. Now have your son accurately record how the rest of his time is spent each day by filling in the blanks with activities that take place.

At the end of the week, review the map together, looking at how much time was actually spent on various activities.

You can access a blank PDF version of the Time Map on my website at www.oderoochaos.com

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