In this episode we’ll cover something that I’m sure everyone with ADHD struggles with. How to stop being late for everything all the time.
By the end of the episode you should have enough strategies that never again will you have to send a text message saying “on my way, running a few minutes late” when you haven’t even left the house and you know you’ll be half an hour late if you’re lucky.
I’m going to start by explaining a bit about why people with ADHD always run late, my own experiences running late and then we’ll dive into the strategies.
Why people with ADHD always run late
The brain of a person with ADHD works differently to other brains. Dr. Russell A Barkley gave a speech about ADHD and time which I think he describes the problem really well.
In his speech, he describes ADHD is near-sightedness to time. People that have nearsighted vision, can see objects that are close to them in great detail but they can’t see objects that are far away or the objects are very blurry.
This is similar to the ADHD perception of time, people with ADHD can do things that are close to them in the now. However, they struggle to accurately see and plan for things that are far in the distance future.
The further away an event, deadline or task is the less able to plan for it and manage it.
There are only two times in the day for someone with ADHD, now and not now. If something is not required not, then it’s not required.
They may be aware that their assignment is due a month from now but because it’s not due now, they don’t need to work on it.
This is why people with with ADHD always find themselves leaving things to the last minute. They know what to do and how to do it, but they just don’t implement it.
This is why people with with ADHD always find themselves leaving things to the last minute. They know they need to be to at work at 9am, and they should leave at 8:30am, however it’e the implementation of that plan that fails.
It’s either now or not now, so if you have to leave at 8:30am, then at 8am, it’s still not 8:30am.
Once 8:30am. comes around, they realise it’s now they have to leave, the problem is they’re not prepared because they didn’t implement a plan for getting ready before then.
So now they’re starting to get ready at 8:30am when they should have started getting ready at 8am.
People with ADHD are as intelligent as anyone else. ADHD is not a case of intelligence. It’s an issue with implementing what they know.
For me, one of the hardest things with always running late is being seen as disorganised, lazy or that I don’t care.
It never mattered how early I would wake up, I would somehow still manage to run late.
If I woke up half an hour before I had to be at work, I would jump out of bed, skip breakfast, have a quick shower, be in a mad rush to get changed, I wouldn’t be able to find clean clothes, so I’d grab two odd socks that I’d thrown on the floor the day before, rush out the door, get an uber to the train station, then try to cram onto the train which was too full to get on to arrive at work late.
If I woke up 2 hours before I had to be at work, I would relax in the morning, meditate, make breakfast and fresh coffee, then eat a big breakfast while reading the days news. I’d then have a long shower and then suddenly it was 30 mins before I had to be at work and I’m in the same situation as I was before where I’m wearing odd socks and running out the door to be late for work again.
My perception of time was terrible, I couldn’t understand how I could be up so early and still be running late in the same situation as I was when I woke up an hour and a half later.
I always thought things would take less time that I expected and I had more time than I did.
It was difficult being seen as so disorganised when I was up earlier than other people. I just lost track of time and couldn’t properly conceptualise how long things would take.
Even when I was ready to leave early, I would underestimate the time another task would take or get lost in a task. I might decide to send some emails and messages I was behind on before leaving the house. A friend I message and haven’t caught up with for a long time is online and then we have a long chat and suddenly a few minutes of quick messages becomes a 30 minute chat, I’ve lost track of time and I’m running late again.
Even worse was the cases where I was in a mad rush to get out the door that I would forget something that I needed like my wallet so when I got to the train station I didn’t have a ticket and had no money to buy a ticket. I would then have to go back home to get that and end up being an hour or more late.
That’s when people really think you don’t care, especially when it’s another excuse about why you ran late. They’ve heard it so many times before that assume you just don’t care enough to be on time.
It wasn’t just being late in the morning for work, it was the same running late for meeting friends and appointments. I would plan it out and still run late.
For example, if I had to be somewhere at 6pm and it was 30 minutes away then I would plan out that I need to leave at 5:30pm.
I would then start to get ready at 5:15pm and realise I didn’t do the washing the night before so I don’t have any clean clothes. Or perhaps I did do the washing but I didn’t dry the clothes and so all my clothes are soaking wet.
I then have to run out the door with whatever clothes aren’t dirty or wet. Only to arrive and not be dressed for the event so I have to go buy clothes if there was a shop that was close and open or go the entire even feeling awkward and not fitting in.
Not only would I feel awkward and not fit in but it would make concentrating on conversations more difficult because I’d be thinking what other people are thinking about my appearance. It would constantly on the back of my mind so it was harder to focus even more.
Not only would I run late but I when I arrived it would look like I didn’t care enough to bother to dress for the event. That’s hard when friends and family then see you as someone that just doesn’t care enough about them to put in the basic effort when you spend time with them.
Over many years of constantly running late for work, missing appointments, letting friends down and arriving to events in the wrong clothes I learned strategies to avoid running late which I’ll cover next.
The first strategy is to prepare everything the night before, the earlier your appointment is in the morning, the early you should prepare the night before.
Prepare everything you need the night before so it’s ready in the morning and you don’t have to search for it in the morning.
Have your wallet, keys, bag and all items you need ready to go so you can grab them and go out the door in the morning.
Think of all the items you need, this could be preparing your lunch, a USB stick with your work, your laptop and anything else.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve run late because I couldn’t find an item like a USB stick or I’ve had to go back after leaving the house to get it.
Along with preparing things the night before, ensure that anything you do in the morning is done the night before. For example, shaving the night before. This is something that has caused my girlfriend a lot of frustration at me when I assume it will take me 15 minutes to shave my head and beard in the morning and it always takes an hour.
I shave my head and beard the night before and then if I need to shave my beard a bit more in the morning, to avoid the 5’o’clock shadow look it still takes a lot less time.
Don’t say I’ll do it in the morning if it’s something you can do the night before or at least reduce the amount of time it will take in the morning.
Strategy 2 is an extension of Strategy 1 but I think it merits it’s on seperate strategy. That is to put your clothes out the night before, along with the items you need, you should ensure your clothes you are going to wear are laid out and ready to wear in the morning.
This avoids the situations where you can’t find your socks or a clean shirt.
This also gives you lots of time to wash and dry your clothes the night before if required.
Make sure that your clothes are prepared and ready to wear, don’t wash your clothes and assume they’ll be dry in the morning. You’ll then spend your morning with your hair dryer inside a sock trying to get it dry quickly before still arriving late with damp socks.
Even worse, you’ll put your shirt too close to the heater while you shower to dry it, only to find that you’ve burnt it to the point it’s completely unwearable and the house is full of smoke when you get out of the shower.
Ensuring your clothes are prepared also avoids the situations I mentioned earlier such as arriving in a t-shirt for a black tie event. It doesn’t matter that the t-shirt has a fake tuxedo printed on the front, it’s still not appropriate attire.
Reduce the number of decisions you need to make to get ready and the obstacles that keep you late.
I’ve mentioned the times I’ve arrived at work with odd socks or my socks have been dirty or I’ve had to dry them in the morning.
One of the best pieces of advice for getting ready I received years ago was to get rid of all your socks and buy the exact same pair of black socks.
I put a 20 pairs of black socks from H&M, you can get these from target, Walmart or anywhere that sells socks. It cost my about $1 a pair, so I spent $20 and never had to worry about what socks to wear again.
There are no longer any socks that don’t match because they all match.
This also saves time doing the washing, I never spend any time pairing up socks after I wash and dry them.
I dry my socks and throw them all in my sock drawer, then each morning I just grab 2 sock and know they’ll match.
20 pairs of matching socks also gives me plenty of margin for doing the washing. If I don’t get the chance to do the washing until the weekend I know I’ll still have plenty of clean matching socks every day.
Strategy 4) – make a checklist
Another way to reduce decisions in the morning and the night before is to make a checklist.
A checklist for the night before might cover the strategies I’ve mentioned earlier such as preparing your clothes and items the night before.
Sometimes tasks might be one off, for example if you have a presentation in the morning and you need to remember to bring that USB stick you always forgot.
For most items, they’re repeatable and recurring so you can print out a checklist for the week with all items on it and check it off each day.
It’s really important to have a checklist for the night before as well. For example putting your clothes out the night before.
I also have washing the dishes and preparing everything for my morning coffee on my evening checklist.
That way when I wake up in the morning, I have everything ready for coffee and breakfast in the morning.
The checklist should also be in the order that you complete the tasks. It might take a week or two before you figure out the best order but once you have the order it saves a lot more decisions in the morning.
For example, I have a coffee maker, it takes about 10 minutes for it to make a pot of coffee. So when I wake up, I put the coffee machine on, then I shower while it’s making coffee.
When I’ve finished my shower, the coffee is ready. Before I created a checklist with an order, I would shower then I would go and make coffee and be waiting 10 minutes for it to be ready.
Creating an order, saves time and decisions in the morning and helps you arrive on time.
Strategy 5 – Time your routines. I’m making this a seperate strategy because it’s not required but it can very helpful in setting your initial routines for the morning.
I find when preparing the checklist it helps if in the first week or two you time how long each action takes.
For example, the time it takes to make coffee is the same each morning. It’s a machine that runs at the exact same time, so I know how long it takes for it to make coffee.
Knowing how long each step takes you to complete can be helpful in estimating the time you need to get ready.
For routines, such as taking a shower, it might not help to time how long it takes because the time will change each day.
As I mentioned my experiences getting ready, the more time I have, the longer it takes me to get ready. So we’ll cover a strategy I find more useful next.
Strategy 6) Set alarms and timers
In the morning, I know how long each part of my morning routine tasks and how long it takes me to get ready in the morning.
I know this because I set alarms and timers for each section. I read in the morning for 15 minutes. I set a timer for that and when the timer goes off, I stop reading.
I check it off my checklist and move to the next task. I set a timer for the shower as well. I’m usually finished before the timer goes off but if not, it’s a reminder that I need to stop and hurry up and get ready.
Having timers and alarms helps keep you on track when trying to get ready.
When you say you’re going to send a few messages before you leave or watch some tv before you go out, set a timer and when the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and move on to the next part of getting ready.
Set an alarm for when you need to get ready, not just when you need to leave. The alarm should go off long before you need to leave to give yourself plenty of time to get ready.
Once the alarm to get ready goes off, stop what you’re doing and go get ready. You can then use your checklist and other timers to keep on track as well.
Strategy 7) Remember Hofstadter’s law
Hofstadter’s law states that it always takes more time that you expect, even when taking into account Hofstadter’s law.
You might think that your can make a quick 2 minute call to a friend before you leave, but remember, it always takes more than 2 minutes.
Your friend might tell you some bad news or be upset and then suddenly you’ll struggle to end the call because you’ll feel guilty and won’t know how to end the conversation.
That 2 minutes will end up becoming 30 minutes and you’re late for work again.
If you’ve got ADHD, you’ll also get pulled into time sucks. You think you can play a quick video game before you have to leave but then you lose track of time and suddenly you’re on level 10 and you haven’t noticed that your phone has 50 messages from your friends asking where you are.
Avoid time sucks before you have leave. Don’t try and complete small tasks before you have to leave.
Remember they always take longer than you expect.
If you absolutely have to do something before you leave, then set a timer and once the timer goes off, stop and leave it.
A better strategy than completing tasks before you leave is to do them on the way or arrive early and do them there.
If you need to make a phone call to a friend, make the phone call on the way or arrive early at the place you’re meeting and make the phone call then.
If you want to send some messages and emails, do it from your phone either on your way or when you arrive.
Don’t run late because you tried to fit in one last task, phone call or message before you left that ended up taking longer than expected.
Use your transit time productively and get it done then.
Strategy 9) Aim to arrive early
This strategy is painfully obviously and much more difficult in practice.
You should aim to arrive 30 minutes early to everything. If you friend says to meet at 6pm, then be there at 5:30pm.
You can make phone calls or messages and get things done after arriving early.
If you have to wait outside a location, then maybe aim to be 15 minutes earlier.
This strategy works best if you have a safe indoor location to sit and wait if you arrive early.
Strategy 10) Visualise yourself leaving the night before
This is something I find very useful especially when you’re first creating your checklists.
Sit down and visualise yourself getting ready. Visualise yourself going through all the steps it takes to get ready, leaving, getting the train and arriving at work or where ever you are going.
This really only takes a few minutes, you don’t have visualise it in real time. It helps to create checklists and get everything ready you need to.
Some things I’ve picked up when I’ve visualised myself going to a place are tickets to an event that I purchased and had put in a book so they didn’t get bent or torn in my wallet or bag.
I’d visualised myself arriving at the event, meeting my friend and then we present the tickets to go in.
It was during this visualisation that I realised the tickets were still in the book, so I went and took them out and ensured I had them for the next day.
Visualizing can be helpful especially when creating checklists before they become habitual. It also helps when going to events or activities that aren’t every day occurrences as you can before
Strategy 11) Set an alarm out of reach so you can’t snooze it
This strategy specifically relates to waking up in the morning. If you use your phone as your alarm you probably have it close to you when you go to sleep.
If you’re like me then you can easily hit the snooze button repeatedly and fall back asleep.
This is a major factor in running late in the morning. It also causes you to feel more tired than if you just woke up on the first alarm.
If you have your phone on your bed or you have a Fitbit or smart watch, you can set smart alarms that wake you up at the perfect time in your sleep cycle. This helps you wake up feeling refreshed.
You should also have an alarm that is out of reach, so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.
Another option is app alarms on the phone that require you scan a barcode or item before they will turn off.
This may be the barcode on the milk in the fridge or any item you set so you have to get out of bed and scan that item before the alarm will go off.
Having multiple alarms and alarms that you can’t snooze helps a lot in getting up in the morning.
Prioritize and get ready to leave long before you need to leave.
While it’s helpful to have repeatable checklists for going to work in the morning and recurring events.
A checklist for going to work might not help you when you’re friend asks you to go out to a movie at night.
Ensure you know your priorties when getting ready.
For example, you could leave the house without having your morning coffee or breakfast, but you can’t leave the house without getting dressed.
Priortize the order you get ready. If you’re ready to walk out the door, then don’t turn on the tv or get on the internet until you think you need to get ready.
If you’re dressed and ready to leave 2 hours before you need to leave, that’s fine. You might to avoid eating a messy bowl of spaghetti or anything where you could get food on your clothes but if you’re just going to watch tv or go on the internet, then get dressed before you do that.
This happened to me once when I had a job interview
- The first interview was scheduled at 10:30am, and the email for the second interview said “see you at around the same time at 10am for the second interview”
- I saw see you at around the same time and assumed it was 10:30am
- I didn’t recheck the email until I was about to leave
- Lucky I had prepared to arrive 30 minutes early and I had prioritised so was fully dressed and ready to leave early
- I just made it on time and got the job
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and found it useful. You can get the show notes and all the strategies from this weeks episode at: ADHDproductivity.com/podcast