How Long Do Things Take?


Predicting Time to Manage Tasks

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Time & Task Management Series
Part ONE

sand_timer_sWhat’s YOUR Tendency?

Procrastination Specialist Timothy A. Pychyl, Success Specialist Heidi Grant Halvorson, and a number of other helpful psychologists have written any number of great articles about planning and time management on their Psychology Today blogs.

Once you’ve read my take on the topic, be sure to click on some of their articles in the Related Links at the bottom of this article for their particular brand of explanation and help.

Those of you who find it easier to believe in and try techniques backed by “official studies” will especially love what they have to say.

As regular readers already know, I tend to put more faith in what science refers to as “anecdotal evidence”  — learning from what I have observed in my clients and myself, and what I have heard from thousands of ADDers who have attended conferences and participated in my support groups and workshops in the twenty five years I have been in the field.

As I expanded my evidence collection to include the experiences of the other citizens of Alphabet City (TBI, OCD, EFD, AS, etc.), I began to mentally record their experiences as well, and factor them in to my techniques and theories.

It doesn’t matter.  Your job is the same either way: check your gut to see what makes the most sense to you and try it on.  Tweak from there.

  • When something works well for you, enjoy the moment and stick the technique in your box of cognitive tools.
  • When it doesn’t, don’t despair – check out another tool.

But hang on to the first!!  Just because you need a screwdriver NOW doesn’t mean you won’t need a hammer later!

My take on Anecdotal

When the science supports what I see in the population, I quote it.  When it doesn’t, I ignore it or argue with it.

  • It makes no difference if 98 out of 100 people studied tend to do xyz if my client and I happen to be among the 2% who do qrs.
  • For years I struggled valiantly attempting to adopt “majority rules” norms — with little to no success and a lot of wasted life.
  • It took a long time for me to develop even a rudimentary feeling of entitlement to my own process, learning to close my ears to the words of the “experts” and neurotypical Doubting Thomases who kept telling me that I was only kidding myself or making excuses.
  • I was all too aware that my shoulders were battered and bruised from my attempts to force myself through doors that simply wouldn’t open for me.  I had to teach myself to stop banging on locked doors and look for another way to get in – and I’m still working on it.

I coach, train and share here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com hoping to help others avoid some of the wilderness-wandering that has characterized much of my own life. And to remind myself of what I’ve learned.

Trying something different

I want to encourage you to find what works, not what is supposed to work

So, in the first part of this multi-part article, let’s take a look together at how people relate to time and how that affects our ability to plan our schedules and run our lives.

Let’s examine the real stoppers to OUR forward progress to see if we can figure out how to work around them, independent of the “standard” assumptions and techniques developed from them – a process I refer to as Sherlocking.

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The Sense of Time

Stopwatch_clipboardMy neurotypical friend Sammy has an inner stop-watch that never ceases to amaze me.  He can tell you the time whenever you ask, practically to the minute, and without looking at an external timepiece.  I used to believe that he got some kind of secret cue from the position of the sun that I couldn’t pick up on, until I noted that he can do it in the middle of the darkest of nights as well.

He tells me that he “feels” the passage of time and that it feels like input from any of the other of his senses. He experiences no more pressure from his awareness of time than he does from his awareness of hunger (or the need to go to the bathroom).  It is simply information he can use to decide how to structure his schedule and his life.

He has learned how long most things take to do, and is pretty good at planning his time as a result. When something unexpected skews his estimate, he simply adjusts – no biggie.

I can’t relate

  • If I rely on a gut-check, I’m in trouble. I can barely tell you if it is night or day without looking out the window, much less how long I have been at a task, how much more time it might take me to finish, and how much longer I can work before I must move on to another item on my agenda.
  • I am frequently startled by how very much time has gone by when I look up from my current task “a minute later” and another day has turned to night — when panic and terror hit me in waves.
  • As a result, planning has always been a nightmare for me.  I struggle mightily with scheduling!

And then there’s Sue

Kozzi.com

Kozzi.com

“Susan” (a client with comorbid ADD/OCD) seems to have a fairly good sense of time, but she frequently gets trapped in whatever she is doing in the moment and ignores her inner timepiece until her mounting “too much to do and not enough time” anxiety becomes so great she shuts down.

The resulting rumination-time throws further wrinkles into her schedule, increasing her anxiety as well as her resolve to rush the conclusion of her current task, which further exacerbates her OCD.  She attempts perfection faster as she spirals ever downward, stressed to the max.

Her completion time estimates can be off by DAYS.

Peter’s Process

Before the head-on collision that landed him in the hospital for three months and left him with a limp, Peter’s sense of time was more like Sammy’s. He is now struggling with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).

His current state of recovery has left him with severe short-term memory deficits that complicate staying on track for certain types of tasks.  Many times he simply has to stop before the frustration shuts him down completely.  That makes it difficult to figure out how long those things will take, from start to finish.

He also gets overwhelmed and exhausted a lot more easily and often attempting to accomplish any of life’s many tasks and to-dos, and he still hasn’t learned how much he can schedule in any particular day before he simply runs out of steam.

His inner body-clock seems to be a bit damaged as well – even things he might expect to be able to handle quickly and easily never seem to take the time in which he used to be able to do them.  Everything seems more difficult to do and takes more time than it used to.  He feels like life is one long process of catch-up and fall behind.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Logic would dictate that the same advice about how to work with time to be able to schedule tasks would never work for each of the four of us, right?

What might look like “procrastination,” or failure to follow-through, for example, would have a two completely different sources for Sammy and Susan, another one for me, and still another for Peter.

I’d like to suggest the high likelihood that there will be
yet another underlying your struggles with intentionality and productivity
.

What each of us need to DO to get into action and end our apparent problems with scheduling and follow-through will depend on what’s causing the problem in the first place.  Duh! 

And I’m fairly certain that your stoppers won’t be the same as most of those in the so-called neurotypical population – so good luck incorporating the results of those studies!

Making things tougher still is the reality that different tasks are likely to have their own unique sources of struggle.

  • What keeps me from cleaning my house is not the same mix of stoppers that gets in the way of finishing one of my books and shipping it off to be published.
  • And the rationale behind the stoppers is not nearly as simple as blaming it on the degree to which I enjoy each of the tasks themselves, or even my degree of interest in seeing them done.

Nor are the stoppers a factor of the type of task themselves. 

Writing, for example, comes easily for me, especially “short” format pieces like blog articles. I enjoy it immensely as long as the WordPress.com folks have left things the way I found them last time.

If “all” I have to do is sit down and write, I can knock off a new article and post it relatively quickly and with relative ease — even though writing and publishing content on a blog is not as straightforward a process as using pen and paper, a typewriter, or a word processor.

Unfortunately for me, sitting down intending to write and being able to do so is NOT the case as often as it is anymore – but it has nothing to do with what others might call “writer’s block,” nor is it a clean and clear example of “procrastination.”

Follow my process as you Sherlock your own

As you examine some of the details of my particular problem examples below, think about some of the areas in your own life that might look like one type of problem but are actually the result of something else entirely. 

ONLY when we take the time to Sherlock the details of how and why we get stuck are we able to figure out what might work to help us get UNstuck!  And I promise you that it is RARELY as simple or straightforward as the self-help books might lead you to believe.  Everything depends on how any particular task intersects with your particular Challenges Profile™.

So here are some of the pieces that contribute to MY scheduling problem –
keep your own in mind as you read.

  • Instead of writing, my concentration on the communication is frequently decimated by being forced to figure out how to work around new formatting glitches introduced by the latest “improvement” to the WordPress platform.
  • My other choice is to enter into a protracted penpal relationship with another in a long line of what WordPress calls its “Happiness Engineers” in an attempt to get them to understand and duplicate the latest glitches so I can get them fixed.  Sheesh!
  • Both of which take away from the time I have to run my life without giving me any sense of completion I can use as wind beneath my wings to get still more accomplished, in this venue or another.

The greater problem comes with accumulated experience

I tend to approach blogging with dread rather than joy with each new “upgrade.”  I also get stopped more quickly with the first thing that goes “wrong.” It makes it tougher for me to “just DO it” now that I have a great deal of “evidence” of my failure to be able to simply write — without technical stoppers.

The total accumulation of potential stoppers complicates scheduling my time immensely, which makes it tough to decide when to begin much of anything at all.

  • If I attempt to write and post an article, will it take the “usual” four to six hours on this platform – or will I have to add another two, three or more to the task when things don’t “do” the way I set them to do?
  • How many back-and-forths will it take for a Happiness Engineer to even comprehend what I’m reporting, much less to find and fix the latest problem — and how much additional time will THAT take?

Since sitting down to post an article on ADDandSoMuchMore has a high-likelihood of throwing the rest of my schedule into a tailspin, you might think it would be logical that I would tend to avoid it – “procrastinating,” as the experts might say.

But that’s not what *I* do. 

With writing objectives I’m more like Susan, even though I don’t normally have to work around OCD functioning issues at all. In this case, however, everything ELSE gets “procrastinated” as I hyperfocus on attempting to get an article written and published.  So the “standard” advice about time management and scheduling is likely to do nothing more than make me wrong and shut me down.

To handle the scheduling problems created by attempting to write when the platform I’m wiring on doesn’t support my efforts, I need to Sherlock what’s really going on in MY particular case.  And I need to keep my total functioning imperatives into account as I do so.  So do you.

Looking at the details of any problem with follow-through

There is no room for a dishwasher in my current apartment, so I’m stuck with the task of washing everything by hand.

Creative Commons, Wikipedia

Creative Commons, Wikipedia

During a recent period of several weeks when there was a sink-drainage problem, water backed up in my kitchen sink and my dishes piled up unwashed.

During this period, it could take several hours for the sink to drain completely, and increasingly powerful drain cleaners did little to clear the clog effectively.

Since water here takes several minutes of running before it approaches a temperature anyone might consider HOT, the sink filled with cold water before I had a shot at getting water hot enough to clean anything.

It made me mad to have to boil water before I could wash my dishes, so I didn’t.

Getting my shorts in a knot about the drainage problem wasn’t going to make it go away, and emotional upset increased the difficulty I had getting anything ELSE accomplished.  It made sense to stay busy elsewhere so I wasn’t constantly aware of the problem building in the kitchen.

Except for nightly applications of drain cleaner and flushing out the mess in the sink, a process that seemed to be undone by morning, I tried to avoid using the kitchen sink at all as I waited for my landlord to find and fix the problem. Day turned into day.

Even though the resulting mess was hateful in many ways, and even though I could not FORCE myself to handle it “in real time,” waiting was more of a choice than a problem with procrastination.

In case you are one of my neurotypical readers wondering why I didn’t turn to disposable dishes or eat out for the duration — really think about it for a minute!

First, I didn’t expect the problem to take long to resolve, and second, my decision-process is always complicated by trash-management concerns, economic concerns, time concerns — and ruminating about what the neurotypical world might be likely to say about THAT.

I try to avoid rumination and Boggle Bait whenever possible. The rest of you reading can understand and relate, right?

After the Fall

Once the drain problem was fixed, however, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the task at that point.  So I “procrastinated” for a day (okay, two days!)

Given the nature and importance of the rest of the items on my schedule, I didn’t feel comfortable justifying the time I was fairly certain it would take to handle the entire task, nor did I want to attempt to manage the stress and anxiety I felt every time I walked into that kitchen.  So I didn’t.

In that instance, and for that particular task, FINALLY getting it done became “simply” a matter of following some of the more conventional advice:

  • Chunking it down to categories (work on the silverware, now the cups, etc.)
  • Working in small segments of time after setting a timer (in this case, the one minute it took to rewarm the ever-present cup of cold coffee by my side at my computer)
  • Making sure I didn’t make the problem any worse until I had cleared the dish backlog and put everything away (My new rule for the duration: I had to wash whatever I wanted to use, rather than grabbing one of the few items that were already clean, and I wasn’t allowed to add any new dishes to the dirty pile – I had to wash and put away immediately after using, even if I didn’t make much of a dent in the rest of the problem) 

It was a pretty hateful period of follow-through during which time I did more than my share of bitchin’-and-moanin’ (which only made things harder), but I did manage to clear the backlog without throwing the rest of my schedule into chaos.

And it “only” took me a week, too!

Time and Timing

If it had happened at a time when I felt I had to drop everything else to clean up the mess as quickly as possible – if I were expecting a house guest or throwing a party – I’m not sure how many other domino problems might have resulted, or what I might have had to do to clear up those problems.

But I’ll bet you a month’s free coaching that whatever I ended up doing wouldn’t have responded to exactly the same intervention approach that allowed me to – eventually – clean and put-away several weeks worth of dirty dishes.

I would have known that the resultant stress of having to remain at a totally odious task until it was completed, coupled with the fear that everything else was falling apart for lack of time and attention, would have had a negative impact on my follow-through time as well, increasing the activation energy needed to initiate the project to begin with.

That would have negatively affected the motivation necessary to do much of anything about it but complain.  So I would have to have taken EACH of those factors into consideration to be able to come up with a way to accomplish the task.  If I didn’t believe that what I was going to try was likely to work, I would have had NO motivation to try anything at all!

The impact of others

I’ll bet you another month of coaching where I pay you that if my landlord had insisted on entering my apartment during the time before I had completed the task, she would have had a FIT. That’s kind of how she rolls.

My defensive (and angry) reaction to her inappropriate and over-the-top lecture would have increased the time it would have taken me to get it done as it doubled the difficulty I would have had staying on task.

  • Those of you who live with Beloveds who tend to roll like my landlord won’t be able to do much about it, most likely.  I haven’t had much success getting my landlord to stop that nonsense, and she doesn’t even have to live here.
  • But you simply must let yourselves off the hook and adjust your timing estimates when you find it all the more difficult to keep from “procrastinating” after one of Beloved’s tirades.  Joining in on the beatings will only exacerbate the problem.

So what WILL help?

magicWand

If I had a magic wand that could turn you all into happy human do-bees, I’d stop coaching, training and writing articles and get rich quick selling get fixed quick wand-zapping services through a single page on this blog.

My reputation would spread far and wide without any effort on my part, and life would be easier for everyone I helped in one quick stroke of wizardry.

Unfortunately, such a magic wand does not exist.

If I could give clients a list of tried and true steps that worked for everyone I’d have a great deal more time to sit around “eating bon bons” myself.  Unfortunately, that list of tried and true steps doesn’t exist either.

Even the neurotypical crowd has to tweak the standard advice to make it work better for their individual circumstances.  More of the standard advice is likely to work for them, but nothing really works out of the box for anyone.

Modular Success Systems

Most of my clients, most readers of this blog and I, myself, need to look beyond the standard advice, however – we don’t have standard-issue brains.

We must take more factors into account than our neurotypical friends and loved-ones as we develop our life success systems — which means a higher probability that no two of us will respond to the same advice, even if the advice comes straight out of The Neurodiverse Playbook.

Yet, if you’ll think of building our life systems as a modular process (one from Column A, two from Column B and so on), our list of choices becomes more straight-forward and less complex.  Think of this article – and all of the articles on this blog – as a no cost outline and explanation of the modules that work best for US.

Stay tuned for more of this article and more in this Series – and do take the time to read the Related Content I always include with every new post.  Life really CAN be easier to manage when you are clear about the sum total of what needs to be managed and why!

As you read, think module application Like any modular process, you only choose the modules that make sense with what you are trying to develop — but you can’t choose much of anything if you haven’t taken the time to look at what’s available.  Building from scratch is old technology and grabbing the first items you see is not the best approach either.

Most of us secretly resent the time it takes to research the parameters that will allow us to develop effective work-arounds.  It really is a much more effective use of your time, however, than charging full-steam-ahead and being surprised when it doesn’t work as expected, despite the sincere application of time and energy.

Do your best to be patient with yourselves as you take the time it takes to read about the potential pitfalls and research possible solutions.  Try NOT to take vanilla comments to heart when they admonish you for procrastinating or avoiding while you take the time to figure out your own best way to proceed.

How in the world can you expect yourselves to PLAN much of anything at all if your projections are made from someone else’s functional abilities?

Even if you know yourself and your functioning well already, there is value to seeing in black and white that you are not the ONLY person who struggles with tasks others seem to do easily and quickly.  It helps to avoid the shut-down that happens with stress, which shortens completion time considerably.

So stay tuned – and keep reading!

No TIME to read all this stuff? 

man-on-phoneAfter the holidays, watch for the announcement of an upcoming 12-week TeleClass on Modular Success Systems that will help you sort through a great many of the available modules and design an action plan guaranteed to be easier than what most of you are currently attempting to work with – a much cheaper alternative to hiring my personal coaching services (and the FIRST time I offer a new class is always your least expensive option by far!).

As always, class size will be small to allow for personal attention, so don’t miss the announcement if you want to make sure you sign up before the first class fills.

If you already know that this is something you are going to want to be part of, leave me a comment below and I’ll make sure you have advanced notice (fill in your name and email on the comment form or I won’t be able to contact you).

Meanwhile, keep reading as often as you can!  To double the benefit, whenever I post a new article, make it a habit to pick at least one of the Related Content links to read at the same time.  If you’ll “like” or comment after the pages you’ve read, it will help you keep track and will point others to posts you find especially helpful (as well as helping ME to know what you want me to write about).

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IN ANY CASE, do stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)


You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

COACHING LINKS at end of all posts

Related articles here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

Other supports for this article – on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

A few Related Articles from Psychology Today

Related Articles ’round the ‘net – with tips that may or may not work for YOU
(some of the ones that speak to ME are in BOLD)

What the students have to say

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

8 Responses to How Long Do Things Take?

  1. Pingback: Sleep Timing and Time Tangles | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Expectations Mismatches & Moon Men | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. Addtherapist says:

    my first thought about the dishes was to use the tub!

    Like

    • Re: bathtub — my first thought too — but there were several reasons why I had to abandon that idea. It would have spread the mess and made things worse. It’s behind me now, in any case, and Christmas is before me. Gotta’ run!

      Thanks for your comment.

      xx,
      mgh

      Like

  4. busydarling says:

    I don’t GET people who can live by clocks. I honestly don’t, and I think most of Africa don’t get them either.
    I don’t ‘get’ time. Just like a dyslexic wonders about the existence of Dog… I am relatively unaware of the concept of minutes and hours.
    With a regular schedule I do better, but there are just too many variables.
    A minute when wholly awake is a long time, one when not fully awake is like a second. This means I can’t really ‘plan’ when I’ll need longer in the mornings, for example!

    I wonder if I’m the only one in this; but my body and mind respond relatively strongly to natural cues.
    Basically, that means that living in Northern Europe screws me. Especially after a childhood in South-Africa, when you COULD actually use the sun to tell the time. And I did. I had a strong concept of ‘natural’ time.
    And I have trouble disconnecting my body’s natural response to the amount of daylight, so ‘time’ is always effort.
    Result: daylight savings messes me up. Summers, when with daylight savings sun sets at 10:30PM mean my rhythm is screwed up, especially if I have to work. My body think’s it’s 8:PM when it’s really midnight…. In winter I have the opposite effect. Sunset at 4PM… I have trouble falling asleep because I’ve been keeping my body awake past it’s natural sleep cue too much… and I really don’t have the opportunity to go to sleep that early. If I work till midnight, like tonight, my body thinks it’s 5AM by the time I finally get to bed….
    and then people expect me to live according to an external ‘time cue’ just because THEY are distanced from their natural ‘state’.

    Like

    • I don’t get the clock thing either – obviously – but I do note that the majority of earthlings are absolutely attached to clock-time. They seem to think we need to be as well – and not just to “synchronize watches” for start times, end times and meeting times.

      I envy your relationship to the sun – and it’s not just you (but, unfortunately, not me). Most people phase to daylight — although your phasing sounds more “brittle” than many (as in “brittle diabetic”) – meaning you are more easily knocked off-phase by changes.

      Shift-work is deadly – the sleep experts have been saying that for decades! There used to be a DSM category for it. If memory serves, DSM-5 removed it?

      MOST of us with EFDs struggle with chronorhythms of all sorts – time and sleep are the most dramatic. Sure wish somebody would study it – and leave the 12 year old hyperactives OUT of that study!

      MEANWHILE, I am so behind on holiday to-dos on top of everything ELSE falling down around my ears, I must run.

      Happy Holidays – my responses will be catch-as-catch-can until 12th Nite is behind us.

      Thanks for ringing in.
      xx,
      mgh

      Like

  5. Pam Augspurger says:

    The section “I Can’t Relate” is me to a T! Time management is my biggest struggle with both the ADD and DSPS. I have no sense of how long it takes me to do anything. Even tasks I’ve done before! My husband may call me while I’m at my shop to see when I’ll be heading home. I might say in 10 minutes. An hour later I’m still there yet it only feels like a few minutes. I also have a hard time accounting for my time! And, ah yes, I’ve made procrastination into an art form all it’s own! I will hyperfocus on some issue or detail or “how-to” that is really not nearly as important as the tasks I’m avoiding, then POOF, my day is gone! How does one get a handle on time if one has no concept of it? I really need help! The older I get, the worse it seems to be getting!

    Like

    • Pam, I GET it – more than you know.

      However, I don’t think that “procrastination” really applies — and I believe it is damaging to our forward process to accept it into our being. Don’t label your behavior with that word, OK? (and click the link to Top 10 Reasons to Reframe Procrastination.

      We will never “fix” our lack of time-sense, but we must accept it to be ABLE to work around it. And it is different for each of us. Progress, not perfection!

      And yes – it does seem to worsen as we age – but that does not mean we can’t continue to work with it and make a dent in our process — at least protect ourselves from the worst effects on our lives.

      #1- For NOW, chunk things into 10-minute tasks (take a wild guess – smaller chunks than you think). Pay close attention to what you do in the next part.

      #2- Set an alarm for 10 minutes, play an unhurried “beat the clock” and see how close you came. Set for 10 minutes more for THIS chunk only. Adjust your other chunks based on what you learned about how long things take VS how long you THINK they will take.

      Unless you have an OCD piece to your process, that will probably help a bit.

      I’m sorta’ slammed myself right now, but I hope this helps.

      xx,
      mgh

      Like

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