Time management tips for better Executive Functioning

EF Management Tips and Tricks – Part IV
Time Management Systems to Develop into Habits

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
PART FOUR: In support of The Executive Functioning Series

Quick Review:

In the introduction to this part of the article, I went over some of the concepts underlying the systems approach and why it works.

Basically, systems and habits help us conserve cognitive resources for when they are really needed. I added the caveat that nothing works for everyone any more than one size fits ALL very well.

For those of you who have the motivation and time to figure out how to make an “off the rack” outfit fit you perfectly, be sure to read for the sense of the underlying principles and tweak from there to fit your very own life.

If you can’t “sew” and are disinclined to take the time to learn (since most of us have trouble keeping up with what we are already trying to squeeze into our days), remember that I offer systems development coaching, and would love to turn my attention to your life.

I am going to warn everyone one last time that few of my clients ever really hear me the first dozen times, so don’t be too surprised when the importance of some of these Basics float right past you too.

The sooner you make friends with the basic concepts – and put them into place – the sooner life gets a lot easier, more intentional, and a whole lot more fun.

FIVE Underlying System Basics

Found in Part-2
Feed Your Head
2. Structure is your FRIEND
3. Nothing takes a minute

Found in Part-3
4. Write it down (any “it”)

In this section:
5. PAD your schedule
PAD-ing: Planning Aware of Details™

Don’t forget, as you read the final principle:

Each of you will, most likely, need to tweak to fit.  However, some version of all five underlying concepts need to be incorporated into your life (with systems and work-arounds in place and habitual) before challenges recede and strengths have more room to present themselves in your lives.

No pressure — let ’em simmer in your brain’s slow-cooker.

As long as you don’t actively resist you will be one step closer to getting a handle on that systematizing to follow-through thing.

So let’s get TO it!

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5. PAD your schedule

Does your datebook look like your life?

Wait! I think I need to back up.

Use a datebook – any one of the bazillion formats on the market that appeals to you. The simpler the better.

For the same reason I was thrilled when Mark (from Part-3) finally decided to try writing things down, it is my experience that paper calendars and day planners work miracles that computerized versions do not. (More later about why – take the coaching meanwhile)

NOW, back to my original question: Does your datebook look like your life?

If you are like most of my clients, the answer is, probably not. If all I could learn about you came from studying your datebook, it probably looks like you live a life of leisure.

When I look at most datebooks (sadly, even my own, many days), I see A LOT of what the art world calls “white space” — punctuated by a measly few “appointments” written next to the time they start.

So, WHAT? — do you crawl back into bed between those one-line items?
Dissolve into nothingness, perhaps?

PAD-ing: Planning Aware of Details™

  • How LONG are these “appointments” likely to take?
  • What about travel and transition time — at BOTH ends?
  • How long does it take you to get ready, and when do you plan to do THAT?
  • What things must you have with you? What must you pick up while you’re there?
  • When do you need to conclude “Appointment #1” to begin to transition to the next thing on your agenda? (What IS that, by the way?)
  • What’s involved to ensure that “Appointment #2” goes relatively stress-free?
  • Are those items reflected in your datebook?

Hit the Highlights

It’s NOT the best idea for those of us with “alphabet disorders(EFD, TBI, PTSD, ADD etc.) to go into a great deal of detail IN our datebooks. Same thing is true for those of us for whom any of the Executive Functions are starting to slip. That is NOT what I’m suggesting you do with the questions immediately above this paragraph.

I AM suggesting you mark out 30 minutes, for example, for “Get ready for 3 PM appt,” and 15 minutes for “Leave NOW” IN your datebook. (Yes, it will take most of us 15 minutes to walk out a door!)

Reservations Required

Think of PAD-ing like reserving a room in a hotel: there are only so many rooms, so the hotel staff needs to know when to stop taking reservations to avoid a late-night pile-up in the lobby.

If you don’t reserve the time IN YOUR DATEBOOK, you are likely to say yes to more “reservations” than you have “rooms.”

And you’re highly unlikely to recall that those rooms need to be readied, as you leisurely attend to some other little detail.

“If it’s not in your book, it’s not in your life!” ~ mgh

My clients and students have heard me sing that little ditty since 1994. In an upcoming post in my Series about time structures I’ll go into a lot more detail, but for right now, let me say this:

When your time is not scheduled, your life is not your life.

Without a written reminder of what you meant to be doing with your day, most of us have no choice BUT to careen, moment-to-moment, from consideration to crises to conflict — burning up our cognitive resources as we attempt to cope.

If you’re like most of us, when someone says, “Do you have a minute,” looking at a full datebook will go a l-o-n-g way toward motivating you to say, “Not really – how about tomorrow at 2-pm?”

And if THEY are like most of us, they are a lot more likely to go away and stop distracting you if they have seen a datebook with more than a few isolated appointments dotting its pages!

Related Post: The Condo Concept of Time Management

4 Padding Tips that will probably work for most of you

Below are four more comments about “PAD-ing,” with thanks to Dr. Ari Tuckman for his books, writings and podcasts; I compiled a few of his tips below (Intros mine – his words in “quotes”)

  1. PAD with time from the day BEFORE: “In order to avoid starting the day late and allowing it to snowball, make a point of getting to bed on time, then getting out on time. Many morning problems really start the night before by getting into bed too late or not doing what’s needed to be ready to roll. Keep the morning routine as simple as possible and do some things the night before.”
  2. PAD with built-in catch-up time: “Build slack time into your day to absorb unexpected over-flow from various activities.”
  3. Keep a lid on PAD-ing Optimism; think worst-case-scenario vs. best, then PAD: “Avoid best-case scenario planning and build in time for unexpected events, transitions, and breaks. Then pad it a little if it’s something really worth being on time for.”
  4. PAD your ‘IN ORDER TO’s: “Create a schedule ahead of time of what gets done when. Count time backwards—for example, ‘To get there by 2:00, I need to park by 1:50, leave home by 1:20, and start getting ready by 1:10.’

ONE last thing . . .

My clients have often said that planning sounds like too much work, or that it would take too much time, or that the idea of doing this for the rest of their lives is daunting. So they are reluctant to begin.

Well guess what? Most of you won’t have to do it forever once you have built your intentionality muscle and developed some habits that put most of the things that used to trip you up on autopilot.

You will find it increasingly easier to stay on the path you intend to travel without a lot of agita (or planning) because you have actually changed pathways in your brain to allow you to DO what you intend to do to keep your days on track.

But you will probably find it oh-so-difficult to do unless you change what you are doing NOW. Take the time to build those new habits to build those new pathways.

Take the coaching!

Remember, if you want some personalized help with accountability and developing those habits, that is what I DO. And I’d love to do it with you.  Get in touch if you want to talk about it.

One last time — questions for you:

If you’ve already tried any of the techniques suggested in this 4-part article:

  • Were you able to develop the habit of using them?
    How long did THAT take?
  • How did it go? Where were the glitches?
    Any stoppers?
  • Did you make any tweaks you can share?

If you haven’t:

  • What are you doing NOW – and where are the breakdowns?
  • What can you share that already works well enough?
  • If you had to use one of these techniques, which seems most likely to work for you? How come?

Ring in below, so we can learn from each other —
EVERYBODY has in-sights to share!

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IN ANY CASE, 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 article (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!)

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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!"

82 Responses to Time management tips for better Executive Functioning

  1. Pingback: Putting things on autopilot gets more DONE | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. dgkaye says:

    Great info here as always M. So important to stay organized,especially that we all seem to be living life at lightning speed. Rushing out doors without eating, putting mascara on in the car, and attention focused in too many directions definitely calls for some padding down. I like to check my calendar each night to see what’s on tap for the next day. Do I have a doctor’s appointment? I’ll pack up my pills and whatever else I need to bring and place them beside my purse so as not to forget. Going grocery shopping? I’ll take that running list I have going weekly of items I’m running short on and place it in my purse.
    If I don’t do these things, surely they’ll be forgotten. So do I pass? Lol 🙂 xo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. daisymae2017 says:

    Thanks for this post. Everyone needs it. Reblogged this on http://daisymae2017.wordpress.com and shared on LinkedIn.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. daisymae2017 says:

    Interesting and Informative Post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Since retiring, one of the tools I was most relieved to leave behind was my planner. My assistant filled in my appointments and I did my best to make as many of them as possible.

    For the past few years, my “schedule” has been far more lax. I have been incredibly selective about any commitments I make that will impact on my time, or require me to leave home (unless I’m out hiking or traveling).

    Now that my blog is taking off, I’ve realized that previously well-honed time management skills have atrophied.

    Perhaps it’s time to invest in a new planner. Your advice, once again, is clear, well thought out, and very appealing. Thanks Madelyn!

    Liked by 1 person

    • No wonder you jettisoned the whole idea on retirement. You had to dance to a drum-beat that wasn’t of your own making for YEARS.

      Now YOU get to choose what you do with your time. And if you don’t, blogging will eat your life – lol. (I’m still working on it myself.)

      The point of planning is to tailor your life fit your goals – especially the ones that are FUN and relaxing!

      Great comment, Gabe. Thanks so much for making time to visit. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yeah, I generally sleep until my carer rings the doorbell. I don’t book anything until at least 1pm giving me plenty of time to get going. Then it’s Game-On! I do use my diary for appointments, when bills are due, income is due and when it’s convenient to pick things up when I’m in the vicinity of shops, so I better use my time out and about. But I don’t need to schedule every living breathing moment. I can deal with a little flexibility. I like to think you would be proud. Cheers,H

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your tweaks, Helen. One might assume you don’t really need to schedule, when the opposite is actually true. When it’s a hassle to get out and about, you really don’t want to make more trips than necessary just because you don’t write it down.

      Proud? It sounds to me like you could teach the class!


  7. Christy B says:

    Ah, and here I thought I was outdated by having a paper calendar ~ I’m feeling better about that now!! I’m also thinking I need to put in “slack time” as you call it into my day. It’s just go-go-go otherwise. By including that downtime I would allow for projects that take longer than expected and also allow myself a bit more time to relax. Thanks M as always. I hope your weekend is going well xx The EF series has taught me a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. -Eugenia says:

    👍👍Excellent, mgm.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The date book is a saving grace for us to keep on track and we use it to the max. We don’t account for every minute but we do note most for the purpose of seeing where we’ve been so we know where we wanna go. Each morning and evening we review perhaps just to justify why we are tired but we like the justification, lol. The hard part though are those regular unscheduled interruptions that we so enjoy but do add a wrinkle once in awhile. Great post Madelyn. We loved the joke Dolly noted above.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your system sounds perfect for you. The tricks, as you’ve discovered, are 1-not to get too attached to staying “on track” every single moment so you can enjoy (or at least accommodate) those moments life throws your way, and 2- to review and reschedule daily.

      Is Miss “bug-bites on top of bug-bites” back from her trek down the Appalachian Trail? I hope you are planning to share about her most recent adventure. Inquiring minds are eager to hear.

      If you’ve already posted about it, leave us a link, please (or leave one when you do).


      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes we love those moments life throws are way. As Chuck noted in his comment, retirement relieves so much stress.

        “Miss ‘bug bites'” lol, is still on the trail and from the last message is exhausted. They packed on more miles this time and at one point water nearly ran out. God love her for doing it and she’ll poke me for sure when she returns but the comforts of home are nice, lol. I’m sure she’ll be putting something together although I don’t know if there’ll be too many pics because they try to reserve cell power for the “in case of” situations. I can’t imagine dialing 911 while that black bear is trying to get your sandwich. I’ll have to ask Gabe that one. Glad being with you on this journey Madelyn.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You guys are some of the best appreciators on the web!

          I had a similar reaction to not wanting to burn up cell storage during a recent power outage that lasted from 7pm until almost 2AM (a thunderstorm took out a “center” of some sort, so thousands of us were affected). No worry about bears, however. 🙂

          Not being able to run the fans or AC was the biggest challenge, so I opened windows and doors and Tink and I went out on our little porchlet until it was quite dark. (We were treated to a DOUBLE rainbow once the rain stopped).

          Once the sun went down I got out a few of those battery-powered candles and worked on lists, etc. by artificial candlelight, feeling for all the world like Abe Lincoln in his cabin days. I finally gave it up and went to bed, awakening shortly after to the sudden noise of fans, AC, the pings of my computer, etc. – not to mention all the lights coming back on. YAY!

          The mosquitoes really liked it when the rain stopped 🙂 – and the fact that dinner was just inside the open windows, easily accessed through warped screens. My sympathies for EVERYONE hiking!


  10. Chuck says:

    Hi Madelyn,
    I enjoyed your piece. I’m so glad I’m retired and don’t have to deal with time management. My organization had someone come in once a year and teach a course for the newbies and a update for the others. We had a paper system contained in folder that connected, calendar, to notes, to project status, etc. It worked great and kept team members connected. My last few years, they converted it to a computer system and it was even more effective. My only problem was sometime I spent too much time keeping the time management system updated, that got behind on the actual tasks. I’m glad to be retired and don’t miss it at all. LOL Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Chuck! Thanks for this comment.

      I know what you mean about needing a time management system to have time to manage the time management system – lol. When an entire workteam needs access, updating takes a great deal more time than tracking for a single person – it’s actually more of a “team management” system.

      Professionally, I’m not fan of those complex tracking systems — I doubt that they are worth the total hit to productivity for each employee to track productivity to that level. I’d offload the task to a team manager and let the team do what you hired them to do – with, perhaps, the use of a quick (single-page) checklist system if you simply must standardize tracking.

      Many brilliant and creative ADD/EFDers I’ve coached struggle with time-sheets and billing already! I’ve been hired to coach that little chore alone!

      Personal time management is more streamlined (meaning for home management vs. work requirements) — more like a calendared to-do list, and worth developing. Many people report getting A LOT more done at home when they were working, while day drifts into days of undone to-dos once they retire.

      If you can afford the protracted “vacation” functioning after retirement. the important things are moving forward relatively well, I’d say you’ve already reached “good enough.” If services are being disrupted, you are frequently eating junk-food because you run out of food supplies since grocery shopping has become frustrating, and/or late fees are chronic, etc., that’s a sign that a management system is probably necessary.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. noelleg44 says:

    As a forced multi-tasker for many years, I not only had a calendar filled with dates and activities, but I wrote out a schedule for each day so that I could insert things that came up and add things I did to remind myself – and carried it around with me. Now my calendar is largely empty – the white space = writing and swimming time. Household activities I don’t schedule but I do make a mental list each night before I sleep about what needs to be done the next day. I guess I am in love with lists!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for ringing in here, Noelle – and you underscore an important point. There is very little “start-with/stay-with”” in systems for life-management.

      Since you have a background of years of strict calendar management, you’ve internalized your system. Most folks like you have no problem with white-space in your datebooks because you already have habits and boundaries in place and know what you want to do with the unscheduled time.

      Interesting that you got hooked on the list habit – lol. Have you reached the point where you make mental lists of your mental lists? 🙂 Kinda’ like counting sheep – lol.


  12. John Fioravanti says:

    Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie provides us with a wonderful and practical plan for making your day productive and as stress-free as possible. This is helpful for anyone who wants to own their own days! Please, read on…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. to use a data book is a super idea… I have one …and it sadly looks like my life… there is not much white space, there is chaos… think I need such a ringbook where I can remove the pages and the things I want to forget LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mom’s is one of those ring-binder deals – a DayTimer™ which she has used since she was a puppy (18 is a puppy in human years). But she needs to throw things away! She puts those datebooks and ALL the page on a shelf, year after year. She says it is better than a diary (whatever THAT is!)
      Woof! TINK


  14. All of these are excellent strategies and very well presented, and all of them remind me of an old joke: How many psychologists to you need to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.
    I sincerely hope that your excellent posts make some dim light bulbs want to become bright!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. For me the concept of padding comes naturally, but I’ve been known to yank the padding when I’ve need a bit more time elsewhere. And that just might be the problem. Also, I do like paper calendars for the office and it took time to adjust to the electronic calendar version. These days I function fairly well with electronic calendars, BUT…when I ran a carpool with other mothers I became a bit type A and created a monthly calendar that we could follow. Perfect decor for the refrigerator. This way we could remember our girl’s schedules and who was picking up or taking! Whew! I’m glad my daughter drives these days! But I do miss all the chatter from these sweet girls! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Another great post, Madelyn. I start every day with a to do list and I always have. I schedule travelling time into my on-line diary. So my life should be organised, should it? It is all the unexpected “urgents” that pop up nearly every day that derail everything but at least I can re-write all the things that I never got to the day before easily from my list. That is life I suppose.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You have an entire household to contend with — including kids who need more time and attention than the “norm.” The goal is to schedule and to TRACK, not to make sure you complete “on schedule.” We do what we can — progress not perfection! If I accomplished everything you do I’d be thrilled.

      Liked by 1 person

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