Ho Ho Oh No! Holiday Time Management and ADHD

“I’m so confused!” was my first thought as I walked into Home Depot and saw frightening Halloween decorations for sale positioned right next to dazzling Hanukkah and Christmas delights. My initial reaction was followed by, “Wait, isn’t it a bit early for Christmas decoration sales?”. Then my heart skipped a beat and the panic set in: “Yikes! I need to get started on all that holiday stuff or I’ll never get everything done!” The onset of the holiday season can be both exhilarating and terrifying. This is one time of the year during which time management is crucial. For those struggling with ADHD and/or have loved ones challenged by ADHD, time management during the Fall holidays can be particularly daunting.

Time management encompasses the ability to both “see” and “feel” time. Visual cues are used to observe the passage of time, such as the movement of hands on an analog clock or changing shadow patterns on a sidewalk throughout the day. We feel time as we perceive its passage before, during, and after our experiences. Furthermore, we gauge our behavior using the concept of a time horizon—how near in time something needs to be for someone to be motivated into action. According to psychologist Ari Tuckman, people challenged by ADHD experience a shorter time horizon. That motivation kicks in much closer in time to when the event will take place, greatly affecting time management. Tuckman asserts that those with ADHD recognize two times: now and not now. All this spells trouble when trying to navigate the holiday months amidst deadlines, events, and additional responsibilities. However, there are strategies to help deal with the impact that ADHD plays on time management during the holidays.

Strategy 1: Start Now

Calendars: This is the time of year when the calendar becomes your best friend. That snazzy calendar app on your smartphone is sure handy because it travels with you (assuming you’re like me and take it with you everywhere) and is so versatile. However, I can’t stress enough the importance of a more visual, paper calendar for this time of year. It is much easier to visualize that time horizon as well as your increased commitments if you use a paper calendar, especially one with large day blocks in which to record entries you can readily see. If you are in charge of scheduling for a family, a personal calendar as well as a family calendar is helpful for coordinating everyone’s activities while not losing sight of your own commitments.

Schedules: Like the calendars, written schedules are crucial this time of year. Normal, day-to-day schedules are turned upside down at holiday time, and the changes can cause much anxiety for ADHD sufferers.

To-Do Lists: Not to be confused with schedules, to-do lists are lifesavers for accomplishing what needs to get done. Write it down—make it visual! Check off each task as you complete it.

Strategy 2: Commit To Keeping On Track

All the additional stimuli around the holidays—decorations, music, food, etc.—can make it difficult to stay focused and keep on track with schedules and tasks, especially if you are dealing with ADHD. To help avoid procrastination and anxiety over having too much to accomplish at the last second, set deadlines and commit to meeting them. Use phone reminders, alarms, sticky notes, or whatever works for you to keep you on the right path. For projects, use analog clocks to visualize the passage of time and therefore manage it more effectively.

Strategy 3: Avoid Overextending Yourself

Break it up: Divide big projects and large chunks of time into smaller components. Decorating the interior and exterior of a large house can be exhausting and frustrating (Remember all those tangled light strands you threw into a bin last year?). Break down the endeavor into more manageable mini-goals such as tree trimming, first floor decorations, second floor decorations, and exterior. This will help you maintain focus on the task at hand.

Schedule down time for everyone: Holiday time is hectic time. There’s a reason why everyone cherishes that post-Thanksgiving meal nap or football game on the TV.

Schedule personal time: Remember to take care of yourself so you don’t get run down. Hey, it can even be an efficient use of your time, like a luxurious mani/pedi before that fancy holiday party.

Strategy 4: Optimize Your Environment

ADHD makes it difficult to maintain focus. Make your surroundings conducive to being productive. If background music helps you stay more focused, crank the tunes while you clean the kitchen.

Strategy 5: Enlist Help

More hands ease the load. Now is not the time to tackle it all by yourself. Enlist assistance from family members living in your home as well as guests. Consider hiring professionals to help you out with cleaning, cooking, and even decorating.

Most Importantly: Enjoy This Time of Year!

The holiday season is a magical, chaotic time. It is a time to be joyous, thankful, and celebratory. Utilizing a few time management strategies will help ensure that you and your loved ones have a delightful experience.


Guest writer: Margie Fortman
Margie has been a professional organizer with Simplify Experts since April 2018. She recently attended the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) conference and learned more about ADHD and time management.


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