A Helpful ADHD Tip: Timers for Daily Living – For ADHD Adults With No Sense of Time
One tool commonly recommended to ADHD adults and kids alike is a timer. As ADHDer’s, we usually don’t have a very good sense of time. When we’re hyperfocusing, time zooms by and we don’t feel it at all. When we’re bored or riding the high-speed thought-train in our heads, seconds can feel like very long minutes. We underestimate the time it takes us to get things done and we overestimate our ability to switch tasks in a timely matter.
There are lots of different timers and apps out there designed with ADHDers in mind. (My husband and I are designing one ourselves, actually…) But I am an advocate for these simple handheld devices:
I found these timers at Walmart for 87 cents. They are just like the ones I found at the dollar store not too long ago, except cheaper and better. I bought 4 of them. One for each room? No. One to use and three replacements for when I lose it.
One thing I prefer about these vs using my phone is that any time I pick up my phone, I put myself at risk of being distracted – often to the point of forgetting my original goal altogether. A little timer like this is virtually harmless. I just pick it up, set the time, and I’m done.
They have clips on them, which makes it very convenient for an ADHD person to use and keep track of. When they’re attached to you, you can’t get out of earshot (even though on a bad ADHD day it might take you a minute to register what that sound is when it starts to go off).
The downside of clipping it to my jeans is that I sometimes accidentally hit the buttons while I’m walking around. But so far, the benefits outweigh the risks. If I’ve got something in the oven, I’ll set the oven timer also, just in case. For day to day things, though, it works out great.
They also have magnets on the back, so when I’m not using them, I can put them on the refrigerator or the white board, where they won’t get buried or accidentally thrown away. And for this use, I couple it with a dry erase marker, so I can write a note to myself as to what the timer is for. (I know I’m not the only one who has forgotten what the timer was set for…)
I do miss the kick-stand feature my old ones had, but I’ll survive. These turn off automatically so the battery lasts ages longer than the previous model and that alone is worth the trade-off. Nevermind the added convenience features listed above.
So what are timers good for, anyway? I could probably come up with 1,000 ways to use them, but below are just three good uses for timers on any given ADHD day.
#1: Making Sure to Give Something Your Attention
I set timers when I know something is going to need my attention soon and I will probably forget about it. For example, I set a timer to go off every hour to help me potty train K. She needs those reminders to go and I need a reminder to remind her. (Ha! Kind of want to make that into a song…) Other examples might include taking something out of the oven, starting the crock-pot in a couple hours, checking on the kids in the tub, or letting them out of time out. (I can’t be the only one who has – with much regret and guilt – forgotten a quiet child in time-out… I hope… guilty parent)
I set timers when the kids are working independently on school work and I’ve promised to come and check on their progress in 5 or 10 minutes. Sometimes I set a timer when the washer buzzer goes off, but I can’t get to it right away and don’t want to forget about the wet clothes. (Most days I don’t even hear the washer buzzer and I most definitely forget the wet clothes. With my daily chore sticks, though, I’m getting better about making sure they get to the dryer.)
I also set timers when I’m in the middle of something, but my kids want my attention for something. So when I tell them “Just a second”, it doesn’t turn into “never”.
#2: Initiating and Committing to Tasks on Hand
A timer can help you get started on a task you’re putting off.
Personally, I haven’t had much luck with saying to myself “I’m going to start this task in 20 minutes”, setting a timer, and then actually following through when the timer goes off. I mention it, though, because it might be a helpful method for you. If you tend to procrastinate until the nebulous “later” that never arrives, it could be worth a try. At the very least, it might make you aware of just how much time you’re spending dancing around a task instead of tackling it.
One way timers have helped me to start tasks and stick to them is by committing to doing said tasks for only a set amount of time. The dishes, for example, seem to take an eternity to me and I hate doing them. If I tell myself, “I’m just going to do as many dishes as I can in 10 minutes”, instead of “I have to wash this mountain of dishes”, then I’m more likely to get started. Sometimes, I try to take advantage of leftover stamina by setting the timer again after it goes off the first time. “Just 5 more minutes”, maybe. (And I don’t watch the clock, but trust it will eventually go off…)
Dividing chores (or tasks that feel like chores) into bite-sized pieces can be a very effective tool to reduce procrastination and increase productivity.
#3: Stopping or Changing Tasks
For day to day stuff, timers can just give you a gentle tug back to real time. (Hyperfocusing, however, is a completely different beast.)
For example, if you only have 15 minutes in the morning to get your coffee and check your phone, you may want to set a timer for 15 minutes to alert you when it’s time to move on with your morning routine.
If you’re prone to getting lost in thought while showering, you can set a timer to remind you to get out. (And that’s probably more pleasant than a suddenly ice cold shower.)
If you want to limit your Netflix time to one hour a night (you must have a will of steel…), a timer can help remind you to shut it down for the evening and read a book instead.
Now Go Get One…
If you don’t have a timer, go get one! They don’t cost much and they’re extremely helpful. As I said before, I don’t always recommend using the phone, just because it’s so easy to get distracted. If all you’re doing is trying to set a timer or a reminder, it may not be worth the risk.
I haven’t tried it yet, but I have heard this Time Timer is very effective for ADHD individuals because of its visual element. Digital timers like the one I use are less ideal for situations where you need to be aware of a countdown, since the numbers don’t necessarily mean anything to our ADHD brains. The methods I listed above are more of a “call back to real time” kind of scenario and not a time management scenario. Although perhaps I will do another post on those situations in the future.
Now I want to hear from you! Do you use timers? Are they helpful to you? Let me know in the comments below!