ADHD and Time Management Challenges

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

ADHD and Time Management Challenges

All teens struggle at times to manage competing activities, commitments, and assignments, but many teens with ADHD have severe time management problems that go beyond what most at their age experience.

These difficulties with time management can cause significant anxiety and stress for the teen throughout the school year.

They can also contribute to conflicts with parents, who find themselves in the position of ‘nagging’ their teen or helping to pick up the pieces when they repeatedly miss assignment due dates, stay up all night to finish projects at the last minute, and forget about after-school appointments or commitments.

Fortunately, time management skills can be learned by just about anyone, including teens with ADHD. The trick to time management and ADHD is avoiding one-size-fits-all time management “solutions” and instead relying on a few simple strategies that address the biggest time management hurdles that they face every day. Before you know which strategies to use, you need to first have a clear understanding of your teen’s core time management weaknesses.

Time management skills overlap with the executive functioning skills that we rely on for planning, organizing, and executing tasks in a timely manner. Executive functioning deficits are extremely common among teens with ADHD and overlap with many ADHD symptoms. So, it’s not surprising that teens with ADHD struggle with time management.

Our ability to manage our time well is also heavily influenced by emotional factors, like anxiety, motivation, and self-confidence. It can be much harder to prioritize getting a boring or anxiety-provoking task completed when there are so many more engaging or less stressful things we could do with our time.

The main issues underlying time management problems can be different for every teen, so look at the list of common problems below and make a note about those that seem to be most relevant for your teen with ADHD:

  • Difficulty keeping track of assignments and due dates or remembering what they have on their schedule after school. Forgetfulness and difficulty keeping track of things are core symptoms of ADHD and can make it very difficult to use many more complex time management strategies.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by larger projects or multiple assignments. ADHD symptoms and executive functioning challenges can make it difficult for teens to break large projects or long assignment lists down into more manageable chunks. So, it’s common for teens with ADHD to regularly feel overwhelmed by a typical academic workload.
  • Losing track of time, which leads to spending too much time on a single assignment without leaving enough time to finish everything else on their list. Research has shown individuals with ADHD have weaknesses when it comes to noticing or experiencing the passing of time. So, when a teen with ADHD is surprised to see that a full hour has gone by since they started working on an engaging assignment, it might be because to them, it felt as though just 10 or 15 minutes had passed.
  • Difficulty estimating the amount of time it will take to complete an assignment or task. Being able to accurately estimate the amount of time it will take to complete a task is actually a sophisticated skill, and one that is difficult for many teens with ADHD to master. Since they may not feel the passing of time accurately and may not have paid attention to how long it has taken them to complete similar tasks in the past, they may underestimate the amount of time they will need for the upcoming assignments on their list.
  • Difficulty stopping a fun or engaging activity on time. Many teens with ADHD have a very difficult time stopping what they’re doing at any given moment, especially if it is something they enjoy. This is true even if they need to get out of the house on time or need to get started on an important school assignment.
  • Difficulty staying focused while doing their homework or studying. Difficulty with focus and concentration for long periods of time is a hallmark symptom of ADHD. It’s not surprising that high levels of distractibility make it harder to get things done on time.

Spend some time thinking about which of these challenges are the biggest source of stress for your teen. Better yet, share the list with your teen and ask them which items they identify with the most. In my next post, I’ll share some simple strategies that can help your teen solve their biggest time management challenges, leaving them less stressed and more in control of their schedule and their time.


Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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