Ten Simple Time Management Strategies that Work for Teens with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

In my previous post, I talked about some of the most common time management challenges that teens with ADHD face throughout the school year. By helping your teen identify the biggest sources of their time management stress, you can then identify which time management strategies might be the most helpful for your teen.

Complicated time management-oriented solutions typically aren’t designed with ADHD in mind, and as a result, they may be too complicated or detail-oriented for teens with ADHD to use daily for an extended period of time. The most successful time management solutions for teens with ADHD are those that are simple enough to use day after day all year long.

Here’s a list of 10 simple time management strategies that your teen can start using right away to help improve their time management abilities.

      1. Write everything down. Many time management problems for teens with ADHD start with the fact that they simply forgot to write down important details about tests or assignments. Even if the information is supposed to be provided by their teacher online, encourage your teen to write down the information themselves during the school day to make sure they capture the important details
      2. Use a calendar to record the dates of tests, assignments, and after-school activities. If your teen is using a notebook to record their assignments, then they will need to manually copy this information into a calendar. If they’re using an app or website to make their lists, then help them find one with a digital calendar integration. For example, the produivity app Trello allows you to enter a due date whenever you add an item to your list. Then it can automatically add the event details to your Google calendar.
      3. Prioritize assignment lists at least once a week. A list of assignments is not very helpful if it’s not prioritized. Help your teen use a simple system to prioritize the things they ‘have to do,’ ‘want to do,’ and ‘can do later.’ Pick one day each week when you and your teen can review the list together, assign a priority to each item, and then rank the items on the list in terms of importance and urgency.
      4. First do what you need to do, then do what you want to do. Teens with ADHD often have a very difficult time stopping an activity that is fun and engaging so they can start a more boring or mentally taxing task. In addition, they are more likely to suffer from mental fatigue as the day goes on, making things like homework even more difficult later in the evening. So, encourage your teen to finish the things they need to do before they start doing the things they want to do.
      5. Write down the amount of time you expect each task or assignment will take to complete. Ask your teen to write down the amount of time they estimate it will take them to complete an assignment. Have them note the estimated time either when they add the assignment to the list or when they are prioritizing their list. Then have them use a timer to figure out exactly how much time they actually spent on the assignment. When they see the differences between their estimated times and their actual times, they’ll adjust their own expectations and will become more accurate in their predictions over time.
      6. Break down big projects into smaller chunks. Help your teen break big projects down into smaller, more discrete tasks and add these individual tasks to their list and calendar. Projects are much less overwhelming when they are tackled one step at a time.
      7. Don’t wait to get started! The longer your teen waits to start a project or assignment, the more overwhelming the task becomes and the harder it is to get started. So, encourage your teen to get started quickly and commit to spending at least ten minutes on the assignment at first. Simply making a dent in the assignment will build their confidence, and they will find it much less overwhelming when they return to finish the task.
      8. Minimize Distractions. When a teen has ADHD, it’s very easy to get distracted by almost anything, especially anything with a screen. So, help your teen create a homework environment with minimal distractions. This can include installing website and app blockers on computers and phones as well as minimizing noises and activity in the homework space.
      9. Take breaks. Teens with ADHD need mental breaks while they’re working to avoid losing focus and wasting time. So, help your teen use a timer and plan five-minute breaks every 20 or 30 minutes. During these five minutes, your teen should do something unrelated to their work. They can get up and stretch, get something to eat or drink, shoot hoops with a Nerf ball in their room, play with the dog, and so on. Ideally, they should do something active and avoid anything that will cause them to lose track of time (which is probably just about anything that involves a screen!).
      10. Build-in rewards. Teens with ADHD need feedback and rewards to stay motivated. Unfortunately, most school assignments and exams come with very delayed gratification in the form of a (hopefully) strong grade that reflects your teen’s hard work and effort. So, help your teen stay motivated by using more immediate rewards. These can be simple things, like playing video games after they have finished their work for the day. Or it can be a larger reward that they earn by completing every item on their list for a certain number of days in a row. In most cases, it’s helpful to have parents involved in handing out the rewards since even the most earnest teens will be tempted to reward themselves even when they haven’t really earned it.

Learning to use new time management skills and strategies takes time. It’s best to start small, with just one or two strategies that address your teen’s biggest time management weaknesses. Then, once your teen has mastered those strategies, you can add some additional tools and skills that will help them be even more productive and in control of their time. With patience and practice, your teen will learn new life-long time management skills that will be helpful now and in the future.


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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