A Time Management Survival Guide for ADHD Writers - Craft Your Content
Time management ADHD writers

A Time Management Survival Guide for ADHD Writers

Trust me, I’ve used every excuse in the book to justify why the first draft of this article looked more like a tweet than an essay. 

As you can see, I finally got it done. It wasn’t easy, but through the development of new skills, I managed to meet my timeline. Before my ADHD diagnosis, procrastination and I had just taken our relationship to the next level, and I was committing a significant amount of time every day to doing absolutely nothing.

I wasn’t too busy to work, as demonstrated by the three seasons of Schitt’s Creek that I had binged in a single week. I wasn’t cursed by the gods of writing or just plain incompetent. Instead, I was distracted spending key writing hours researching JFK’s murder and CIA conspiracies, unable to claw myself out from the internet rabbit hole.

Being diagnosed with severe ADHD as an adult came as a shock, but I’ve found ways to counter my natural inclination toward procrastination. I’m not alone in this. Many writers struggle with staying on task and completing a project, but those of us with ADHD face a particular set of challenges. 

ADHD is a disorder affecting 2.5% of adults. It comes in three types: inattentiveness, hyperactivity/impulsiveness, or both. ADHD adults can struggle with planning and making long-term commitments.

This learning disability can feel isolating, but you’re not alone, and there are ways to manage these challenges. Not everyone who struggles with procrastination has ADHD, but if you do, this survival guide will help you efficiently manage your time while writing a novel or article.

Find an Accountability Buddy

writing buddy
Having someone to keep you on track is good for accountability and for making friends.

“Tomorrow” used to be a keyword in my vocabulary. Everything could be done tomorrow or the next day until eventually it became the next month.

If this sounds like you, consider getting an accountability buddy. A study done by the American Society of Training and Development showed that you have a 65% chance of succeeding in a goal if you have an accountability buddy. This statistic rises to 95% if you have specific meetings arranged with this person.

My writing buddy is neurodiverse like me. We met on Twitter after she posted an exasperated tweet about forgetting deadlines, even after numerous reminders. 

The way we help each other is by keeping each other on track. If I tell her I will finish my article by Wednesday, I better finish it by Wednesday. The only thing that scares me more than getting work done is missing one of her deadlines and waking up to a “You better have that draft … or else” text. 

Accountability buddies can be found on social media, at the workplace, or through various writing programs. It can be an individual or even a writing group. A good writing buddy will be committed, reliable, positive, and communicative. Not only will you find someone to keep you accountable, but they may become a good friend too.

While every accountability buddy situation may look different, a good starting point is by setting your own goal and deadline. Your partner can hold you accountable by creating check-in deadlines. For example, they may ask you to complete a certain portion of your work before each meeting. Your partner can keep you on task, give you much needed motivation, or even schedule a lunch as a reward at the end of each check-in should the work be done on time. 

Physical Calendars Are Your Friend

If digital calendars aren’t working, it might be time to switch to analog.

I’ll take any excuse to spend an exorbitant amount of money at HomeGoods. My ginormous baby-blue dry-erase calendar that’s currently taped to my bedroom door, however, has been a great investment. 

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve found that individuals forget an average of 90% of what they’ve learned within a month. That doesn’t bode well for those plans we made to attend a writing conference four months ago. 

I used to keep an online calendar but would regularly forget to check it. After research, I found out there are tons of benefits to physical calendars that we don’t receive with the digital alternative. For example, the process of writing by hand is incredibly helpful in retaining information. In fact, studies show that taking notes on laptops leads to weaker information processing.

I recommend this affordable dry-erase calendar from Target for those who prefer an easy and efficient way to plan ahead. This gorgeous clear calendar from Crate and Barrel will brighten your work space if you’re open to a bit of a splurge. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Talk to Your Doctor 

time management ADHD writers
If previous strategies aren’t working, don’t hesitate to seek help.

When I first started taking medication for my ADHD, it felt like a giant road block had been moved out of my path. I was thrilled that something, anything was working and didn’t want to press my luck. 

That’s why it took me almost three weeks to go to my doctor with a big concern. 

“I feel like the effects are wearing off midway through the day, and if I take more I get too jumpy to do work,” I said. As a writer, I work both in the morning and at night. My medication would only get me through one of those sessions.

It was an easy fix. I was moved to a longer lasting dosage. I didn’t have to up the amount I took, but it worked better for my schedule . 

Some medications and therapies work better for certain end goals. Cognitive behavioral therapy is focused on shifting negative thought patterns and perspectives. Studies have shown that this can be useful for getting out of the habit of procrastination, which may make it a useful tool for writers who struggle to stay on task.

There can be a stigma surrounding taking medication and going to therapy, but it’s important to realize that just because our difficulties are invisible doesn’t make them any less relevant. You wouldn’t feel shame in taking antibiotics for an illness, right? ADHD is no different. 

Create a No-Contact Time and Let Everyone Know

time management ADHD writers
The people who care about you want you to succeed.

I love talking to my family and friends. If I get a call, chances are I’ll drop everything and immediately launch into a full analysis of my favorite episode of Game of Thrones with the poor person on the other end. If I manage to retain an ounce of self-control and click “decline,” I am wracked with worry. What if it was important, and I just missed it?

So I decided to create a no-contact time and told every family member and friend. 9–12 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays are mine. No one will bother me unless it’s an emergency, and I’m more likely to stay on task. 

During this set period, place your phone in another room or turn it off completely. If you have trouble sticking to an internet-free time, a good helpful app is Moment.

It may seem awkward at first to ask your friends and family to respect a no-contact time, but the people who care most about you will want you to succeed. I recommend having the conversation either in person or over the phone to avoid misunderstandings. Make it very clear that it’s just a small amount of time and that you’ll be open to contact at any other point in the day. 

Before Googling, Ask Yourself

time management ADHD writers
Google is kryptonite for writers with ADHD.

I created this test after I spent yet another night “researching” an economics article by watching two hours’ worth of dog-show competitions on YouTube. Now, whenever I want to open the Google tab, I will ask myself the following:

  • Is it relevant to the plot of my project? (If you’re writing a book about middle school cheerleaders, you have no excuse to fall down the rabbit hole of 19th century grave-digging practices.)
  • Is it relevant to fix the grammar/formatting of my story?
  • Will it help me write efficiently?
  • Is it useful in planning how I will go about this project?

The internet can be a powerful tool for writing if used correctly. However the magnitude of information that makes it so beneficial can also be a barrier to productivity. If you struggle with staying on task while online, you’re not alone. 68% of workers report being distracted by the internet while working. 

These questions will help you determine if your internet search is essential to your project or merely another form of procrastination. If you answered no, close that browser tab. It’ll keep your work time centered and productive. 

Remember: Being ADHD Can Be a Positive for Writers

It’s important to acknowledge that despite certain challenges, ADHD can be a gift for a writer. My writing buddy is able to create fictional scenarios with unusual outcomes. When I’m in the zone, I can write a clean and effortless piece in hours. Writers with ADHD are extremely creative, resilient, and adaptive despite inherent challenges

Although all writers have difficulties managing time, this survival guide can help you be accountable, organized, and productive. So get that calendar and download an internet blocking app. Your work will thank you.

About the Author Jules Schulman

Jules Schulman is an LA-based journalist and researcher. Follow her on Twitter for more.

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