When you realize your mornings are always terrible because of ADHD, you can finally do something to address the problem. I mean, I spent years being late for work and school because my mornings would spiral out of control and I would always conclude that things just ‘went badly’ and that tomorrow would be better. Since the causes of my tardiness always seemed to me to be external, I worked to address them with external solutions. Of course, this doesn’t work with ADHDers. The fundamental problem is that we don’t perceive time the same way. We also underestimate how much time it will take for a certain task. And we’re more likely to fall prey to the little annoyances that can really suck up time (like losing one’s keys). So here are some tips to address the internal challenges that will make you late for work or school.
1. Make time your friend.One might be inclined to think, ‘Well if I give myself an extra hour in the morning, then surely I’ll be on time then.’ This is not incorrect thinking – after all, that’s an extra hour to do all those things you would otherwise be rushing through, and so you can do them more carefully and thoughtfully. But it’s only half a solution. With more time, the tasks you do will simply get stretched out, and the last-minute rushes and problems are still going to happen. For example, if you give yourself an extra hour, you may take some time to have breakfast, enjoy a bit of a longer shower, pack a lunch, tidy up a bit – but then when it’s time to leave, suddenly you can’t find your keys and you lose ten minutes tracking them down. Now you’re just as late as you would have been if you hadn’t given yourself an extra hour. The trick is to set milestone reminders for yourself to limit the time you take doing each task. It could look something like this:
- 7:00 – wake up.
- 7:10 – get in the shower.
- 7:25 – fully dressed, hair done.
- 7:30 – eating breakfast.
- 7:50 – make/pack a lunch.
- 7:10 – bag check (ensure you have every item you need for the day).
- 7:20 – out the door.
It will take some practice to find the ideal timed routing, and of course there are always curveballs that can throw your schedule off (bowel movements, for one). But once you have a solid set of milestones reminders locked down, your chances of arriving at work on time will be much better.
2. Prep what you can the night before. There are many things you can do to ensure morning success before the morning even begins. Have your lunch ready and waiting in the fridge. Make sure you have a quick and easy breakfast solution at the ready. Locate all of the essential items and put them in one location (for me it’s wallet, ID badge, work cell, car keys, and sunglasses, all in one box by the entrance). Look at the weather forecast, so you can gather the necessary gear (like an umbrella). Is tomorrow Recycling Pickup Day? Do what you can to avoid taking it out in the morning. Does you car need fuel or charging? Is there anything out of the ordinary that will need some attention? As ADHDers, it can be difficult to execute tasks that we know will benefit us in the future – but by doing some of these steps, your morning will run much more smoothly.
3. Marry tasks together. What are the things that you ABSOLUTELY can’t forget in the morning? For me, my day would really not go well if I went to work without having taken my meds, and without my ID badge and wallet, and without having applied hair product (no, really). So I marry these tasks with ones I know with %100 confidence I will not forget. Here’s an example. I have my meds in a box with my deodorant. I never forget to put on deodorant, and reaching in the box for it reminds me to take my meds. I make it a rule that I can’t do one without the other. As an added bonus, if ever I wonder if I’ve remembered to take my meds or not, I just give my armpits a little sniff, and I have my answer. As mentioned in #2, I have a little box with all of my essential work gear in it. My keys are in there too – and so I can’t leave (literally can’t leave) without my keys, and so going for my keys means I’m sure to see what else is in the box (like my wallet and my ID badge). Everything in the box comes with me – so as long as I’ve prepped properly, I have all of my essential work gear.
4. Develop a Minimalist Wardrobe. Whatever you do for work, or if you’re a student, there’s a certain amount of attention you’ll need to pay to what you’re wearing. At my office, it’s business casual, which means dress pants and a dress shirt, every day. At the outset of my career, I curated a wardrobe of many colours and patterns, with stylish combinations of pants, shirts and ties. But unfortunately, I came to realize that my efforts to be on fleek were a huge drain on my time in the morning, and caused me a lot of stress. Hunting for matching outfits, digging in the bottom of the closet for the right colour of belt, and getting to work only to realize that my dress shoes don’t match (because I brought the black ones home for a funeral a few weeks prior and forgot to bring them back to the office…). It was exhausting and frustrating. I mean, look at all these variables to contend with:
- Is the shirt/pant you want clean or in the laundry hamper?
- Is the shirt/pant wrinkled or pressed?
- Can you find the matching tie?
- Where are the matching shoes?
- Where are the matching socks?
- What have you got scheduled today (meetings, etc.) – and is it appropriate?
- Does the belt match?
- What about your coat?
- When was the last time you wore this combination (if you care)?
- If it’s hot out, are you okay with sweating in this shirt?
- Are you trying to find all of these matching pieces in the dark so that you don’t wake up your spouse?
So I’ve taken a cue from Barack Obama and ditched all of this difficult decision-making. I’ve adopted a minimalist wardrobe for my workwear. I have five pairs of pants and seven white dress shirts, with ten white undershirts and two brown belts. I have one pair of brown dress shoes and 15 pairs of grey or black dress socks. Every weekend, I wash what is necessary to have a full closet of enough to get me through the week. Every shirt matches every pair of pants and the shoes, socks and belt always work. Done. I can even get dressed in the dark without making a sound. Now I’m no minimalist – I also have a sharp black suit and all the accoutrements for when it’s needed. And I have a vibrant ‘leisure’ wardrobe that lets me express my creativity and taste. But at least my wardrobe never makes me late for work.
5. Have back-up plans in place. Tips 1-4 work very well for me. But of course, they take a certain amount of prep, and things can always go wrong. So it’s good to have some other systems in place in case things go awry – like maybe you slept in, or you woke up to your car being buried in snow. Here some examples of back-up plans that have saved my bacon on more than one occasion:
- Have a toiletry bag at work for covering what you forgot (deodorant, toothbrush, hair product, etc.).
- Stash a couple days’ worth of meds.
- Keep a clean shirt and pants at work in the event of a wardrobe malfunction or coffee spill.
- An easy breakfast option (like instant oatmeal).
- A bit of cash for food and coffee.
These are some strategies that have worked for me. I wish you luck in making your mornings less of a mad scramble – and I’d love to hear some of your techniques in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!