Time management has a secret ingredient

An academic coach helps students with ADHD balance school, work and relationships with an effective time management strategy.

Time management has a secret ingredient

The clock is ticking on the wall, reminders are going off on your phone. Time is wasting away and you still haven’t finished a thing—you’re rushing from one task to another. Sound familiar? It does to me, and to most of the students I’ve worked with.

Managing our time can be challenging. You might be a procrastinator that turns in poor work because you leave too little time to produce good results. Maybe you spread yourself too thin by taking on too much. Or perhaps you over- or underestimate how much time you need to complete a task. Time management can be a challenge in anyone’s life—but it’s especially tough for those of us with executive function weaknesses or ADHD.

The give and take of time management

Most of us see time as a limited resource and can feel defeated or overwhelmed before we even get started on projects, homework, or our goals. When we think of time management we’re often thinking about sacrifices, like:

  • What am I going to lose in order to achieve my goals?
  • Am I going to spend less time with my friends in order to pass this test?
  • Do I have to skip the gym so I can work on that essay?
  • Am I able to hold down a job and go to school at the same time?
  • Do I have time for self-care or should I be working on my goals?


It’s easy to see why prioritizing our time can feel like a constant game of give and take.

Balancing school, studying & a new relationship

I worked with a student named Daniel who struggled with time management. There were so many things that were important to him that he didn’t want to give up, but he was struggling to find success or satisfaction in most areas. I could relate to what he was going through in my own life as a student, full-time employee, and mother. It seemed like there was never enough time for everything, and I often felt defeated just trying to keep up.

When I asked Daniel what strategies he was using to make things more manageable for himself, he told me he’d attempted to use planners and strict schedules to stay on track, but that he was always lacking somewhere. He felt pressured to give something up but he really didn’t want to lose anything—unfortunately, he was beginning to fail his exams and his classes.

Even when Daniel took the time to study he was distracted by other things, like wanting to hang out with his new girlfriend. When he was studying he felt guilty for not spending time with her, but when he was with her he kept thinking about how he needed to study. It was an overwhelming cycle and he felt like he was failing at school and his relationship.

Adding depth to time management

Daniel and I discussed the importance of schedules, while recognizing that they’re ineffective if the scheduled time is wasted on worries and distractions. I suggested he look at time a little differently. We often think of time as ‘flat’ and much like a pie chart: when one area gets bigger, another has to get smaller. This is where the feeling of sacrifice comes in. When we look at time as a scarce resource, there’s little room for finding a solution—but this isn’t the only way we can evaluate our time.

This is where depth of time comes in—it’s not about how much time you spend doing a task, but the quality of that time. When you add depth to time you can keep the same things on your pie chart by adding mass. You’re able to bring more quality and value to each area of your life so the feelings of sacrifice and failure go away. This strategy leads to better results and finding more enjoyment in what you’re doing.

This concept was a little abstract to Daniel, so he drew a pie chart of his activities based on the amount of time he spent on each one. After looking at the pie chart he started considering what needed to change, and the feelings of loss consumed him. When we flipped the chart on its side to demonstrate depth, the concept started to take hold. The next step was applying this strategy to his real-life schedule.

Putting depth of time into practice

Daniel’s priorities were getting his grades up and spending time with his girlfriend. At that point, he was staying up late going over study guides and looking at past assignments to cram for upcoming tests. He spent time with his girlfriend online, gaming and chatting over FaceTime. I asked him to consider how he could get more out of the time he was already spending on studying and his relationship. We talked about what quality time meant to him—for Daniel, quality comes from feeling connected and accomplished.

I knew that he had the opportunity to utilize the tutoring center that ran study groups after class. I encouraged him to go directly after class for 30 minutes, three or four nights a week. He agreed, and made the suggestion that on two of those nights he would take his girlfriend to eat after—a great idea! I let him work through the rest of the tasks on his schedule and adjust accordingly, always prioritizing quality over quantity.

Daniel’s life changed dramatically over the next few weeks. His grades improved and he got to spend more quality time with his girlfriend. When we discussed his progress, he told me that when he started to feel overwhelmed he looked at his pie chart. The depth of each piece reminded him what he really wanted—he used it to bring more passion and drive to the activities that meant the most to him.

Adding depth to your perception of time eliminates the feeling that it’s a finite resource we’re always running short on. We start looking at what we gain out of the time we have, instead of focusing on the things we don’t have time for. We’re all given the same 24 hours—but some people seem to have all the time they need. These people are using depth to get more of the time they have. Depth is the secret ingredient that adds progress and value to the slices of our pie chart. Adopting this mindset yields better results, more enjoyment and less stress—so take the time to find depth in your own schedule.

Thrivister CoachKaty F. is a professional executive function coach at Thrivister

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