Cutting Down on Chronic Lateness for Adults with ADHD

I was honored to be interviewed recently by Margarita Tartakovsky, Associate Editor of Psych Central.

Cutting Down on Chronic Lateness for Adults with ADHD


People with ADHD have a distorted sense of time. Sometimes, the passage of time is excruciatingly slow. Waiting in line feels like hours, said Roxanne Fouché, an ADHD coach and consultant.

Other times, time flies. What feels like 15 minutes of engaging in a fun activity is really 45 minutes, she said.

According to professor and ADHD researcher Russell Barkley, Ph.D, many people with ADHD are “time blind.” They forget the purpose of their task and feel uninspired to finish it.

Psychiatrist and ADHD expert Edward Hallowell, M.D., talks about how people with ADHD have two times: “now and not now.” If a work project is due next week, you figure you have plenty of time- until it’s Monday, and you realize that it’s due the next day, and you have to conduct several interviews, on top of other tasks.

Chronic lateness can affect all areas of a person’s life, Fouché said. For instance, if you’re late to work or miss deadlines, you might not get a promotion, or worse, you might get fired.

You might be seen as someone who’s less engaged or can’t be counted on, she said. This might stop a supervisor from assigning projects that truly interest you.

Friends and family might think you’re disrespectful or you don’t care about them, she said. Young kids may get scared when you’re late picking them up from school.

Chronic lateness may even affect your sense of self. You start thinking of yourself as the one who’s always late, Fouché said. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You think, “Why even try? I’m always late!”

This also can trigger embarrassment and self-blame, she said.

The good news is that you can employ strategies to cut down on your chronic lateness in all areas of your life. Below, Fouché, co-founder of Focus For Effectiveness, shared seven helpful suggestions.

Figure out how long things take you.

People with ADHD often overestimate how much they can accomplish in a given time. You might think it takes you 20 minutes to get ready in the morning, but in actuality, it takes an hour.

Fouché suggested not just setting a timer for your morning routine, but also figuring out frequently traveled routes such as the grocery store.

You also can time how long it takes you to complete professional and other personal tasks.

Have something compelling to do.

For people with ADHD, arriving early spells boredom – something they try to avoid, Fouché said. Instead, plan on arriving early and having something compelling to do while you’re waiting.

Doing so gives you a cushion or buffer zone for the unexpected, such as traffic, she said.

For instance, if you’re picking up your child from school, arrive early, and bring a book, magazine article or catalogue you never have a chance to read. This means scoring a good spot and, more important, not making your child wait.

Set multiple alarms.

Set several countdown timers on your phone, computer or anywhere else, Fouché said. For instance, if you need to leave your house at 1 p.m., set an alarm for 10 minutes before. When it rings, note where you left off in a task (e.g., jot it down on a sticky note).

The second alarm gives you a few minutes to run to the bathroom, put on your shoes and get out the door, she said. It also stops you from thinking, “I just have to do this one more thing!”

Have a launching pad.

People with ADHD also might run late because they’re busy searching for their keys or wallet or anything else they need to be able to leave. Instead, keep a table by the door. This is a specially designated spot for your wallet, keys and phone charger – and unusual items you’ll need on a specific day.

For instance, you might need certain paperwork for a doctor’s appointment, coupons for the grocery store, or your USB drive for a presentation.

Rethink requests.

Sometimes people with ADHD run late because they have too many things on their plates. “People with ADHD have a tendency to over-commit,” Fouché said. They get excited about many things and are overly optimistic about their to-do lists, she said.

The next time you get a request, instead of saying, “Sure, I’ll do it,” simply pause, and say, “Hmm, that sounds great. Let me look at my schedule and get back to you.”

Build a routine.

For people with ADHD, routines can sound boring. But “it really makes things more automatic,” Fouché said. And that makes life a whole lot easier and less stressful.

For instance, have weekly schedules for going to the gas station, doing laundry and grocery shopping, she said. This way you won’t run late to work because you desperately needed gas, or fail to get your kids to school on time because you ran out of peanut butter and jelly.

It also helps to build routines at work, Fouché said. For instance, if you need to turn in progress reports every month, instead of scrambling and stressing several days before your deadline, spend 10 minutes every day working on the report.

Explore what’s worked.

“It’s rare that someone is never on time,” Fouché said. Maybe there’s an appointment you always make or a work deadline you never miss.

Think about the strategies you used. What worked in these scenarios? Then consider how you can apply these strategies to other situations, she said. (They might need to be tweaked depending on the scenario.)

“Often we pay attention to what doesn’t work and blame ourselves instead of paying attention to what does work.”

Overall, Fouché also underscores the importance of finding strategies that work for you.