11 Steps to Help College Students With ADHD Create a Time Management System

By Elizabeth C. Hamblet, MAT, MSEd

When kids start college, they may be thrilled by how much unstructured and unscheduled time they have. But that freedom can be challenging for students with ADHD who have trouble with time management and with sensing the passage of time. Last-minute dorm parties and late-night video game sessions can easily derail their efforts to stay on track.

Creating a schedule can help your child leave enough time to get work done. It can also cut down on procrastination by taking away the constant need to make decisions about what to do when. Here are 11 steps your child can follow to create a time management system that works.

Use a monthly calendar to mark down the semester’s deadlines.

Start with an electronic or paper calendar. Go through the semester calendar on the school’s website and enter important dates onto the monthly calendar. These include add/drop deadlines, the start of midterms and finals, and registration dates for next semester.

Fill in important dates for each course.

Using the syllabus for each class, enter any test dates and deadlines for papers and projects. If you do this in an electronic calendar, copy the dates to the paper one (or vice versa).

Break it down by week.

From the monthly master calendar, print a one-week calendar that shows each hour of the day. Block in ongoing commitments for the whole semester—classes, clubs, work, etc. Be sure to plan lots of time for sleep. Lack of sleep can make it even harder to focus and stay organized.

Schedule concrete time for work each week.

Slot in regular study and homework blocks throughout the week. Start with a ballpark idea of how much time is needed for each course, and factor in short breaks. Adjust as needed after the first week.

Add the weekly commitments to the electronic calendar.

Load each weekly plan into the electronic calendar. Then set up every commitment as a recurring event. Checking it during the day is a good way of staying on track.

Keep the weekly plan and monthly calendar visible.

Put both up on the wall. Check the weekly plan each night as a reminder of the next day’s tasks. Use the calendar to keep track of exams, interim deadlines, and unscheduled activities. Cross off each day as it passes to see how the semester is progressing.

Organize regular study groups or “parallel study” times.

Reach out to classmates to schedule a weekly study group where they can quiz each other or compare notes. This can make it easier to stick to the weekly plan. Or arrange a regular time to meet up with a friend to do work (with no talking). Add this to the monthly calendar and weekly plan.

Break down long-term assignments into chunks.

As soon as an assignment is given, create interim steps for far-off deadlines. These steps might include doing some research by a certain date or completing a first draft in time to bring it to the writing center for feedback. Add these to the paper and electronic calendars.

Update the electronic calendar throughout the day.

Add things that come up at the last minute. These might include new assignments, deadline changes, or an appointment to see a professor during office hours. If a new appointment falls during a scheduled study block, move that block to somewhere else in the week where there’s available time.

“Sync” the electronic and paper monthly calendars a few times a week.

Pick three or four regular times each week to update the monthly paper calendar. Add any changes made to the electronic calendar to the printed one as well. That way, long-term deadlines are always visible.

Know the attendance policies for each course.

Check each course syllabus for the professor’s attendance policies, and make note of them. Missing class can have an impact on grades for some classes, even if work is done on time.

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    Elizabeth C. Hamblet, MAT, MSEd is the author of