Time to go

“How long can it take to walk out the door?”

Other people ask us this. They are incredulous as we struggle to get to places on time, much less with all the materials we needed to have.

We also ask ourselves this when we are getting ready or planning. Surely, we think to ourselves, merely walking out the door and getting into the car takes almost no time at all.

As if!

And that’s why we struggle to get to places on time.

It takes us far longer to “get our shit together,” to remember everything we need, and then get into the car, and unload all the baggage, settle down, and get ready to drive. The least speed-bump in the getting-ready process (like a mislaid car key) throws everything into chaos, which stresses us beyond dealing with that little event, often resulting in getting so distracted from our tediously-created coping methods so that we forget something we usually can remember, or almost-forget and have to go back in (maybe more than once) to fetch something nearly forgotten.

Take a deep breath.

Let it out slowly.

Yeah. Just thinking about these situations reminds us of all those crazy days, weeks and months and years of them. We remember all the scolding, the embarrassment of being late, of missing appointments, of getting to places without something important or even the most necessary thing that may have been the reason for us going there in the first place.

Just being stressed about trying to leave on time makes things worse; the clumsiness increases. Even after finally getting ready one morning (in N-recursive steps, as usual), I have then been finally ready to go, had all my stuff together, had my car key in hand … and then somehow spilled everything out of my purse. I kept trying to scoop everything back in, making things worse. I got to my first appointment with the new doc nearly half an hour late, and spent the first two minutes trying to explain why I was late. Fortunately, docs who deal with AD/HD patients are used to such problems. (Amazingly, or not-so-amazingly, he didn’t even ask to see my diagnostic documentation.)

The problem is three-fold. Firstly, we have a poor sense of time passage. Secondly, we have a poor sense of time estimation. And thirdly we … (where was I going with this? oh yeah) we get distracted easily. Mix those with poor organisational skills, sprinkle heavily with the anxiety from fear of repeating the previous embarrassments, and we end up with the usual frantic situation.

Time passage is elastic for most people — time drags when we’re bored, and flies by when we’re having fun. But not everyone gets so obliviously focused on what they are doing, and lost in the moment that not only minutes but hours will slide by unnoticed. I have been so enthralled in a current interest that I have forgotten to eat. Schedules are really helpful for me to help maintain some consistency in my eating and sleeping.

People with AD/HD will chronically under-estimate how long it takes to do anything. This is partly related to that elasticity of time issue — we don’t really realise how long it took to do something last time. It’s also partly related to the distraction issue, as few things ever get done in a straightforward manner. And when one is hyperactive as well, it’s hard to complete something without mixing in other tasks simultaneously. Starting and completing single tasks in a linear manner is just not in the book of tricks. (“Behold the human pinball!”)

By the time I was in graduate school, I became fond of collecting data. I realised the importance of objective, measurable information for solving some kinds of problems. So I started keeping track of how long it actually took me to get various things done. After a month’s time, I had accumulated ten days’ worth of data points. (I kept forgetting that I was meaning to collect data, or would look at the starting time but forget to check the clock again right when I’d finished. You know … )

The results surprised even me. Not only did I become aware of just how non-linear any of my processes were, but everything took much longer than I had anticipated. I thought that getting my coat, keys and bag would take a minute or two. It really took longer, and not just because I was interrupting myself by grabbing something extra I needed to take (like the bag of trash for the rubbish bin), or by looking for something I had not put in the right place (like door keys that were left in a jacket pocket because yesterday my hands were full of mail).

The whole process took longer not only because of those typical asides, but also because I was not including a good number of steps. I didn’t just put on a jacket, pick up a backpack, and walk out the door. I also:

  • put on my shoes,
  • zipped up my backpack,
  • switched off all the lights,
  • checked to make sure the coffee maker and cooker were turned off,
  • made sure that there weren’t any cats at the back door waiting to be let back inside,
  • looked out the window to make sure I had the right kind of coat,
  • often remembered to do my “pocket Macarena” to be sure I had my keys and stuff,
  • picked up my bags,
  • stepped outside,
  • checked the door lock,
  • often stuck some envelopes in the post box,
  • picked up the morning newspaper and sometimes a piece of stray rubbish,
  • unlocked my car,
  • put the bags into it,
  • remembered my lunch bag and went back in to fetch it,
  • stepped outside,
  • checked the door lock again,
  • finally got into my car,
  • stopped to agonise over, Did I check everything? and then told myself sternly that, No, I don’t need to go back and check that I checked.

“How long can it take to walk out the door?”

About ten minutes.

That ten-minute average did not include mishaps like the spilled purse, mislaid keys, or suddenly remembering that I needed to take something extra with me and then having to find and assemble the thing.

Timing yourself in how long it actually takes to complete things is very illuminating. I highly recommend it as a parent-led exercise for helping your ADD/ADHD teens get a better understanding of how to monitor their own personal realities.

It’s very easy to dismiss one day’s leave-taking time as being anomalous, “because I had to do this one thing, and I never have to do this one thing normally.” Once you have collected data for some ten days, the unmistakable trend is there. Sure, that one day was anomalous because of having to do that one thing, but you know what? Every day is anomalous because of something-or-another. That’s just the way our days run!

“How long can it take to walk out the door?”

I like the “50% Rule” which means that projects often run either 50% over budget or 50% past deadline. Using the 50% Rule means that I tack on another five minutes to allow for the mislaid keys and whatnot. I should really try to leave 15 minutes before I actually need to be backing out of my parking spot.

Boy, that 15 minutes sounds like a gross estimation. But over the years, I have found that for me, it’s just about right.


  1. Jannalou said,

    1 March 2008 at 4:49

    The reminders with my brother are long-standing and were a solution to a problem we talked over at a time separate from making arrangements. Since I give him a ride every Sunday, and since he’s the type to remember things really well, he’s the one who has to remember to call me. :D

  2. qw88nb88 said,

    29 February 2008 at 22:31


    It’s hard enough to remember my own stuff; remembering that I need to remind someone else to remind me is a bit of a stretch!


  3. Jannalou said,

    29 February 2008 at 16:15

    Oyah, I almost forgot.

    Also, for things where I’m supposed to pick someone up (like my brother for church), I ask them to call me an hour before we’re supposed to be where we’re going (about half an hour before I should be at their place to get them) to remind me that I’m supposed to be in the car already. It actually works fairly well!

  4. Jannalou said,

    29 February 2008 at 14:55

    I set my Palm alarm to go off an hour and a half before I have to be somewhere for an appointment or something. This is because it takes about half an hour to drive anywhere in Calgary, and it takes me about an hour to get myself ready and out the door when I realise I need to go soon.

    For regular things, I try to set up a routine; like, I know it takes about half an hour to get to my morning shift, so I try to be ready to go at least ten minutes before that. Why? Because I ALWAYS forget to check and see if I’m going to need to scrape the windows on the car first, or sweep snow off it, and what if I decide I want to stop at 7-11 for a coffee on the way?

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