Teens with ADHD are often mistakenly labeled unmotivated, lazy, or apathetic. But the truth is that most of my teen clients want desperately to understand what it takes to master productivity. They want to understand how to fight back again procrastination, distractibility, and poor time management — and how to get organized with an ADHD brain.
I tell my teens repeatedly: “The more you own your time, the more productive you will be — and the more time you will have for relaxing and socializing!”
Here are three strategies I use with my teen clients to help them get better about owning their time and increasing their productivity.
1. Be super clear about what needs to be done
When I ask my teens about homework, tests, projects, and other upcoming tasks, they often respond with hmms and ums. “Hmm, I’m not sure… I think I have a test this week.” Or “Um… I don’t know… I thought I turned in my homework.” These responses are all big red flags.
[Get This Free Download: Transform Your Teen’s Apathy Into Engagement]
When teens struggle with not knowing when tasks are due, at school or at home, that leaves them in a constant state of worry. All that time they spend ruminating on these tasks eventually leads to stress, anxiety, and shutting down. Not knowing is one of the biggest barriers to productivity.
To help my clients orient themselves, I ask questions that lead to concrete information:
- “What would it take for you to know?”
- “Who or what could help you answer this question?”
- “Does the school or class web page list your test dates?”
- “What are your responsibilities are at home?”
- “Tell me your intentions, and be realistic. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.”
Facts have a way of stopping the worry and ruminating. When our language is factual, it provides an outlet for action.
2. Time yourself, undistracted
Teens today are bombarded with more distractions than ever before. The dings and pings and texts and DMs are nonstop. It has never been easier to escape a boring homework assignment – for hours at a time.
[Read: How Can I Help My Son Resist the Temptations of His Phone?]
Many of my clients admit to giving in to these distractions, but seldom have any idea how much time they lose to them. One of the most eye-opening self-awareness exercises I have my teens do is track how long it takes to do a task completely undisturbed (that means no multitasking whatsoever). I ask them to grab a timer, and simply log their start and finish times. Though it’s an extra step, they’re often shocked to see that, with non-stop focus, they could finish their math homework in half the usual time – and get to what they really want to do sooner.
3. Environment and movement are key
Where teens do their schoolwork is incredibly important, and can make all the difference in their motivation. I try to help my teens develop the mindset that school is work – and they might not do their best work if they’re in their pajamas and under the bed sheets.
But sitting still at a desk for hours at a time isn’t always motivating or sustainable, either. When energy levels dip and medication starts to wear off, it’s critical that teens get a dopamine fix. For many of my clients, that’s in the form of movement. Standing, stretching, walking, and other short bursts of movement are great for activating focus and resetting the mind.
Many of my clients also work well with light background noise (including a study playlist) as opposed to absolute silence.
It’s my responsibility to ensure the teens in my program understand what gets in the way of productivity. It’s a process that requires a shift in mindset, which takes lots of repetition and encouragement. Though it’s hard work, it all pays off when the end result is a more confident teen taking ownership of their time and energy.
Productivity Tips for Teens with ADHD: Next Steps
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