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ADHD Waiting Mode: Five strategies to use your time effectively

Updated: May 28

You check your schedule for the day. Right, an appointment at 12:30 gives you plenty of time to get work done. But in reality, you spend that morning shuffling papers, scrolling your phone, and reading the news. Constantly checking the clock, you mentally calculate how much time you have left, but every time you try to focus, that time jumps, and you start to feel anxious you'll miss your appointment. Finally, you realize you've just been sitting at your desk for the past two hours, frozen with indecision. You feel frustrated. There are so many things to do today. Why does one appointment keep throwing me off!?

If you resonate with this experience, you might be feeling what is commonly known as waiting mode—finding yourself frozen in anticipation of an event regardless of the hours, or your desire to do something else. Although waiting mode is not widely discussed in ADHD research, it could be related to studies on transition times and time blindness.

Given the lack of research on waiting mode, I wanted to reach out to the ADHD community and ask about your and strategies with this phenomenon. Below I have outlined five strategies that you most commonly identified to support ADHD waiting mode. A big thanks to all 78 of you who provided feedback across social media. I really appreciate it.

1. Schedule Appointments to Avoid Waiting

Appointments are a common antecedent for waiting mode. So, when possible, try a time that allows you to avoid waiting. One commenter described how "I try to schedule appointments for the morning or after school drop off, or before work." another commenter noted that they make appointments "always in the morning or early in the afternoon." Designating these times as appointment spaces can help you develop a routine and reduce waiting mode.

2. Schedule Small Chores

It's often harder to dive into a complex task when you have an appointment coming up. So rather than fighting that, consider setting aside small chores that you could do without becoming too focused. For example, a commenter noted you should "have something you can pick up and do while you're waiting, a load of laundry or another small chore that you can complete," while another said, "I try to choose short tasks that I know fit in before the event."

3. Use Timers

One of the strategies commonly used for waiting mode is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the same one recommended for time blindness. Setting timers to go off when you need to get ready and travel to your appointment allows you to avoid losing time. One commenter noted that "I set alarms to stop me hyper-focusing and forgetting I have the appointment." If you feel like this could support your waiting mode, experiment with a timer and see what works.

4. Know How Long Your Tasks Take

As an alternative to a timer, you could also track your time naturally by choosing tasks or activities that have a set time built in. These activities serve as both something to do while you wait and a natural timer. Examples include listening to a 30-minute podcast while cleaning or making a meal with a set cook time. One commenter noted that "knowing how long certain activities will take helps me with this [waiting mode]."

5. Be Gentle with Yourself

Commenters noted the importance of "being gentle with myself and doing good self-care" when stuck in waiting mode. Before you become frustrated with your inability to complete a task, stop and ask yourself why. Maybe this is a stressful event that you're feeling anxious about? Perhaps you're anticipating boredom and could do with a dopamine break before you head out? Check-in with yourself and see what you need. It might be a quiet cup of tea, a chat with a friend, the opportunity to do something you enjoy.

Thanks so much to everyone who answered my question online and contributed to this article. Hopefully, this gives you a better understanding of waiting mode and how it might be affecting your life. If this is something you experience, feel free to reach out and share your stories.

Talk to you next week.


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