Time management when you’re terrible at focusing

My name is Patrick. I’m a designer at DesignMap.

This is a blog post about productivity, and how to be productive. It is also about overcoming anxiety and a general lack of focus. These issues, which spurred a deep dive into personal productivity, started in childhood and followed me into adulthood. Through hard work and personal investigation I was able to break them down into smaller issues and find solutions to them. Today I have a framework for dealing with personal time and task management that you may find helpful.

First off, I’ve always struggled with focusing on the task at hand. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was very young. It’s a disorder that gets joked about frequently, but it’s helpful to remember that it’s an actual illness that can have serious side effects like depression and substance abuse. And despite what people say, some of us don’t grow out of it.


For years I used ADHD as a catch-all to describe my frustrating inability to manage my tasks, manage projects, and maintain a decent work life balance. Besides late nights at the office and strained relationships, I had frequent, overwhelming anxiety. After some career and personal success I recognized this was a major blocker to where I ultimately wanted to be.

Through working through a few intense rounds of career coaching, working with managers, and therapy, I saw that my original impression of my ADHD and anxiety was simplistic. It broke down into several smaller issues.

Lack of Present Time Awareness

Without a plan and regularly checking against it, I quickly lose track of what I need to accomplish and where I’m at along the path to completion. I sink excessive amounts of time into some tasks and get distracted by others. And before I know it, my day is a mess.

Lack of control and feeling overwhelmed

Dependence on others for approval


High level plans (one week or more )

Time inventory

The important parts of an inventory are

  • Time cataloged to the ¼ hour and tagged
  • Tags : Studio, design, break, admin, coaching
  • My Intention : How I want to feel at the end of the day, the big emotional goal.
  • Task list: What I think I’ll need to do today
  • End of day review : My day ranked from 1 to 5, and a reflection on whether I met my intention
  • What I could do better : a quick piece of advice for the version of me that shows up tomorrow morning

It is very important that I make the basics of my inventory the night before. I reserve the last 15 minutes of my day to look over the tasks ahead and my agenda for tomorrow. Getting to work in the morning and trying to remember all the events of the day before is futile. Having my tasks laid out as soon as I arrive to work makes it easy to get to work quickly.

A regularly updated non-design related task list

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to matter if I check this all that much once I’ve written it. I tend to remember whatever I’ve written down. It also doesn’t seem to matter much whether or not I hand write it versus typing it.

Micro tacker (toggl)

I use toggl to track small tasks (15 minutes — 1 hour). It’s good for days when I have a lot of tiny things to accomplish, particularly small design changes.

An inventory of design tasks and changes

This is the primary way I track design issues, especially in larger designs. It’s useful for getting the net amount of changes and estimating work.

Wrapping up

Why does this work (for me)? Mapping out the larger goals and milestones of a project makes even large tasks feel attainable. Keeping tabs on my time increases present time awareness and prevents me from getting too far off track. Regularly checking off tasks and routinely seeing progress makes me feel accomplished, so I depend less on others for validation. Finally, having things broken down into simple, easy to accomplish steps means I don’t have to think about what to do next.

Feel free reach out if you’ve struggled and / or are struggling with time management and anxiety, or want to share your experience with ADHD. You can shoot me an email at patrick@designmap.com or find me on Twitter at cupandcone.



DesignMap is a product strategy and design consultancy. We help product teams discover and unlock the hidden power within their products.

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DesignMap is a product strategy and design consultancy. We help product teams discover and unlock the hidden power within their products.