At one point in time or another, nearly everyone has struggled with time management skills. From the dreaded realization that what felt like twenty minutes of mindless TV watching was closer to two hours, to the familiar pull of procrastination, time management greatly impacts a person’s productivity and sense of fulfillment. Yet people recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) might find that time management has become uniquely challenging in the aftermath of their injury. Perhaps scheduled appointments have more regularly slipped your mind or it feels almost impossible to track how much time has elapsed while working on a particular task.
If that sounds familiar, it is important to know that there are concrete strategies you can implement to help regain control of your day-to-day schedule and productivity. This article will explore some of the difficulties with time management that can arise after TBI and suggest practical steps you can take to overcome those obstacles.
Why can time management become more difficult after a TBI?
Traumatic brain injuries affect a wide range of cognitive capacities, and they can impair the areas of the brain that control working memory, self control, and forward-thinking. Thus, after a TBI it is common to experience challenges with executive function skills, which allow a person to plan ahead, stay focused, and realize short- and long-term goals.
Struggles with time management among people living with traumatic brain injury can manifest in various ways. Some people will struggle to separate large tasks into manageable parts; others, meanwhile, might grapple most with a distorted perception of time that causes them to easily lose track of the hours in the day. Delayed task initiation and broader procrastination might then translate into missed deadlines, frustration, and dejection. If the situations described above resonate with you, there are steps you can take to build back your time management skills.
Here are 7 strategies for time management while recovering from a traumatic brain injury:
Set SMART goals. “SMART” is an acronym for a set of elements that help structure goals that optimize output. Namely, the most effective goals should be:
- Specific (for example, “read 5 books this year” as opposed to “read more”);
- Measurable (try to set a goal with a clear and calculable benchmark for success, such as “practice Constant Therapy for 30 minutes every day”);
- Achievable (aim for more feasible goals that align with your bandwidth);
- Realistic (make sure your goal is something that coheres within your broader objectives–-for instance, using Constant Therapy to improve your reading ability); and
- Timely (give yourself a concrete deadline to work toward, which helps sustain motivation throughout the project).
These criteria help ensure that you stay focused on the stepwise outcomes that matter most to your individual trajectory, which is an important hedge against time management problems after a TBI.
- Make a daily to-do list. Similarly, keeping a running list of tasks you need to complete in a given day, week, or month can be a helpful tool for accountability. Doing so also serves to free up your working memory for the task you’ve decided to focus on at a specific moment, thus creating valuable space in your memory stores for cognitively-intense tasks. You can create a to-do list with traditional pen and paper, or find an app that works well for you. Make sure to cross things off your list as you finish them to give yourself a sense of completion!
- Use technology to your advantage. Set timers and/or reminders on your phone, tablet, or smartwatch to keep pace across the day. Consider doing this even for mundane tasks like eating breakfast or brushing your teeth, as TBIs can affect your sense of time and make it difficult to realize how much time has passed since you started doing something. Alternatively, consider setting an alarm every half-hour or hour to prevent a long stretch of time from inadvertently passing without your awareness.
- Minimize distractions, and focus on one task at a time. Multitasking is tempting for everyone from time to time, but resisting that impulse will help you maintain focus. Without multiple tasks pulling your brain in competing directions at once, you are likely to finish the tasks severally in less time overall than doing them together would take. Try to avoid combining even those tasks that seem simple on their own, such as eating meals or watching TV, as it’s much easier to lose track of time when doing multiple things concurrently. Indeed, research shows that multitasking is largely ineffective, even among people who consider themselves good multitaskers.
- Use visual aids. Such tools can help you organize your day and reduce the burden on your working memory to remember too many things at once. Mark appointments and deadlines on a calendar kept in a prominent location in your home so that you receive consistent reminders of the most important upcoming events. You might also try a strategy known as timeboxing, which encourages you to schedule each day in advance according to the amount of time you want to spend on specific tasks. Color coding by task urgency or type can also help cue your brain to stay focused.
- Take breaks. Nobody can run at full steam without taking a moment to recharge, and this is even more important when your brain is working hard to recover. The Pomodoro Method is one time management technique that explicitly encourages users to take breaks at set intervals. The most common approach to the Pomodoro Method is to divide work into 25-minute segments, taking a 5-minute break in between each working session and a longer 25-minute break after completing 3 sessions.
- Rely on your support network to keep you accountable. Ask loved ones for their support in keeping you on track with time management, and do not hesitate to reach out to an executive function coach or therapist if you need additional reinforcement. Such professionals may be able to propose strategies tailored to your unique needs and available resources.
If you’re struggling to manage time after experiencing a TBI, it is important to remember that your struggles are not reflective of any personal shortcomings. It is especially admirable to want to regain the level of productivity you perhaps had before your injury, given that every minute of every day, your brain is doing its most important work in healing. Experiment with the strategies this article outlines where you have the energy to do so, but above all, be compassionate to yourself as you progress through your recovery journey.
>> Try Constant Therapy for free today