OCD and Time Management

Clock in Kings Cross railway station

Clock in Kings Cross railway station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Time management is a hot topic these days. Whether related to the workplace, school, homemaking, child-rearing, or our personal lives, there just never seems to be enough time to do all the things we need, or want, to do. We are so overloaded that there are self-help books, as well as experts and entire companies dedicated to this subject. When did it all get so complicated?

And if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, there’s a good chance you’ll have even more obstacles to overcome.

To me, one of the most frustrating aspects of my son Dan’s severe OCD was how much time he appeared to spend doing absolutely nothing. He had schoolwork and responsibilities to attend to, yet he’d just sit in a “safe” chair for hours and hours on end. I now know that he spent this time focusing on his obsessions and compulsions, which were in his mind and not obvious to me. As Dan’s OCD improved, the chair sitting stopped, but he still often took longer than others to complete his school assignments. This seemed to be attributed to his difficulty balancing details within the big picture as well as over-thinking.

While Dan’s problem of apparently wasting time is common for those with OCD, the opposite end of the spectrum can also be an issue. Some OCD sufferers might feel the constant need to be busy and productive, as well as having every event and task of the day carefully planned. For Dan, spur-of-the-moment plans were not even a possibility when his OCD was in control.

Something else OCD sufferers might deal with in regard to time management is lack of punctuality. This might be because they feel the need to finish whatever task they are working on before they can move on to something else (even if most people wouldn’t consider it important), or perhaps due to trouble with transitions. Of course, time spent attending to obsessions and compulsions can always account for any struggles with time management.

From what I’ve written, it is easy to conclude that those with OCD do not manage their time well. But actually, I think the opposite is true. OCD sufferers are excellent time managers. Look at everything they have to manage! For example, even though my son Dan sat in his “safe” chair for hours on end, somehow he was still able to meet all his responsibilities. Many of those with OCD not only fulfill their own obligations, they meet the “obligations” of their disorder as well. Of course, not surprisingly, this load might finally become too much to handle.

In my opinion, those with OCD don’t need lessons in time management. What they need is to fight their OCD. Obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming, as is constant worry. Getting back the time that OCD consumes is nothing short of a gift and can open up a world of possibilities to not only OCD sufferers, but to the people who want to spend time with them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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22 Responses to OCD and Time Management

  1. Great article. And you hit the nail on the head — they need to fight OCD and steal back their time! I lost so many hours to obsessions and compulsions that I can never get back. Learning to manage obsessions and compulsions is like rearranging garbage all over the livingroom floor. You don’t want to “manage” it– you want to get RID of it! Three cheers for ERP! 🙂

    Your article did make me wonder about my lack of spontaneity and if that might be connected to my OCD. It is KILLER for me to make spontaneous plans. Even if I don’t have anything going on some night, if a friend says, “Wanna hang out?” and I wasn’t planning on it, I probably will say no. I NEED TO PREPARE!!!

    • Thanks for your insight, Jackie. I love your analogy of obsessions and compulsions to rearranging garbage! As far as the lack of spontaneity goes, I’m no expert, and certainly lots of people who don’t have OCD grapple with this issue. In Dan’s case, I think he needed to plan in advance so he could perform certain rituals. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be an issue now and he is usually up for anything at a moment’s notice :).

  2. Lolly says:

    Wow, definitely thought provoking. I had a “safe spot” as well. In the throes if my OCD, I would come home from work and sit in silence on my couch in my apartment. It was safe, secure, dark and lacked outside stimuli, what I needed at the time but what was the worst thing for me at the time.

    Back in my checking days, it was hard to get myself out of the door for fear of leaving the stove on. It held me up and sometimes made me late.

    Even though I have OCD, on my worst days, I would do what I HAD to do and nothing more. I would go to work on time and complete all if my duties, on time. Also, those of us with OCD tend to be perfectionists so missing a date or a deadline was unexceptable.

    On a side note– Thanks for being our voice and advocate. You educate and inspire. I am so glad to know you and so glad to have met you. I think about you and Dan often. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing, and for your kind words, Lolly :). You make an excellent point about having OCD and being a perfectionist, so everything “has” to get done. I think about you also and would love to meet up again if you will be at this year’s conference 🙂

  3. willitbeok says:

    I love what you’ve said here! Something similar came up between my psychologist and I last Friday. We were discussing how I have trouble multi-tasking, but how my OCD often causes me to multi-task in situations where a normal person wouldn’t be — so in a way, I’m multi-tasking all the time already! No wonder I would have trouble with it.

    I’ve also experienced people assuming that I am lazy or “just do things slowly” — because it’s impossible for people to see the internal struggle that’s going on.

    Unfortunately, it may be a permanent result of OCD that some people will always do things a little slower than others. In order for me to go through CBT, there is just always a certain mental process I have to go through. Even though I don’t wash my hands obsessively as I did when I was a child, I STILL go through a mental process of having to talk myself out of doing it from time to time. That may never fully go away — and these mental processes do take a certain amount of time, or at least multi-tasking.

    • Thanks for sharing and I think you bring up a lot of good points. I agree that OCD sufferers might appear “lazy,” which breaks my heart, because it’s the opposite that is true.They are working harder than ever just to get through the day. As far as always doing things a little slower, I really don’t know if that’s true for everyone……maybe some other readers will chime in!

      • willitbeok says:

        I don’t intend to be pessimistic. I hope it’s not true for everyone. I feel like it may be true for me, but I try to remain hopeful for improving in the future. I think going through the “mental filtering” of false alarms does take extra time, but with practice, that time grows shorter and shorter.

      • I don’t think you are pessimistic, just honest :)! I think everything you say makes a lot of sense and would be interested to hear if others feel the same way.

  4. minimori says:

    Oh I see exactly where you’re coming from with the homework issue! I’m currently doing my A-levels and you’d think I can’t afford to waste time at all but I sometimes take double the time needed on a piece of homework due to my OCD…Overthinking and just needing it all to be absolutely perfect.

    • Thanks for sharing, and obviously you know exactly what I’m talking about! A-levels are tough enough without having to deal with OCD too… I wish you all the best with your studies 🙂

  5. Tina Barbour says:

    Great thoughts on this subject, Janet! You know I struggle with the whole issue of time. I used to be so slow in my schoolwork, mostly due to taking care of OCD obligations to my work: checking everything multiple times, worrying about doing it right, not plagiarizing, etc. But others tended to see me as just dawdling, or worse, lazy. I have fought self-labeling myself lazy ever since. I also have trouble with punctuality, though it’s not as bad as it used to be when compulsions took up so much of my time. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said what we need to do is fight the OCD.

    • Thanks for sharing, Tina. Oh, if people only knew how NOT lazy those with OCD are! That’s why education is so important, so people can at least begin to understand some of what those with OCD have to deal with.

  6. Hammer Time says:

    Knowing that the simplest thing will take at least twice, three times maybe even ten times longer to do than they should do is one of the most frustrating things about this. For example I have had to type, delete and re-type (sometimes as many as ten or more times) a lot of this email (not to change any words, just deleting and re-typing the same characters over and over and over again…very often the full-stops.) Imagine how much time that adds to my job which involves writing academic papers and many emails per day! Sometimes I will be in the car with my family ready to go out and my wife will ask me to pop back in to the house to get something and I will think ‘bloody hell, that will take me ages because I am going to have to go and open and close every door in the house and turn the lights on and off several times etc’ (we don’t really mention the fact that I have ridiculous OCD but she just tells me to pack it in if I turn my bed side light on and off more than 3 times before I go to sleep!…she can just about tolerate it twice!). This is the first time that I have ever expressed any of this in any way and reading back it sounds even more ridiculous than I know it is…but I just can’t stop! It is soooo tiring!

    …without a word of a lie that last exclamation mark was typed and re-typed fifteen times at least…

    • Thank you so much for sharing, HT.You have certainly given us all an idea how time-consuming and agonizing OCD can be. I’m sorry you are having such a tough time and wonder if you’ve ever tried ERP therapy. I wish you all the best as you move forward in fighting your OCD.

  7. Abigail says:

    Willitbeok has a good point about multitasking; I’ve considered myself bad at it, when in fact, the OCD has had me multitasking often. I do get frustrated with how much effort I can put into doing something at work “quickly” (my version of quickly) while others can complete the same tasks (perhaps not as thoroughly) but with less energy and still have time to text on their cell phone in the middle.

    I like your conclusion that we have to deal with the OCD, not take time-management classes. 🙂

    I’ve done lots of procrastination, but recently have been learning that that can be from perfectionism and fear of doing something wrong. I figured I was just being lazy, but it probably wasn’t that simple.

    I tend to be right on time for social events – I’ve just started realizing that I’m actually afraid of being early since it might result in a social situation where I’m afraid of bothering people. I don’t like being late, either, so it is a double catch. If money is exchanged, I do better (work, appointments), but I avoid being early to work, too. If there is an office to wait in I do better (social awkwardness averted, risk of wasting money by being late set aside).

    Thanks for bringing up this issue. Like Lolly, I really appreciate how you bring up issues and speak out for people and their families with OCD.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Abigail, and I really appreciate your kind words also. The more comments I read, the more I realize how complicated this time management topic is. Multi-tasking and perfectionism are big factors, as you point out, and your explanation of why you prefer to be right on time for things is really interesting also. It makes me realize it’s not always just about OCD and other factors might be involved (like not wanting to bother people or other social issues, as you point out).

  8. Great post, Janet! You continue to come up with consistently interesting and important topics. Keep up the great work.

  9. Krystal Lynn says:

    I don’t think OCD hurt me in my job(s) as I always got excellent feedback regarding the quality of my work and having projects accomplished on time. I was probably overly conscious that I not allow OCD to make me waste company time and the few times I may have double checked my work I rationalized my time was well spent doing that rather than employees who felt they could justify 5-10 minute smoke breaks on the hour.
    There was a time I did not work because I felt OCD would not have made me a productive employee. But overall I think people with OCD are probably very responsible and productive employees and I wonder how many people are fearful to get work because they think OCD will hinder them.
    At home, OCD interfere’s more and there are days when I am sad that OCD took up so much of my time. I take longer to shower than most people and the thing that bothers me most about that is that I get mad at myself that I am wasting water. I have a friend with severe arthritis (and nerve damage) and she said she feels frustrated that it takes her so long to bathe because it is painful to move her joints and limbs and I found myself comforting her..and then I told myself maybe I ought to be kinder and gentle with myself. It does no good to hit myself over the head with negative thoughts and only makes my anxiety worse.

    • Thanks for sharing, Krystal Lynn. I find it interesting that OCD is/was more of an issue at home for you than at work. I have heard this a lot. And I agree that you need to be kinder and gentler to yourself. Goodness knows you are that way with others!

  10. 71º & Sunny says:

    So funny – I was recently planning a post on just this subject! I’m late for a LOT of stuff, because I have to do things either slowly, or I have to finish a compulsion, or something or other. It’s been a real problem in my life, unfortunately. It was a lot worse when I was really sick. Being on time for stuff is something that I’m actively working on now.

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