OCD and Time Management

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Thoughts on time management as young people head back to school and college. A version of this post first appeared on my blog in April 2013…

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, perfectionism, and  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 people with OCD  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 those with OCD 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 people with OCD do not manage their time well. But actually, I think the opposite is true. Those with OCD 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 people 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 those who have OCD, but to the people who want to spend time with them.

 

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18 Responses to OCD and Time Management

  1. Doris says:

    I agree with this – I initially bought a book to help my “slow” child gen though he excelled at school. It is all now starting to make sense. I I would like to know how Dan got better as we are still getting to the point where my son recognizes the extent to which OCD impacts him – so far, he only acknowledges “habits”

  2. Eric says:

    I agree, OCD is a time thief, I have spent 20 years struggling with this condition and it has cost me good jobs, mostly due to time management. My rituals include too much planning, preparation, researching and sorting information, the outcome is poor time management.

    Planning, preparation, researching and arranging preparation material is mostly in my mind, family members are too frustrated to help, I sometimes wish the rituals were able to observed by others, “in his mind and not obvious to me”.

    Finding experts in OCD or ERP is not easy, here in Australia.

    • Hi Eric, I am so sorry to hear you have been dealing with OCD for so long. I believe there is a Facebook Group for those with OCD in Australia? Also, there are self-help workbooks and some websites that can be helpful. Feel free to email me at ocdtalk@yahoo.com to discuss other potential resources.

  3. Janet, thank you for sharing this! The punctuality issue is one that “gets” so many of the amazing people I’m honored to work with. It interferes with getting to school on time; it interferes with getting to therapy on time. It creates an extra load to carry. And it’s amazing to see that become a thing of the past when the rituals start to get dismantled.

    • Thanks for commenting, Angie! I know it is tough to watch OCD wreak havoc on someone’s life, but then it’s great to see the same person functioning so well after their OCD is treated!

  4. Mary says:

    Hi Janet,
    I read your book almost a year ago when my son was first diagnosed with OCD. It was a godsend of hope for me during a very bleak period. My son has had some similar challenges to what you described your son experiencing.
    I clicked on your topic of Time Management today because I can see where my son may struggle with this in college. He has begun his first semester, is taking a manageable course load (9 credits), and commutes. He successfully completed a summer course with no accommodations. We have not shared his diagnosis with anyone at the college at this point in time. I’m not even sure what accommodations he might need, although he did mention to me that he appreciated that his summer course instructor provided a hard copy of the class schedule and that she stuck to it. The electronic schedules and spontaneous changes seem to be more difficult.
    I want to support his success without taking away any of his independence. He is not forthcoming with people about his OCD at this point, which makes it difficult to know what to do to help, as well. I would love to know more about your son’s recovery as well as methods he has used to sustain control over OCD. My son participated in an Intensive Outpatient Program for 6 months this past year, and has since been going to weekly CBT/ERP.

    Best Regards,
    Mary

  5. Hi Mary, I’m so glad to hear you found my book helpful and also happy to hear your son has gotten and continues to get the right help.
    Fortunately, Dan was always open about his OCD at college and even though the disability coordinator had no idea how to help him, his teachers were given notes explaining Dan’s situation and asking that they “work with him.” Dan asked for little to no accommodations, except when things were downright horrible, but he found it helpful to be able to talk about his OCD with his teachers if he needed to.
    If your son is not willing to let the school know about his disorder, they can’t help him. Perhaps his current therapist could discuss this with your son?
    Thankfully Dan continues to do well. He is 28 now and lives a few hours away from us, with his girlfriend. I believe he still uses the ERP skills he learned but has not gone back to therapy or medication at all.
    Overall it sounds as if your son is doing well. In my opinion that’s the perfect time to talk to his school!
    Here are a couple of articles you might find helpful:
    https://psychcentral.com/lib/ocd-and-college-accommodations/
    https://psychcentral.com/lib/taking-ocd-to-college-build-a-support-system/

    Good luck and please keep me posted!

    • Mary says:

      Thank you, Janet. Your son and you are such inspirations. I really appreciate the links to the articles and your helpful suggestions. I agree that to be open about OCD is the best way to be understood and to get the right help when needed. I will keep you posted!

  6. Wow! This was worded beautifully. I have OCD tendencies and I feel like I spend a lot of time doing nothing because I’m huge on punctuality. I won’t do anything because I know I can’t start something if I have an obligation to attend to. I manage to get everything done still: I’m a senior marketing major, I’m president of the biggest club on campus, and I also have my own little business that I’m setting up. I get it all done, yet I spend a lot of time just scrolling through Instagram or Facebook feeds when I have awkward time gaps in my obligations.

    • Thanks for sharing and I’m glad you like the post. You sure have accomplished a lot even with your “OCD tendencies.” Have you ever seen an OCD therapist to see if you actually do have OCD and discuss treatments? Wishing you all the best!

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