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Time Management and Other Executive Functioning Issues in the Workplace


Many individuals on the autism spectrum need an accommodation for time management in the workplace. Some autistic people struggle because of difficulty tracking and managing time. Some operate on a very loose schedule, unaware of what time it is and how long it may take to accomplish a task. Others adhere very rigidly to a schedule — sometimes managing a schedule minute to minute.

Many people work at a job where they have a daily, Monday through Friday, schedule. They take the 8:30 AM train into work, arrive at 9 AM, break for lunch at around noon, and leave for home at 5 PM. Not all workplaces operate on a 9 to 5 day, however. Many places, such as grocery stores, hospitals, fire houses, etc., are open weekends and weekdays, 12 hours or more each day; many are open 24 hours a day. These work sites often have their employees working on a rotating schedule to cover all the hours the business is open.

Working with a rotating schedule may be particularly difficult for those on the autism spectrum because change can be challenging, even if it is a planned change. It's difficult to adhere to a schedule when Monday work hours are 9 AM – 5 PM, Tuesday's hours are 11 AM – 7 PM, and Wednesday's hours are 1 PM – 9 PM. It may be useful to request an accommodation of a regular, predictable schedule. Perhaps 1- 9 PM, Tuesday through Saturday?

Sometimes time management is part of a greater organizational issue related to executive function. Cell phones, iPads®, personal digital assistants (PDAs), binders, calendars, organizers, and Google® alerts and calendars, are all tools that are readily available and can be customized to help organize and manage time more effectively and efficiently. These are known as assistive technology devices. Do an internet search for scheduling apps and see how many options you have to choose from! Job mentors, such as Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) counselors, often can also suggest organizational tools.

Case Example:

Let's consider how time management affects our friend, John. He struggles to stay on task, he is easily distracted and often looses track of where he is supposed to be and when he is supposed to be there.

John benefits from an established routine where his day is broken up into chunks: from the time John wakes until the time he goes to sleep, he has particular choices of things to do. He made a schedule for himself:

My Daily Monday-Friday Schedule Time
7:00 AM Wake
7:15 AM Shower, dress, eat breakfast
8:15 AM Leave for work
9:00 AM Arrive at work
Noon Lunch
12:30 PM Resume work after lunch
5:00 PM Leave work
6:00 PM Dinner (prep, eating, clean-up)
8:00 PM Prepare schedule for the next day
8:30 PM Rest and relaxation (play video games, watch TV, surf the web, etc.)
10:30 PM Get ready for bed (brush teeth, change into bed clothes)
11:00 PM Sleep

By chunking the tasks, he will stay organized and not get overwhelmed. He customized the schedule so it reflects his choices, his routines, and his plans. The schedule includes chores, appointments, and time for leisure/recreation activities.

If you work in an office, a file folder with tabs can be used to keep work organized and neat. Use the tabs to track dates jobs are due. Most organizers have calendars and places to create "To Do” lists with pop-up reminders when a task should start. Make updating and changing the scheduler part of the daily routine.

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Additional Resources

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.