I have multiple disabilities, including ADHD. This means that I cannot predict my energy and focus levels, and therefore many scheduling tools, including time blocking, do not work for me. This is a method that has helped me, and I hope it will help others also.

How To Use It

The Compass Method takes its name from the numerous quick checks of your mental, physical, and emotional state. In essence, you are your own compass.

You will not need an actual compass, but you will need a timer. Either digital or mechanical is fine, although I suggest using one with a pleasant sound if possible. Quietly resenting a discordant timer is less than helpful.

To start, look at your task list and available activities, and select one that suits your current state to be your compass point. Set the timer for a short period: I usually set it for between five to twenty minutes. As the timer runs, do your selected activity. Once the timer rings, reevaluate. Choose what you feel like doing next, set the timer, and resume your activity or start a new one.


This probably sounds like the Pomodoro technique, but there are two important differences. First, you choose the length of time for each compass point—if you don’t feel you can focus for 25 minutes, you can use something shorter. Second, you can choose any activity. If you need several periods of rest or leisure in a row, take them without guilt.

Why This Works

By allowing you to choose whichever activity works for you, the Compass system lets you adapt your activities however you need. The short periods help you to focus more on your work and savor your leisure. Doing the reassessments keeps you from getting stuck compulsively doing an activity, which is something those of us with ADHD are particularly prone to.

You may worry that you’ll spend all your time playing and neglect your work, but I believe that this is unlikely. As humans, we deeply enjoy accomplishing things, and if we’re resisting doing something, that resistance often stems from fear, fatigue, or guilt—problems that the forgiving, adaptive nature of the Compass Method can help with. And if you do thoughtfully choose to rest or play for longer than you feel you should have, trust your decisions. You made the best choices for yourself given the circumstances and your own state, and if that choice was not work, that simply means you needed something else.

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