Time blindness plays a big part in the day to day challenges that people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) experience. What is time blindness? It’s exactly how it sounds, it’s being blind to time, not having the ability to perceive the passage of time, not being aware of the minutes and hours passing by. Having a sense of time often involves knowing what time it is now, how much time is left, and how quickly time is passing.
Those With ADHD Have Trouble Determining a Sense Of Time
ADHD is a neuro-biological condition that affects your ability to regulate your attention, concentration, and emotion regulation. This is mostly due to an impairment in executive functioning. Essentially your brain doesn’t work like the neuro-typical brain, the executive function part of your brain is impaired, it’s there but it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. As a result, you may have difficulty with impulsivity, working memory, attention, problem solving, social skills, motivation, attention, focus, managing emotions and time management. This is not an exhaustive list, for more details on symptoms of adult ADHD click here. Symptoms – Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada (caddac.ca)
The time management deficits you experience are often referred to as time blindness, the inability to recognize time passing. This makes it difficult to accurately assess or even guess how much time an activity may take.
A Minute Can Feel Like a Second or Eternity If You Have ADHD
How your experience time depends on if you are engaged or bored with the task at hand. Because you aren’t aware of time ticking by, you also may assign inaccurate assumptions to time, which can look like:
“I have 10 minutes before I have to leave, I can have a shower and get dressed and still leave in 10 minutes …. “
“I can’t put away that basket of laundry (insert house chore here) it will take 30 minutes and I only have 10 minutes before I have to leave”
Realistically, most people cannot shower and get ready to leave in 10 minutes. Perhaps you could put away a basket of laundry in 10 minutes (as long as you don’t get distracted), but your brain, an ADHD brain, doesn’t have the ability to automatically help you determine these time differences.
The idea that you can cram an unreasonable number of tasks into a short period of time and also the probability to inflate time, that tasks are going to take much longer than they actually do is in large part a result of time blindness. This makes it easy to lose yourself for hours in a task without realizing how much time has passed. The result is often being late, missing deadlines, falling behind in school, taking care of your home, or yourself.
As a Person With ADHD I Have Struggled With Being Late
I have missed deadlines and felt overwhelmed with so much to do and no way to organize myself to get it done. I cannot change the fact that my brain is blind to the construct of time but I have learned hacks and coping tools to make up for this. Some of these were learned through my study as a Psychotherapist, others through trial and error as someone living with ADHD. Feel free to try these tools out and see which ones work best for you!
Time Blindness Brain Hacks For Those With ADHD
- WEAR A WATCH
First and foremost, wear a watch or carry a timekeeper of some kind with you always. Wearing a watch is essential if you suffer from time blindness. Having clocks in most rooms of your house is also helpful. The more visual reminders you have in your line of sight for time helps with time awareness.
A smart watch can be a great support watch option, just make sure you find one that is easy for you to navigate and has a long battery life.
- MAKE FRIENDS WITH TECHNOLOGY BUT KEEP IT SIMPLE
Learning to use timers, alarms and digital calendars is great. Think of them as a prosthetic for your brain to keep you aware of and accountable to the time. Avoid any Apps that require too much information as that is time consuming, and the goal is to manage time effectively. Digital calendars are beneficial as they sync across multiple devices. There are smartwatches that take voice commands to set timers and alarms, which you can set in the moment, as needed. With ADHD the skill of remembering to do things is impaired. This is why being able to do things in the moment, as much as possible, is vital.
Using a GPS to help you navigate and arrive at your destination- particularly if it is a new and/or unfamiliar area is a great time saver. It’s also not unusual to be geographically challenged if you suffer from time blindness.
- DO IT WHEN YOU THINK OF IT
In order to use your technology to the fullest, always set the timer or reminder as soon as you think about it. For example, I am about to go into my first session of the day and I remember a household task that must be completed later that evening. I will set a reminder in my phone/watch to remind me at a designated time that evening. Don’t try to make a mental note to do something later. As hours have passed by with many distractions and thoughts. this sets you up to forget. I have (several) daily alarms set to assist me in staying on track with getting to work and appointments on time.
- PRE-PLAN WHENEVER YOU CAN
Prioritizing tasks that can be done ahead of time will help you to be prepared and minimize the number of activities you have to do before getting out the door. This can look like, making your lunch or laying out the clothes you are going to wear the night before. This also eliminates the time taken up in trying to decide what we want for lunch or which clothes we want to wear. Doing tasks ahead of time can cut down on the time used in preparation and in decision making, while minimizing the opportunities to become distracted. Setting a reminder to do these tasks can also be really helpful to get you in the habit of preplanning.
- SET DEADLINES FOR YOURSELF
Personally, if there is no deadline or due date to get something done, there is a 99.9% chance I will not get it done. I have found setting my own deadlines and due dates to be a game changer. I will set digital reminders to help remind me to work on that task. At work, I ask for a deadline if one is not provided (do they want it by end of day, end of week, end of month) and then I set digital reminders to help keep on track. Implementing a rewards system can help your motivation. Give yourself a reward for getting tasks completed as a way to enhance your internal motivation. The idea is to reward yourself with an activity or something you really enjoy after a task that is not as enjoyable has been completed.
- SET YOUR CLOCKS AHEAD BY 10-15 MINUTES
If you have a tendency to run late often, this will help you to leave earlier.
- PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION
Us folks with ADHD tend to be very hard on ourselves. Depending on the age when you were diagnosed, you may have grown up feeling something was wrong with you but not knowing you had ADHD. Too often people with ADHD harshly judge themselves and sometimes view their symptoms as character flaws. You are not flawed or broken, you are unique and special as is your brain. In using self-compassion, you can acknowledge you made a mistake and that’s ok, making mistakes is part of being human. We all make mistakes. Instead of beating yourself up with negative thoughts, try saying “I made a mistake and that’s ok”. This will make space for you to look at what you can do differently next time, instead of staying stuck in the shame of a mistake. To try a brief but effective self-compassion practice from the work of Kristin Neff, please click here: Self-Compassion Break (5 mins)
- APOLOGIZE FOR LATENESS
People tend to be quite forgiving if you can take responsibility and apologize, without making excuses. Lateness for some feels like a sign that you do not value and respect their time. You have probably waited in a doctor’s office, far past your appointment time. Remember how that feeling of frustration, and helplessness? This is why apologizing for lateness helps to demonstrate personal responsibility and respect for the other person’s time. The challenge comes when you are chronically late. When that is the case it’s best to try some of the earlier strategies to help improve time management.
Time Blindness Doesn’t Have To Hold Your Back In Life
If you have ADHD and recognize that you’re struggling with time blindness, this is the first step to learning to manage your time better. I encourage you to try out some of these tools and strategies to see if they help you have a better handle on time and a better sense of control and autonomy in your life. Another step, if it feels right to you, is getting counselling support, to help with anxiety, self-esteem, or whatever you may be struggling with. Reach out if you’re interested in trying therapy.
Reference: Attention_2015_10_v4.pdf (chadd.org)
MORE RESOURCES AROUND TIME MANAGEMENT:
Russell Barkley Time blindness – YouTube
VIDEO: 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary – YouTubePART 2 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary (part 2) – YouTube