How to manage ADHD Time Blindness
How to manage ADHD Time Blindness

How to manage ADHD Time Blindness

Do tasks always take way longer than you expect? Do you lose track of time? Do you miss deadlines or often run late for things? If so, time blindness might be to blame.

It’s one o’clock in the morning and you’re still finishing up a presentation for work. It’s due at 8:00 am. You’re exhausted, but adrenaline pushes you to keep going. You can’t afford to mess this up!

In between frantically pasting sections together, you’re kicking yourself for creating this situation, yet again. “What’s wrong with me?!” you chastise yourself.

You wanted this presentation to be flawless and profound. You wanted to show everyone what you can really do when you put your mind to something. You even started on it weeks ago. You just didn’t give yourself enough time to arrange all the pieces.

Why does this keep happening?

Illustration of white rabbit checking watch to help with time blindness
Illustrated by Joseph Moore

Most of us struggle with time blindness on occasion. However, for people with ADHD, time blindness can be a persistent and debilitating issue. It can irritate your friends and loved ones, keep you from performing your best at school or work, and make daily life feel grueling and stressful.

Even more, you may internalize your struggle with time (and the havoc that it wreaks on your life) to mean that you’re no good.

Time blindness isn’t described in the DSM-V (the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals). However, emerging research and anecdotal experiences have led to discussion of it as a common feature of ADHD. If you have ADHD, or know someone who does, you’ve probably seen evidence of time blindness first-hand.

So, what can you do about it?

How to manage time blindness

While there’s limited evidence that stimulant medication may provide some help (at least in children) [1], behavioral strategies are necessary to make day-to-day life manageable. If you’ve taken ADHD medication, you probably already know it doesn’t fix your time issues. Here are some strategies to help you get on track.

Anticipate activities that get you “lost”

Are there certain activities in which you always lose track of time? Maybe you’re reading, working in your shop, or gardening and look up to see many hours have passed without you realizing it?

If this tends to happen to you, make a list of activities in which you get lost. On days when you have other things you must do, finish those necessary activities first or set a timer. Take a realistic assessment of the situations that get you in trouble and put up guardrails so that you can manage them more effectively.

Set a timer

Set timers for the important things you need to do every day and choose different tones to mean different things. For example, when you need to take medication, choose a short, loud sound. When you need to leave your house for work, pick an upbeat song. Pairing specific alarm sounds with activities is more likely to get your attention and get you in the habit of doing things at specific times.

Go analog

Seeing clock hands move may heighten your sense of the true duration of hours, minutes and seconds. The “wedges” of time on an analog clock resemble a pie chart that represents the relationship between parts (minutes) to the whole (an hour). This may help you break projects into chunks more intuitively and estimate the pace of your progress more accurately.

Anticipate the worst-case scenario

Instead of expecting everything to run like clockwork en route to your destination—like you hit only green lights and don’t get stuck in traffic—build in extra time for things that may go wrong. If you worry about “wasting time” being early, bring work or other activities to keep you occupied.

Change the “the” time

Instead of focusing on when you need to get somewhere, focus on when you need to leave. This will help you feel the urgency of leaving on time.

Imagine your missed deadline

Try to imagine what it will feel like to be late for something important or miss your deadline. It might help to hang up a visual representation of this feeling to remind you of how distressing it is. This can evoke feelings of urgency to propel you forward and work more efficiently.

Schedule planning time

People with ADHD often struggle with long-term planning, which can lead to missed deadlines and financial problems. Planning may not come naturally, so it’s important to learn a strategy for managing long-term goals. This means breaking big projects up into small steps and possibly enlisting a friend or coach to give you some accountability. It’s important to spend time really thinking about where you want to be in a year and plan the steps you’ll take to get there.

Give yourself a break

You need time to relax and focus on the things you like to do. Make sure to build time into your schedule for your hobbies and self-care so that you don’t burn out or feel the need to “rebel” against your schedule.

Next Steps

If you or someone you love struggles with symptoms related to ADHD, call your doctor or contact Athena Care, for mental health care in Tennessee.

One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.

Photo of Rachel Swan
Rachel Swan, MS

Rachel has a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University, where she spent 16 years as a Research Analyst in the Psychology and Human Development Department.