Nov 22, 2023 | Neurodiversity

Time Blindness and ADHD


Keeping track of time can be challenging for everyone. We get wrapped up in a project for work, reading our new favourite book, or find ourselves starting one thing while forgetting we were already doing another.   

However, for people with ADHD, there is a symptom they can experience which is called time blindness. If you have never heard of this term, or are unfamiliar with what it entails, keep reading.   

Today, let’s delve deeper into time blindness and ADHD and discuss some tips that can help.  

What is time blindness?  

As described by Cleveland Clinic, time blindness refers to “the inability to recognize when time has passed or to estimate how long something will take.” While we all face this in some way, individuals with ADHD may experience it more often and to a more severe degree; “Some people with ADHD, though, are more prone to having difficulty being able to judge how long something will take to do or to lose track of time.” –Dr. Michael Manos, Cleveland Clinic   

For example, a person with ADHD might start to boil water on the stove, and then become engaged in an activity they enjoy. Before they know it, hours have passed, and they return to find a pot that is dry, red with heat, and a cracked glass stove top. Or perhaps they are working on a project, and think it’s only been a few minutes, but it turns out that nearly two hours has gone by.   

It might also show up in overestimating how much you think you can accomplish in a day, or underestimating the amount of time something may take. It is important to note that this is not a disregard for time but, rather, can be thought of more like a sensory issue.  

Tips to help  

Implementing strategies, or time management tools, can make a significant difference regarding completing tasks, and ensuring you keep on track with what you are doing. Consider the following to help mitigate the effects of time blindness:  

Track time  

To stay on track, use a time tracking app or document where you record when you start a project, breaks needed, and completion of the project. Time tracking apps will help keep you organized and give a visual of the time used.  

In some cases, using apps on a phone may have some risks for the ADHD brain. If you must go through a gauntlet of notifications, and all the red bubbles on the app, individuals may get sidetracked and forget why they opened their phone in the first place. Also, you may download the app, use it a few times, and then forget it exists! If you relate to this, often good old fashion paper and pen, or a laminated sheet and marker might serve as a better tool. This way there are fewer barriers or distractions. 

Set a timer  

We all need a reminder occasionally! Therefore, prior to starting something that you know you might lose track of time doing, set a timer. We highly recommend visual timers! Timers such as this one or this one, can be highly effective in providing a representation of the passage of time. Ones that have the traffic light colours help in creating a sense of urgency and context. For example, when the timer hits the yellow, you know it is time to wrap up what you are working on (don’t start anything new once it reaches the yellow window!). Red is an indication to put everything down and pack up. Or red might also indicate that it’s time to put on your shoes and coat as it is time to leave once the timer goes off.  

The more things that people with ADHD can automate, the more systems they have outside of their bodies and brains, which helps combat feeling overwhelmed. In using timers like the ones we’ve mentioned, you can focus less on the passage of time, decrease the mental load, and reduce the risk of overwhelm and dysregulation. 

Allow for extra  

When setting a deadline or trying to figure out how much time you might need, be sure to give yourself a buffer. You might consider adding an extra half hour or even an hour depending on what you need to complete or accomplish. However, be cognizant that you don’t use this time as added procrastination. Use your buffer time for what you have allocated it for and try your best not to plan something else during this window.  

Time blindness can look differently depending on the individual. However, in understanding its impact, and implementing strategies that work for you, you will hopefully find yourself more in tune with time, and better equipped to manage day-to-day activities.  

Stay tuned for our blog next week, where we will discuss the science behind how ADHD brains work regarding time, and the importance of understanding time blindness. 

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