Do you ever feel like time is slipping through your fingers, no matter how hard you try to hold onto it? For those of us with ADHD, this feeling of helplessness can be all too familiar. It's called time blindness, and it affects a person’s ability to perceive and manage time effectively.
This blog covers everything you need to know about time blindness, including:
- What is time blindness
- How does it affect people with ADHD
- How can you manage it, especially with ADHD
What Is Time Blindness?
While not a formal medical diagnosis, time blindness describes challenges with accurately perceiving and managing time.
People with time blindness often struggle with estimating how long tasks will take, sticking to schedules, recognizing when it's appropriate to start or finish tasks, or noticing the passage of time.
Time blindness is particularly common in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it can affect anyone.
Here are a few common symptoms of time blindness:
- Poor time estimation: You underestimate or overestimate the time needed to finish specific tasks.
- Difficulty when planning: You struggle to plan for your immediate and distant future because you find it hard to prepare for events that aren't in the present.
- Procrastination: You delay projects because you have difficulty figuring out the time required for a particular task or how much time you have.
- Chronic lateness: Due to time management difficulties, you are late to appointments, meetings, or social gatherings.
- Transition difficulties: Moving from one activity to another can be pretty tricky as you cannot end one task and quickly start another.
- Impulsivity: You feel like time passes too quickly, leading to stress, anxiety, or impulsivity. You can sometimes make decisions without considering the consequences.
How Time Blindness Affects People With ADHD
For individuals with ADHD, time blindness can be even more pronounced.
A 2019 research suggests that people with ADHD struggle with time estimation and seem stuck in the present moment. Due to altered time perception, they may have a reduced ability to measure the duration of tasks and may struggle with punctuality.
Gabor Maté, psychiatrist, researcher, and best-selling author of Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It, gave the theory that individuals with ADHD perceive time as constantly slipping by, causing distress that leads to inattention or hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors.
Moreover, 2017 research showed that individuals with ADHD may experience dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex, which is linked to time perception and executive functions. According to 2021 research, for people with ADHD, it might feel like time is moving faster than it actually is, which may lead to underestimating how much time is passing.
💡Remember: Not everyone with ADHD experiences time blindness.
10 Ways You Can Manage Time Blindness (Especially if You Have ADHD)
Let’s look at ten ways to manage time effectively and stay on top of your schedule.
1. Try body doubling
Body doubling is a technique well-known in the ADHD community that involves working alongside another person to complete tasks. The other person is your 'body double,' a term coined in 1996 by Linda Anderson, an ADHD coach.
There are various reasons why body doubling works for people with ADHD, including:
- Increase in dopamine levels: A 2019 study showed that social interactions activate the brain's dopamine reward circuitry, increasing dopamine.
- Imitating other people's behavior: Mirror neurons are an integral part of the nervous system that allow individuals to respond to and imitate others behaviors. Just like you yawn when you see other people yawn, seeing other people focus on performing tasks makes you want to focus and accomplish your tasks.
- Provides a calming space: The body double becomes a mirror for calm and control, making you shift from a stage of hyperarousal or hypoarousal to a calm and focused state of mind.
- Helps curb loneliness: As research suggests, loneliness is more prevalent in people with ADHD. Body doubling with one person or a group decreases the feeling of loneliness as you work alongside your community.
So, where can you find a body double?
Your body double can be anyone — friends, family, a stranger, or a group. You can also body double with an online community through platforms like Flow Club.
I am working on this article in a Flow Club session hosted by Samantha, and my productivity has definitely increased. The presence of the body doubles, in addition to the timer and my task list, helps me stay mindful of the passage of time and how I want to spend that time.
2. Use a calendar to time-block
Time blocking is a method in which you divide your day into blocks of time, with each block designated for a specific task or set of tasks. Here's how you can do it:
- Use a digital or physical calendar that you feel comfortable with. It can be a smartphone app, a planner, or even a wall calendar, as long as it breaks down each day into hour or half-hour blocks.
- Block out specific periods for different activities or tasks — it helps you visualize your day and ensures that you allocate enough time for each task.
With Flow Club, you can easily time-block every time you book a session by writing down your goals, which then gets synced to your digital calendar.
This is what my Google Calendar looks like with Flow Club time blocking. An added benefit is that if you share your calendar with partners or teammates, they will see that you’ve already made an intention and respect how you want to spend that time.
3. Use visual cues
Most people with ADHD struggle with an "out of sight, out of mind" mental state — they can only focus on what's present in front of them. This is where visual cues come in:
- Use timers or alarms to remind yourself of specific tasks or when to transition to a new activity.
- Create visual schedules or to-do lists that clearly outline your tasks and their deadlines.
- Use color coding or symbols to differentiate between tasks or prioritize them.
- Use visual reminders, such as sticky notes or visible cues placed in strategic locations, to prompt you to complete specific tasks.
You’ll see sticky notes like these all over my room — in my workplace, my vanity, and even my bathroom mirrors.
🖋️Pro-tip: By getting analog clocks, you continue to see the hand move while the time left continues to decrease, which helps you get a real sense of the passing of time.
4. Break down tasks
When faced with a complex task, break it down into smaller, more manageable steps. This can help you better estimate the time required for each step and prevent feeling overwhelmed.
- Start by identifying the main task you need to work on.
- List all the individual steps or actions required to complete that task.
- Assign a realistic timeframe to each step with buffer time (more on this later).
- By focusing on completing one step at a time, you won't get overwhelmed by the whole project.
Dr Ari Tuckman suggests breaking the final goal into small chunks and starting with the easiest one. He says, "Don't think of it as ‘I have to get ready for work,’ which might seem daunting. Think of it first as, ‘I have to brush my teeth,’ which is easy and accomplishable."
5. Try the Pomodoro Method
The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to break work into intervals, typically 25 minutes long, separated by short breaks. Here's how it works:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes, known as one "Pomodoro" interval.
- Work on a specific task or activity with complete focus and concentration for 25 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, take a short break of about 5 minutes.
- After completing four Pomodoro intervals, take a longer break of about 15-30 minutes.
You can continue to repeat this cycle throughout your work or study sessions to maintain productivity and prevent burnout.
Flow Club amplifies the power of Pomodoro by combining it with body doubling. By joining Flow Club Lounge, you can use a Pomodoro Timer along with a to-do list and some asynchronous peer support as you check off tasks for a less intense version of body doubling.
6. Practice time-tracking
Time-tracking is a great way to learn how long a particular task takes so you can accurately estimate the required time. Tracking your time for regular tasks, like getting ready for work or showering, helps you determine the time required for these tasks and make timely decisions throughout the day.
Here are some tips for tracking time effectively:
- Use a digital or physical timer to track the duration of specific activities or tasks.
- Keep a daily journal or log where you record how you spend each hour of the day.
- Review your time-tracking data regularly to identify patterns, areas of improvement, and time-wasting activities.
🖋️Pro-tip: You can manage time more effectively by reviewing how you spend your time daily and adjusting your routine.
7. Add buffer time to give yourself wiggle room
Buffer time is the extra time you allot between tasks to make room for any unexpected delays, interruptions, or transitions. Adding buffer time helps reduce stress, avoid rushing, and improve focus and productivity.
Here's how you can incorporate buffer time:
- Allocate extra time before and after each task or appointment for transitions and potential disruptions.
- Keep your schedule flexible by not overbooking or scheduling back-to-back activities.
🖋️Pro-tip: Use the extra time to take breaks and recharge. By embracing the concept of "less is more," you'll avoid feeling overwhelmed.
8. Use music playlists as timers
Love listening to music when working? Using playlists as timers helps you stay on track and manage time more effectively.
- Create different playlists with varying durations, such as 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours.
- Start playing a playlist when you begin a task or activity. You can assign specific tasks or activities to each playlist.
- When the playlist ends, it serves as a reminder to take a break or transition to the next task.
Using music playlists as timers can add a sense of rhythm and structure to your day while keeping you aware of time passing. I love the Bridgerton Official Playlist when I am deep cleaning or completing chores, and I swear by Ed Callow's #Write 52 playlist while writing.
👀Check out this curated list of playlists guaranteed to help you focus: Flow Club Playlist
9. Take breaks and practice self-care
According to research, time blindness in individuals with ADHD may beis due to dopamine deficiencies in our brains. This is why it's essential to prioritize your mental health and do tasks that bring you happiness.
Here are some tips:
- Schedule short breaks throughout the day to rest and recharge. This helps prevent burnout and improve focus.
- Engage in activities you enjoy and find relaxing during your breaks, such as walking, practicing mindfulness, or listening to music.
- Practice stress management techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to reduce anxiety and improve overall mental health.
10. Prioritize sleep
As much as I find it hard to sleep, I love to sleep. Research shows that lack of sleep can worsen symptoms of time blindness and make it even harder to focus and manage time effectively. Here are some tips for prioritizing sleep:
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine to prepare your mind and body for sleep, such as reading a book or taking a warm bath.
- Keep your bedroom environment comfortable, calm, and dark to promote quality sleep.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine and electronics before bed, as they can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
Get on top of your daily time management!
Navigating time management with ADHD can be an incredible challenge. Struggling to stay on schedule and meet deadlines can leave you feeling overwhelmed and defeated. But it's important to remember that it's not your fault.
The strategies discussed above can help you better manage your time. By implementing techniques such as body doubling, setting reminders, using visual aids, and breaking tasks into smaller, manageable chunks, you can regain control over your schedules and reduce the stress that comes with feeling constantly behind.
Remember, you are not alone in this journey. There is a community of individuals who understand the unique challenges of ADHD time blindness, and one such community is Flow Club. Try it out for free today!