Altered Chronology – ADHD and Time Blindness

Time insensitivity or time “blindness” is a key symptom of ADHD. Time blindness is the inability to sense the passing of time and it can make nearly every aspect of a person’s life more difficult. The important thing to understand is that it’s more like a sensory issue, not an intentional disregard for time.

Many adults with ADHD struggle with time blindness. Some of the ways it shows up include:

  • Underestimating or overestimating how much time has passed, how long a task will take, or how much time is left before an anticipated event
  • Chronically missing deadlines or arriving late for events or meetings
  • Difficulty making a realistic schedule or sticking to a schedule
  • Constantly losing track of time
  • Slow physical response or reaction times (like putting your hand up to catch a ball too late)
  • Difficulty regulating the speed of movement (like trying to make yourself walk slower)
  • Difficulty estimating how long ago an event happened

How Time Blindness May Originate

Recent scientific research suggests a couple of reasons why people with ADHD may not naturally manage time as easily as neurotypical individuals.

  • Executive function issues – The brain uses memory, attention, and dopamine to accurately predict time. The brains of people with ADHD have problems with all those things.
  • Altered event chronology – A non-ADHD brain tends to order upcoming events in sequence and see each event as a separate entity with a specific time and date, and chunks of time between events. The ADHD brain tends to lump events into “now” and “not now.” All the “not now” events get grouped together as one lump with no blocks of time in between.
  • Dysfunctional internal clock – Many people with ADHD have trouble setting a circadian rhythm, or internal body clock based on the earth’s rotation. Neurotypical individuals naturally sense the rising and setting of the sun, while those with ADHD often cannot—impacting their perception of time (and their patterns of sleep).

The result can be that no matter how good your intentions are about trying to be punctual or being there for projects and people, you may have difficulty showing up on time or getting things done on schedule.

Managing Time Blindness

If you have ADHD and struggle with time blindness, here are some recommendations from experts to help you cope:

  • Make your time visible – To gain control of your time and use it effectively, use visual tools like calendars, clocks, and timers. Keep clocks in every room, including the bathroom, to help you remain mindful of the time as you go about your day. Using timers is another way to  help keep you on track and ensure you don’t spend more time on a task than you intended.
  • Consciously overestimate the time you think you will need – If you are not sure how much time to allot for a certain task, triple the amount of time you think you will need. For tasks that you do regularly, track how long it takes you to do them when you are not in a hurry. That will give you a good benchmark for how much time you need to do the routine things.
  • Focus on departure time, not arrival time, for appointments – Instead of focusing on when you need to be at work or an appointment, shift your attention to the time you have to leave. This will help you consider the time needed to get to where you are going and avoid the mistake of believing you have more time than you actually do.
  • Add in time for transitions – An aspect of our daily routines that often goes unnoticed are transitions – e.g., transitioning from your home to the car; walking from your car to your office; ending one task to begin another. Transitions require time and must be accounted for when planning your day. In addition to your commute to work, you will need to give yourself adequate time to get in your car, gather your things when you arrive, and walk from your car to your office.
  • Be aware of hyperfocus – Hyperfocus is a state of intense focus and engagement during which time is likely to quickly slip away from you. Become aware of those tasks and activities you have a tendency to get lost in and make a point to refrain from engaging in them when you are in a time crunch.
  • Boost your dopamine – Since dopamine may be linked to time blindness, try giving your daily routine some dopamine enhancements. These include: eating vitamin B6 foods; regular exercise; and more exposure to sunlight and nature.
  • Design your schedule backwards – Start at the end point – a completed activity or an appointment – then work backward through each step, calculating the amount of time (and adding a buffer) until you are at the starting point. This will force you to slow down and figure out how much time is actually required.

If you have ADHD, time blindness can create many challneges. But it doesn’t have to. Getting a better understanding of time insensitivity and having strategies to manage it can help you manage your activities, be more productive and keep your commitments.



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