Exploring how the perception of time may be altered for those with ADHD and how we can mitigate time blindness
In first grade, I was always late for school. I could never understand how to get up in the morning, get dressed, and go to school. But that can be pretty typical. I was, after all, in first grade.
It was always a battle between my mom and me to get to school on time. My mom was always dressed and ready to go, whereas I was busy playing with my dolls instead of getting ready.
When I made it to middle school, it was a constant race to get me to school. I would always forget my wallet, which had my school lunch money in it. Nearly every day, I would painfully tell my mom that we had to go back home, or I would forego lunch that day.
Again, I was still developing, but needing my wallet was vital if I wanted to eat at lunchtime.
In high school, I couldn't keep up with all my assignments — I'd spend too much time on one that I would always neglect other work that needed to be done.
I turned in projects days after they were due because I didn't know how fast time worked. I was always the student who procrastinated on their work until the very end.
I worked in circles when it came to my homework. After failing to complete class after class, I had to drop out of high school even with the hardest of tries and the best of intentions.
When I got my GED, I went straight into college; I was determined to be proactive with my assignments. Although I procrastinated until the very end for each project, like always, I made it through college with good grades.
I carried my same old behavior into college, where all papers were completed within a couple of hours of the deadline. I always felt such pressure and severe anxiety because I couldn't figure out how to balance my time accordingly for classes.
If a paper was due on Sunday at midnight, I could quickly start the essay on Sunday at 6 pm because that would be plenty of time — I always felt so confident with this method.
I truly believed that it would only take me an hour to write a full essay, knowing full well it would take me more than 1 hour. Four years of my undergraduate degree and one and half years of graduate school later, I still haven't learned how to break free from this behavior pattern.
I always put off doing tasks now because I will have plenty of time in the future.
Surprisingly, I kept this same attitude with my graduate studies. Throughout my uphill struggle through graduate school, I made it out the other side with a degree and high marks.
Throughout my struggles and trials with school, I have achieved my master's of science in psychology, which is not easy to accomplish. I spent countless hours writing papers and covering so much on the inner workings of the brain.
It wasn't until after graduate school that I noticed how much I struggled to stay focused and on task. Each day felt harder to manage than the last.
I discovered that other people out there struggled as I had; it's called time blindness.
What is time blindness?
Time blindness is when someone is unaware of minutes passing, which can interfere with task completion.
The best example of time blindness is getting ready to leave your house. I always get sidetracked getting dressed, finishing small cleaning tasks, and simply running out of time to arrive on time.
Time blindness can turn, 'it'll only take me 5 minutes' into, 'I'm thirty minutes late!'
We know that we shouldn't have done that small, 5-minute task when it will undoubtedly take more than 5 minutes.
How time blindness affects us
I struggle with planning what I will need, how much time I have, and executing the steps successfully.
This can fall into a psychological term known as a planning fallacy. A planning fallacy is when we continue to underestimate how long it takes to complete a task, even if we've established that the job needs more time than anticipated.
I fall into a planning fallacy all the time, and I try my best to avoid it.
Over the various aspects of ADHD, a lot comes into how the disorder presents itself. To complete tasks, we have to executive functioning to organize and execute steps to reach the overall goal.
Although time blindness is not a clinical term, there is still a clinical significance in diagnoses and treatment. The perception of time can be different for those with ADHD.
Lack of proper time perception can mean spending hours on a simple task because you keep getting distracted or aren't paying attention to what you are doing.
“The inner clock of people with ADHD seems to run faster than in normal individuals, and this can be useful in diagnostics and can be integrated into treatment.” (Ptacek, et al., 2019)
More research is needed to understand the role that time perception plays with ADHD entirely.
What can we do to combat time blindness?
If I made it through graduate school with the worst time blindness, it's safe to say anything is possible. But even if you are accomplished, ADHD can make you struggle in all aspects of daily living at times.
Getting out of the rut of time blindness was tough for me at first. But here are some simple steps you can take to help you:
Set a timer for 30, 45, or 60 minutes and get work done! Sometimes my attention span is awful, or my anxiety is preventing me from properly focusing. If that's the case, then I will set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes.
The short bursts of work help me stay on track. Even though it's only 10, 15, or 30 minutes, that still works that I accomplished.
Starting can be the most challenging part, but knowing that you only need to work for X amount of time, can help you feel determined to get as much work done.
Write out your goals for the day
Now don't make a list of 10 or 20 things to accomplish. Focus on the tasks that need to be done today or that are giving you the most anxiety.
For me writing articles is the hardest at times. Writing itself isn't that hard, but the editing part of article writing is where I get hung up. I psych myself out and get so frustrated that I end up staring at the wall for much of the day.
Check-in with yourself
Checking in with your progress and what you have accomplished each day can help you stay accountable. I try to make it a habit that I check in every day at 2 pm to see where I am at.
Am I reaching my goals? What have I done today? What still needs to be completed?
By asking myself these questions, I know that I can recognize the behavior that leads me to fall into these time traps.
Read up on ADHD and time management
The best place to honestly start is learning about ADHD and how it can affect us. ADHD is about so much more than poor attention span.
Getting involved with more content that covers time management can help you understand how we fall into poor habits.
Ultimately, time blindness may not stop us from achieving our goals, but it will make the path difficult to handle. Throughout my struggle with ADHD and time blindness, I have found a lot I am unaware of. At times, I am unaware of the behavior that prevents me from achieving the goals I want to accomplish.