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‘Time Blindness’ and ADHD: What to Know and How to Deal With It

I am honestly so excited to write this post because it’s something I have dealt with my entire life, but I’ve never had the vocabulary to describe, and I think I might have a lot of followers in the same situation. So buckle up, everybody; it’s time to learn about “time blindness!”

What is Time Blindness?

Let’s start simple: what is time blindness? It’s a difference in how some people experience the passage of time. Namely, they don’t. Time blindness is a phenomenon where a person does not recognize that time is passing, or how quickly it’s passing, or how soon an event or deadline is approaching. It’s something I deal with day in, day out. For instance, I thought it was 2 p.m., maybe 3 p.m. right now. I glanced down, and it’s already after 4 p.m. I simply do not sense time passing the way most people do.

Here are some of the other ways time blindness affects my reality:

  • I have a hard time with long-term deadlines because anything that isn’t happening today or tomorrow feels years away.
  • I am late all. the. time. because I always underestimate how long it will take me to get ready to leave for something.
  • I always forget to account for travel time. It’s like my brain thinks that traveling takes place in another dimension where time doesn’t count.
  • Sometimes I sink into hyperfocus and lose hours of my life doing something, not moving or eating or using the bathroom until something shakes me from my focus and I realize it’s dark out and I’m starving.
  • Every story I tell starts with “the other day” because I have no idea when things have happened in the past. It might have been 10 years ago or it might have been yesterday. I can remember (sometimes) if I really try, but if I go with what my brain wants to do naturally, anything in the past is lumped into the same category.
  • Painful memories typically stay fresh for a really long time because I don’t necessarily perceive all the time that has passed between the bad memory and now. If I haven’t processed what happened, it just stays in my brain as if it just happened.

Those of us who experience time blindness aren’t doing it on purpose, like at all. My failure to recognize the passage of time makes me late on a regular basis, and as a result, some people think I don’t care about them, or bosses think I’m slacking off. It has nothing to do with being lazy or irresponsible. It’s a neurological difference, not a choice.

What Does Time Blindness Feel Like?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now because I think it could be really helpful to explain to others what time blindness actually feels like. After all, if you experience the passage of time normally, it might be kind of hard to wrap your head around time blindness.

Imagine walking into a “Bath & Body Works” and being overwhelmed by the deluge of scents. Then try to sniff your way to the lavender lotion. You’re going to struggle; you can’t really smell any one scent because there are so many bombarding your senses at the same time. That’s sort of what time blindness is like because you know you have so many priorities, and you have no idea where or how to start.

Imagine being in the ocean, submerging yourself in the water and getting caught in a current. All of a sudden, you have no idea which way is up, how to get to the oxygen. That’s sort of what time blindness is like because you might know you have a deadline coming up, but it doesn’t feel like there are any cues for how close or far away it is.

Imagine being on a game show where you can’t hear the questions. Everyone else can hear it, so they’re getting all the answers correct, but you keep getting it wrong, and your team is getting more and more fed up. That’s sort of what time blindness is like because you just feel like you’re missing an essential part of the equation in life, and everyone is mad at you for it.

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What Causes Time Blindness?

As far as I’m aware, the only known cause of time blindness is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At this point in my life, I have not been diagnosed with ADHD, but based on how deeply I relate to time blindness and other classic ADHD symptoms, I am looking to get tested once this pandemic ends and I can see my therapist in person.

For those of you who don’t know, or for people who still have a relatively limited idea of ADHD, it is a neurological condition where the executive function system of the brain has all kinds of differences and malfunctions, from reduced dopamine production to delayed development in different parts of the brain. These differences and malfunctions lead to problems with prioritizing tasks, starting and finishing tasks, switching attention from one thing to another, regulating emotions, and perceiving time (among other things). If you want to know more about ADHD, just check out this amazing video by Jessica McCabe from “How to ADHD.” It’s short, easy to understand, and Jess is awesome.

5 Tips to Help You Deal With Time Blindness

OK, so time blindness isn’t just laziness, but how in the world am I supposed to deal with it? Do I just have to live with it, constantly being late and missing things?

No, not at all. People who are time-blind can learn clever ways to get around their time blindness. Here are a few I’ve learned from various sources, like How to ADHDBlack Girl Lost Keys and more.

1. Add some clocks to your life.

It’s much easier to detect that time is passing if you have reminders. Put lots of clocks in rooms where you spend a lot of time. Wear a watch, put up wall clocks, plug-in digital clocks, whatever works — just make sure they’re at eye level, easy to read and in a place you can easily see from most places in the room.

2. Start keeping track of how long tasks take.

This is actually one thing I learned to do on my own (though I haven’t been great about keeping up with it). One aspect of time blindness is a poor understanding of how long various tasks can take to complete. I often find myself thinking “Oh, I’ll just write a blog post real quick!” Then, bam, it’s five hours later. Try writing down how long you think something will take before you start, then when you’re done, write down how long it actually took. Next time you go to do that activity, allot yourself at least that much time to get it done. (Do not fall into the trap of thinking you’ll magically do it faster this time — you won’t.)

3. Break long-term deadlines into smaller deadlines.

Give yourself multiple mini-deadlines leading up to the final deadline so that you can get bits and pieces of the thing done and don’t have to do it all at once the night before. I’ll be honest here, I’ve only ever successfully done this for myself once, but it was great. I had a ton of articles that needed written for work, and I did the math to figure out how many articles I had to get done each day to meet my deadline, and each day I only focused on that day’s goal so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed.

4. Use visual timers to help stay on-task.

Even if you are surrounded by clocks, they don’t really do a great job of visually demonstrating how much time is passing. So the minute hand has moved a little … or a lot. Either way, it looks pretty similar, and that can make it hard to fight time blindness. Instead, try using a visual timer like this one that has a red section that disappears as time passes. That way you can actually see the time. I’ve also seen people who say they like to boil water and try to focus and get their tasks done before the water boils. For them, this makes time feel more real because the time it takes for water to boil isn’t arbitrary, it isn’t just a meaningless timer; it’s something physical they can perceive more accurately. Though, fair warning, I’m pretty sure this would just lead me to leave a boiling pot of water on the stove for way too long.

5. Journal to keep track of the past.

It might not impair your day-to-day functioning, but some people are very upset by how their memories seem to blend together due to time blindness. Like I mentioned before, all my stories start with “the other day” because I genuinely don’t always know when different things have happened. It all feels like it’s just one thing called The Past. It’s usually not too big of a problem for me, but I have definitely had times where it feels like my whole life isn’t real because it just blends into one or two big experiences and everything else just disappears. This might be more of a depression thing, but I suspect that time blindness doesn’t help. Journaling can be a good way to keep track of your memories and any time you feel like you can’t even remember what you’ve done in your life, you can flip through the journals for some help remembering.

So what about you? Does all of this sound familiar — the troubles with long-term deadlines, the losing track of time, all of it? Does time blindness feel different for you? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure you check out my blog, Megan Writes Everything, so you don’t miss out on any new mental health content!

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog, Megan Writes Everything.

Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash