Have you ever sat down to work on a task for 30 minutes, and when you paused to check the clock, several hours had passed? You might’ve found yourself baffled by how quickly time went by without you realizing it.
What you’ve just experienced is called time blindness.
Time blindness, also known as the clinical implications of the perception of time, is a common trait of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and can make sticking to a productive routine tricky. To help, we’ve compiled a list of strategies for working with time blindness. Keep reading for everything you need to know.
What is time blindness?
Time blindness is an inability to recognize the passage of time. It’s a sensory dysfunction commonly experienced by individuals with ADHD. Time blindness can feel like sitting down at 9:30 to work on a task, feeling like “only a few minutes” have passed, and then checking the clock again to realize that it’s noon.
While the exact cause of time blindness isn’t entirely understood, most researchers believe it’s related to an individual’s internal clock. Most people have an intuitive sense of when time has passed. Individuals who experience time blindness don’t experience the same sense of time.
If you have ADHD, your internal clock may work a little differently. Due to your brain’s natural ability to hyperfocus, you can become so absorbed by an activity that the passage of time ceases to exist. ADHD time blindness significantly impacts executive functioning, specifically keeping track of time. ADHDers often perform well at emotionally charged tasks that produce a lot of dopamine. Emotion can arise from a looming deadline or the impact of short-term work. Its intensity may disrupt how an ADHDer experiences time.
How does time blindness impact productivity?
Hyperfocusing can be an ADHDer’s superpower. Yet, it can also pose a challenge to staying on track with your work and remaining productive. Here are some of the ways time blindness impacts productivity:
- Difficulty with prioritizing tasks and sequencing work, resulting in wasting time on nonessential work when deadlines are approaching
- Poor planning for future projects or deadlines
- Underestimating or overestimating how much time has passed or how long it will take to complete tasks
- Challenges with creating a realistic schedule and sticking with it
- Regularly missing deadlines, turning in work late, or procrastinating
- Difficulty recognizing how long ago you did something, like when you last ate or checked in with a colleague
These are all ways time blindness can show up for an ADHDer and impact productivity. If these experiences resonate with you, the most important thing to do is be patient with yourself. Time blindness is a normal trait of ADHD, and you can develop strategies to make it a little easier on your mental health in the long run.
5 strategies to work with time blindness
Now, it’s time to find the strategy that will work for you. First and foremost, try to identify which tasks tend to be the biggest culprits of your experience with time blindness. You should focus on these areas as you’re applying new strategies. Remember, you can implement multiple strategies—whatever tactic will be the most effective for your work style.
1. Set multiple timers and alarms
It’s a straightforward and effective technique—creating a system of timers and alarms for different tasks to help you stay focused. Some people find it helpful to set different alarm sounds for various tasks. For example, you might use a buzzer alarm to signify the start of a work sprint and a chime to let you know it’s time to take a break. If you are distracted by your phone, use an analog clock or timer app, like this Pomodoro timer.
Timeboxing is also a valuable strategy here. Essentially, you’re assigning each task a rough amount of time you think is needed to complete it. If you’re chipping away at an ongoing project, dedicate as much time as you can to it that day by blocking the time on your calendar. You’re dedicating this period of time to focusing on one task without interruptions from emails or DM pings. Once the time block is complete, move on to something else.
2. Understand your “time horizon”
A time horizon determines how far you can look into the future and identify how soon a task needs to be completed—not to mention remaining motivated to do so. For example, if you have a deadline that’s two weeks away, when does that deadline land on your mental radar?
Everyone’s time horizon varies slightly, but ADHDers tend to fall on the shorter end. You may not recognize a task until the deadline is right in front of you, resulting in a scramble to get it done on time, or even missing deadlines. ADHDers often look at tasks as things that need to be done “right now” or “not right now.” In other words, they tend to hone in on work that requires completion in the present moment.
Understanding your time horizon can be as simple as setting aside time to visualize the future as much as possible. For example, at the start of each work week, sit down with your calendar and look ahead at deadlines for the next few weeks. Build a to-do list based on these upcoming deadlines that helps you stay on track.
3. Break down big projects into bite-sized tasks
It can be intimidating to take on a particularly large project, or one task that requires multiple timeboxing sessions. You can continue to support your unique time horizon by breaking these down into more manageable chunks.
Say you notice big deadlines approaching in the next couple of weeks. Add those deadlines to your calendar and work backward. What do you need to complete to finish the big project? Break it down into bite-sized tasks, then give each task a deadline. Now, you have nearer deadlines that feel feasible and motivate you to stay on track until the overall project is complete.
This strategy works because it invites you to chip away at a project at a sustainable pace using multiple smaller deadlines that are close enough to engage your motivation. It’s also a good best practice to evolve your timeboxing of each task as you go. For example, you might think one task will take you three hours at first, but it only takes you two hours to finish it. Now, you can adjust the timebox for that task in the future to make it more realistic.
4. Prioritize working on the most important tasks
How do you ensure you complete the most essential work on your task list? The quick answer: prioritization. It’s a technique that can help you organize those big projects that you broke out into smaller tasks. When you prioritize, you’re weighing the effort required to complete each task, its level of urgency, and its impact to determine where it lands on your priority list.
Once you have your prioritized list, implement an “eating the frog” strategy daily. When you “eat the frog,” as Mark Twain once advised, you complete your most essential or intensive task first thing in the morning, and nothing worse can happen to you for the rest of the day. In this context, if you do your most intensive task first, you’ll move through the rest of the day with a sense of accomplishment.
5. Play around with task management tools
The right time management tool supports strategies to resolve time blindness. A good time management tool will integrate with your existing tech stack, so all your tools can talk to each other, and you always know what you need to work on next. You want a tool that will help you stay on track by silencing notifications, offering built-in timers, and helping you timebox your day to maximize efficiency.
Ready to resolve time blindness? Organize a sustainable & productive day with Sunsama
At Sunsama, we take standard time management tooling further to work with time blindness. We recognize the importance of creating sustainable working habits for long-term productivity and wellness. It’s equally important to have a tool that supports how your brain naturally works so you can create work practices that stick and help you stay productive.
Sunsama lets you know if you’ve scheduled more than five hours of deep work, so you know if you should take another look at your daily schedule. You can end each work day with a daily wrap-up to see what you’ve completed and move any incomplete tasks to tomorrow. Use focus mode to temporarily silence notifications and find deep work until your alarm reminds you to take a break.
Curious to see if Sunsama is the right fit for you? Give it a try today.