Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The term time blindness describes a persistent difficulty in managing time and perceiving how quickly it passes. People who struggle with time blindness may be frequently late, find it difficult to plan their day or meet deadlines, or become easily absorbed in time-wasting activities (playing video games, for example) without realizing how much time has passed.

Time blindness is often associated with ADHD, as many children and adults with ADHD struggle to manage their time and may feel that their internal “clock” is faulty. However, it is possible to feel like one is “time blind” without experiencing other symptoms of ADHD, and there are other conditions that can lead to impaired time perception, including autism, depression, and neurological impairment due to traumatic or nontraumatic brain injury.

If left unchecked, time blindness can have a significant negative impact on interpersonal relationships or academic or career success. Fortunately, many people can employ strategies that help them manage their time more effectively and better understand how it passes.

Understanding Time Blindness
Woman working on computer next to hourglass to overcome time blindness

All humans have an internal mechanism that allows us to notice and measure the passage of time. While few people can do this task as perfectly as an actual clock, most are able to, in general, gauge with relative accuracy how much time has passed or how much time is needed to complete a task. People whose internal clock is consistently off may have what some psychologists refer to as time blindness. While underestimating how much time has passed tends to cause the most problems, it is also possible for someone to overestimate how much time has passed and potentially cut events short as a result.

Time blindness is related to the brain’s executive functions, or the cognitive processes and skills that allow us to map out and achieve our goals. Though the causes of time blindness are not yet fully understood, underlying differences in brain structure and function—often, but not always, related to ADHD—are theorized to be a contributing factor.

Is time blindness a real condition?

Time blindness is not a diagnosable medical condition and it does not appear in the DSM; instead, it’s a colloquial term used to describe persistent difficulties in understanding and managing time. However, many of the problems it describes—such as poor time management or problems meeting deadlines—are included in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

How do I know if I have time blindness?

Some signs that could indicate time blindness include chronic lateness, missed deadlines, persistent procrastination, and a tendency to misjudge how long a task will take to complete. People with time blindness may also find themselves getting so deeply engrossed in an activity that they fail to notice how much time has passed, or regularly feel like time is “slipping through their fingers.”

article continues after advertisement
Time Blindness, ADHD, and Mental Health
Boy with ADHD distracted during class, struggling with time blindness

Time blindness and ADHD are closely related. Studies have found that, compared to neurotypical individuals, both children and adults with ADHD find it challenging to estimate how much time has passed or complete activities within a certain amount of time. This time blindness may even extend to their memory; some studies have found that people with ADHD find it more difficult than others to remember the order in which past events occurred. Some ADHD experts, such as neuropsychologist Russell Barkley, have gone so far as to say that ADHD is, at its heart, a disorder of time blindness. However, because ADHD is a complex condition that can present in various ways, it may not be accurate to say that everyone with ADHD also struggles with time blindness.

And though time blindness is most often discussed in relation to ADHD, it’s not the only condition that may result in time blindness. Autism, OCD, and other related conditions may also lead to time blindness in certain circumstances.

Does having time blindness mean I have ADHD?

Not necessarily. Time management problems are just one symptom of ADHD; other symptoms include making careless mistakes, avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort, feeling restless or as if one is “driven by a motor,” and behaving impulsively or recklessly. If several of these other symptoms are present in addition to time blindness, an evaluation for ADHD may be warranted.

What other conditions are associated with time blindness?

Other conditions that impair executive functioning may also result in time blindness. These include autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression, traumatic brain injury, and others.

How to Manage Time Blindness
Girl looking at watch while reading as a strategy to manage time blindness

Because time blindness can be a serious impediment to academic, workplace, and relationship success, figuring out how to get better at recognizing and managing the passage of time is of paramount importance. Fortunately, there are many small, concrete steps one can take to make time more visible and its passing more noticeable. These include wearing a watch, setting reminders and alarms throughout the day, and building buffer time into one’s schedule to account for inevitable missteps.

How can I get better at being on time?

Setting frequent alarms—one when you need to start getting ready, for example, and one when you need to leave—can keep you on track. Changing your “focus time”—the time you associate with an event—can also help. If you know you need to meet your spouse at 6:00 PM, focusing on 5:45, rather than 6:00, can get you moving earlier and give you some much-needed breathing room.

How can I stop getting wrapped up in time-sucking activities?

Alarms can be helpful here. If you know you tend to get lost in a particular activity—whether that’s drawing, reading, or playing video games—setting an alarm for when you want to wrap up can help you enjoy your hobbies without derailing your other obligations. Avoiding time-sucking activities altogether on days when you have especially important things to do may be a useful strategy as well.

Essential Reads