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Time Blindness

Could You Be Time Blind?

... and 6 proven strategies to help people compensate.

Key points

  • Those who are time blind can be misjudged as uncaring, lazy, or irresponsible.
  • Time blindness has been linked with ADHD, autism, mood disorders, traumatic brain injury, and even grief.
  • Wearing a watch, setting timers, using time logs, and avoiding time sucks can help.
Luke Chesser / Unsplash
Someone holds up their wrist to check their smartwatch.
Luke Chesser / Unsplash

Do you arrive late for everything or, on the other hand, arrive too early because you don’t know how else to avoid being late?

Do you underestimate how long it will take you to complete tasks you do regularly?

Do you constantly miss deadlines, bill payments, or appointments?

Do you often think that someone sent you a text or e-mail “just the other day” only to discover that it was sent days or even weeks earlier?

Do you regularly feel like time is slipping through your fingers?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you might be time blind.

What is Time Blindness?

Time blindness is the chronic inability to track the passage of time, and it can affect everything about a person’s relationship to their past, present, and future: the past because they struggle to remember how long ago something happened, the present because they can’t tell how quickly time is passing, and the future because they have trouble predicting their feelings and needs.

Being time blind can have a devastating impact on a person’s education, career, and personal life. Punctuality, for example, is expected at most schools and workplaces, and, according to a survey by Airtasker, 15 percent of firings are a result of employee tardiness.

Jaclyn Paul, who experiences time blindness, explains the toll the condition takes on relationships:

Time management has deep ties to love and respect. Let’s say I promise to meet you at a restaurant for dinner at 6:00, but I show up a half-hour late. How do you feel, having made excuses to the server and finally ordered a glass of wine alone at a table for two?

“Showing up late to dates, meetings, and everything in between sends a message: I valued you less than something else.”

Because time awareness comes naturally to most people, those who are time blind can be misjudged as uncaring, lazy, or irresponsible, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and sometimes even thoughts of self-harm.

Who Experiences Time Blindness?

Everyone loses track of time once in a while during periods of intense focus. Who hasn’t had the experience of becoming so absorbed in a book or movie that hours seem to pass in the blink of an eye?

Experiences like these become time blindness, though, when they’re persistent and occur to a degree that interferes with a person’s life.

Time blindness is commonly associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s so fundamental a symptom of the disorder, in fact, that clinical psychologist and ADHD specialist Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., has said that ADHD is time blindness.

“ADHD is, at its heart, a blindness to time, or technically, to be exact, it is a near-sightedness to the future,” says Barkley. “Just as people who are near-sighted can only read things close at hand, people with ADHD can only deal with things near in time. The further out the event lies, the less they are capable of dealing with it, and this is why everything is left to the last minute because they only deal with last minutes.”

Studies have shown that people with ADHD have problems with time perception (accurately estimating how much time has passed), time reproduction (repeating an activity for the same length of time it was demonstrated), and time sequencing (correctly remembering the order in which past events occurred).

Time blindness, however, has also been linked with autism, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, grief, alcohol use disorder, and traumatic brain injury. What all of these conditions have in common is that they impair executive functioning, the ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and actions.

Time Blindness Essential Reads

How Can You Overcome Time Blindness?

  1. Wear a watch, preferably analog. Simply wearing a watch can increase the presence of time in your life and bring you back into the moment when you get distracted. An analog watch in particular, which makes the movement of time visible and places the current time in relation to past and future, can help you work out whether you’re early or late more easily than a digital watch.
  2. Avoid time sucks. People with executive dysfunction tend to hyperfocus on activities they enjoy to the point that they completely lose track of time. If you know you get captivated by a particular activity, avoid it when you have time-sensitive tasks on your agenda. It’s much easier not to start an engrossing activity than it is to stop once you’ve started.
  3. Set reminders. Alarms can tell you when to get started on a task, and timers can help you monitor how long you’ve spent on a task already. Apps like 30/30, Time Timer, and Activity Timer divide your day into chunks so you can work in short, productive increments that don’t overwhelm you.
  4. Change your focus time. Move up the time you associate with events to help stay on schedule. If work starts at 9 a.m., don't focus on 8:30 a.m., when you have to leave. Focus instead on 8:00 a.m., when you have to start getting ready. This mental trick can get you moving earlier and out the door on time.
  5. Start a time log. If you aren’t good at predicting how long a task will take, time yourself doing it and log the time you spend in a spreadsheet or time-tracking app. Eventually, you’ll have a record of how long your daily activities really take, which will help you make more realistic schedules for yourself in the future.
  6. Build in buffer time. Overscheduling yourself is a recipe for disaster, especially when you struggle with time perception. When scheduling your day, build in more time than you need for each activity to give yourself some flexibility. And don’t forget to leave room for breaks and fun.

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