Is Your Inner Clock Set to “ADHD Time?”
Unfortunately (at least, for those of us with ADHD) we live in a clock-driven world. Catch up to the rest with these tips for keeping track of time with an ADHD brain.
Back in the 1980s, a patient I was seeing for ADD (that’s what we called it then; out of habit, I still do, even though I know it’s not correct), said something I’ve never forgotten. “Time,” he said, “is the thing that stops everything from happening all at once.”
Yet for people who have the fascinating condition so misleadingly called ADHD, everything does seem to happen all at once, despite the way time separates second from second.
Those of us who have been diagnosed with ADHD live in a different world. We rarely know what time it is, we often arrive late, we don’t stay long, and we put off doing things until the last minute, if we do them at all. Most people live in a world governed by time — sectioned off by time, regulated by time. They live by the clock.
Baseball is one of the few sports that is not driven by the clock. The game ends when it ends. Theoretically, a baseball game could go on forever. It is one of baseball’s many charms: It insists on finishing the game at its own pace. Most people who have ADHD don’t like baseball, because it is too slow and lacks sustained action. What people with ADHD do like, however, is the game’s refusal to live by the clock.
Unfortunately, we live in a clock-driven world. So what do we do? How do we overcome our tendency to ignore time, to procrastinate, to imagine we have time to do one more thing, when, if we thought for a second, we’d know we don’t?
What Time Is It?
Years ago, I made an observation that many people have picked up on, namely, that in the world of ADHD, there are basically only two times. There is now, and there is not now. Not until “not now” butts up against “now” do we even notice it.
That lies at the root of our procrastination — the lack of an inner clock, which most people have. We feel a sense of timelessness. We enter the workplace or mall governed by curiosity, desire, fascination, and a feeling of I’m-so-into-this-I-don’t-know-where-I-am.
While the teacher or boss says, “Time’s almost up, deadline is near,” we don’t hear the words, let alone react to them. Contrary to popular belief, this is not defiance, or a feeling of being entitled and above the rules, or not caring. This is because we do not have that sense of time that others have, that sense of a due date.
Defuse the Time Bomb
So what are we to do? Flunk out of school, get fired from job after job, lose one relationship after another — all because of our different sense of time? Sometimes that’s exactly what happens. But there is a better way.
- First, recognize your differences.
- Second, recognize that you have to change your ways in order to survive and thrive.
- Make friends with structure. Don’t fight it.
- Get someone — a coach, friend, tutor, or spouse — to help you set up common-sense techniques to manage time, using a clock, a timer, an appointment book, a reminder system. This is not rocket science, but they work.
All you have to do is snap out of the twilight zone long enough to set up structures, hire that coach, and work with that tutor to learn the habits that will propel you out of la-la land and into real life.
Edward Hallowell, M.D., is a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel.
Updated on June 21, 2019