Time & Productivity

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.

A woman drowning in an hourglass because she struggles to keep track of time
Cartoon woman in hourglass, covered in sand

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.

[Free Download: ADHD Time Assessment Chart]

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.

[Your Never-to-Do List: How You’re Wasting Time Every Single Day]

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.

[Overbooked? Rushed? Tired? 10 Ways to End All That]

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  1. “All you have to do is snap out of the twilight zone….” Really? Is that all? 🤤

    And the rocket science comment….🙄

    Are these little comments necessary? We out here in “la-la land” get plenty of this from normal people in the world…this should be a supportive and encouraging space… 🚀 for our kind 👽🦄🤹‍♀️

    P.S. You failed to provide ANY helpful let alone actionable advice about time management with ADHD other than getting a coach/tutor/friend… I have a very highly qualified therapist and still struggle to get anywhere even remotely on time…so not a panacea by any means…

    Anyway…must be getting back….they miss me in the twilight zone 👩‍🎤🐲⚠️

    1. This was as helpful as being told to “be more positive, and just stop worrying,” in the middle of a panic attack. Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) ADHD makes me feel hopeless and embarrassed, and there is nothing worse than being put on the spot when you’re late, or you miss an appointment, or forget something, and your “carelessness,” “disrespect,” and “lack of regard for others,” is pointed out in a social situation, or in front of others. I frequently fear letting people down, or inconveniencing others, to the point of becoming paralyzed when I try to begin a task, even as basic as just getting dressed. Inevitably, my intentions of doing better, and changing my habits are defeated, and there is no feeling as awful as the guilt of letting others down, and letting myself down.

      – “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.”

      This ^… I have a flurry of comments and emotions in my head. Yes, this better way of essentially trying to not have ADHD is obviously the answer!
      Having ADHD means that I have to constantly monitor myself. I have 4 clocks in my room, alarms on my phone, I wear a watch, I have a planner, a phone calendar, post it’s, and it’s EXHAUSTING! I often just avoid social situations, avoid making plans, commitments, promises. I’m different. That’s okay. My daily goals are often to just wake up and get dressed, and eventually leave the house. That’s better than no goal.

      1. I agree that every day can be a struggle and unless you gave ADHD, nobody really truly understands how difficult it is . I always know when my meds wear off and how different I feel when it does.

      2. All of that wow I thought I was the only one depressed at the thought of leaving because I always know the end result is that I’m going to be late and no one just lets that slide. I hate it. And on the occassion I manage to be on time and god forbid a little early it’s like hitting the lottery. And job interviews are the worst because they all ask you if you’ll show up on time – lol all you can do is lie lol because even though they technically can’t discriminate you can’t prove that they did. Every job I’ve ever had I’ve outperformed just about everyone and put in more hours – and they still never let me forget that I’m late to work. I’ve been working over 25 years and I’ve had to resort to getting letters for medical accommodations just to stay employed – what’s worse is people who don’t have adhd think our symptoms are the same as everyone else who just doesn’t feel like working or getting up on time. I have to update my letter every 90 days as if this is going to finally magically disappear. And it has no impact on the amount of work I actually get done or my ability to do my job ( as long as I take my meds) – this is exhausting. And I aware the more I stress about it the later I am. Ugh worst article ever

    2. All of that and some. With those comments I question their experience with adhd or maybe they are one of those lucky folks whose bread and butter don’t rely on punching a clock and they have plenty of support. As a single homeowner who’s pretty much pissed off all her friends and family with her wonderful time management skills – I have no one to turn to. And on top of all that I can barely afford the regular counseling sessions that only serve to determine if my adderall needs to be set to a higher dose. And theres the cost of the adderall ( generics) themselves to consider as well. These forums and other reference materials have been my only means of trying to grow and improve – I got sidetracked as always – this article was quite offensive. To anyone who thinks this issue is a matter of snapping out of it lol. Wow just wow.

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