Time & Productivity

“Running Late… Again! On Time Blindness and My ADHD Brain”

“I realized how bad my sense of time was when it became a repeated conversation in our house for me to say, ‘It’ll take about five minutes to get there.’ Then my husband would look at me funny and say ‘…or closer to 20 minutes,’ and he’d always be right.”

Running Late!
Close-up of hourglass against pink and blue background

ADHD brains have a unique and complicated concept of time. We are prone to running late. We underestimate travel times and how long it takes to complete a task. When hyperfocused, we may become “blind” to the passage of time, losing hours but rarely feeling it. We rely on timers, alarms, and apps to keep us on track, and on punctual friends and family members to get us places on time.

We recently asked ADDitude readers to describe their relationship with time and how it impacts their life. Here, they share their personal experiences with time, how this ADHD trait impacts their lives, and what they’re doing about it.

How would you describe your concept of time? Share your stories in the Comments section below.

Time is like a sink faucet with a drip that you’ve tuned out and forgotten about. Then you walk into your bathroom and step in a puddle because that faucet drip has turned into a flood! I wish I understood time, but I don’t. What’s worse is most of my family is like this, too. Everything just feels like the distant past or distant future.” — Jamm, New York

“Time is a completely fluid concept to me — as are deadlines, appointment times, and basically anything scheduled. I’m chronically optimistic that I can do one more thing so I don’t forget later — because I will. Then I’m 15 minutes late and struggling to get grace from those who don’t understand. I have alarms set all over the place; use visual timers; calendar reminders.”  — Amanda, Indiana

[Download: Time Assessment Chart for Adults with ADHD]

Hyperfocus often consumes so much time that I can forget to eat, use the bathroom, or even stand up and move around to ward off stiffness. I have to set alarms on my phone to be forcibly pulled out of the time blindness and brought back into the world. I also set three alarms leading up to the time I absolutely must leave my house, reminding me that I must leave in 15, 10, and 5 minutes.” — Christina, Arizona

“I have been utterly time-blind my entire life. It takes a conscious effort not to succumb to the magical thinking that a week’s worth of tasks can be fit into one day. I’m a writer, and I’ve missed or pushed — with great anxiety — more deadlines and appointments than I can count. I’m also dreamy and have great difficulty with task-switching. This means that time between tasks disappears into a black hole. I would get many years back if I could retrieve that time.” — Ann, Virginia

“When I try to be on time for an outing or appointment, one of two things usually happens. Either I am slow to move from breakfast to getting up and prepping my way out the door, or I would have been on time if not for the two ‘unexpected’ details or phone calls that ‘got in my way.’ In short, I’m terrible at time management.” — Julie, Florida

“I can spend two hours or eight hours with a friend, and it feels the same. I have to ask my friends what time our activity will end, or I’ll just stay there indefinitely. I can also get sucked into a game, book, TV show, etc. So, if I have something else to do that day, I set the alarm about an hour before I need to leave. I also build a buffer into my schedule to allow time for the things I’ve forgotten (my keys, water bottle, or the thing I promised to give to the friend I’m meeting).” — Jecca, Utah

[Read: Apps That Might Make You a Morning Person After All]

“I have a terrible time when appointments are booked months in advance. For example, my daughter has orthodontist appointments every two to three months. I add them to my calendar right away but often fail to remember them until the day or the day before. I repeatedly book client meetings or appointments before and after the visits, which do not allow for the drive time. Then, I have to cancel or make last-minute rearrangements. This is stressful, upsetting to my clients, frustrating to my daughter, and unprofessional. I have since started to block off the appointment plus drive time. I also block off a chunk of time the week before to review my schedule, check for these inevitable blind spots, and make adjustments as needed.” — An ADDitude Reader

“Time is very sneaky. It passes painfully slow at times, and other times it evaporates without warning. To be on time, I must plan out every task I need to complete beforehand, blocking each task for a specific amount of time. Then I continuously check my list and time. It is exhausting! Still, more work days end with my not accomplishing anything I had planned due to not keeping continuous tabs on time.” — Edna, Kansas

“To me, something that happened three days ago feels like it was a week ago, or something that happened one week ago feels like it was one month ago. Sometimes what happened five years ago feels more like last year. The day-to-day passing of time is easier for me to have a concept of because I have clocks everywhere (including under the shower!). I look at them probably every five minutes.” — Tania

“My family has threatened to tell me to meet them places a half an hour earlier than needed to get me there on time. I laugh at it because there isn’t much else to do. It’s also hard because I need to get ready for things like work at least two hours earlier than anyone else would just to get there on time. I hate that my internal clock is so messed up that I look like I can’t do things in a timely manner.” — An ADDitude Reader

“My friends know to not schedule anything with me unless they have much of the day free because I’ll inevitably be late. If there are solid plans at a certain time, they’ll text me when I need to leave, just to make sure I’m on my way. Sometimes I’ll think I’m getting better. Usually, it’s just a lucky alignment of circumstances. I understand how disrespectful it is to take up people’s time and not be available at work when I’m needed, but it’s not a conscious choice. It’s extremely frustrating to live in a world driven by clocks when I have no concept of the passage of time.” — Alice, New York

I can’t tell the difference between something that happened four days ago or four weeks ago. However, I am always on time for appointments and meetings. After running late for so long, I managed to find a system that works to get me places on time.” — An ADDitude Reader

“I realized how bad my sense of time was when it became a repeated conversation in our house for me to say, ‘It’ll take about five minutes to get there.’ Then my husband would look at me funny and say ‘…or closer to 20 minutes,’ and he’d always be right. I genuinely have no idea how long things take. This makes it wildly difficult for me to get places on time. I will be there! But I will probably be 5 to 15 minutes late.” — Natalie, Utah

“I struggle to time how long a task will take. I postpone doing something because I think it will take 20 minutes, but in reality, it takes two minutes. I plan to leave the house at 1 p.m. At 12:30 p.m. I’m still watching some series on Netflix, and it seems like I have plenty of time. Or I’m ready at 12 p.m. because I started to get ready at 11 a.m. I either overestimate or underestimate; there is no in-between.” — Tayana, Dublin

“I have a great relationship with time because I have worked on it. I use my other senses and engage the whole body. For example, when cooking, I get off the couch 30 seconds before the buzzer rings. Maybe I can smell that cookies are done? I backward plan events with an estimated time plan to stay on track. Lateness is rude to me. I can’t be late. When people are late for me, it disappoints me. You can be late tomorrow but not today (smile).” — An ADDitude Reader

Time Blindness and ADHD: Next Steps

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