Time & Productivity

Q: “Why Am I Terrible – and Oddly Inconsistent – with Time Estimation?”

“Time blindness warps and bends the internal ruler you use to measure how long something takes. Your estimates are off because your units are inconsistent.”

An hourglass used to demonstrate a concept of time

Q: “I’ve never been great at time estimation. Sometimes I can time things perfectly. Other times my estimates can be ridiculously off target. Why is that? And how do I get better at figuring out how much time it will take me to complete a task?”

Your time-estimation difficulties point to the maddening inconsistency and unpredictability that characterizes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Making it worse is that when you estimate time correctly just once, the world expects you to get it right every other time.

ADHD itself causes inaccurate time estimation. Time blindness warps and bends the internal ruler you use to measure how long something takes. Your estimates are off because your units are inconsistent. How an hour “feels” to you may not be how neurotypical people feel that same unit of time. Similarly, an hour’s worth of productivity can vary a lot from one hour to the next.

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Another factor complicating time estimation is the tendency that people with ADHD have to stretch a task to fill the available time. If you have three hours to complete a task, for example, it will likely take you that long to see the task through. At the same time, if you had just an hour to do the same task, you would also manage to complete it in that timeframe.

Some tasks have less variability than others, like mowing a lawn versus writing a research paper. One way to improve time estimation for recurring tasks take is to measure them a few times. You don’t need to time it to a T; a ballpark estimate works just fine. Be sure to measure with intention. Note how many times you get distracted, for example, and how much time that adds to the task.

For tasks where time estimation is more nebulous, your best course of action might be to simply give yourself a set amount of time to chip away at the job. Set yourself up for success by gathering everything you need for the task, and by anticipating and eliminating distractions ahead of time.

Another rule of thumb: Always give yourself more time than you think you need. Chances are that you often underestimate more than overestimate how much time you need. Don’t fall victim to the planning fallacy if you know your tendency is to undershoot.

Time Estimation and ADHD: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Why Is Time So Slippery? Understanding Time Blindness in People with ADHD” [Video Replay & Podcast #424],” with Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., MBA, CST which was broadcast on October 4, 2022.

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