At a glance
Time blindness is a term that describes the experience of not having a clear sense of time.
It’s common for people with ADHD to struggle with time perception.
There are strategies that can help people work with these challenges.
Have you ever been so immersed in something that you completely lost track of time? Maybe hours passed but it felt like minutes. This experience is often called time blindness, or challenges with time perception. Time blindness is common for people with ADHD.
Losing track of time can be fun. But it can also be frustrating if it happens a lot — or if it gets in the way of your goals. Learn more about ADHD and time blindness and strategies to work with it.
What is time blindness?
Time blindness is a term coined by Dr. Russell Barkley, a psychologist and ADHD-focused researcher. It’s not meant to be a negative or demeaning term. Time blindness refers to an experience, common among people with ADHD, of not having a clear sense of time.
Dr. Barkley has also described time blindness as temporal myopia. This means nearsightedness when it comes to time. The farther away something is, the harder it is to get a clear picture of timing.
Brain differences in people with ADHD can make it harder to have an accurate sense of time. Some research points to executive function challenges. Other research suggests that time blindness is also related to differences in the cerebellum. This is the part of our brain that plays a role in how we perceive the passage of time.
Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that people with ADHD don’t struggle with time perception on purpose. It’s not about just “trying harder.” Coping with time blindness takes a combination of self-compassion, strategy, and effort.
How time blindness may show up in your life
Time perception challenges can show up in the lives of kids and adults with ADHD in lots of ways. Here are examples.
Productivity and task-switching: When you struggle with time, it’s hard to get a series of tasks done in a way that others might call “productive.” And it can take a lot of time and effort to switch from one daily task to another — like going from showering to breakfast to school or work. (A 10-minute shower could easily turn into 30 minutes.)
Relationships: Time blindness can make you seem out of rhythm with people who have a strong internal sense of clock time. You might be late often — or even too early. On the other hand, you may find it easy to connect with other people and go with the flow, without watching the clock.
Deadlines: You might wait until the last minute to work on something. That’s because your sense of time may not kick in until it feels urgent. Or you may have trouble estimating how long something will take.
Being in the moment: Time blindness can make it easier to be fully present in the moment. That can make it hard to switch from one task to another. But the ability to “live in the moment” is a strength that lots of people strive for.
Strategies to cope with time blindness
There are tools that can help keep time perception challenges from getting in the way of goals and activities. Here are a few to try.
Visual reminders: Put clocks everywhere — in the kitchen, on your wrist, and in the car. Place a calendar with upcoming deadlines for the next month somewhere very visible.
Break down tasks: Many everyday tasks have multiple steps. One example is going grocery shopping. Break it down to include time to make a list, get ready, travel to the store, do the actual shopping, and get back home. This will give a more realistic time estimation for the whole task.
The Pomodoro technique: For tasks that need focus, try setting a timer for 15 minutes at a time. This is more manageable than focusing for a full hour. Then take a five-minute break before setting the timer again.
If 15 minutes seems too long, start with two minutes, and work upwards. (There are lots of free Pomodoro apps for both iOS and Android.)
Honest communication: Ask others for help, and be open about your challenges. For example, a person struggling with lateness might say to a friend, “It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I don’t have a strong sense of time. How about next time I text you when I leave the house, so you’ll know when to meet me?”
Most importantly, practice self-compassion if you experience time blindness. Remember that it’s a brain difference, and there are tools that can help you work with it.
Find out what else is under the surface when it comes to ADHD. Download this ADHD iceberg infographic to learn more.
People with ADHD don’t lose track of time on purpose.
Brain differences in people with ADHD can make it more difficult to have an accurate sense of time.
It takes a combination of self-compassion, strategy, and effort to work with time perception challenges.
About the author
About the author
Sarah Greenberg, MA, MEd is a licensed psychotherapist who leads Understood's network of 80-plus subject matter experts. She has worked with thousands of clients who learn and think differently.