Time Blindness ADHD Productivity Tools

Have you ever taken a “quick” shower that made you late for a meeting? Or a five-minute work break that lasted all day?

Situations like these are common for some people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, which can cause the symptom “time blindness.” As its name implies, time blindness is the concept of losing sight of time or having trouble visualizing how long it takes to get things done.

[READ: When Is Procrastination a Matter of Mental Health?]

What Is Time Blindness?

Coined by psychologist Dr. Russel Barkley in the late 1990s, time blindness refers to temporal myopia, a type of nearsightedness that relates to time perception. As described by Barkley, the farther away in time a due date or an activity may be, the foggier it appears for someone with ADHD. For people with time blindness, being late to an appointment can be a result of differences in their brain, not, as is sometimes mistaken, carelessness.

Specifically, time blindness is caused by changes in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls executive function skills like holding attention, regulating emotions, controlling impulses, completing tasks and managing time. Dr. Geeta Grover, a pediatrician at UCI Health who has practiced neurodevelopmental medicine for about 30 years, describes the prefrontal cortex as the brain’s “manager” or — as she likes to describe it to younger patients — the conductor of its internal orchestra.

“I’ll say, ‘imagine your brain is like a big orchestra,'” she says. “This prefrontal part of your brain is the conductor of the orchestra. It makes sure that everyone is making music together so that we get beautiful sounds.”

[READ: ADHD Symptoms in Adults.]

ADHD and Time Blindness

People with ADHD have differences in their prefrontal cortex, which can impair some of these skills including time management. That doesn’t mean their brains can’t make beautiful music — they just require a little more practice before they are ready to perform.

Offering patients an educational foundation for how the ADHD brain operates can help them understand why they are experiencing time blindness and learn how to most productively — and non-judgmentally — address it going forward, Grover says.

That way, rather than mistaking tardiness for laziness, and responding through self-criticism — which will not be helpful — patients can learn how to work with their brain for better outcomes, she adds.

“One very important thing that I want patients to understand is that time blindness is not laziness,” Grover says. “Time blindness is not willful, it’s part and parcel of these executive function skills deficits.”

[READ: What Is Alexithymia and How Does It Affect People’s Emotional Lives?]

Signs and Symptoms of Time Blindness

Children and adults with ADHD can experience time blindness, but it’s not a universal experience for everyone with ADHD, either. Further, people with conditions ranging from autism to anxiety may likewise lack a clear perception of time.

When determining if a patient is experiencing time blindness, Grover likes to talk to them about what they consider to be roadblocks in their productivity. Some questions she asks are:

— What is causing you difficulty at home, school or work?

— What is keeping you from achieving what you want to achieve?

— How would you describe your day-to-day productivity?

— How often do you find it difficult to meet deadlines?

— Are you often late?

— Are you often forgetting to do things?

If you have ADHD and are unsure if you are experiencing time blindness, you may want to think about some of these questions yourself. If time management seems like a high source of difficulty — especially if you’re answering yes to the last three questions — it could be a good idea to meet with your doctor to talk about ways to best manage this symptom.

Tips and Tricks for Managing Time Blindness

People with time blindness may find that time management is a skill they have to constantly work on. To make the task less daunting, it’s important for people to lean on external supports — and not rely on their internal monitoring systems all the time.

“Look outward, outside the self, to external monitors of time,” says Dr. David Merrill, a double-board certified adult and geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California. “Don’t get discouraged if this has been an issue because it’s definitely something that can be worked on.”

ADHD Productivity Tools

Here are some ADHD productivity tools to try out at home.

— Phones.

— Kitchen timers.

— Hourglasses.

— Visual check-off lists.

— Reward system.


When it comes to health and wellness, phones get a bad rap. But small doses of screen time may have their benefits too — at least when it comes to finding a time-blindness workaround. On your phone, you can use productivity apps, simple timers, digital calendars and alarms to manage time blindness. Some on-the-phone supports include:

1. Productivity apps. Merrill recommends the app Brain HQ, an app that studies show can actually train your frontal lobes to function better, he says. The app offers some free exercises like timed games that try to help users “strengthen the circuitry surrounding time estimations and estimations of time in general,” Merrill explains. Users can also pay for monthly or yearly subscriptions ($14 per month or $96 per year) for full access.

2. Phone timers. This can be as simple as the clock icon on your phone’s home screen.

3. Digital calendars. These can be used to schedule activities, keep track of appointments and receive reminders.

4. Phone alarms. Grover suggests setting multiple alarms — not just “snoozing” — to make sure you respond to them.

Kitchen timers

A no-phones approach to time blindness management is to set an old-school kitchen timer. This can be done to set a designated allotment of time for work or homework or to hold you accountable to a brief break. Kitchen timers tend to come with a “ticking” sound that can be grounding for some patients and distracting for others, Grover says. She encourages trial and error and emphasizes having grace with yourself if one approach doesn’t work the way you had hoped.


If a ticking clock is too much to bear, an old-school sand hourglass may be a better option. Using an hourglass can help you visualize time passing. They are available in a variety of time increments — from five minutes to more than an hour. Having a few in a variety of increments can help with sticking to tasks.

Visual check-off lists

For another no-screens approach — or as a complement to your digital supports — Grover recommends setting up visual reminders, like charts or check-off lists. This can be as simple as a pen and paper, dry-erase board or sticky note on the fridge. For a reusable approach, some people benefit from magnetic or Velcro “flip boards,” she says.

Reward system

Everyone has activities that they do or don’t like. And oftentimes, we can put off tasks we don’t want to do to make room for the ones we enjoy. Unfortunately, this is a slippery slope for people with time blindness, as it can result in the unfavorable task never getting done. If that task was an important project for school or work, skipping out can have consequences.

To save yourself from this mistake, Grover recommends starting with the work task and then following it with a fun activity as a treat.

It’s much easier to do what you need to do, and then reward yourself with that activity that you find so enjoyable, she says.

Time Blindness Support

Staying on top of time blindness can feel like a full-time job. So don’t forget to take your lunch breaks — and vacation days. Checking in with your emotions and self-esteem is important to help you recharge and center yourself and acknowledge the hard work you are doing.

Remember that those with ADHD often have trouble forming new habits. Think of these new efforts as trial and error, and remind yourself that every solution may not work for every person.

“The first thing that I want all my patients to understand is: Be compassionate with yourself and understand that this is not willful, it is part of brain-based differences,” Grover says. “Remember the whole goal is helping patients to internalize these skills and develop the skill sets they need.”

If you’re incorporating these tricks and still struggling to manage time — that’s completely normal. ADHD is a health condition, and time blindness is a real symptom, so it’s natural to need more support to manage your diagnosis.

Professional support

Working with a doctor or pediatrician can be a good start. Kids can also get set up with a 504 plan in school and adults may consider working with an ADHD coach for career or life-management assistance. A 504 plan is an official agreement between a child (or family) and school that states the school will provide free appropriate public education, or FAPE, to the child based on conditions like ADHD. The name comes from Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act.

An ADHD coach is someone who works with people with ADHD to manage their personal or work lives. They can provide organizational and motivational assistance and personalized productivity tips. Coaches can be helpful for adults in the working world but are not accessible for everyone. Insurance plans don’t typically cover coaching, but some workplaces might be able to front the bill for you. If you’re self-employed, you may be able to write it off as a business expense on your tax report.

Support from loved ones

Friends, family, teachers, bosses and coworkers can all play a role in helping someone with time blindness. While exact tasks may vary based on your relationship with the person, everyone should make an effort to exhibit compassion and patience, Grover says.

“Compassion on everyone’s part is really, really important,” she adds. “Meet people where they’re at.”


The body is an interconnected system, so how well you practice self-care to take care of other aspects of your health could benefit your time management abilities, Merrill says. He encourages people to be mindful of healthy habits like exercise and nutrition to get the most out of their bodies. And remember that what works for you might not work for someone else, and that’s OK.

“We know that what you eat makes a difference. Your amount of physical exercise, how much sleep that you’re getting, the tools that you use to optimize your time management — all these things make a difference,” Merrill says. “So there’s plenty of ways to get better at reducing the experience of time blindness.”

He urges those experiencing time blindness to try not to get stuck catastrophizing or thinking this is an insurmountable problem or one that can’t be addressed — it can be.

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Time Blindness ADHD Productivity Tools originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 04/11/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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