I began my research for this post at the business center of Cancun, Mexico’s airport. With the help of a friend, I managed to arrive to the airport the recommended three hours prior to my international flight. This, mind you, is not a common occurrence when I am left to my own devices. I entered the business center with just under two hours before my flight was to board, and got to work reading about ADHD and time management. Enthralled by what I was learning, I outlined this post quickly and easily, in the hyper-focused mode those of us with ADHD can access when we are engaged in work about which we are truly interested. After what felt to me to be no more than an hour, I left my seat to check on the flight update screen. Lo and behold, nearly two hours had already flown by, and my flight was in the midst of boarding. I rushed to my gate, now realizing that my seat on the flight had not yet been ticketed, and was lucky enough to receive the very last seat on the flight. Even after arriving to the airport with plenty of time to spare, I was the second to last person to board.
Why the heck do I do continue to do this to myself? What is it in me that seems to make it nearly impossible for me to get myself anywhere on time? By the same token, why do I always put off tasks that I am not absolutely in love with to the very last minute, often regardless of the significant consequences of my procrastination? (This post is a great example of this–while I began writing it in earnest in Cancun’s airport, I didn’t finish it until a full 3 weeks later, as the excitement and newness of blogging has begun to wear off).
It turns out there’s a name and cognitive explanation for this frustrating, even debilitating pattern of behavior. Richard Barkley, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children and the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, VA, coined the condition “time blindness.” According to Barkley, people with ADHD are nearsighted when it comes to the future. Just as people with nearsighted vision can only read things close up, people with ADHD only attend to and organize around events that are near in time, rather than by internal information that pertains to longer term, future events. We perpetually live in the “now,” but not in a tranquil, Buddhist sense. Rather, we are in a nearly constant state of chaos and crisis, failing to prepare for predictable events until they are practically upon us, if at all. We are left to squander our energies (and often our money) putting out the fires we know we have created and could have avoided with a little more forethought and planning.
The effects of time blindness can be devastating to our careers and our bank accounts. When I was living in Manhattan and teaching in Brooklyn, it was a constant struggle for me to get out the door and to work on time. I knew I needed to be out the door by 7 am to make it to work comfortably by 8, when students would be waiting at my door. I also knew I needed 45 minutes to get ready in the morning. Logically, I set my alarm clock for 6:15 am. But did I get up then? Maybe two or three times a week. On the other mornings I allowed myself to hit the snooze button several times before dragging myself out of bed. On those mornings I was left with the lose/lose decision of either risking my commute to the MTA (New York City’s Metro Transit Authority) and likely arriving to work late, or paying for a $30 cab ride to work. My tardiness record and bank account balance from that period reflect the damage that my myopic view of time reaped on my life.
Our relationships, too, often suffer as a result of time blindness. Years ago I had a lunch date with a good friend in Manhattan. I, per usual, arrived around 25 minutes late to the restaurant. My friend had an appointment scheduled for after lunch, and thus we didn’t have enough time to eat at the restaurant we were planning on eating at. Over short order tacos that day my friend looked me in the eyes and said “when you are continually late to meet up with me, I feel as though you don’t respect me or my time. It’s not only frustrating for me, but also painful” My heart sank. This is a friend that has been a great support as I have weathered the highs and lows of adult life with ADHD, and someone I respect as much as anyone on this planet. If my habitual tardiness made her feel this way, I could be sure that other, less forthright friends and family members were feeling the same way as well.
Time blindness is one of the defining characteristics of ADHD, and there are no quick fixes for it. The ability to plan and manage one’s time is at the core of effective executive functioning, and will always be a challenge to the ADHD brain. While on the one hand, we should be easy on ourselves and acknowledge that being on time and on schedule are particularly difficult for us, there are also steps we can take to make our time vision a little closer to 20/20, or at least somewhere around 20/40.
1.) Set your clocks/phone ahead.
This is a trick I learned from my mom, who always had our clocks set fast at home growing up. I like to set the clock on my cell phone ahead 7 minutes. There’s no real rhyme or reason to this number, other than that is how far in advanced my mom would always set our clocks. It might be even more helpful to have someone else set your clocks ahead an unknown amount of time, so that you’re not always figuring that 7 minute cushion into your “get out the door” timeline.
2.) Avoid screens like the plague when it’s time to get moving or get stuff done.
Email, social media, and other apps are absolute time sucks, especially for time blind ADHDers who have to do something we’d rather not. One way to avoid wasting time on such diversions is to download the app Freedom, a social media, internet, and app blocker you can set to block those most addictive time sucks on your schedule, when they are most detrimental to you (during the rush to get out the door or when working on that important essay, for example).
3.) Google Maps everything, and then act as if the worst case scenario will always occur.
Google Maps is a great tool that provides an estimation of how long it should take to get from point A to point B, but it is not the word of God. Give yourself an extra 15 minutes more than Google Maps predicts it will take for you to get to your destination. That way, the only worst case scenario you’ll have to contend with is arriving early, in which case you can take out that time waster in your pocket and Insta away.
4.) Break down big projects into smaller steps and assign each step a deadline with an accompanying reward.
Easier said than done, I know. This does NOT come easily for us ADHDers. However, taking the time (and having the courage) to sit down and face those distant deadlines head on by creating a plan to break down big projects into smaller steps pays huge dividends. Linking those small steps to a external reward can also help (think TV/reading breaks, deserts, and time with friends).
5.) Enlist the help of a friend of family member.
This is probably the most useful suggestion of all the above. Back when I was living in Manhattan and teaching in Brooklyn, it wasn’t until I began commuting with a friend to work that my tardiness improved. Being accountable to someone outside of yourself to be out the door by a certain time or to meet the deadlines you set can be very powerful. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it was with the help of a friend that I managed to make it to the Cancun airport on time in the first place. There is strength and wisdom in telling your friend or loved one, “I’m not very good at this, could you help me?” Those who know you best already know you struggle with time management, so there’s really nothing of which to be ashamed. And by asking for help, you are showing yourself to be self-reflective and responsible, admirable traits indeed.
Does the description of “time blindness” ring true for you? How has it affected your life? What tips or tricks do you use to help fight it? Please leave your comments below!