Hi, I’m Emma! I’m a part time blogger, full time kindle girl. I’m an aspiring graphic designer and have lived with an ADHD diagnosis for 15 years. I have a cat named Barbie and a desire to help the world, one blog post at a time.
Imagine having a clock in your brain that’s always off. A clock that always tells you you’ve got plenty of time for what you’re trying to do today, one that has a missing minute hand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself “it’s fine, I have plenty of time for this” only to lose focus and get stuck in what feels like a never ending cycle of procrastination. I pay the price for this by working into the early hours of the morning trying to make up for all that lost time and the missed deadlines.
It was much easier to deal with time blindness when I was in school - my schedule was laid out for me, had more structure, and I had very real consequences for my actions. If I didn’t study, I would fail the class. If I failed the class I had to find a way to pay for retaking the course and I could not graduate on time. Although time blindness affects all aspects of my life and is something I continually deal with I want to spend this blog focusing on how it affects my career as well as ways in which I have learned to manage my time as a working professional with ADHD.
So, what’s Time Blindness anyway?
If you Google “What is Time Blindness”, the top result gives the following definition:
Time blindness is the inability to sense when time has passed and estimate the time needed to get something done.
It’s important to acknowledge what time blindness is not - time blindness is not the intentional disregard of other people’s time. Research suggests that our ability to perceive and estimate time is connected to how active certain areas of our brain, like the prefrontal cortex, are. When these areas of the brain have lower activity levels, it can lead to poorer time perception - and individuals with ADHD have a harder time with conceptualizing time. The most often encountered time related challenges that someone with ADHD experiences are (in no order, and not limited to)
- Time Estimations: This involves the ability to properly gauge the passage of time and accurately guess how much time is required to complete a task.
- Time Horizon: Time horizons help us figure out how quickly a task is approaching and when we need to begin working on it. When it comes to ADHD, oftentimes we have a shorter time horizon and have what is called “future time blindness”, where deadlines come to our attention too late.
- Time Management: Time management is all about planning and coordinating how we spend our time on different tasks and activities. Because it involves concentration, memory, and planning, individuals with ADHD often face difficulties in this area.
I often felt that I had no control over my schedule. I either spent too much time preparing for a meeting that was hours away (thus, neglecting to get my smaller tasks done or move forward on other items that blocked my team), or got lost in putting out fires that came up that day. I struggled to recall the time I spent on my work and Excited Emma made it really hard to stick to a schedule (which is really difficult when you have a handful of meetings on your calendar that you keep forgetting about.) I would overcommit my time and promise I could get things done quicker than I could actually do them which lead to my team feeling the pressure, and spiraling into guilt and imposter syndrome. I hated letting my team - and myself - down.
Beating the Clock: How I took back my time
To effectively manage time blindness, it's important to take a moment and reflect on how it personally affects you. For me, I struggled with spending too much time on various tasks and failing to accurately estimate my time horizon.
Once you have identified areas where you can improve, you can try out a couple of these helpful tips on how to handle time blindness with ADHD!
1. Maintain Clear Communication with your Teams:
During my 1:1s with my boss I request feedback on my progress and work with him on how I can improve my time prioritization. I trust my manager’s input as he also lives with ADHD. We maintain an open dialogue on how we will better convey urgency, prioritizations, and deadlines to one another. When I'm communicating with my team, I usually make sure to add a NOT URGENT or URGENT header to most Slack messages I send that require action on their behalf. I like to keep my messages concise, friendly, and easy to understand in order to receive more efficient responses from them.
2. Set Reminders, Alarms, and Expectations:
If something disappears from my line of sight I often forget it exists - this goes for meetings on my calendar. I have a smart watch that allows me to view my tasks for the day on it, as well as notifications for all of my day’s meetings. I have an app that tracks my calendar by displaying it in the menubar of my work laptop so I can see a countdown until my next meeting. When I am in each meeting, the same app will countdown the time left for that event so I can keep mindful of the time I’ve got left to effectively manage my itinerary. I like to group my tasks into primary categories and track the time it takes me to complete each task in each category. By adding up the total time for each task in each category, I can get a more accurate idea of how much time I spend on each task category. This helps me plan for the future based on my past activities.
3. Task Transitions and Time Blocking:
As silly as this sounds, I sing the Barbie Girl chorus when I am about to finish one task and begin another. (For science, the part I sing is: C’mon Barbie, let’s go party ah, ah, ah, yeah) I’ve conditioned my brain to recognize this as an audio signal that it’s time for me to shift focus and disengage from my current activity. Additionally I use time blocking to visualize what I need to get done and when. By designating specific times to complete specific tasks and giving myself buffering time between each block I make sure my time is spent where it’s needed and I am not becoming overwhelmed.
I do take daily medications and see a therapist every month in addition to the above strategies to keep ahead of my ADHD. By combining all of these strategies I’ve found that I’ve regained control over my time and have found a method that works for me. I check in with myself often to ensure I am still able to find my Horizon and regularly assess where my time is going.
Time blindness will always be something I am trying to stay on top of. I have become a part of several Slack communities that focus on neurodivergence, where we all support and motivate each other. These communities provide great advice and share personal stories about their own challenges, fostering an open and ongoing conversation about all things related to neurodivergence.