ADHD & Time Blindness: What (is it), Why (it happens), and How (to fix it?)

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
May 22, 2024

It’s Friday night. You were planning to do some chores today to have the weekend fully free for yourself, but before you do, you decide just to scroll your smartphone for a while, and it’s 1 AM. 

Time blindness, the inability to properly perceive time, is a frustrating phenomenon that occurs often for people with ADHD. 

Does that mean that you are forever cursed not to know how to track time? 

Not really! Stick around, and I’ll teach you all about:

  • What is time blindness
  • What causes time blindness
  • How to deal with it

And so much more!

Alright, let’s dig in! 

[What Is Time Blindness?] What Is Time Blindness?

By time blindness, we mean a person’s inability to perceive and gauge the passage of time. From estimates of how long it takes to complete a task to being unwittingly engrossed in something and losing track of time, a few hours can fly by as if in a couple of minutes.

Frequent lateness, struggles with deadlines, increased stress, and anxiety, you name it - symptoms of time blindness can be plentiful. 

Although time blindness is not exclusive to ADHDers, we are much more sensitive to it. As such, even simple daily tasks like getting ready in the morning, buying groceries, or switching from one task to another can be a real challenge.

Well, why’s that? Great question! It all has to do with…

[Science Behind Time Blindness] The ADHD and Time Blindness: Science Behind it

For everyone who’s new to the club, let me introduce y’all to my favorite mantra: ADHD is not a behavioral disorder; it’s not something you can just grow out of

Instead, ADHD affects how the brain processes information (time included)1 and how it assesses the dopamine risk-reward equation. 

The former leads to executive dysfunction. Because of the neural disruptions, people with ADHD have issues with concentration, breaking down tasks into sub-tasks, and switching from one to another. 

For example, an ADHDer has plans to meet up at 5 PM and believes they’ll need around 30 minutes to reach the destination. But, because they failed to break down “get ready” into smaller tasks like: 

  • Take a shower
  • Find clean clothes
  • Call an Uber

They miscalculate and arrive about 30 minutes later, much to the chagrin of their friends.

The second aspect of time blindness is dopamine dysfunction. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in an interplay between motivation and reward, too, and can play a role in time perception. It deserves a separate lecture, but the gist of it is that ADHDers are really bad at getting enough dopamine, so we tend to crave them like fiends. 

Coupling it with the inability to comprehend delayed dopamine rewards makes us really good and insistent on focusing on things that give us happy chemicals. So, things like video games, favorite TV shows, or - the bane of it all - TikTok shorts, these things can suck us in as if we’re in some kind of a trance state, completely losing the perception of time

Blink and you’ll miss it.

Obviously, if we keep missing deadlines, arriving late, and spending all day playing video, it doesn’t really get us where we want to be in life (unless you’re like the next League of Legends superstar), which brings us to the next part…

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[The Impact of Time Blindness] The Impact of Time Blindness

I’m getting really good at these segues. ‘Nways, the shrewdest among us have probably figured out that living with time blindness can impact all aspects of life.

Challenges in Personal Life

ADHD is a cruel mistress. It’s as if it isn’t enough that it’s affecting us; it decides to stretch out its claws and grab those we love the most.

Loved ones may feel neglected or unimportant as we keep being late, forgetting important dates, or accidentally ghosting them for a whole day because we’re so engrossed in whatever. If it’s a living-together situation, being always late on chores and other shared responsibilities can also be a wedge into your love life. 

As you may have imagined, social circles can be similarly critical of the goofs and blunders caused by your time blindness. If you’re always late or forget to RSVP? Well, people might stop inviting you to things at one point. 

Professional Repercussions

God bless remote work. It at least made it easy to “not miss” work and sleep in as you can always just reply to the manager’s texts from the comfort of your bed…which doesn’t help with other consequences of being time blind. 

First, let’s talk about missed deadlines. Really, it’s easier to count those you don’t miss. You will miss many of those as you misjudge the ETA for the task or just mess around until you realize that the figurative stove is burning. Which has a general tendency to make your manager unhappy and also paint you as an unreliable type. 

And, what do you know, constantly rushing deadlines and being reprimanded is a great recipe to earn yourself a few second servings of being stressed and overworked. You probably already know it, but this constant rate against time can’t be healthy either for your mind or body. 

Emotional and Psychological Effects

Compounding effects of interpersonal struggles and professional shortcomings is…well, it can be a bummer, to put it mildly. Not all ADHDers leave these tidings unscarred, some developing some more severe and long-lasting comorbidities.

To start off, being a constant victim of time blindness can hit our self-esteem really badly. I mean, yes, I do know that ADHD isn’t my fault. But, sometimes, it doesn’t really feel like it. Honestly, even internalizing that fact doesn’t help with more pragmatic issues. So, it’s not rare for me to think of myself as someone unreliable and incapable, thus reinforcing negative self-perceptions. 

[How to Manage Time Blindness] How to Manage Time Blindness

Addressing time blindness in ADHD requires practical, straightforward strategies. We’re not really trying to change our true selves here, so there’s no need to be dramatic. Instead, they’re about adapting and finding ways to work with your brain, not against it. 

Time Management Techniques Tailored for ADHD

Although manifestations of ADHD symptoms can be quite unique, let’s just say there is enough interest among them to establish some guidelines for these strategies (obviously, adjust as needed). 

Set Specific Goals

Goals should be clear and achievable. Instead of "work on project," say "write one page." Specificity makes tasks less overwhelming.

Use Timers

Timers create a sense of urgency and can help break the illusion of endless time. They serve as a reminder of reality, helping to stay on track.

Scheduled Breaks

Breaks are crucial. They should be scheduled and adhered to, providing a necessary pause and preventing burnout.

Use Visual Reminders

Post-it notes, whiteboards, or digital reminders can help you remember what you need to do. Place them where you’re more likely to notice them, like on the bathroom mirror or fridge door, or stick them to the side of your PC display. 

Just make sure to mix things up and switch those reminders occasionally. Otherwise, they can blur into the background.

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Routines and Structure

I’m not a scientist - so don’t shoot me for this one - but I’d say that while reminders and timers are meant to work on our conscious level, routines are more so for the subconscious

Once you lock in a daily routine, it will become second nature, so it can be an exceptionally powerful way to manage time blindness by offering a predictable framework and reducing cognitive load. 

As I’ve described above, doing regular breaks can be one example of establishing a routine. But it can go as far as creating a rigid and set routine for the entire day

So it can go like this:

  1. 8 AM - Wake up and make the bed
  2. 8:30 AM - Take a shower
  3. 9:00 - Prepare breakfast

And so on and so forth, breaking down each task further as needed. It may sound ridiculous initially, as if you’re programming a robot, but trust me, it works.

With time, you’ll better understand what works for you, so you’ll get to make these routines less rigid as necessary. But because establishing routines as ADHDers is already complicated, starting from the basics is better.

[Time Blindness Environment] Creating an ADHD-Friendly Environment: More ADHD Time Blindness Hacks

And how do we go around establishing these routines and ensure they don’t break? By organizing the spaces around us. The spaces we live and work in can significantly impact how we perceive and manage time.

Crafting an environment that accommodates ADHD and its time blindness is all about creating a framework where time becomes a visible, manageable entity. 

First things, make your living space clear and organized. Clutter can be distracting and can make time management more challenging. Keeping spaces organized and free of unnecessary clutter helps reduce distractions and stress. 

Messy room = messy mind. Making your bed, clearing dozens of dirty mugs from your table (yes, I know you’re guilty of it), and putting everything you need within hand’s reach ensures that you don’t get distracted by constantly walking around the house.

Communication and Understanding in Relationships

But our environment isn’t just beds and mugs; it’s also people that surround us. However, I won’t propose something as radical as replacing your entire social circle. 😅

Instead, it’s all about open and honest dialogue about the challenges of ADHD, how it causes time blindness, and how your friends and family can support you along the way. 

The first thing is education. Just sit your parents down and be straight with them, like: “Yo, this is real, this is how I live, here are the facts.” This is basically what you need to do. Because there are so many misconceptions about ADHD, people might not even understand what you’re going through.

I won’t sugarcoat it; sometimes, it won’t work. But you don’t know until you try! 🤓

If you’ve lucked out and your social circle was perceptive to your educational efforts, then it’s all about setting realistic expectations. Explain that you sometimes have issues remembering deadlines or appointments and might be late from time to time.

Ask your friends to remind you of things you must do, or even try body doubling on more intense days.  

Building a Supportive Network

But, you know, you can’t always gain as much understanding as you need. This is why sometimes you need to find support elsewhere, forming new connections along the way.

From experience, I know that it might feel “fake” and “artificial” to do that at first, but trust me, finding people who truly get you is quite worth the initial awkwardness.

Making this process easier is why we have created the Numo app in the first place. Although it’s since grown into a one-stop for all ADHD needs, the community remains at its core. 

Through squads and tribes, you get to connect with fellow ADHDers who are willing and able to share their personal experiences with time blindness. 

Because, at the end of the day, ADHD is somewhat of an enigma. The research that exists on the topic is there, but as we learn more and more about the condition, we keep realizing that it’s not as straightforward as we thought in the past. 

For example, did you know that rejection-sensitive dysphoria, too, can be a symptom of ADHD? 

All in all, it’s important to realize that while ADHD can often be a tough and cruel condition, you don’t have to go through it alone

[Numo as Tech Aid] Technological Aids and Tools

Now that we have mentioned our Numo app let’s touch on the topic of technological aids for time blindness in general.

For the most part, this means we’ll be talking about calendar apps, planners, alarm clocks, etc. =

Digital Tools and Apps for Time Management

  • Calendar Apps: Digital calendars can send appointment reminders, set up recurring events, and help visualize the day, week, or month ahead.
  • Task Management Software: Apps like Numo, Trello, Asana, or Todoist allow users to break down projects into tasks and subtasks. Our own Numo also has a neat, game-esque system where you get points for each completed task. Just don’t cheat by breaking down one task into infinity of smaller ones 😜
  • Focus Apps: Applications designed to enhance focus, such as Forest, which discourages smartphone use, or Pomodoro timers, can help maintain attention on the task at hand.

You must stick with the digital tools to make the most out of them. So don’t just download multiple ones, goof around with them for a few days, and then forget about them forever. Set times throughout the day to check on your planner and see what else you need to do today. Morning, midday, and evening check-ins can help stay on track with tasks and appointments.

Pros and Cons of Technological Solutions

  • Pros: Digital tools provide constant reminders and an organized overview of tasks and appointments. They are easily accessible and customizable.
  • Cons: Over-reliance on technology can be a downside. There's also the risk of becoming overwhelmed with too many apps or notifications, leading to more confusion.

[Conclusion] Conclusion

Let’s recap what we’ve learned today.

  • Time blindness is the inability to track and assess the passage of time properly
  • It’s not unique to ADHD, but ADHDers tend to have more issues with it because of executive dysfunction and dopamine irregularities.
  • Not knowing how to track time can lead to conflict and strife in professional and personal relationships and impact one’s self-esteem and stress levels
  • Dealing with time blindness must be a conscious effort through the help of digital tools, rigid routines, and a supportive community

For me, personally, time blindness is probably one of the most tough and complicated aspects of dealing with ADHD, and I won’t lie that it takes a conscious effort to overcome it every single day.

But I also believe that with the right mindset and the right attitude, it’s possible to overcome everything! So, keep following our advice, and I’m confident you get there.

And, if you ever stumble, then come along and join the Numo community. We’d be happy to have you! 


1 Medical Science Monitor. Clinical Implications of the Perception of Time in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Review
2 Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome.
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