What is Time Blindness? 3 Powerful Ways to Make Time Visible with ADHD

It’s suddenly 12:57 when I sit down to write this; I planned to get it done at 8:30 this morning.

Where did the time go?

I guess I did stop to answer a few slack messages, but it was only for a minute…that somehow transformed into 62 minutes.

How did the time slip by so fast?

And while I’m on the subject, how on Earth can time pass so quickly when I’m absorbed in my work, yet when I put away laundry or mow the lawn, it seems like an eternity?

Welcome to time blindness, my friends. 

Just as the name suggests, it’s complete blindness to the passage of time.

And I’m not going to lie – it’s a hurdle for those of us who deal with it.

In episode 113 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we’re talking strategy on how to:

  • Raise your awareness of passing time
  • Recognize how long it takes to complete your tasks⁣ for better scheduling
  • Increase your efficiency when it’s time to get things done

Whether you’re also navigating time blindness or you’re simply looking for strategies to use your time with greater intention, episode 113 has your name on it. 

You can listen to the episode above, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here: 

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In This Episode, You Will Discover How To… 

  • Raise your awareness of passing time
  • Recognize how long it takes to complete your tasks⁣ for better scheduling
  • Increase your efficiency when it’s time to get things done

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #113: (Transcript) What is Time Blindness? 3 Powerful Ways to Make Time Visible with ADHD

You’re listening to the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson, episode number 113. 

Hello, everybody. How’s it going? A few weeks ago now I posted a story on Instagram asking for questions from all of you podcast listeners. I’ve been thinking about doing some podcast Q&A episodes so I can answer your direct questions. And if you missed the story or we’re not hanging out on Instagram yet, we should absolutely connect. I am @imbusybeingawesome.

In addition, I sent out an email to those of you on my email list asking a similar question. What questions do you have for me? What obstacles are you navigating? Whether you’re behind schedule on a project. You are overwhelmed by your to-do list. Maybe you’re struggling with getting your house organized or communicating with your boss. Whatever situation is going on for you, I want to hear about it. And it has been so fun to hear from so many of you and learn about what would be most useful to you right now.

 If you happened to miss either one of those all requests for questions, don’t worry. It’s not too late. You can absolutely send me your questions as well. You can send it in the DM at I’m busy being awesome. Or you can send me an email Paulo that I’m busy being awesome. Calm and I will add it to the collection. I plan to do a handful of these q-and-a episodes coming up sprinkled throughout the months ahead. So please keep sending them my way.

As I was reading through the first batch of emails and DMs, there were also some questions that brought up common themes. And one of those themes circled around the concept of time blindness, which is something that I’ve mentioned in passing a few times in the podcast, but have never really talked much about. 

And in the questions that came through, some people were intrigued by the name and wanted to learn more about what time blindness was specifically. Others wanted more strategies on how to navigate time blindness. And others questioned what it meant if they identified with this concept of time blindness – what they could do about it. So today, I thought I would do a deep dive into this concept of time of blindness from all of these different angles.

Now if you’ve heard this term before, you might know that time blindness is a term typically used for people who have ADHD. However, if you are a listener of the podcast who does not have ADHD and you listen for more of the productivity and time management tips, I encourage you to stick with this episode anyway. 

Because this week we’re talking about some concrete ways to really hone in on your awareness of your time. How to increase your efficiency. And how to use your time with intention. So even if you feel pretty locked in on your time and the passage of time – first of all, lucky you! Second of all, the strategies that we will use today will help you take that awareness to the next level. 

And for all of you who deeply resonate with this idea of time blindness and you perhaps don’t recognize the passage of time as well as you would like, then I think you will absolutely love this episode and the strategies we explore today.

What is Time Blindness?

So let’s start with the question, what in the world is time blindness? If this is a new concept to you, or you haven’t heard me talk much about it on the podcast before, I think it could be useful for us to get a general definition.

For those of us who struggle with different intensities of time blindness, the general concept is that we aren’t aware of passing time. Whether it’s been five minutes or five hours it’s hard to tell.

Now, for someone who does not struggle with time blindness, they have a much better understanding of what time it is now, how much time is left, and how quickly the time is passing. So if you are out to lunch or you’re working on a project or you are engaged in a conversation, you probably have a general idea of how much time has gone by.

For those of us with time blindness, we might be hyper-focused or deeply engaged in a project for work and we think an hour has gone by and it’s really been 5 hours. Or alternatively, we might feel like we have been cleaning the house for hours and hours and hours, and we look at the clock and it’s been 26 minutes.

I was on a call with a client the other day, and my calls are 50 minutes long. We were engaged in some intense planning, and all of a sudden they looked at my clock and it had been an hour. Because I didn’t set my timer for the 50 minutes, it wasn’t there to pull me out of my hyper-focus. I didn’t know how much time had passed.

There’s a highly respected, incredible psychologist named Russell Barkley who works primarily on ADHD in adults, and in one of his presentations, he shares a very powerful statement about this concept. He explains that people who struggle with time blindness are led by the now. They have a hard time with looking back, looking ahead, and trying to prepare for what’s coming at you. Instead, they are living in the now. 

So maybe we’ve created a plan for ourselves. And we may have the best of intentions of sticking with those plans. But if something more exciting or stimulating or compelling comes along, and our brain gets pulled in that direction because we’re led by the now. We don’t recognize the passage of time or the longer term consequences of acting in the now.

Barkley describes this as being nearsighted to the future. Meaning we can only see what’s right in front of us. We can only see things in “the now.” And the farther things are away from the now, the more challenging it is to comprehend and understand and deal with the task or the project or the goal. 

If you’re a person who thinks you thrive on deadlines or you do better under pressure, this is likely one of the reasons. Because when things are happening NOW, that’s when we can recognize the time. That’s when we can kick things into high gear at the last minute because we deal in these last minute.

I think a powerful example that almost everyone has experienced on some level over the past year-and-a-half – whether you have dealt with time blindness on an acute level or not – is the passage of time during lockdown. I can’t tell you how many people have talked about this weird passage of time where it seems like no time has passed and all of the time is passed. And they’ve explored how this flip flops constantly in our brain. It might seem like time is crawling by one minute and then all of a sudden we wonder what happened over the last 18-19 months.

And again, this might be true for you on different levels. Maybe all of the months don’t seem like a blur. But I think for those of you who might not resonate so much with this idea of time blindness, thinking about the weird passage of time over the past many months since COVID really came to the foreground in 2020 will give you a better idea of how people with a more extreme time blindness experience the day-to-day.

Time Horizon

So generally, when it comes to time blindness, time is a very nebulous thing. And it happens on two different levels – passing time, and the time horizon. And these two categories impact one another in a domino effect. So let’s start first by talking about a lack of awareness when it comes to passing time.

One day, we might think to ourselves, I’ll just take 5 minutes to organize this cupboard, and then all of a sudden four hours have gone by. And then the next day we might think we’ve been writing a report for 6 hours, but we look at the clock and it’s been 16 minutes. 

This is the idea of blindness to passing time.

And because we struggle with this awareness of passing time, it makes it especially hard to estimate how long a given task will take. Of course, this then impacts our planning for the future. And it even makes it hard to judge how long a task has taken in the past because we often misremember.

My famous last words are – “I just need 5 minutes – 10 tops.” And then 60 minutes later, my poor husband Ryan and I are finally sitting down to eat.

And then the other component of time blindness that Russel Barkley talks about beautiful is a shortened time horizon. And this is what I alluded to earlier. Basically, this is that part in the future where things stop seeming real and instead slip into imagined time. It is the period of time that we can actually comprehend and we can work within it.

People who don’t struggle with time blindness can usually plan somewhere around 8 to 12 weeks into the future. But those of us who do have a hard time measuring the passage of time might find it challenging to plan anything beyond a week or two. In fact, some of us have a hard time with more than a few days.

And this is so important to recognize because being able to organize ourselves on a small scale — what we are going to do in the morning, or whether we are going to work on this project or this task or scroll on Instagram — all build on one another.

Because when we organize ourselves and show up and do the small tasks, they all add up to our bigger projects, which lead to our ultimate goals. But when time blindness gets the best of us, and we don’t recognize the passage of time or we don’t organize ourselves within time as efficiently as we would like, that can keep us stuck and spinning.

And when this happens over and over – we start having lots of incredibly frustrating and discouraging thoughts. We start adopting lots of beliefs around time scarcity. We start telling ourselves: “There’s not enough time. I’m wasting my time. I can’t get enough done in this amount of time. I can’t work fast enough.” And we keep finding more evidence to prove it true. This was some of the most prevalent work that I had to do as I started developing a healthier relationship with time and my thoughts about time.

When we’ve spent our entire lives telling ourselves “there’s not enough time” “I’m wasting my time.” “I can’t get enough done.” “I can never work fast enough.” And we’ve gathered proof for our brain to strengthen these neural pathways and turn these sentences from optional thoughts into beliefs that simply seem like the Truth with a capital T, it gets increasingly hard to challenge these thoughts. And it takes dedicated awareness and repeated practice of finding evidence to challenge those beliefs and start realizing, “wait a minute. It’s possible I do have time. It’s possible that I’m not terrible with time. In fact, I could even be good with time if I find ways to make time more tangible and real for my brain.

So I invite you to take a moment and think about some of your most frequently played time scarcity thoughts. Maybe they’re similar to the ones that I mentioned about not having enough time and not being able to work fast enough. Or maybe they’re different flavors.

Maybe your thoughts are about having control of your time. They might sound like, “I never have control over my time. My time isn’t my own. Everyone else dictates how I spend my time.”

I encourage you to dedicate some time to uncover your thoughts about your time and see what you discover. Seriously, this is a powerful exercise and the first step in helping you raise your awareness and begin reclaiming your time.

But what else can we do? How can we work with our brains and navigate this time blindness?  How can we create some scaffolding to support ourselves and make time more tangible for us? And again, if you don’t resonate with time blindness, you can use these next strategies to support your brain even further in dialing in your time and using it with intention.

Time Your Tasks

First and foremost, I recommend learning how long tasks task you. Start timing your tasks. As I mentioned, we’re often convinced that things take a certain amount of time – 10 minutes, 30 minutes, FOR-EV-ER if you’re me putting away laundry – but we don’t know that for certain. So we want to start gaining more clarity on how long things actually take.

And we can do this by literally timing out our tasks, whether you use a time tracking app or website, or you use a kitchen timer and make note of the time you start and stop a task on a piece of paper. Or you use some kind of timing tool like Timular that I’ve mentioned on the podcast before. All of these are useful ways to start getting a better understanding of how long you take to complete different projects and tasks.

And by the way, I will link to some of my favorite resources in the show notes. I have a page dedicated to all of my favorite resources that I personally love and use myself and recommend to clients, and I’ll share that link in the show notes, so if you’re interested in any of these tools I talk about here – or in any podcast – you can click through the link in the show notes of this episode.

Now, as you begin figuring out how long you need to complete various tasks, I want to offer a few tips to make the most of this experience. First of all, make sure that you’re not just timing the task itself. We need to think about the before and after. And also, gather data more than once and make sure you’re not timing the task on your very best day when all the stars have aligned, or even worse, for how long we think things “SHOULD” take us.

Instead, we need to incorporate time for getting ready, for potential interruptions, etc. All of that needs to be included in our time estimation.

For example, when I get ready for my coaching calls, I can’t just plan for the actual call time. If I only planned for the 50 minutes, I’d be in trouble. I also have to account for: Turning on my computer if it’s the first call of the day. Allowing the programs to all start running. Starting Zoom. Pulling up my client notes. Reviewing what we talked about in the last session. If I had a client call at 2:00, and I didn’t plan for all of the pre-stuff, I’d be late. Or unprepared. Or both.

The same goes for any area of your life where you want to dial in your time, whether it’s cleanup. Or travel time to work. Or getting out the door time. I know that so many of us (myself included) forget about the actual commute time when we’re going somewhere.

For example, depending on where you are in the world, some people may have kids going back to school. Or we’re heading back into the office for work. As we make these transitions, we need to adjust for commute time to get from point A to point B. And not just that, but also getting our coffee ready in a to-go mug. Getting to the car. And allowing time for getting stuck behind school buses etc.

I once heard a coach say, don’t plan 10 minutes for a 20-minute commute. It seems so obvious, but I think a lot of us slip into this perfectionist fantasy We put time frames next to tasks that “sound reasonable” or that make our schedules technically work on paper, but that doesn’t work in practice.

Recently, I heard someone share that that they realized they planned to watch a 90-minute movie, but they only blocked out 60 minutes. Again, we do this. Especially when we don’t pause and consider how much time we want/need to complete the task.

I think this 60 minutes allotted for a 90-minute movie is a great example because our brains are so sneaky. We feel so driven to make all of the time blocks fit into that neat puzzle of our day. We have so many things we want to do. In turn, we try to fool ourselves into thinking that if I put it in my schedule it should work. But we have to be on to ourselves. Does this task actually fit in the time that I have? Have I figured out how long it actually takes so I can make an accurate schedule that supports my goals?

So again, when you time your tasks, make sure you capture everything that’s involved from start to finish. One of the questions I’d like to ask myself is this. “If I write down the steps of this task for somebody who’s never done it before, would they know what to do? Would they know how long it would take for them to get from start to finish? If not, then I know I need to get a little more specific as I time my tasks. I need to figure out how long I need and want to complete things. And I want to start making time more tangible for myself. 

So for you, where could you use this strategy? Where in your life could you start timing your tasks? Where could you gain a better idea of how long you need to complete things? What’s the first step you can implement today to make time a little more tangible for you?

Understand What “On Time” Means

The next tip I want to share with you is getting clarity for yourself about what on-time means. We often think if a meeting starts at 1:00, we should get there at 1:00. But this isn’t usually the case.

If a meeting starts at 1:00, and it’s an in-person meeting, we might want to get there 10 minutes early to settle in, pull out our notebook or computer, review any notes we have, etc.

I remember the first few times I taught my own class. This was back when I was still in grad school and teaching freshman writing classes. During those first few classes, I thought if class started at 12:00 I needed to get there at 12. That’s how it was for me as a student; it didn’t occur to me that it would be much different as the teacher.

Of course, after a few class sessions, it clicked that this was not the case, because getting there at 12:00 didn’t allow for pulling up PowerPoint slides, getting out my lecture notes, the inevitable tech stuff that ALWAYS COMES UP. And I found that what would serve me better was getting there about 7-10 minutes early.

If I wanted to arrive in the classroom 10 minutes early, then I’d set a timer to help me do that. It would remind me that it was time to pack up my things, lock my office door, fill my water bottle, and walk to the classroom. When classes were on other parts of campus outside of the music building where I was located, I’d take that into account. I added time to bundle up if it was the winter and walk across campus so I still arrived early

Now, if the idea of facing empty time or arriving early absolutely horrifies you – first of all, explore why. What are the thoughts you have that make arriving early seem so awful? Maybe you think you’re wasting time when you get there early. Or maybe you think about having to make small talk with people you don’t know. Maybe you worry about being bored. What is the resistance you have to be early?

Again, this might sound strange to people who have the belief that “to be on time is to be late,” but for those of us who tend to show up either right on time or a couple of minutes late, being early can feel uncomfortable. And if that’s the case for you, explore why. And then ask yourself, do I like my reasons?

From there, we can remind ourselves that we always have something else to do. Bring the book you’ve been meaning to read or answer that overflowing inbox. Pull our your journal and record how long it took you to arrive and gather that data so you have it for next time. Write down your win and celebrate yourself for getting to the appointment on time. There is always something to do.

So again, get clear on what “on time” means. Because in many situations – rarely is “on time” the actual time. We need to be there early.

Break Down Your Tasks For Accurate Time Estimation

Finally, we have step 3, which is all about breaking down your tasks into small steps for accurate time estimation. We’ve absolutely talked about this on the podcast before, but I am going to continue repeating it, because I know there’s so much resistance to it. I know it can seem very tedious. I know it can seem boring. And I know your brain will tell you that it takes too long and it’s a waste of time. I hear you. My brain offers the same thoughts.

But here’s the hard truth. When you’re learning how long things take you and you’re planning out your schedule, the fastest and most efficient way to gather that data is to break down your tasks into super small steps. I promise – the amount of time you’re willing to dedicate to creating a clear, specific plan for your brain, you will gain back by at least 5x on the other end. Really, if you take 10 minutes to really plan out your day and think carefully about how long the different steps of your project will take or how long you want to allow for the different emails you want to spend, you will gain so much more time on the other side. And this is why.

First of all, taking this extra step of breaking down the steps gives you a better estimation of how long you will take to complete the tasks. When you have a better estimation, you create a schedule that is more realistic. You’re not setting yourself up for failure expecting that you’ll save the world by noon and get to bed early.

And while that’s an exaggeration, just think about the last schedule you made for yourself. He probably included enough tasks on your to-do list to last you a week, maybe a month. And when you put that on your to-do list day after day, you’re creating all of this evidence for your brain that you can’t get enough done. But that’s not just isn’t true. 

If we think back to episode 111, what if you’re wrong about that? Maybe it’s not that you’re bad with time and you can’t get enough done, it’s just that you’re not creating a realistic schedule because you haven’t slowed down to know how long things actually take. So give yourself that time to figure it out. Give yourself that gift of knowledge.

In addition, breaking down the steps provides your brain the EXACT step-by-step you need to move forward. You take away the likelihood that your brain will spin out in indecision because you’ve given yourself the clear direction and support your brain loves. It knows the exact process you want to take. And that way, your brain has less convincing power when it slips into the practiced thought, “I don’t know where to start” because you DO. You have it written out in front of you.

So if you resonate with the concept of time blindness, and you are ready to make time more tangible. If you are ready to reclaim your time and start using it with greater intention, I highly encourage you to use these three steps.

Begin by timing your tasks and learning the reality of how long it takes for you to complete each task from start to finish. And don’t forget the details of getting the kids in their car seats. The actual commute time. Waiting for your computer programs to start up. Etc.

Next, get clear about what “on time” means. If a meeting starts at 3, what does on-time mean? Does it mean you’re sitting down in the chair at 3? Or does it mean you are 5 minutes early with your laptop open ready to go? Create that clarity for yourself in every situation and plan accordingly.

And finally, break down your steps into small details and allocate time to each step. This is what gives you an accurate time estimation so you create a schedule that supports you and your goals. It allows you to start showing your brain that you are, indeed, a person who has control over your time, who knows how long things take, and who uses your time with intention.

And if you want to check out the resources that I use myself and that I use with my clients on making time or visible, just head to the show notes in your podcast app where I have link to a page with all of those resources.

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