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What Methods Can Help Manage ADHD-Related Time Blindness?

Experts offer tips for adults and children with time management challenges, which can be chronic.

By Jennifer Lea Reynolds, Contributor | July 21, 2017, at 10:17 a.m.

If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and frequently struggle with estimating how long something may take or find time management in general a challenge, it’s possible that something called time blindness is at hand.

“Everyone struggles with this on occasion,” says Ari Tuckman, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania, who specializes in ADHD, anxiety and life balance for adolescents and adults. “But people with ADHD do more so.”

Tuckman explains that people have an internal clock to help judge the passage of time, but individuals with ADHD have more challenges assessing how long something may take. For example, when it comes to deadlines, the sense of urgency “isn’t felt as much” for people with ADHD. So despite knowing that a weekly report is due every Friday at a certain time, the same last-minute tendencies may surface at the end of every week. “The experience of missing a deadline or being tight with a deadline doesn’t translate to a sense of urgency,” Tuckman says. “It’s not that they lose track or forget so much as they don’t feel the restlessness in their gut that a non-ADHD person usually does. The pressure to do something earlier doesn’t exist.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with ADHD may “have problems organizing tasks and activities, such as what to do in sequence, keeping materials and belongings in order, having messy work and poor time management and failing to meet deadlines.”

Analog Clocks

To improve time management skills, Tuckman encourages people with ADHD to think in terms of two concepts: seeing time and feeling time. It’s these two concepts that, when fine-tuned, can help adults manage ADHD-related time blindness.

Seeing time, he explains, involves managing tasks in relation to time and having an awareness of the current time or how long a planned activity may take. To bolster this missing sense of internal time, Tuckman suggests using “external tools like an analog clock which allows you to see movement of the hands.” He explains that this “makes time more concrete,” especially when placed in a location where the clock can easily be seen. Using timers and alarms should also be considered.

Accountability

Feeling time, which Tuckman says is more about emotion, has to do with the ability of an individual to begin and carry through with tasks as they relate to time. For example, a looming deadline is likely handled by relying on external pressure, he says, such as someone nagging you to get it done. A good way to improve upon such time blindness is to make yourself accountable. “Have someone check in on you,” Tuckman says. Doing things such as committing to get a first draft to another person by a specific time is a good way to improve time management.

Think Ahead

Another way to work in advance of deadlines is to try to remember the uncomfortable feeling of handling projects at the eleventh hour. Tuckman refers to this as “bringing the future into the present.” Vividly “putting yourself in the shoes of how you felt at that point in time” now can help prevent future consequences.

Helping Children: Starts with Knowledge, Removing Judgments

Adults aren’t the only ones affected by time blindness.

Dr. Mark Bertin, a developmental pediatrician in Pleasantville, New York, and the author of “Mindful Parenting for ADHD,” says that kids as well as adults can experience time management challenges. “A sense of urgency usually happens on its own,” he says. For someone without ADHD, the ability to estimate the duration of an activity, plan and manage time is usually instinctual. He says that kids with ADHD may simply not notice time as often as someone without the disorder.

Bertin says that it’s important to be nonjudgmental about the fact that the child has ADHD. He explains that a kid isn’t choosing to have the disorder; so it’s beneficial for parents to remove any judgments about their child. Parents need to “recognize that it’s about having a developmental delay in management skills,” he says. Looking at everything through a lens, he says, is essential for parents of an ADHD child. “ADHD is not just an attention disorder,” he explains. “There are other components such as a behavioral piece, an emotional piece and a time management piece.”

Collaborate with Your Child

Bertin explains that because evidence points to a genetic component behind ADHD development, it’s likely that a parent may also have ADHD. This is something that can be advantageous, as he suggests time management can become a collaborative effort. A parent may tell a child that they both have a tendency to leave tasks to the last minute, and then ask, “How can we work together?” Engaging the child in the process can help both parties face their ADHD challenges together while talking out solutions at the same time.

Immediacy and Long-Term Planning with Youngsters

According to Bertin, solutions should focus on two areas: the “to-do side of life,” which involves keeping track of what to achieve immediately, and the long-term planning side of life, which homes in on future planning. In each case, however, he warns that parents should never teach kids to “try to keep track of things in their head.” Time blindness is a chronic struggle that shouldn’t be managed by attempting to mentally keep track of plans, he says. Instead, writing things down and using visuals to help youngsters manage time may be beneficial.

Calendars, for example, can “help kids visualize time,” Bertin explains. This teaches children to see time and improve upon their long-term planning. Ideally, these should be large wall calendars that parents review with their child every Sunday evening to look at how the week plays out. If there’s a play date request, he says, the parent and child should review the calendar to see if he or she is free that particular day. The same goes if there’s a school event the day before a paper is due. The calendar enables conversation and thoughts about time management.

 

Don’t Overwhelm, Offer Praise

Whether dealing with homework or another task, Bertin suggests that parents “focus on what’s most constructive immediately” in terms of time management strategies they work on with their child. If, for example, handing in homework inconsistently is an issue, he says to focus on that in one way (perhaps strictly calendar use) rather than trying to improve the problem with several methods at once. Increase the amount of strategies used gradually, he says, so as to not overwhelm parent and child.

Of equal importance is that parents should offer praise and reward in an effort to maintain positivity, Bertin says. He says that focusing on your child’s skills with a compassionate, nonjudgmental approach is key.