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Time blindness and ADHD: Strategies To Help Students Manage Their Time (evidence-based practices)

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

As a parent, watching your child struggle with the concept of time can be both frustrating and concerning.


You’ve seen the scenarios unfold: homework takes longer than planned, morning routines become chaotic races against the clock, and simple tasks drag on endlessly.


This isn't just about poor time management—it's a deeper challenge known as 'time blindness,' a common and often misunderstood aspect of ADHD.


This article aims to provide guidance for parents navigating the perplexing world of time blindness in their children. It's not just about keeping a tight schedule; it’s about understanding the unique way your child perceives time.


We'll delve into practical strategies and insights, empowering you to help your child manage these challenges. From deciphering the nuances of time blindness to implementing adaptable and effective methods, our hope is to here to support you in transforming daily frustrations into opportunities for growth and learning."


While there is no "one size fits all" method for managing time blindness as a student with ADHD, teaching your student to try various strategies and executively choose their own system, is a key.


What is time blindness?


Understanding the concept of time blindness is crucial in grasping the challenges faced by individuals with ADHD. Rachael Green, in an article from Verywellmind.com, explains it as a sensory issue rather than an intentional disregard for time.


Time blindness is the inability to sense the passing of time and it can make nearly every aspect of a person's life more difficult. The important thing to understand is that it's more like a sensory issue, not an intentional disregard for time.

Simply put, it's an inability to accurately sense how quickly time is passing, affecting nearly every aspect of life.


A study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders in 2011 illuminates this further. It found that college students with ADHD often struggle with estimating how long past activities took, which can directly impact academic success. This difficulty in perception leads to several practical challenges.


For instance, individuals with ADHD often underestimate how long tasks will take, from completing homework to finishing a project at work. They might find themselves believing a tedious or seemingly simple task can be done more quickly than is realistically possible.


Another research piece in the National Library of Medicine


Another study published in the National Library of Medicine reinforces this, highlighting that people with ADHD not only struggle with estimating time but also feel overwhelmed as time seems to slip by without substantial task completion.

...individuals with ADHD have difficulties in time estimation and discrimination activities as well as having the feeling that time is passing by without them being able to complete tasks accurately and well

Imagine a scenario where a student believes they can finish an assignment in an hour, only to find three hours have passed with much left to do. This is a daily reality for many with ADHD, where time seems to be a constantly moving target.


What are the common symptoms of time blindness in students?


Time blindness, particularly prevalent among individuals with ADHD, manifests through several common symptoms:


Difficulty Estimating Time Duration:

A student thinks they can finish a five-page essay in an hour but actually needs three hours.


Frequent Lateness

A student consistently misses the first 10 minutes of morning classes, underestimating the time needed to get ready and commute.


Poor Long-Term Planning

A student remembers about a major science project only two days before the deadline, having underestimated the time required for research and experimentation.


Procrastination

A student waits until the night before an exam to start studying, mistakenly believing a few hours will be sufficient.


Difficulty with Task Transition

A student gets so engrossed in a history assignment that they unintentionally skip their math homework, misjudging the time spent.


Misjudgment of Time Passage

A student starts playing a video game for a 'quick break' and ends up playing for three hours, missing their study group meeting.


Over or Under-Utilizing Time

A student spends an entire afternoon perfecting a single art project while neglecting other subjects that also require attention.


Feeling Overwhelmed with Time Management

A student feels constantly stressed and unable to handle their weekly study schedule, which their peers manage without issue.


So how do you manage time blindness?

For students grappling with time blindness, effectively managing their schedule is critical. They can benefit greatly from external reminders, such as alarms and timers, which serve as prompts for starting homework and moving on to the next activity.


Keeping a log of study sessions and homework time can provide valuable insights into actual time spent, compared to subjective estimates. Creating a structured schedule that outlines specific study times and breaks can instill a sense of routine and discipline, which is particularly beneficial in a school setting.


Breaking down assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks with set time allotments can help students tackle projects without feeling overwhelmed.


Visual timers are also a practical tool, offering students a clear indication of time passing during their study periods. It's also crucial to prioritize tasks to ensure that the most pressing homework or study objectives are addressed first.


Allowing for time buffers can alleviate the stress of unforeseen delays or extend study sessions that require more time than anticipated. Students should also be encouraged to practice mindfulness to develop a better awareness of time passing, which can lead to more accurate time estimations and planning in the future.


Keep a clock or watch within view at all times

The first key to managing time blindness is to become "Time Aware".


Good time management is impossible unless there is a clock or watch within view at all times.


Therefore, never assume that you can estimate the passage of time accurately without a clock.


To increase time awareness, practice guessing what time it is without looking at the clock.


The more comfortable you get with keeping time at the forefront of your mind, the more accurately you will be able to predict the time and adjust your behavior.


Track your daily activities


Tracking your daily tasks is a great way to see how you are spending your time.


This can be as simple as writing down what you are doing and how long you are doing it for.


If you'd like to use an app to track your time on tasks, check out the app Toggl.


Set alarms on your phone


Set alarms on your phone for each of your daily events every morning or evening to give you a sound or vibrational reminder of where you need to be and when.


Set reminders on your phone

You can also use the Apple Reminders app to set up daily, weekly or yearly reminders so you don't forget recurring events.

Again, say "Hey Siri, remind me every (day, month, year) to (describe activity).


I use this feature to remind myself each day to take my medication for ADHD.


Synch all calendars

Make sure to sync all your calendars together if you use multiple calendars for school, work and home.


If you have any trouble with this, check out my webinar on how to use Google Tools more effectively or search on YouTube for how to synch calendars.


Bottom line


At the end of the day, everything has to be workable to you.


Try these strategies and decide what works best for you.


When you find a system that works, stick with it, and when your interest in it starts to fade, you can revise your system with another approach.


The key is creating a system, and STICKING with it.


What if my student continues to struggle with time management?

For students who continue to struggle with managing their time, working with an executive function coach could be a game-changer.


An EF coach can offer tailored strategies and support, helping students develop systems that cater to their individual needs, ultimately leading to improved academic performance and reduced stress.


Click here to book a free consultation to learn more about how executive function coaching can support your student in developing improved time management strategies.


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About the author


Sean G. McCormick is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization, and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered. He also founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains special education teachers, school psychologists and other professionals to support students with ADHD and executive function challenges. He lives in Petaluma with his wife and two daughters.

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EFS started with one teacher deciding that kids with ADHD needed better access to quality executive function coaching services. Since then, we have grown to a team of specialists working both private students and public schools to enhance executive function skills for all students. 

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