ADHD, Time Management and Timers

People with ADHD have a skewed sense of time. This is not because we are spacing out or because we are running around trying to do too much though it may seem that way to other people. We have a skewed sense of time because we have neurological deficits that alter our sense of time. Some neurologists believe that people with ADHD are 'time blind' and that is one of the things that make motivation difficult.

If you do not have a precise sense of the past or the future, neurologist have speculated, it is hard to learn from a past event because the cause and effect may not be linked closely enough in the brain of the person with ADHD and it is hard to prepare or be motivated for the future because people with ADHD see the future as being further away from the here and now then most people.

People with ADHD sometimes feel as though time passes slower than it is actually passing and it is common for people with ADHD to be constantly late or out of tune with the actual time. Some of the other time related problems with ADHD include procrastination, getting distracted or over focused on something that takes more time than the planned task, underestimating the amount of time needed to complete something and overestimating the amount of time something took to complete.

When I have to empty the litter box, a ten minute task can feel like it took an eternity but when I have to get to the movies I think that I can do that 10 minute trip in 2 minutes. When I have to vacuum, the 5 minute diversion to go through my mail can end up taking an hour and the vacuuming may not get done at all if I decide that this is the time to set up the new online accounting system.

When you have had Inattentive ADD all of your life you soon come to accept that your spouses sense of time is better than yours and your home life becomes more peaceful. Though you may still leave for the airport 60 minutes before your flight when you travel alone, you learn to leave 2 hours before when you travel with your spouse and eventually when you travel with just your kids, and they have begged you for the umpteenth time to not have to sprint to the airport gate, you start leaving 90 minutes before your flight.

I have found that something things help us with our sense of time. Timers help, reminders help, schedules help, and setting goals helps. There are watches and timers that are made specifically for the purpose of ringing or vibrating to remind us to keep us on task. These tools are very helpful as they remind us that time is passing despite the fact that we are hyper focusing on something unrelated to our task at hand.

One on the readers of this webpage just yesterday sent me an email explaining that her 12 year old son has had great success with a product called WatchMinder. I have loved a product that is not a watch but that also reminds you of time passing by beeping and or vibrating. You wear it on your belt or put it in your purse and it is called the Invisible Clock. My mother swears by a timer called the MotivAider and she uses this device to remind her to take her medicine.

I find that young children benefit from something like the TimeTimer as they can physically watch the time pass and this improves their perception of the passage of time. The TimeTimer company now has an iPhone app that performs just the same as the physical TimeTimer and this is a useful tool when you are on the go.

People with ADHD have a skewed perception of time because of neurological differences in our brain. This time perception problem will make us procrastinate, lack motivation, underestimate the amount of time that tasks will take and stay distracted for too long. Reminders and timers can help and we should use them to improve our perception of the passage of time.


  1. Yup. When I was first diagnosed, my psychiatrist told me that my problems with chronic lateness was not related to ADHD but might be a separate learning disability. Thanks to your blog I've read (most of) Barkley's book, and I finally feel like someone has explained my "time blindness" and its essential connection to my other ADHD-PI symptoms

    I still have a terrible "time" getting anywhere on time. This part of the ADHD challenge is somewhat easier in the era of cellphones than it used to be when communication wasn't mobile, but it still gets in the way of work, fun, relationships . . . and everything else.

    Here's my question: I'm not on any medication at the moment, and I really(!) need to be. Is there research to suggest that any of the medications are better for the time challenges associated with ADHD than others?

    Thanks so much for this very useful blog, by the way!

  2. The research indicates that Adderall works the best at a lower dose than what is most effective for the Combined type and Hyperactive/Impulsive type of ADHD.

  3. What about medication for the inattentive add without hyper activity? Have you heard what is best for that type?


  4. Thanks for your response TM! I see the prescribing doc tomorrow, and I'm glad to have your suggestion about what to try first. And thanks for your post about the pomodoro method, too. I tried it on Sunday and was off-task in less than 10 minutes, but I'm determined to try it again soon.

  5. Anonymous you can find lots of information here:

    Also on the right side bar there are a few other posts on this question.

    cerpa, It's hard, I know. try to work up to 15 minutes and then 20. Rome was not built in a day.... Tess


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