Time & Productivity

Are You Time Blind? 12 Ways to Use Every Hour Effectively

Staying aware of time and using it well — these are basic keys to success, whether you’re a fifth grader or the vice president of sales. But, as anyone with ADHD knows, it’s hard to realize when you’re wasting time in the moment. Let these tips help you become more productive.

Old clock, which important because people who have ADHD lose track of time
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What Is Time Blindness?

A good sense of time is one critical executive function. It involves knowing what time it is now, how much time is left, and how quickly time is passing. Folks with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) tend to be "time blind," meaning they aren’t aware of the ticking of time. As a result, they often struggle to use time effectively. Overcoming your natural time blindness begins with an in-depth look at how we understand time.

A woman with ADHD plans a route on a map, a metaphor for planning how to stop wasting time
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The Time Horizon

An important concept in time management is something called the “time horizon.” This is essentially how far you can look in to the future to plan ahead. When you’re a child, your time horizon tops out at an hour or so. As you age, your time horizon gets further away, so you can plan out the next few years at a time. People with ADHD often have shorter time horizons than do neurotypical people. To extend yours, first and foremost, you need to be more aware of time.

A boy is wasting time playing video games, but he doesn't know how to stop
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1. Be Wary of Time Sucks

Step One: Be aware of activities in which you get lost. I had a client who would start listening to NPR at his home. He’d get really into it, and, suddenly, it’s 3 hours later and he’s forgotten to pick up his daughter! We established a rule for him to avoid this time suck: on days when he had to pick up his daughter, he couldn’t turn on his radio until he was already on the way to get her. He knew it was an activity he got lost in, so he just avoided it altogether.

[Free Expert Resource: Keep Track of Your Time]

Four clocks in a row, a reminder for an adult with ADHD to stop wasting time
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2. Set Multiple Alarms

Alarms are a simple, effective tool to make you more aware of time. They break into your consciousness and jolt you out of whatever you’re doing. If one alarm isn’t enough, try setting several — maybe one half an hour before you need to leave, then 15 minutes, then right at crunch time. Every one that you add multiplies the probability that you’ll transition at the right moment.

A man and a woman use a computer together to learn how to stop wasting time
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3. Enlist a Coach

If alarms don’t faze you, or you go back to what you were doing the second you turn it off, enlist the help of a friend, spouse, or coworker. Ask them to call you at a specific time or remind you what you’re supposed to be doing once the alarm goes off, and, in extreme cases, stay with you until you get moving.

A woman sets an alarm on her phone to help her stop wasting time
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4. Mix It Up

Change the sound of your alarms to signify different things, instead of using the same generic beep for everything. If it’s time to take your medication, for example, use a quick loud sound. If it’s time to start getting ready for an important event, try using a fast-paced song to change the tempo and give your brain a jolt. Varying alarms are more difficult to ignore and more likely to get you moving.

A man with ADHD brushes his teeth as part of his time-saving morning routine
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5. Break Down Daunting Tasks

People with ADHD tend to “freeze” when making big transitions, like getting ready in the morning. They can see time moving, but the task seems so daunting they can’t make themselves start. My advice is to break the final goal into small chunks, and start with the tiniest, easiest one. Don’t think of it as, “I have to get ready for work,” which seems impossible. Think of it first as, “I have to brush my teeth,” which is easy. Then, think of the next tiny thing. You’ll be ready before you know it.

[Self-Test: Could You Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

A close-up of a calendar, a tool people with ADHD use to stop wasting time
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6. Reset Your Focus Time

Another strategy is to change the time that you associate with an event. You know you have to leave for work at 8:30 — but then your brain doesn't get motivated to get ready until it’s already 8:30, and suddenly you’re in crisis mode. Instead, train your brain to focus instead on 8:00: the time you need to start getting ready. Changing the “the” time — meaning the time you pay the most attention to — can help you be more conscious of how long things take.

A zoomed in photo of a clock, a tool adults with ADHD can use to stop wasting time
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7. Make the Clock Work for You

There are tons of ways to do this. Some people have luck setting the clock 10 minutes fast — the shock value of the time hits sooner and gets you in gear earlier. Another strategy is switching from digital clocks to old-fashioned analog clocks. Seeing the hand move — and the time you have left physically shrink — is a great way to get a real sense of time passing.

A woman with ADHD driving a car looks at her watch. She is running late after wasting time earlier.
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8. Assume Worst-Case Scenarios

If you tend to underestimate how long it takes you to get somewhere, it can be helpful to deliberately figure out best- and worst-case scenarios. If you need to be at the airport at 7:00, and the worst-case scenario (terrible traffic) will take you 45 minutes, round that up to an hour and decide to leave at 6:00. If you do the math slowly and add as much breathing room as possible, you give yourself a much better chance of catching your flight.

An illustration of a smartphone with apps, tools adults with ADHD can use to stop wasting time
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9. Explore Apps

Time Timer is a great tool for managing time: it gives you a visual sense of how much time has passed and how much you have left. Activity Timer is another great one: it breaks your time into easy chunks so you can see what proportion is left without having to do quick mental math. Other ones that work are StayOnTask, and 30/30. Try out a few and see which one suits you!

A man with ADHD turns off his alarm clock
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10. Go to Bed!

A lot of people with ADHD struggle with waking up and preparing for the day. In my view, a lot of morning problems are simply leftover night problems. Getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep is a big part of a successful morning. You’re not going to be able to function if you’re exhausted. Force yourself to put your work away, shut off the television, and get in bed by a certain time. Your future self will thank you!

A woman with ADHD writes a to-do list to help her stop wasting time
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11. Carve Out Planning Time

People with ADHD struggle with long-term planning, which can lead to financial problems or missed deadlines. It doesn’t come naturally to us, so it’s important that we make long-term goals explicit and intentional. This means budgeting, breaking big projects up into small pieces, or enlisting a friend or coach to give you some accountability. The important thing is that you take some time to really think about where you want to be in a year, and plan what you’ll need to do to make that happen.

Couple taking a break after hiking uphill, a metaphor for leaving time for leisure in your schedule
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12. Allow for Free Time

You don’t want your calendar to feel like a straitjacket, so make sure you don’t schedule every minute of every day. Leave big blocks of free time wherever you can — you’ll be more likely to follow your schedule if you have some flexibility!

[Free Download: 19 Ways to Meet Deadlines and Get Things Done]

Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., MBA, is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Specialist Panel.

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