It's About Time

adhd mastery Mar 10, 2021

One of the things about having ADHD that is pretty stereotypical is having a poor sense of time awareness. One of my ADHD mentors, Eric Tivers of ADHD Rewired calls it Time Blindness. That's a pretty accurate description, at least in my life. I actually have met a few folks with ADHD who are always early for any scheduled event, but they are in the minority. The rest of us are perpetually late, at least until we finally decide that it's about time we were on time. I prefer to call it Time Optimism because I always think I have more time than I actually have.  Most people that I have kept waiting don't share my attempt at positivity, at least in this scenario.  

You can absolutely teach an old dog new tricks, but as they say, the dog has to want to learn. In the case of an adult with ADHD, if there is a sufficient reward for learning to be on time or an extremely dire consequence of continuing to be late, that probably won't be enough to get them to change their untimely ways. After all, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is how all humans are wired, and those of us with ADHD are a little bit special in terms of how our brains work. We either need more of what works for the neurotypicals or we need something different. In the case of being on time, it can go either way. 

Let's say that you have a job that you really like and would be really upset if you lost it, but in spite of that, you continue to put your job at risk by being in violation of the company's attendance policy by showing up 10 minutes late at least once a week. Your co-worker shoots you a concerned look and glances up at the wall clock when you hurriedly arrive, flushed in the face and muttering something about traffic or needing gas or hitting too many red lights on your commute. Pretty much the same mutterings you uttered the last time you rolled in at 10 after the hour. You anxiously scan the room for the face of your supervisor, who, luckily is not present. Whew. Hopefully, she is in a meeting or on a conference call and hasn't had a chance to notice your tardiness. You immediately get to work attempting to look busy and trying to focus on what you need to do first. 

Five minutes go by, then ten. Your heart rate has returned to normal and you are already starting to forget the morning's chaos leading up to your late arrival, when your boss suddenly appears at the side of your desk, laying a hand gently, but firmly on your shoulder. You are started by both her appearance and the gesture because you were so focused on scanning your emails that you hadn't noticed her walking toward you from the conference room. The same conference room where you were supposed to be twenty minutes ago, attending the meeting she just held. Oh shit. 

While this exact scenario may be fictional, the circumstances of a chaotic morning, late arrival at work and forgetting where you were supposed to be are probably all too familiar. We can choose to forgive ourselves, work on our self-acceptance and even decide to embrace our ADHD traits and refer to them as superpowers, like several popular ADHD advocates, but the fact remains unless you are independently wealthy or live under a bridge, you probably need to acquire some time awareness skills.

There are many ways to do this, depending on your degree of time blindness. I have worked with clients on strategies like placing their alarm clock or phone across the room, forcing them to get up to turn it off. If you're serious about breaking the snooze button habit, there are many ways to do that, but you also need systems and routines for showering, dressing, getting out the door on time and systems for making sure your car has enough gas ahead of time. It might sound tedious and boring to learn these skills as an adult, but looking for a new job, while feeling the shame and guilt of having lost the last one because of your lateness and forgetfulness sucks ass too. 

The best way I have found to make the necessary changes to eliminating or at least decreasing time blindness is to make them fun, like a game. For example, I often use timers, both digital and analog and even a 30-minute hourglass to motivate me to get ready faster. It's like playing Beat the Clock. If you will have flashbacks to feeling stressed out during timed tests in school, you might want to re-think this technique, but I find it fun.

I have dialed down my getting-ready routine from 40 minutes to 20 minutes through a combination of strategies. My clothing is now a capsule wardrobe, where I only wear separates and everything matches everything else. As long as I've done the laundry, getting dressed is a breeze. I started using products that double up, 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, a body wash/face wash. I got my eyebrows tattooed to save time on making up and started using nail polish stickers that can be applied in 5 minutes and you don't have to wait for them to dry. 

Every day when I am driving home, I check the gas gauge and if it's under the 1/4 mark, I stop and fill up. There are countless little hacks that I have adopted over time that shave off a few minutes here and there and help me be more aware of time passing, like the shower clock. Daydreaming in the shower is not only expensive in terms of utilities, it almost always results in being late for something.

So, my guess is that you are feeling seen, understood, and maybe even slightly motivated to address this issue.  Sweet!  Before the moment passes, let's think of a few steps you can take to create better time awareness (example: buy a few wall clocks and place them where you need them most, usually your bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen).

Now, when will you do them? ( If you need to buy or order things, put this on your To-Do list or schedule it in your calendar/app)

And last, wow will you reward yourself for taking these actions (make it small, but meaningful. Your favorite caramel latte at the local coffee place, maybe?) Write it down or type it into your notes function on your smartphone, so you don't forget. Rewarding ourselves when we do things that help us improve is important. Just telling ourselves we "should" just do it, doesn't work.  

I won't say "I hope this helps" because I KNOW it does.  What I do hope is that you'll give it a try.  I wasted too many years feeling embarrassed, guilty, and foolish for tolerating my time blindless/ optimism before I finally decided I didn't like the way I was showing up and decided to do something about it.  Is this your turning point? 



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