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ADHD and Time Blindness: Can ADHD Timer Help Focus?

ADHD is known for its common symptoms, like attention challenges, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. But there are other lesser-known obstacles people with ADHD have to face — time blindness or the difficulty in perceiving and managing time. ADHD timers have been recently highlighted on TikTok by the ADHD community as a tool to help with managing time and staying focused. Let's review time blindness causes and symptoms and whether an ADHD timer is worth a try.

ADHD time blindness: what is it?

Time blindness is the difficulty in time perception. This is the subjective experience of the passage of time and the process of arranging one’s life according to an inner clock. In people with ADHD, the brain works differently, so it may be difficult to tell how much time has passed and how long tasks will take to complete; sometimes, it can even feel like time passes faster than it actually does.

This can cause significant issues in daily living and making plans. Some of the biggest challenges people with time blindness have are being on time for meetings and arrangements, knowing how long an activity will take, following a schedule, and knowing the best time to start or finish a task.

Causes of time blindness

The cause of time blindness is complicated and not linked to one neural process. This is because time perception itself is a complex neurological process that involves different brain regions.

Research has suggested that one issue may lie in internal biases of temporal orientation, which is how we experience the past, present, and future. The study compared adults with ADHD and adults without ADHD to assess group differences. Participants were asked a series of questions about time perception, each linked to the past, present, or future. Results showed that adults with ADHD had a clear pattern in how they perceived time, being that they are highly focused on the present and have difficulty perceiving the future.

Another consideration is the role of the dopaminergic system in time perception. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that is important for a variety of functions like managing emotions, memory, attention, and decision-making. Research shows that the dopamine system is critical for time perception intervals and with our internal clock. Low levels of dopamine are connected to executive function, which is the basis of some neurological diseases. Many ADHD symptoms are related to low levels of dopamine and reduced transmission between brain cells. This connection is a significant link to time blindness and may explain why those with ADHD experience it.

Symptoms of time blindness

Much of the research looking into time blindness is focused on children and teens with ADHD, with evidence in adults only starting to emerge. While children are more likely to show hyperactivity and impulsivity than adults, there is some overlap in symptoms, including time blindness, between the two groups.

Some indications you or a loved one may have time blindness:

  • Consistently being late
  • Under or overestimating how much time has passed
  • Misjudging how much time you have before a meeting or event
  • Having difficulty estimating how long something will take
  • Frequently losing track of time
  • Feeling like time is going by faster than it should or like it’s slipping away

Research has suggested that people with ADHD who are treated with medications and coaching can support these symptoms of time blindness.

Recent research on time blindness and ADHD

Until recently, scientists weren’t sure if children and adolescents with ADHD experience time blindness, as past studies had been inconclusive. However, a study that compared 1,620 young people with ADHD and 1,249 controls found that those with ADHD perceived time less accurately and precisely and were more likely to overestimate time than the control group.

The complexity of the neurological processes involved in time perception has called for a more detailed analysis of time blindness in ADHD. For example, interval timing, the ability to track time passing in seconds to minutes, involves several different areas of the brain. It’s been suggested that time estimation is involved with other cognitive functions, like decision-making. It was also found that other neuropsychological domains and structures, like memory, may contribute to the issues of time perception.

ADHD timer: can it help with time blindness?

One solution to managing time blindness is an ADHD timer. This is a specific type of timer that visually shows you how much time you have. There is a trend on TikTok talking about the benefits of using an ADHD time for many who have attentional issues.

@sharon.a.life Replying to @Jessica G Note to any aspiring content creators out there: tell people what the product is when you’re pitching it. 🤣🤣🤣😅 #adhd #mom #timemanagement ♬ Bright, gentle, spring jazz piano for a long time(978527) - Single Origin Music

The visual aspect of the timer is what is most beneficial. Since people with ADHD may have a hard time understanding time outside of the present moment, the timer helps teach the concept of time by visually being able to see it pass. It also makes time more 'real' since they can physically see how much is left.

The trend on TikTok talks about the benefits of using a timer for managing time when you have ADHD. The community has been sharing ideas and timers they like and has proposed self-reported benefits. While these are not scientific results, the anecdotal benefits and community building around ADHD can be hugely beneficial.

Types of timers

There are several different types of timers you can use. Here is a list of the most popular:

  • Visual timers. These look like regular clocks and have a colored disk showing how much time is left when the counter is set. The amount of color showing gradually gets smaller as time goes by.
  • Digital timers. These are often cube- or hexagon-shaped with different amounts of time on either side (10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, and similar). This helps you stay focused for specific chunks of time.
  • Zen timers. This is a computer timer and another example of a visual timer. It uses an image of a tree growing leaves over a set period. As time runs out, the leaves fall.
  • The Pomodoro technique. This is a common tool for ADHD, involving setting a sequence of focus vs. break intervals. For example, for a 1-hour work stretch, you have 25 minutes of focused time followed by a 5-minute break, then another focused 25 minutes, and then a 5-minute break.
  • Natural timers. Natural activities around us can serve as timers, such as boiling a kettle or baking cookies. You can use the time for the kettle to boil to do the dishes and wipe down the counters.

Benefits of using ADHD timer

Because people with ADHD may not experience time the same way, timers can be hugely beneficial in helping understand time. Visually seeing the time is a way to calm the brain and keep it focused because there is no wondering how much time is left.

Time assistive devices (TADs), like an ADHD timer, have been shown to be beneficial in managing time-related symptoms in children with ADHD. TADs help children with time management and processing time with their tasks. In fact, research showed that children given a TAD intervention have significantly better improvements in their orientation of time compared to the control group.

How to use an ADHD timer

The best way to get started with an ADHD timer is to start small. Choose an easy task and set the timer for a short amount of time, like 5–10 minutes. During that time, only work on that task. It could be doing the dishes or writing a long email. When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break before resetting the timer. As you get used to the idea, you can increase the focus time to 25, 30, or even 60 minutes.

One of the keys to success is setting realistic time limits. It’s okay if you need to adjust your length of focused time to meet your specific needs. Everyone is different, and it may take a bit to figure out the best time limits for you.

Timers can be used for any daily activity or work task. If you have a report to write, use a timer to keep you focused so you can complete it before the deadline. Cleaning the house, you can use a natural timer like a playlist or podcast to motivate you to stay on target. You can even use apps on your phone or watch as timers to keep you focused when out doing errands.

Other ADHD approaches that help with time blindness

There are other helpful tools and approaches out there to help manage tasks and time when you have ADHD.

ADHD planners are designed specifically for people with ADHD and have special features, including simple layouts, time blocking, goal-tracking flexibility, and reminders. You can find both paper and app-based planners depending on what layout is best for you.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common form of psychotherapy used to treat a variety of different mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. The process involves using different tools to change thinking patterns. CBT has been shown to be helpful in managing ADHD in adults. Its benefits lie in providing education about ADHD and giving tools to help with planning and organizing, dealing with distractions, time management, and talking to a partner about their support.

Exposure to green spaces can reduce symptoms in kids and teens with ADHD. Spending time in nature, parks, and gardens has a calming effect that slows down time perception and helps overall well-being. There are even games that can be downloaded to a cell phone that encourages being outside.

Listening to music and music therapy may also be a helpful tool in managing ADHD symptoms. One of the key benefits is that music may boost levels of dopamine and improve timing skills.

We all can have moments where we lose track of time and feel a sense of time blindness, but for people with ADHD, it can be a daily struggle. Using ADHD timers can help manage time blindness and stay focused. If you think you may have time blindness, be sure to talk to your doctor about possible treatments and solutions to help manage your symptoms.

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