Lose Track of Time Easily? You May Have Time Blindness—Here's How to Deal

Do you have trouble keeping track of the passage of time, and struggle to manage what you do during the time you're given?

You may be experiencing time blindness—but as scary as that might sound, there are steps you can take to get a better grasp on time and learn to use it more productively. Clinical psychologist and author Dr. Ari Tuckman is an expert on the subject, and he was kind enough to answer our most pressing questions about what time blindness really means and how to work with it.

Sweety High: What exactly is "time blindness"?

Ari Tuckman: Like with any other human ability, people tend to have varying degrees of time awareness. It's the ability to generally be aware of things like the current time, how long they've been doing what they're doing, and if they need to be somewhere else by a certain time, how long that might take. It's the ability to plan ahead and notice the arrival of a particular time.

Time awareness develops from birth until early adulthood. At any given age, not everyone is going to be at the same developmental level. In a group of 13-year-olds, some are going to be further ahead in terms of time awareness and some of them will be further behind, just like any other ability. Time blindness isn't an official term, but it's an easy way to understand that there are some people who don't see or feel time at the same level as others. It can impact their ability to do a lot in life, from staying on top of important things to being consistent and reliable in order to get things done. Folks with ADHD tend to have more struggles with time, generally speaking, but also other people for other reasons can be better or worse at managing time.


(via Shutterstock)


SH: If you notice you may be experiencing some time blindness, what can you do to combat it?

AT: It's all about awareness. If you know you're not good at noticing the passage of time, take some active steps so you don't have to do it inside your head. For example, setting a countdown timer or an alarm might help you notice that you've spent enough time on one thing and now it's time to go do something else. Let that timer do your counting for you. You can set limiters on yourself, like only allowing yourself to spend an hour on social media on a given day.

Another strategy is understanding that we're all more likely to lose track of time when we're highly engaged in something. Before you start something highly interesting and absorbing, be aware of setting a limit. For example, if you know you get lost on YouTube, and you want to watch one video, turn off autoplay.


SH: Are there any specific behaviors that should be avoided if you struggle with time management?

AT: There's a lot of stuff online that's designed by really smart people to keep you there as long as possible. If you know that, you can make smart choices ahead of time about whether you even go there in the first place. You might plan on hopping on Snapchat for just a minute to check one thing and then log off and do your math homework. Some people can do that, but a lot of other people have more trouble with "just a minute." Too often that becomes a lot more minutes.

Good time management begins with good attention management. Try limiting distractions and really trying to pump up the important things you're supposed to pay attention to. Also, know the places you tend to get stuck. What things are fun in the moment, but won't benefit you later?

Often the things that are most important, like homework or cleaning up our room, are the things that we're least interested in doing in that moment. That's okay. That's just how life is. To avoid setting yourself up for trouble, put your phone somewhere else when you do your homework. If you don't, every time it pings, you'll want to take a look, and it's going to burn up your willpower to resist. If you give in just for a second, it's so easy to lose yourself in what's going on there.


SH: What steps can we all take to get a better grasp on time management?

AT: Time management is all about assigning tasks in relation to time. It's hard to do the right thing at the right time if you don't know what time it is, and you also don't really know what you're supposed to be doing.

I recommend having a lot of clocks that are easy to see, especially in places where you do your homework, and to have old-school analog clocks with moving hands. When the hand moves, and you see it approaching a particular time, it's much more tangible. You see the passage of time. Digital clocks are completely abstract. It doesn't mean anything in and of itself, so it can be easier to not feel that time in the same way. Countdown timers, whether they're old-fashioned egg timers or a digital version, with a moving hand, can be really helpful.

It's also helpful to break up big pieces of time, such as a morning routine, into smaller units. Let's say you wake up at 7 a.m. and you need to be out the door by 8 a.m. One hour is a big piece of time, so it can be hard to feel an hour all at once. It's easy to get lost in it, so break up that time and map out what has to happen.

Maybe you wake up at 7 a.m., are in the bathroom by 7:05 a.m., and out of the bathroom by 7:30 a.m. Then you should be out of the bedroom, dressed, by 7:40 a.m., and out of the kitchen and fed by 7:55 a.m. If you need to, tape a piece of paper in each of these rooms, with the transition time, near the clock so you can see how you're doing. Are you ahead or behind? It helps to know where you're at, as opposed to meandering through the first 45 minutes and then realizing you're only halfway there and rushing through the rest.


(via Unsplash)


SH: What can we gain from better time management skills?

AT: Successful people often are better at managing their time, and the better you manage time, the less stressed you'll be. As much as it's an inherent ability, it's also something we can work on and use external tools for. If someone really struggles with time, and they also tend to be distracted and disorganized, it's worth taking a look to see if there's some ADHD in the mix that might be contributing to some of that time blindness. These skills are not only helpful with things like planning out and completing homework, but also everything from planning to meet a friend to getting ready for school in the morning.

While everyone runs late sometimes and others can usually be forgiving, those who struggle with managing their time tend to run late more often and use up all their free passes too quickly, so these other people get frustrated or impatient if they need to wait. This is especially the case if the other person thinks that the running late is from lack of effort, and that you're not taking it seriously enough or trying hard enough. They may not believe that it is from a lack of time skills and that you actually are trying. People may start seeing you as unreliable or irresponsible or even selfish.

If someone needs glasses and can't see the chalkboard without them, we don't usually make assumptions about their character, but this happens too often when it is a skill like time awareness. People who struggle with time management will get a lot more direction and checking in from parents, teachers, and friends about whether they're ready, or prepared. Sometimes this can be helpful if it is done in a friendly way, but it too often can be done in an angry way if the other person feels frustrated and doesn't understand it.


SH: How can one manage those social costs?

AT: First of all, make sure that you show the other person that you are taking the situation seriously, and that you understand others expect you to be on time and ready. If you are running late, apologize in a genuine way not just for being late, but also for how it impacts them. Then show the other person that you are putting in good effort to be on time—such as setting reminders and alarms in your phone and loading your backpack the night before—so they don't feel like they are working harder than you are.

Explain to them that you lose track of time easily and that it's hard for you to see time and plan it out the way that some others do. Then talk about what kind of assistance from them would be most helpful, as well as what's not helpful. We all have some strengths and some weaknesses. If time blindness is a weakness for you, then work on it so as to minimize the negative impact on your life, but also remember that you have lots of other strengths that you bring to the table.


(via Unsplash)


New to the idea of time management? Click HERE to learn more about smartly investing your time so you don't feel guilty about wasting it.