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3 Tips for Judging Time with ADHD

By: Donae Cannon, OTR/L

Do you find that you struggle with judging time? Yeah, me too. Our altered sense of time actually sabotages us in more than one way:

Sometimes we think that jobs will take a fraction of the time they actually require. Then we pile more jobs on our to-do list than we can possibly complete. We don't recognize that we're setting ourselves up for failure!

With a herculean list of un-done tasks left at the end of the day, we end up feeling frustrated and like we "haven't done enough".

On the flip side, when we're looking at a dreaded task, we tend to make the opposite time judging error. The "dreaded task" is one that you don’t start because it’s so unpleasant, time consuming, and overwhelming that the thought of it just makes you want to pick up your phone and scroll.

If a task is a dreaded task, then we're likely to overestimate the time it will take us to complete it.

Well, that's great, right? Because now we've finished that job and have extra time on our hands! Imagine all the things we can get done?

That sounds logical, but if you're with me today because you have ADHD, I'm going to guess that you already know that's not how this one plays out. We would have that lovely time cushion gift if we actually DID the thing, but our perception that this task will take "forever" makes that less likely. Overwhelm sets in and we get stuck!

Another common time trap for those with ADHD is not considering the time needed for all of the "tiny tasks" needed to get a job done.

Example: If my commute takes 30 minutes, I need to be out the door at 8:30 to get to work at 9. I'm going to get jammed up if I work on something else until 8:30 because I'm not considering several small undone necessities that need to be done before I walk out the door. Things like putting on my shoes, finding my phone and keys, locking the doors, etc. can all add up.

That may mean that I'm leaving the house 10 or 15 minutes later (that is, if I can find my keys and phone in that amount of time). If you have children, then you can double that. If you're like me and you have 4 children and 2 of them also have ADHD, try to leave for work the night before and you'll probably make it on time.

We all know that even if your children did have their shoes on 5 minutes ago, that is no guarantee that they will

a) still have them on

b) be able to find them

c) that the shoes are even still in the house when it's time for you to run out the door.

Add the fact that leaving at a different time may mean we're running into different traffic conditions, and suddenly we find ourselves running very late.

Although many of us have reputations for being chronically late, even the punctual among us may not actually be better at judging time. Often, the on-time ADHDer has strong compensatory strategies that allow them to manage their time blindness and prevent them from running late, but their internal sense of time may still be lacking.

How can we get a better feel for time?

1. Make guessing time a game

One thing that I suggest to my clients is to make their to-do list and include their best estimate for how long each item will take. This can be a seriously eye-opening exercise. They usually find that they are feeling "stuck" on at least one item that only takes a fraction of the time they were expecting, and that some of the things that they expected to be able to knock out quickly are more complicated and time-consuming.

2. Write a Ta Da List

Using "ta-da" lists is a feel-good way to help internalize a better sense of time . A "ta-da" list is a list of things that you have accomplished during the day. You can read my previous post about that here:

Here's the the summary of that article: When we make it a priority to remember and list what we have accomplished in the day (no matter how small each accomplishment is), we see how we spend our time and build a more realistic representation of time in our minds. Bonus- we also feel good because of increased dopamine production!

My last idea is one that I borrowed from my pediatric occupational therapy days: using visual timers like the one in the image below:

3. Make time visual

Like many of us, children do not have a finely-tuned sense of time. When I worked as a pediatric OT, I found that using visual timers was helpful for many of my clients. It gave them a physical image of time and it allowed them to internalize "time sense", similar to the way counting on their fingers helped them internalize a "number sense".

I've borrowed this strategy for my own children (and for myself). If I anticipate that I'm likely to lose time with a project, using a visual timer keeps me grounded in the experience of how time is passing. It also makes me more likely to feel that an hour has passed while I was doing the preferred thing (and helps me transition to the less preferred thing).

We live in a society that prioritizes efficiency and punctuality, so this means that those of us with ADHD can feel particularly out of sync when we don't judge time well.

Our lack of time awareness doesn't mean that we're inconsiderate or selfish, but it does mean that we may have to lean on strategies that help support our time-blindness, both at work and at home. These strategies not only help us compensate in the moment, but over time they can also help improve our feel of time.


If you are interested in working with me to learn how to work with your unique brain, I would love to chat with you! You can reach out to me on my website or schedule a free discovery call with me below:

*Connect with Me on Instagram @ theadhdclaritycoach and Facebook @Clarity Coaching for bite-sized coaching tips!


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