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ADHD and time blindness

Time blindness is the inability to accurately perceive the passing of time.

While everyone experiences this to some degree (the whole “time flies when you’re having fun” adage), it’s an ever-present reality for many people with ADHD.

Where this often affects developers with ADHD is in our ability to estimate how long tasks will take (even if we’ve done those task before).

It makes you more likely to miss meetings, and to over-commit to projects and requests. You may also forget to take food out of the oven or switch your laundry.

It means that boring tasks feel like they’re taking foreeeevvvveeerrrr, but you can spend 12 hours working on something you love and feel like barely any time has passed at all.

So what can you do about it?

I’m a big fan of working with your ADHD rather than fight it.

For me, that means that I do my best work on bigger projects that involve solving interesting and unique problems. Those engage my brain in a way that triggers hyperfocus and let’s me do my best work while feeling like no time has gone by at all.

If you’re in a position to do so, figuring out what those tasks are for you, and then working with your manager to get assigned more work like that, can go a long way!

But that’s not always an option.

Systems and tools can help out here a bit, too.

  • If you need to track hours, use a tracking app like Toggl.
  • Set lots of repeated reminders for important meetings (15, 10, 5, and 2 minutes before) so that you don’t miss them.
  • Set annoying timers for things you can’t afford to miss or forget (like taking food out of the oven).
  • ADHD medication, caffeine, exercise, and sunlight all stimulate your brain in a way that can reduce time blindness a bit.

Where I think we often have the most trouble is in jobs where we have to do lots of boring, repetitive tasks, with lots of interruptions throughout the day.

These are certainly the jobs where I’ve felt the most like I was going to fail, and I hear similar stories from other developers with ADHD all the time.

In a future article, I’ll talk about having a conversation with your manager about your ADHD.