TIME!

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I was catching up on

one of my favorite podcasts of all time which briefly discussed our (namely, Americans) cultural tendency toward nostalgia, saying we seem to be in a “permanent nostalgia moment”. 

This is especially obvious in our media--particularly television/film: the 70’s nostalgia for the 50’s depicted through shows like Happy Days and Grease; and our current nostalgia for the 90’s via American Crime: The People vs OJ Simpson, Fuller House, and The X-Files. It’s mirrored through the cyclical nature of our fashion. I know there are a number of think pieces on what it all means and why but, for our purposes here, let’s suffice to say that fondness for ‘good old days’ not so long ago is due to the rosy hue of hindsight.  And hindsight…what a tricky bastard. 

But that got me thinking about the concept of time and foresight—or, rather, the lack thereof—for us--the ADHD'ers.

Bear with me, I’m going to get a little cerebral for just a second (because, the more you know…right?). The ability to feel the passage of time is known as temporal information processing. It’s a cognitive process that directly impacts everything from one’s basic perception of the passing of one moment to the next, to higher-level tasks such as planning. This is because it encompasses a lot of little subtasks such as duration discrimination (the ability to discriminate between brief time intervals…you know, like, “What was that...like, 2 minutes?” to which you have undoubtedly heard the response “No. It was definitely 15”), verbal estimation (estimating the duration of a specific event…as in, “I can be done in 10-15 minutes max!”), and anticipation (predicting the onset of a forthcoming event). Neuroscience has yet to pin down a specific brain structure or sensory system to account for the experience of time; and, frankly, studies of specific temporal information processing tasks in individuals with ADHD have been few and somewhat inconsistent (see this article that does a great job of summarizing).  While there’s not yet a definitive answer on exactly where in the process we break down, and why…what we do know is those with ADHD struggle with time—both feeling it and adjusting behavior accordingly. Dr. Russell Barkley (sort of the ADHD aficionado…with whom you are probably familiar if you’ve done any kind of Googling on the topic) discusses ADHD and issues with the concept of time as part of the known deficits in executive functioning

The organization of the individual’s behavior both within and across time is one of the ultimate disabilities rendered by the disorder. EF deficits create problems with time, timing, and timeliness of behavior such that they are to time what nearsightedness is to spatial vision; they create a temporal myopia in which the individual’s behavior is governed even more than normal by events close to or within the temporal now and immediate context rather than by internal information that pertains to longer term, future events. This helps to understand why adults with EF deficits make the decisions they do, short-sighted as they seem to be to others around them. If one has little regard for future events, then much of one’s behavior will be aimed at maximizing the immediate rewards and escaping from immediate hardships or aversive circumstances without concern for the delayed consequences of those actions. 
When I read this I found myself shaking my head, and maybe even letting out an audible “YES!”, because it truly describes how I feel and approach time. I find it incredibly hard to be motivated by it or even feel it accurately unless it’s being pressed right on top of me. In fact, I struggle to accurately discriminate time intervals as short as 2 minutes.  My idea of what feels like 2 minutes seems to be around 5-7 minutes in real time. My husband and I have done a few of haphazard experiments with the aim of gauging exactly how “off” my internal clock is from the “real world”.  Without fail, my reports of how much time I think has passed is always significantly below the actual time passed. And the greater the duration of “real time”, the further off my internal clock. 

So what does this mean for someone like me operating in a world obsessed with time; especially in American culture—measuring it, setting it, acquiring more of it, saving it, beating it, controlling it…all the way to conjuring up theories like the Spacetime Continuum and spending nearly a century trying to observe its function in our galaxy (Shout out to Einstein’s win* this week. Many science. Much gravitational waves.)? I think the average person—even those who live with or work closely to someone with ADHD—mistakenly believes ADHD’s impact on time management simply means being late everywhere and/or missing deadlines. But not so. For me, it means cranking things out in the final moments to just meet the deadline…because “I got time” continues to be my mantra. That means EVERYTHING from getting myself and kids ready for school, to their school projects, birthday parties, doctor check-ups, homework, fund-raising…all of it done hurriedly and just in the nick of time. That means when someone asks me to meet them at, say, 6pm, I will probably still commit to meeting that person despite the 5 o’clock meeting I’m already committed to because I have no gauge of how long the meeting will likely last; and no real sense of how long it takes to get from point A to point B (with the exception of the time it takes to get from my garage to the parking lot of my job due to 4 years of driving that route in a rush—but I can’t tell you with any certainty how long it takes to get from my daughter’s school to my job despite taking that route every weekday for the past 6 months). It means being seen as “flaky”, “flippant”, “careless”, and maybe even incompetent. Sure, it means I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been early for anything and probably still have enough fingers left over to count how many times I’ve been just on time. But it also means I can’t reliably answer questions like ‘about how long has she been sleep’ or ‘about how long has she been running the fever’ without writing the times down right then and there. It means I hardly ever go to the bathroom when I really need to because I put it off until I can’t anymore…because almost nothing really happens unless it’s urgent. It means losing entire hours doing miscellaneous things you cannot account for—daily. It means frustration mounting from one collection of poorly managed moments to another until I am knocking at the door of anger, or utter apathy depending on the day, at the end of Every. Single. Day. 

So what do I do about it? 

Well, stay tuned because I’ve yet to get it down with any real consistency (another issue I’ll talk about in future posts). But I know the key is this: externalize it. I cannot rely on my internal clock to manage time for me; it has to come from external means—people and things. 

I have to have a watch on and/or a phone on me at all times, complete with multiple alarms and reminders (both time-based and geo-location-based).  Every event I have in my phone’s calendar is automatically set with three alarms in 15-minute increments by default. And, as much as I hate it, I HAVE to rely on others to judge time for me in order to even set accurate or reasonable alarms and schedules—asking those close to me with notoriously strong senses of time basic questions like ‘how long do you think it will take me to get from here to there?’ or ‘how much time would you give yourself to…? ‘ 

 I write EVERYTHING down—cutting down on the absurd amount of time I spend trying to recall what I even needed or wanted to do. Whether that’s an app or a little notebook you can carry around, write it all down. I want to stress using an app or notebook you can and will actually carry around because it won’t do any good if it’s not handy enough for you to access quickly and use frequently …nor will it do any good if you can never find the scrap of paper you wrote that one thing on (I’ll cover what I look for in a good calendar and to-do app in a future post and will add the link here).  

Timers. As in Pomodoro timers, for example. Now, full disclosure, I really struggle with these. Not because I disagree with the concept, but because I personally have trouble adhering to them. The timer goes off and I don’t move…the ‘I’ll stop/be done/get up in just a second’ typically turns into several minutes (or worse!) lost and the timer is rendered useless. But I haven’t given up on them. They’ve proven useful for me in tackling very basic tasks; however, if said task is interrupting something that required I be locked in (because once I finally am, I am essentially mentally handcuffed to my seat), you can forget it.  

It’s an ongoing journey, a never-ending challenge that I have to actively take on every day literally moment-to-moment. It is exhausting, but absolutely necessary if I’m going to exist—and with any hope, thrive—in a world that relies so heavily on my nemesis. That illusive, ever-changing, imaginary force: TIME.

 

This is especially obvious in our media--particularly television/film: the 70’s nostalgia for the 50’s depicted through shows like Happy Days and Grease; and our current nostalgia for the 90’s via American Crime: The People vs OJ Simpson, Fuller House, and The X-Files. It’s mirrored through the cyclical nature of our fashion. I know there are a number of think pieces on what it all means and why but, for our purposes here, let’s suffice to say that fondness for ‘good old days’ not so long ago is due to the rosy hue of hindsight.  And hindsight…what a tricky bastard. 

But that got me thinking about the concept of time and foresight—or, rather, the lack thereof—for us--the ADHD'ers.

Bear with me, I’m going to get a little cerebral for just a second (because, the more you know…right?). The ability to feel the passage of time is known as temporal information processing. It’s a cognitive process that directly impacts everything from one’s basic perception of the passing of one moment to the next, to higher-level tasks such as planning. This is because it encompasses a lot of little subtasks such as duration discrimination (the ability to discriminate between brief time intervals…you know, like, “What was that...like, 2 minutes?” to which you have undoubtedly heard the response “No. It was definitely 15”), verbal estimation (estimating the duration of a specific event…as in, “I can be done in 10-15 minutes max!”), and anticipation (predicting the onset of a forthcoming event). Neuroscience has yet to pin down a specific brain structure or sensory system to account for the experience of time; and, frankly, studies of specific temporal information processing tasks in individuals with ADHD have been few and somewhat inconsistent (see this article that does a great job of summarizing).  While there’s not yet a definitive answer on exactly where in the process we break down, and why…what we do know is those with ADHD struggle with time—both feeling it and adjusting behavior accordingly. Dr. Russell Barkley (sort of the ADHD aficionado…with whom you are probably familiar if you’ve done any kind of Googling on the topic) discusses ADHD and issues with the concept of time as part of the known deficits in executive functioning

The organization of the individual’s behavior both within and across time is one of the ultimate disabilities rendered by the disorder. EF deficits create problems with time, timing, and timeliness of behavior such that they are to time what nearsightedness is to spatial vision; they create a temporal myopia in which the individual’s behavior is governed even more than normal by events close to or within the temporal now and immediate context rather than by internal information that pertains to longer term, future events. This helps to understand why adults with EF deficits make the decisions they do, short-sighted as they seem to be to others around them. If one has little regard for future events, then much of one’s behavior will be aimed at maximizing the immediate rewards and escaping from immediate hardships or aversive circumstances without concern for the delayed consequences of those actions. 
When I read this I found myself shaking my head, and maybe even letting out an audible “YES!”, because it truly describes how I feel and approach time. I find it incredibly hard to be motivated by it or even feel it accurately unless it’s being pressed right on top of me. In fact, I struggle to accurately discriminate time intervals as short as 2 minutes.  My idea of what feels like 2 minutes seems to be around 5-7 minutes in real time. My husband and I have done a few of haphazard experiments with the aim of gauging exactly how “off” my internal clock is from the “real world”.  Without fail, my reports of how much time I think has passed is always significantly below the actual time passed. And the greater the duration of “real time”, the further off my internal clock. 

So what does this mean for someone like me operating in a world obsessed with time; especially in American culture—measuring it, setting it, acquiring more of it, saving it, beating it, controlling it…all the way to conjuring up theories like the Spacetime Continuum and spending nearly a century trying to observe its function in our galaxy (Shout out to Einstein’s win* this week. Many science. Much gravitational waves.)? I think the average person—even those who live with or work closely to someone with ADHD—mistakenly believes ADHD’s impact on time management simply means being late everywhere and/or missing deadlines. But not so. For me, it means cranking things out in the final moments to just meet the deadline…because “I got time” continues to be my mantra. That means EVERYTHING from getting myself and kids ready for school, to their school projects, birthday parties, doctor check-ups, homework, fund-raising…all of it done hurriedly and just in the nick of time. That means when someone asks me to meet them at, say, 6pm, I will probably still commit to meeting that person despite the 5 o’clock meeting I’m already committed to because I have no gauge of how long the meeting will likely last; and no real sense of how long it takes to get from point A to point B (with the exception of the time it takes to get from my garage to the parking lot of my job due to 4 years of driving that route in a rush—but I can’t tell you with any certainty how long it takes to get from my daughter’s school to my job despite taking that route every weekday for the past 6 months). It means being seen as “flaky”, “flippant”, “careless”, and maybe even incompetent. Sure, it means I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been early for anything and probably still have enough fingers left over to count how many times I’ve been just on time. But it also means I can’t reliably answer questions like ‘about how long has she been sleep’ or ‘about how long has she been running the fever’ without writing the times down right then and there. It means I hardly ever go to the bathroom when I really need to because I put it off until I can’t anymore…because almost nothing really happens unless it’s urgent. It means losing entire hours doing miscellaneous things you cannot account for—daily. It means frustration mounting from one collection of poorly managed moments to another until I am knocking at the door of anger, or utter apathy depending on the day, at the end of Every. Single. Day. 

So what do I do about it? 

Well, stay tuned because I’ve yet to get it down with any real consistency (another issue I’ll talk about in future posts). But I know the key is this: externalize it. I cannot rely on my internal clock to manage time for me; it has to come from external means—people and things. 

  1. I have to have a watch on and/or a phone on me at all times, complete with multiple alarms and reminders (both time-based and geo-location-based).  Every event I have in my phone’s calendar is automatically set with three alarms in 15-minute increments by default. And, as much as I hate it, I HAVE to rely on others to judge time for me in order to even set accurate or reasonable alarms and schedules—asking those close to me with notoriously strong senses of time basic questions like ‘how long do you think it will take me to get from here to there?’ or ‘how much time would you give yourself to…? ‘ 
  2.  I write EVERYTHING down—cutting down on the absurd amount of time I spend trying to recall what I even needed or wanted to do. Whether that’s an app or a little notebook you can carry around, write it all down. I want to stress using an app or notebook you can and will actually carry around because it won’t do any good if it’s not handy enough for you to access quickly and use frequently …nor will it do any good if you can never find the scrap of paper you wrote that one thing on (I’ll cover what I look for in a good calendar and to-do app in a future post and will add the link here).  
  3. Timers. As in Pomodoro timers, for example. Now, full disclosure, I really struggle with these. Not because I disagree with the concept, but because I personally have trouble adhering to them. The timer goes off and I don’t move…the ‘I’ll stop/be done/get up in just a second’ typically turns into several minutes (or worse!) lost and the timer is rendered useless. But I haven’t given up on them. They’ve proven useful for me in tackling very basic tasks; however, if said task is interrupting something that required I be locked in (because once I finally am, I am essentially mentally handcuffed to my seat), you can forget it.  

It’s an ongoing journey, a never-ending challenge that I have to actively take on every day literally moment-to-moment. It is exhausting, but absolutely necessary if I’m going to exist—and with any hope, thrive—in a world that relies so heavily on my nemesis. That illusive, ever-changing, imaginary force: TIME.