Breaking Free from Time Blindness: Tips for Regaining Focus and Control

As a global mobility professional, it’s important to be aware that companies are noticing “time blindness” among their employees. What is it? Perpetually being behind schedule could potentially signal that you or your talents could have what is called “time blindness.” 

Mental health experts stress that “time blindness” is a legitimate phenomenon, especially for individuals dealing with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This condition refers to a challenge in accurately perceiving time passage and estimating task durations, leading to difficulties in keeping to set schedules.

In an interview with US Today, psychotherapist and ADHD, anxiety, and narcissistic abuse specialist Stephanie Sarkis said people with ADHD, due to their unique cognitive processing, are more susceptible to experiencing time blindness and its subsequent impacts on their ability to manage time effectively.

A recent viral TikTok video highlighted the concept, where an individual tearfully recounted facing repercussions for seeking an accommodation due to this condition, which affects their punctuality, especially if they are coming back to the office from remote work.

How to tell if you have it

How to tell if you suffer from time blindness? It happens when you stay engrossed in conversation or an activity, and time slips away unnoticed. Perhaps you intended to watch a single TV episode before bed, only to find yourself deep into the 16 episodes as early morning approaches. This skewed perception of time affects us all, with intensified challenges for individuals grappling with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder.

“Time blindness” is an umbrella term encapsulating the inability to gauge time passage or estimate task duration. Although not a formal diagnosis, it encapsulates the phenomenon of losing temporal awareness. 

Mechanics of time blindness

Pediatric behavioral health specialist, Dr. Michael Manos was quoted as saying on Cleveland Clinic’s site that that our brains respond differently to activities of high interest, resulting in time’s fluidity.

He believes our brains alternate between two modes of attention—automatic attention and directed attention. Automatic attention aligns with activities we find engrossing, enabling time to evaporate. In contrast, directed attention powers through tasks we must complete but find less stimulating.

People with ADHD’s heightened automatic attention can fuel intense hyperfocus, causing time to elude their awareness. Overcoming time blindness involves grounding techniques, such as setting timers, identifying potential hyperfocus triggers, and employing strategies like the “if-then” technique to regain temporal clarity.

Comprehending time blindness illuminates how focus on captivating activities can obscure our grasp of time’s passage. While a pleasant escape, excessive time blindness can hinder productivity and priorities. For individuals facing ADHD-related challenges, seeking professional guidance can offer strategies to balance focus and maintain temporal awareness in daily life.

So how do you solve this problem? Choose among the four strategies to help you regain focus:

The Eisenhower box: Streamline your actions, organize tasks, and enhance productivity with this straightforward decision-making matrix. Its versatility allows it to be applied to both overarching productivity plans and daily task lists.

Warren Buffett’s “2 List” strategy: Derived from the renowned investor Warren Buffett, this three-step technique empowers you to identify priorities and take immediate action. Utilize this strategy for effective decision-making and prompt task execution.

Optimize daily productivity with Ivy Lee method: Experts endorse this simple routine that advocates tackling the most crucial task at the start of each day. It is meant to effortlessly supercharge your productivity. The Ivy Lee method is named after the public relations expert back in the 1920s.

The Ivy Lee method process goes like this: At the end of each day, write a list of the six most important things to do for the next day and order them from one to six. In the morning start with number one. Keep working on it until finished, then move to number two. Keep working on this one until finished, and then move to the next item on the list. Continue this way until completing all the priority items on the list.

Master efficient work habits with Anthony Trollope’s 15-minute routine: While prioritizing tasks is effective, large projects can sometimes lead to frustration due to their extended completion time. 

Here are some more tips from the Ivy Lee method:

  1. Master the morning routine

Start your day with a well-designed morning routine to set the tone for productivity. This could include exercise, meditation, and planning for the day ahead. By creating a structured and mindful start to your mornings, you’ll be better prepared to tackle the six tasks you choose to focus on with the Ivy Lee method.

  • Wake up early: Early risers benefit from the ample time they get to ease into the day and avoid feeling rushed. This also gives you more “me-time” before launching into your tasks.
  • Exercise and meditate: Consider using apps like Calm for meditation or check out apps with guided workouts.
  • Plan your day: Take a few minutes to outline your key priorities for the day, ensuring you’re aligned with the Ivy Lee method. Tools like Obsidian or Notion can help you organize and plan your tasks effectively.

2. Master the power hour

Designate a specific hour during your day, commonly known as your “power hour”. During this time, focus on eliminating all your distractions and focusing purely on the task you have at hand. By committing to an uninterrupted hour of focused work, you’ll make significant progress on your key priorities.

  • Remove distractions: Turn off notifications, keep your phone on silent, and close unnecessary tabs on your computer to minimize interruptions. Use tools like Focus@Will or browser extensions like StayFocusd to block distracting websites.
  • Set specific goals: Clearly define what you aim to achieve during your power hour, breaking down your task into smaller, actionable steps. Project management tools like ClickUp or Trello can help you break down and organize your goals.
  • Track your progress: Keep track of your accomplishments during each power hour to stay motivated and assess your productivity levels. Use time-tracking apps like Toggl or RescueTime to monitor your productivity and identify areas for improvement.

3. Embrace time blocking

Set aside dedicated periods of time for focused work, meetings, emails, and breaks. By organizing your day with time blocks built in, you’ll ensure you’re giving your tasks the attention they deserve while avoiding the trap of excessive multitasking.

  • Prioritize your tasks: Identify your most important tasks and allocate specific time blocks for them, aligning with the Ivy Lee method’s principle of focusing on a small set of tasks.
  • Be realistic: Leave buffer time between tasks to account for any unexpected interruptions or delays. Remember to factor in breaks and transition time between activities.
  • Protect your time blocks: Treat your scheduled time blocks as non-negotiable appointments and avoid scheduling conflicting activities during these periods. You can use tools like Calendly to communicate your availability to colleagues accordingly.

4. Leverage the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique involves deep working for a 25-minute period on a single task with intense focus until the timer goes off. Then, you take a short break, and then repeat the process. By breaking your work into manageable chunks, you’ll maintain high concentration levels and prevent burnout.

  • Use an app: Use a Pomodoro timer app to work for a fixed period while maintaining a sense of urgency and encouraging focused work.
  • Don’t underestimate breaks: After each Pomodoro, make the best of your break to recharge and rest your mind. Use this time to stretch, take a short walk, or take a quick relaxation exercise.
  • Review and adjust: After completing a few Pomodoros, evaluate your progress, and adjust the length of work and break periods based on your productivity and energy levels. Experiment with different time intervals to find what works best for you.

5. Single-task — and learn deep focus

Rather than dividing your attention across multiple tasks, you can use single-tasking to commit to completing one at a time. This helps say goodbye to distractions and create an environment conducive to deep focus.

  • Clear your workspace: Declutter and create an environment that supports concentration and focus. Keep only the essential tools and materials within reach.
  • Use the “two-minute rule”: If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, do it immediately rather than adding it to your to-do list. This helps prevent small tasks from piling up and becoming distractions.
  • Practice mindfulness: Train your mind to bring your attention back to the task at hand whenever it wanders. Apps like Calm, Headspace, or even YouTube offer guided mindfulness exercises to enhance focus and attention.

6. Integrate technology for productivity

Use the productivity tools and technology that works best for you to enhance your efficiency. For example, you can use task management apps to capture and organize your to-do lists, project management tools to collaborate with remote teams, and automation tools to streamline repetitive tasks.

However, be mindful of not getting overwhelmed by the technology you rely on and only use it as a support system rather than a distraction. Depending too much on such tools can also have the opposite impact on your productivity.

  • Explore productivity apps: Task management apps like Notion, Obsidian or Evernote are useful in capturing both your day-to-day tasks and your larger tasks. There are also gamified productivity apps available if that’s more your style.
  • Automate repetitive tasks: Identify repetitive tasks that can be automated using tools like IFTTT to save time and reduce manual effort. For example, if you have admin-heavy work, automating email responses, data entry, or social media posting can free up valuable time for more important tasks.
  • Limit distractions: Setting boundaries for technology use can go a long way. Check out website blockers like Freedom during focused work sessions. You can also use website usage apps to gain insights into your online habits and make conscious adjustments.

Productivity is not just about checking off tasks—it’s about creating a fulfilling and purpose-driven life. Nir Eyal’s Indistractable is recommended reading. Embrace these strategies, experiment with them, and discover the unique blend that works best for you. (Dennis Clemente)