How to Help a “Time Blind” Student


Students who are “time blind” struggle to manage their time effectively because they aren’t aware of how much time is actually ticking by. This makes it challenging for a time-blind student to complete their schoolwork and other responsibilities on time, and it makes it seemingly impossible for them to see farther ahead and plan for their future.

Time blindness is often linked to ADHD. I recently met up with my friend, Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., who is an author and psychologist specializing in diagnosing and treating people with ADHD. In this interview, he helps parents understand the struggles of a time-blind student and how to help them become more productive.

Watch ADHD Expert Dr. Ari Tuckman Explain Time Blindness in Students

What does time blind mean?

It’s how well you see things. Not just things that are close up and big. But how well do you see things that are smaller and farther away? Farther into the future?

Kind of by analogy, some people are just very aware of time, right? They see it very easily. They know what time it is now. They know how long they’ve been doing something. They know when they’re supposed to transition to something else. 

And then there are people who don’t. For a time-blind student, time is a lot more slippery. It’s a lot more, sort of, dependent. Time flies when you’re having fun, and it crawls when you’re bored. It really flies, and it really crawls. It’s just really hard for some people, often people who have ADHD, to track time— to see it, and to manage it well.

We see that in our students all the time. And when we think of time blindness, you’ve said this before; it’s “too much present and not enough future.”

Often kids can do the day-to-day assignments if it’s due the next day. But it’s that assignment that’s two weeks out that’s a struggle. How can a parent help a child who is struggling with those kinds of things?

The thing you gotta do right now is kind of relatively easier. You just see it, and there it is. But as you move through middle school, into high school, into college, and beyond— the timelines begin to stretch.

And it’s not just tonight’s homework for tomorrow. It’s stuff that’s due days or weeks, or maybe even months later. So part of this is to understand and accept the fact that your teen or younger student isn’t going to see time and feel the future as much as you do as an adult.

You’ve seen this movie before. You know how it ends. But that doesn’t change what happens, right? So as the adult, you need to step in more. You need to provide more structure, more oversight, more interim deadlines, and do some types of things teachers do. 

Take an essay, for example. “You need your subject by tomorrow. You need three references by the next day and then an outline, and then a rough draft, and then the final draft.” You need to provide more interim goals because your child or teen isn’t going to see it as clearly. And when it comes to this, don’t just think, “She’s 14. She should be able to_____.”

Instead, ask yourself, “Does she? Can she? Does that actually work out?” And if it doesn’t, then you just need to provide a bit more structure so she can use the rest of her abilities more effectively. 

One of the things our executive function coaches do with kids to help them better manage their time is the concept of calendaring. When something is far out, they’ll help them break it into more manageable chunks. We have found that for kids, having it on their calendar is often more helpful than having a long to-do list. I’m wondering if you found calendaring to be helpful and what the problem is with to-do list in kids? 

I like to say:

“To-do lists are often graveyards of failed aspirations.”

Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., MBA

The problem with the to-do list is there’s no time connection.

  • Is now the time to do this thing? I don’t know. Maybe?
  • How about this other item?
  • Or if I flip back a couple of pages, what about that thing that’s been on my to-do list for a while?

It’s too vague. So I recommend exactly the same thing as you and your executive function coaches, which is to take the items off the to-do list. Take these tasks and actually put them into a space of time. This Tuesday afternoon— this thing. Then I’ll work on that on Wednesday. So being specific, and being intentional about it, makes it a whole lot more likely that it actually happens.

Now the thing of it is, you can’t just sprinkle your to-do list out across your calendar. You also need to actually take a moment, think about it, and plan it out. Think about contingencies. This has to be done before that. How much time do I have? What else do I need? So there’s a bit of cognitive work to be done in that. It’s more likely to work out well if you take a bit of time and think about and create a good plan to begin with.

Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., is a psychologist in Pennsylvania who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. He is the author of four books, including More Attention, Less Deficit, and Understand Your Brain, Get More Done. Dr. Tuckman is also the co-chair of the Annual International Conference on ADHD.