Trouble with Time? Mindful Awareness Tip(s) #2

“I almost missed my plane!”

“I spent way too much time straightening up, and now it’s too late to finish the report.”

“I want to plan, but I never know how much time to allow for tasks.”

Complaints related to time are not unusual for people with ADHD.  For many with ADD, time is not experienced as continuous, as on a clock or on a time-line. Instead, time is experienced as dichotomous: now and not-now.

But, a sense of time can be developed or improved upon. And, mindful awareness practices related to time can help. A previous blog post addressed one strategy that helps:

  • Time your daily experiences repeatedly to look at the pattern or average.

This post will address the following tips:

  • For distraction, set a timer for random amounts of time; when it rings, check in mindfully with yourself to see if you are on task or distracted. 
  • For hyper-focus, set a timer allowing for 10 minutes or so of “transition” time before your next task. Pay mindful attention to using those ten minutes to transition. 

And a third, upcoming, post will address the following:

  • Use external aids like a large analog wall clock, a “time timer,” and/or a calendar to increase your awareness of time.


The lack of an internal sense of time can cause problems when trying to complete tasks. Distractions and hyper-focus are both common among people with ADHD.

Distractions can make a task take much longer than intended while hyper-focus can make it difficult to set a task aside when it is time to move on to something else.

So… take a look at these tips:

When engaging in an activity or task in which distraction is likely, try this approach:

Set a timer for a 5, 10 or 15 minute intervals. Base the length of the interval on your guess of how soon you might get distracted. When the timer rings, pause mindfully, take a breath to get centered, and then ask yourself “Am I on task?” If yes, congratulate yourself and re-set the timer. If no, ask yourself “Do I want to get back on task or do I want to pursue something else now?” If you choose to get back on task, re-set the timer. The next time the timer rings, repeat the questions! Each time, you have a choice. (This approach is related to a common mindfulness practice called the STOP Practice.)

When doing an activity in which hyper-focus is likely for you, try this:

Set a timer to ring ten minutes before you need to stop the activity and transition to something else. When the timer rings, take a deep mindful breath and tell yourself “I have to tie things up for now.” Set the timer for 5 or 10 more minutes. During that time, try to maintain mindful awareness that you are transitioning. If you cannot finish the task in 10 minutes, perhaps leave yourself a note about where you are “in process” and what you want to return to later. Then, when the timer rings again, take another deep breath and mindfully disengage from the task at hand, preparing yourself to shift to whatever is next.

Worried about using an alarm?

Whether you are trying the strategy for distraction or for hyper-focus, you will be using an alarm to alert yourself to the passage of time. If you are in a situation in which an audible alarm would be problematic, you still have options. You can use the timer on your cell phone, setting the phone on vibrate. Or, you can get a vibrating watch such as the Watchminder.

Think about these strategies: 

  • For what situations in your life (daily, weekly, occasionally) would either of these strategies be most useful? 
  • What might be the benefits for you of experimenting with one or both of these strategies? 
  • What might be lost if you don’t?
  • So…what will you commit to trying this week? 

If you try one of these strategies, let me know how it works for you!


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