ADHD and the Inability to Gauge Time

May 31, 2012 Andrew Foell, MA Ed.

The inability to gauge time accurately is one of the many symptoms of ADHD in both children and adults. The symptom remains, but time can be gauged with tools.

Admittedly, I'm late. Again. Instead of making an excuse, let's just say that at 40, I'm more aware of my inability to accurately gauge time. It is a symptom of my ADHD, but it is not an excuse. As a kid, I didn't know that I had ADHD, but now that I am aware, a number of events from childhood forward make a lot of sense. I'll share an example and what I have learned as well as how I continue to struggle with timeliness.

ADHD's Inability to Gauge Time Presented Early

One of the neighborhood jokes when I was growing up was for kids to imitate my father's booming voice calling out my full name, "Annnndrewwww Willllllliammmmmmm Foell, it's time to eeeeeeeeeat!" I had been told I could play for half an hour or so until it was time for supper.

In my experience working with young students, I've learned that most kids aren't great judges of time. I was even worse, and it really didn't matter how loudly my dad shouted my name when I was a quarter of a mile away from home. I couldn't hear him, but the neighborhood kids could and invariably one of them would find me and let me know that I should probably get going home. I dreaded arriving because I knew that I was going to receive another lecture about being on time for supper. On the worst occasions, I had completely missed the meal.

Do Watches Help to People with ADHD to Gauge Time?

Anyone who struggles with the ability to adequately gauge time knows the answer to the above question. It is yes, and it is also no. A watch has no magical powers that suddenly enable a person who struggles with timeliness to become more timely. If I am not looking at the clock or at the watch, I still have no idea regarding the amount of time that has passed. It's that simple.

If I am lost in a hyperfocused daze, I will be just as surprised when I finally do look at my watch as I was as a child when I noticed the sun setting. So, while a watch is a tool, it is not a magical cure-all. Certain watches and clocks work well for some ADHD adults, but I have yet to find one that works consistently for me.

Gauging Time Is Still a Chore as an Adult with ADHD

While accurately measuring time continues to be a concern for me, at least I am aware that my inability to gauge time is a symptom of my ADHD. That awareness provides a starting point. I know that I must plan ahead in order to meet a deadline or to arrive at a venue on time. While wearing a wristwatch has failed to be a panacea or cure-all, I feel lost without one because the position of the sun in the sky has never served me well in the past.

If ever there was a "good" time to be an adult living with ADHD, perhaps the present is it. There are visual countdown timers available that can help a person gauge time because you literally "see time moving" as the colored section on the timer disappears while time passes.

My watch sets itself via radio signal and operates via a rechargeable solar battery. I've worn the watch daily for more than seven years running and have never needed to replace a battery, nor must I remember to wind the watch or reset the time or date.

My android phone may be the coolest tool of all: I can set dozens of timers and alarms to go off throughout the day. The loud alarm and my intense need to silence it will jar me from even the deepest daze.

Now I have the awareness and the tools to better manage my time and stay on schedule, but even the best tools do not alleviate the symptoms because yes, here I am, late once again.

APA Reference
Foell, A. (2012, May 31). ADHD and the Inability to Gauge Time, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Andrew Foell, MA Ed.

Seth Latter
September, 18 2017 at 1:57 am

What about not missing people who aren't physically present and being able to go weeks or months without speaking to them without it really bothering you? That's sort of the same as no sense of the passage of time, right?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 19 2017 at 1:20 pm

That's a really interesting question. I know that people with ADHD might have a difficult time keeping in touch with people. I personally miss people a lot, but I know a number of ADHDers who do not feel the same. If you're busy and having fun, I can imagine time sort of disappears. My loss of time tends to happen over a day or a week rather than over weeks and months, but everyone is different!

Janis V.
May, 9 2015 at 11:35 pm

Thank you for this article. I have the exact same problem as you with time. Interestingly, I do not have ADHD. The inability to gauge time is definitely an ADHD symptom but it is now slowly being recognized as a problem on its own that many non-ADHD people have. I try to explain it to people in my life that in a way, time is a foreign language I do not speak. I have had success being better with time by always making sure I can always see time (i.e. clocks and watches everywhere). Thank you for helping me feel less alone and broken.

February, 16 2015 at 1:32 am

Interesting that blame and excuse is brought up in these comments. Sounds like words one always hears when we are late. Every person I know with ADHD is not in the same time/space continuum as the rest of the world! Thanks for the article, I hope it brings us closer to an understanding that isn't about blame/shame, and negativity. I imagine all of us have heard ithose words often enough.

January, 1 2015 at 9:34 am

It is just awesome to read about others who have this issue. At 47,my co-worker said, I think you have ADD. I was having a horrible time at work trying to keep up. I looked up some of the symptoms and printed out the page. Really noticing time warps now so by recognizing I can work to change it.Got an IPOD and use the alarms. I take medication and see a LPC/organization coach. I turn 50 this month. 2015 is going to be a great year!

Debi Henson
January, 8 2014 at 10:34 am

"Instead of making an excuse, let’s just say that at 40, I’m more aware of my inability to accurately gauge time. It is a symptom of my ADHD, but it is not an excuse."
Thank you for taking responsibility for your condition. I have adult ADHD, diabetes type 1, anxiety, and depression. Recognition is half the battle, isn't it?

December, 29 2013 at 9:19 am

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with the inability to consistently gauge time! I have struggled my who life ADHD, only officially diagnosised 2 years ago at 45? After going to a group I realized how this all played into my perception of time and my thought process. Every clock or watch I had would be set 5-10, even 15 minutes ahead.
I am going to try suggested by "MecurialMind" App."Time Admin." I learned that at home or work you can set a timer or alarm for set limit on task and you must stop when done and go on to something else. This can help!

November, 1 2013 at 7:14 pm

My mother has always said I'll be late to my own funeral. Over time she learned to tell me to be somewhere a good 30 minutes before I needed to be there just to make sure I arrived on time. Like you, looking back it makes sense, because until age 46 I was not diagnosed as ADHD. Also like you I've utilized the timers and alarms on my phone but I've been looking for any and all tools I can find to help improve on an area I know is lacking since before diagnosis. One such tool I found is an app for my iPhone called Time Admin. It verbally announces the time every hour. It gives a solid sense of the time passing even when I don't necessarily have something pressing to do. It has been very helpful. Especially in the mornings when I'm hard to get moving and easily distracted from what I should be doing. :)

September, 13 2013 at 10:49 pm

I love it when people coje together annd share opinions.
Great website,stick witth it!

May, 27 2013 at 8:29 am

Once I was asked which suprepower I would want. I knew immediately I wanted to stop time and act while others were frozen. I love the timelessness of being lost in one task and completion being the measure of a task (rather than time). I believe thats how eternity will be. I sooo look forward to timelessness. Until then I will have to get some other skills.

Nick Stuart
June, 3 2012 at 5:17 am

'inability to gauge time is a symptom of my ADHD.'
Oh yeah. Where does it say that in the DSM then? You want to blame all of your failures on your disease? Like a child that says 'I can't help it'. Time to grow up and be an adult I think. Or do you blame your childish rants on having ADHD?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

June, 15 2012 at 9:39 am

The inability to gauge time is not directly stated within the DSM IV; however, it fits in with organization, attention to detail, and forgetfulness. Thanks for asking the question!

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