If you are of a ‘certain age’ you may recall the 1981 film, Time Bandits.1 ADHD is not part of the storyline. However, the title is suitable to describe how time feels for people with ADHD. On occasion it can, quite literally, feel as though a thief has wriggled into your ear, soft-shoed into your brain and stolen away a significant amount of your time management skills.

ADHD can make the most basic life skills exceptionally difficult. Tidying the bedroom, putting away the washing, emptying the dishwasher, completing tasks and projects on time. The list is endless.

“I call it falling down the rabbit hole”, explains Sue (36). “I think, oh, I’ll quickly check my emails and social media and an hour later I’ve watched numerous cute cat videos on YouTube and checked the price of four-slice toasters on every major retailer’s website. The funniest part is that I don’t need a new toaster!”

Sue’s story is all too common. Tony (24) started taking ADHD medication a few months ago.  Previously, work was becoming problematic.

“I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and stopped taking medication when I left school. I didn’t think I needed it anymore and, consequently, work has been challenging. I love my job in graphic design and the quality of my work has never been an issue. The problem arises when I struggle to get a job completed within a set time-frame.

“I was referred to a psychiatrist, specialising in adult ADHD, who provided me with medication. The difference it has made is immeasurable. Productivity at work has increased which, consequently, has helped with my confidence and self-esteem. I’m not berating myself constantly for missing deadlines and forgetting appointments.”

Time management can be overwhelming and demoralising. Tony’s experience of producing an excellent standard of work, yet missing set time frames, is an example of ADHD Hyperfocus.  

Gina Pera, 2 author of Is it You, Me or Adult ADD?, refers to an enlightening excerpt in which physician Stephen Copps, Director of ADD Specialty Healthcare in Macon, Georgia notes:

“We’ve been told that people with ADHD have only two speeds, full throttle and sound asleep. Do you know why that is? It’s because the accelerator gets stuck in the on or the off position. There is nothing in between.

“Not only does the accelerator get stuck, but also the brakes are faulty, so the person with ADHD has a hard time stopping once they get started. The radio’s sensitivity knob is frozen, and so only the loudest signal gets through.

“You could even say the driver’s ‘zoom lens’ is rusty. When you drive, you need to constantly be zooming in and out from the big picture to the smaller detail and back again.

“The driver with ADHD either sees 40 things at once or over-focuses on only one.”

It makes sense when someone, such as Tony, is engrossed and enjoying the task at hand and misses a deadline. 

The Time Bandits will steal away the hours ensuring you repeatedly arrive late for appointments and meetings. The impact of this, over a continued period of time, may compound the negative self-talk and the blaming and shaming that follows.   

Research carried out by Radek Ptacek et al,3 at the Department of Psychiatry at General University Hospital in Prague, examined test subjects in a study to explore the Clinical Implications of the Perception of Time in ADHD. A time estimation test was carried out, using a timer, and children were asked to approximate how much time had passed without using their watch or a visual timer:

‘…researchers in Germany found that those with ADHD did substantially worse than normally developed controls (NDC) children in time estimation. Children with ADHD either overestimated the time passed, for example approximating 20 minutes for a ten-minute task, or minimized the time passed, to a much greater extent than controls. The authors concluded that impaired perception of time was a significant component of ADHD, and further investigation into the prevalence of this symptom was needed.’

Psychologist and author, Ari Tuckman constructed some top tips to avoid time blindness and help productivity .4 They include:

  1. Extending the time horizon and plan ahead.
  2. Be aware of ‘time suckers’.
  3. Set multiple alarms.
  4. Enlist the help of an ADHD Life Coach.
  5. Change alarm sounds to jolt the brain into action.
  6. Chunk tasks to reduce overwhelm.
  7. Set Focus time.
  8. Change the type of clock you use.
  9. Assume for a worst-case scenario to arrive on time.

Excuse the pun, but maybe ‘it’s time’ to try some of these strategies to keep the Time Bandits at bay.  Discover what works best for you and assists in propelling you towards your goals.


1 Time Bandits. (1981). Director: Terry Gilliam. Production: HandMade Films.

2 https://adhdrollercoaster.org/about-author-gina-pera/

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6556068/

4 https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/stop-wasting-time/

Written by Beverley Nolker, Education Development Officer for Psychiatry-UK and the HLP.U Clinics.