Sep 2, 2022 • 5M

We're All In A Time Famine

Part 2: Timeblindness vs Social Psychology


Appears in this episode

Jesse Meadows
Re-politicizing mental health and embracing the weird
Episode details

Just a quick admin note: I’m going to take next week off from the newsletter so I can spend some quality time with my family, since I’ve been sort of half-resting/half-working while I’m in Florida and making this episode made me realize I need to take an actual break!

anakin sand meme but it says "i don't like clock time. It's linear and rough and irritating. And it stressed me out."
This is part 2 of a critical series on the concept of timeblindness, you can find part 1 here. Sources are embedded in the transcript below.

JESS: Did you know that underestimating the time it takes to complete a task is such a common human experience, it has its own name and wikipedia page?

It’s called The Planning Fallacy, and it’s the reason construction projects like bridges and buildings always run years behind schedule, why you turn your papers in late even though you had weeks to finish them, and, even why you think your romantic relationships will last longer than they do. 

The Planning Fallacy isn’t just an underestimation of time, it’s a kind of unwavering optimism, even when you have information from past experiences that tells you it’s unrealistic. It was first written about in 1979 by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and it’s a type of unconscious bias — something that affects the decisions we make without our awareness. 

When I tell you that I fucking screamed when I learned about this, because if you spend any time on ADHDtok, you’d be convinced that chronically underestimating time and missing deadlines were just symptoms of executive dysfunction.

But researchers Roger Buehler, Dale Griffin, and Joanna Peetz describe it as: 

a phenomenon rooted in daily life and daily experience, rich enough to keep our research group busy for the best part of two decades.

[groovy music interlude]

You’re listening to Sluggish, by me, Jesse Meadows. This is part 2 in a critical series on the concept of timeblindness. Last episode I brought up research by Russell Barkley himself that suggested ADHDers are just as good at estimating time durations as everyone else. My personal theory is that it’s the kind of time perception that requires more attention and working memory that can be hard for ADHDers, not necessarily just perceiving the passage of time in general. 

This week, I’ve been combing through some social psychology papers to get a broader sense of studies on how humans perceive clock time, and it turns out that, um, everyone else is kind of bad at it, too?

TIKTOKER CLIP: Timeblindness is the inability to gauge the passing of time so it’s hard to actively manage it.

JESS: This is Sasha Hamdani, she’s a psychiatrist and a pretty popular ADHD influencer. Her tips for dealing with timeblindness include: 

HAMDANI: Tip 1, acknowledge what your time sucks are. Tip 2, set alarms and sometimes it helps if you set different sounding alarms. Number 3, set a buffer, you’re always gonna need more time than you think you do.

JESS: That last thing she said, about needing a buffer? That’s another thing, like the planning fallacy, that’s so common it has its own name: Hofstadter’s Law. 

It’s sort of a nerdy joke popular with programmers, because Hofstadter’s Law says everything takes longer than you think, even if you take into account Hofstadter’s Law, which means, you can add a buffer, but you’re still gonna need another buffer, and on and on forever and ever in a never-ending circle of buffer hell. 

Estimating how long a task will take is just not something humans seem to be very good at. Kahneman says that’s because we’re very bad at predicting the future. We tend to make plans based on best-case scenarios, and when things inevitably go wrong, we end up late.

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he writes:

Errors of prediction are inevitable because the world is unpredictable. 

Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be. 

Maybe it’s not that ADHDers can’t perceive time, but that we’re cursed by an extra dose of optimism? That’s not a bad thing — optimists give us hope and create art and keep us going — but optimists are more vulnerable to getting carried away. 

My entire life is a series of big ideas I fell in love with and never finished because I failed to consider all the things that would get in the way, and when I didn’t finish a project when I thought I would, I chalked it up as a failure. 

This cycle repeated so many times that I eventually started to see myself as some kind of irredeemable fuck-up, and it wasn’t until I decided to just accept that slowness was inevitable, even if I planned for it, and to see my deadlines as flexible and my projects as a spiral instead of a straight line, that I started to be able to finish things. 

Even though I know all this now, I still chronically underestimate how long projects will take and how hard they’ll be, and I’m still late all the time. Alarms don’t work, lists don’t work, hanging a clock in every room and wearing a watch doesn’t work. All I can do is accept it.

And the more I dig into social psychology research, the less bad I feel about being chronically late, because it turns out these experiences are super common, and not just for regular people, but also for governments and city planners. 

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