Many people who have attention problems including Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) find it hard to be punctual because they:
• lose track of the time,
• find it hard to start preparing, and/or
• go off-track once they start.
Immersives lose track of the time because they get “hyperfocused” on what they are doing in the moment. When they become focused on something, nothing else can get their attention. As a result, they forget about keeping track of the time, the preparation plan and the goal of being on time.
Not only that, when people are immersed in something their perception of the passage of time changes: “time flies when you’re having fun.” So if they do pause to consider checking the clock, they underestimate the amount of time that has passed and decide that they don’t need to just yet. When they finally look at the clock, they discover that what felt like five minutes was really twenty.
On the other hand, punctual people who are preoccupied with the passage of time overestimate how much time has passed: when they repeatedly check the clock they find that what felt like a minute was only twenty seconds. They may leave early because they get fed up with checking the clock.
Underestimating how much time has passed can also impair time budgeting. If immersives budget time for tasks they have done while hyperfocused based on how long the tasks seemed to take, rather on how long the tasks really took, they will underestimate how much time they will need. For example, because the thirty minute drive to work while listening to music felt like it took fifteen minutes, the person budgets fifteen minutes for the drive. On the other hand, punctual people who are pre-occupied with the time may budget more than enough time because preparation and transit tasks seemed to take longer than they really did.)
For some immersives, biological factors result in a general tendency to become immersed. Others become hyperfocused on certain kinds of activities. The specific kind of activity may be a product of habit: the more we pay attention to certain kinds of things, the more likely we are to pay attention to them in the future. For “absent-minded professors” thinking has been more rewarding than paying attention to the world around them; as a result, they tend to get lost in their thoughts. They may prepare while they think, but pay so little attention to preparation tasks that they are clumsy and inefficient. They may have to double back because they have walked out the door without socks and briefcases. Activities like exciting, challenging and unpredictable video games are attentional black holes for most people.
That said, once immersives finally realize that they are running late, fear of the consequences locks their attention on the goal of getting to the destination as quickly as possible.
While immersives are late because their attention gets stuck on one thing, flitters are late because their attention jumps too rapidly from one thing to another. When they try to plan, they can’t focus long enough to make detailed preparation plans. During planning and preparation they become overwhelmed trying to decide what to do next: “Should I do this first, or that, or that, or that?”
Because flitters do preparation tasks in dribs and drabs, in varying orders, and frequently go off-track, they don’t develop preparation routines and aren’t motivated by force of habit.
They may not realize that they are running late. A flitter may think, “Oh I should check the time!” but before he can look at the clock is distracted by the sound of a siren outside, only to then notice a pile of laundry he’s been meaning to put away. Thoughts about the time, the plan and the goal get lost in the shuffle.
When they finally check the clock and realize that they are running late, flitters become even more stressed and disorganized. The impulse to run out the door undermines their ability to remember what they need to do, to decide on what to do next, and to focus on the preparation task at hand. Fear may also make them “jumpy”—more likely to be distracted by sudden sounds or sights.
Flitters’ attention mechanisms may be poorly tuned for biological reasons. They may be distractible because they are highly sensitive to visual, auditory or physical stimulation and/or because they have intense emotional reactions. Some flitters are already jumpy as a result of chronic anxiety.
Drifters are late because their attention is difficult to engage. They require more intense sensory experiences or more extreme emotion-inducing thoughts and experiences to grab and hold their attention. The possibility that they might be late if they don’t start to prepare or leave at a prudent time doesn’t produce enough of an emotional reaction to focus their attention. The idea of slogging though routine preparation tasks makes them want to yawn with boredom.
Only when lateness is virtually certain does fear of the consequences focus them on preparing and getting to the destination. But once they finally spring into action, achiever motives and juster tactics may lead drifters to take care of boring chores they’ve been putting off: “Oh, let me just put the laundry away before I leave!”
Drifters may seek out exciting activities to relieve their boredom. Once they become engaged they may become hyperfocused and suffer from immersive lateness. Indeed, the label “Attention Deficit Disorder” is misleading: people with ADD typically show immersive as well as flitter or drifter patterns of attention.
Now that we’ve considered planning and plan implementation, it’s time to look at what motivates people to be punctual.