One of the big challenges people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can face is being able to manage their focus. In some scenarios, for example when a task isn’t immediately interesting, sustaining a high level of attention for a prolonged period of time can be tough. This can make it difficult to carry out tasks at work or school, and it can also present issues when trying to do things around the house. However, on the flip side, people with ADHD can also enter into a phase of hyperfocus, meaning they are only able to focus on one task – sometimes to the detriment of other things.
If you have ADHD and struggle with staying focused or managing your focus, this can be frustrating. It can mean that achieving daily goals can take longer than you planned, and you might also have difficulty sleeping because you’re thinking about all the things you needed to do but didn’t manage to. With ADHD, it’s not always possible to force yourself to sit down and focus on something, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to sustain focus and manage your hyperfocus. In this blog, we’re going to explore some of the things you can do to help you keep on track and tick tasks off your to-do list.
Why Can Sustaining Focus with ADHD be so Difficult?
Before we look at some of the ways you can keep focused, let’s first understand why you might struggle with holding focus if you have ADHD. Those who procrastinate a lot or get easily distracted may sometimes be perceived as being lazy, but this isn’t usually the case. If you have ADHD, the likelihood is that you are more predisposed to inattention or having a hard time focusing – which will usually be down to your brain chemistry.
Studies show that people who are diagnosed with ADHD have underactivity when it comes to their dopamine and noradrenaline chemicals, which have the job of monitoring motivation and focus.
11 Tips on How to Focus with ADHD
If a task is not immediately interesting, getting in the zone and staying there can be difficult if you have ADHD, but certainly not impossible. Of course, you may find you have great focus skills in some areas due to your tendency to hyperfocus, however maintaining focus on more difficult things means learning to manage this in the right way.
If you’re struggling, try out some of the tips below and see if they help you regain your focus. Remember, what works for one person may not work for another, so you might have to try a few of these different strategies to see which one benefits you the most.
Dump your thoughts
For example, if you’re busy doing laundry and then suddenly remember that you forgot to cut the grass, you could find yourself leaving the laundry halfway through and going off to mow the lawn instead. If you have a set list of things you want to do in a day but keep getting distracted by other thoughts, it can be difficult to achieve what you want to do, and you might feel deflated at the end of the day when you still have outstanding tasks to complete.
One tip you might find useful if this happens to you is to ‘thought dump’. This involves carrying a notepad and pen and writing down thoughts as they pop into your head. In the example above, this would mean briefly pausing doing the laundry and writing down a note to cut the grass. At the end of the day, you can look back at the thoughts you’ve written down and make a plan to complete them at a time that is more convenient for you and less disruptive to the plans you already have. It also means you’re not trying to do multiple tasks at once.
Take intentional interruptions
Purposefully interrupting yourself might seem haphazard and illogical when you’re trying to maintain focus, but there is method behind the seeming madness. When you intentionally remove yourself from a task and take a short break whilst you’re in the middle of focusing, your brain will naturally create a sense of tension and you’ll feel discontent with not finishing what you were doing. This interruption will motivate you to want to get back to the task and finish it.
The key to this technique is to not get distracted during your interruption. A good way to avoid this is to take short, alarmed breaks. When your timer goes off, you return to the task you were doing. If you were concentrating before you interrupted yourself, you’ll be itching to get back to it.
Get someone to hold you accountable
Sometimes, a bit of guidance from someone else can be enough to keep you on track. This involves finding someone you trust and who understands your ADHD and getting them to help you with positive affirmations and words of encouragement throughout the day. They can help to hold you accountable for what you’re doing and redirect your thoughts back to the original task.
If you can’t find someone to support you in person, it might be that you get them to check in with you digitally throughout the day to see how you’re doing and whether you’re on track to finish what you had planned to do that day. A gentle nudge from someone with your best interests at heart can sometimes be the motivation you need to keep going.
Clarify your tasks
Whether you have ADHD or not, when you don’t fully understand a task or know what you’re doing, it can make you want to withdraw and do something else instead. Putting off a job isn’t the best idea because it still needs to be done and you can build up more anxiety and dread over it the longer it’s looming over you, but it’s understandable that you might feel overwhelmed by something if you don’t really know where to start.
To prevent this, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on anything you’re unsure of. It’s best to ask all the questions and get as many answers as possible beforehand, otherwise you risk not getting it quite right after you’ve worked hard on it. In addition, once you know what is expected and what needs to be done, you can create an outline which will help you to work through each section of the task bit by bit. Breaking tasks down into manageable chunks can make them seem less daunting and can help you be more efficient, too.
Set deadlines for yourself
Not all tasks have pre-determined deadlines, and some have loose or extended deadlines, giving you the illusion that you have all the time in the world to complete the job. This means if you end up getting distracted by something else, you might try and justify it by telling yourself that there isn’t a deadline anyway, so there’s no pressure. This sort of thinking can mean that you end up leaving things until the last minute, and then you might feel overwhelmed by all the things you need to do.
It can be helpful to set yourself deadlines, even if no one else has, to make sure you’re keeping on top of things and getting things done in a timely manner. Deadlines allow you to put a time limit on your goal, and if you’re strict with yourself and try your best to stick to your deadlines, you might find that you complete more of your daily tasks and achieve more of your goals.
You can set deadlines for big projects, like work-related tasks, or for smaller tasks, like having the washing up done by a certain time in the day.
Turn off your phone
For most of us, phones are a big distraction. From contacting friends and scrolling social media to getting news updates and playing games, there are endless amounts of distractions on such a small device, sometimes resulting in hours of your day being lost before you even know it.
By switching your phone off, you won’t be inundated with notifications and sounds, and the option to scroll is taken away. This means you can reduce the chances of being distracted from what you’re doing. It might be a good option to try this in incremental stages, like turning it off for an hour and then allowing yourself to look. In time, you can increase the amount of time you turn it off for.
Make use of organisational tools
Many people struggle with staying on top of everything they need to do, and that’s why the organisational equipment and tools market is so big. There are so many aids out there to help you keep organised and on top of all your jobs, so make use of them. Sure, you’ve maybe tried using sticky notes and whiteboards for daily to-do lists, but there are lots of other things you can try, too.
We know we just said switch off your phone, but there are ways to keep it on and use it to your advantage. There are lots of apps that can remind you to get that time sensitive task done, or inform you of upcoming jobs that you might have forgotten about. You can even set your phone to ‘focus’ mode which allows you to block out unnecessary notifications but still have your phone on in case of an emergency.
If you don’t have a close friend who can remind you to do things and hold you accountable, an app could do it for you and help you stay focused on one task at a time.
Keep your work area tidy
Distractions aren’t always noise and racing thoughts; they can also come from mess. If you’re working in an untidy environment, it’s natural that you might find yourself getting distracted by the mess or the lack of organisation. You might try to find a specific piece of paperwork, only to get lost in a mountain of papers that aren’t filed properly. In this instance, you’ll probably have an urge to clean immediately.
Rather than waiting until things get to this stage, make a conscious effort to tidy your workspace at the end of every day so that it’s fresh for the next day. Getting into this habit might take time (as every new habit does), but it can ensure that you’re not distracted or sidetracked by cleaning during your working day when you’re trying to get things done.
Invest in healthy distraction tools
On occasion, your brain will need an outlet to expel some excessive energy, resulting in trouble sitting still. Luckily, there are lots of ways you can do this without directly abandoning what it is that you’re doing. For example, you might find that squeezing a stress ball or using a fidget gadget whilst you’re trying to concentrate could help to prevent your mind from wandering entirely. Even chewing gum can help.
Say anchor words
Anchor words are a good technique for refocusing your mind to what’s going on. If you feel like your brain is starting to focus its attention elsewhere, repeat a word relevant to the task you want to finish. For example, if you are trying to clear out your wardrobe but feel your mind starting to wander to cleaning the bathroom, saying the word ‘wardrobe’ repeatedly can help your brain to refocus on what you were doing initially.
This also works if you find yourself getting lost during conversations. Rather than repeating an anchor word out loud, try and pick out keywords relevant to the conversation to bring yourself back into the zone and stay focused on what is going on.
You can also use visual reminders as well as anchor words to help you limit distractions. For example, this could mean putting up a photo of what you want your room to look like if you’re renovating it. That way, you can see the end goal and you can increase focus based on the final reward.
Use relaxation techniques
In times where you need to focus and complete tasks quickly, clearing your mind is the key. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises can help with this, as can meditation. They allow you to re-centre your thoughts and refocus your attention on what’s most important at that time.
Professional Medical Advice and ADHD Treatment at The ADHD Centre
Understanding and managing ADHD is paramount to ensuring you’re able to keep on top of things and maintain a good balance in life. At The ADHD Centre, we are best placed to offer advice, diagnosis or treatment for ADHD through our private ADHD assessments. Our specialists offer a range of different treatments and ADHD support, and a dedicated mental health professional will work with you to devise a treatment plan that is bespoke to you and your needs.
For more information on how our GMC-registered consultant psychiatrists might be able to help you manage your ADHD symptoms, please contact us at The ADHD Centre on 0800 061 4276 or via email@example.com.