Saturday, April 23, 2022

ADHD: Here Are Five Steps I Use to Rein In My Focus

A lack of focus is the one common trait that all adults with ADHD seem to have, but focus isn’t as elusive as you might fear.

Using timed reminders is one tool I use to maintain focus.

The other day, a friend texted me out of the blue. He wanted a list of some of the things that I do to maintain focus. Initially, I panicked. I’ve been chronically ill since getting COVID–19 last October. I haven’t blogged in four months, so my ADHD advice muscles were all out of shape. Fortunately for my friend, I haven’t met a topic yet that I didn’t have an opinion on, so I worked up my courage and sent a list to him.

Finding focus is a complicated issue for adults with ADHD. There are times when we have far too much focus and times when focus is as rare as a moderate during election primaries. Too much. Too little. This would be fine to work with if there was predictable rhythm to the pattern, but usually we find ourselves with too much focus on things we shouldn’t be doing (often called hyperfocus), and too little focus on the things that we should (often called many rude labels that I won’t bother listing). How do we regulate that‽ This is why I believe ADHD should refer to an attention dysfunction disorder, not a deficit.

The key to focus is understanding that ADHD minds have an aversion to boredom. Scolding somebody to not be bored motivates somebody about as well as a gun to the head. There may be some short term benefits, but in the long run, it will create self-esteem issues and other psychological hangups. Instead, accept that boredom is part of the problem and address it with targeted coping strategies.

Here are five steps I use to rein in my focus:

  1. Simplify your tasks: I break projects down into three steps at a time, usually in the form of a checklist, and memorize those steps. I call them my ThreeDos, instead of ToDos. I find I can simulate ADHD hyperfocus by doing this, but without the downside of being totally immersed in my own world and deaf to the one around me.
  2. Drown out distractions: I like playing EDM to pump up my energy levels, but any music that excites you will do. Dance music causes me to tap my feet, which has the same focusing effect as exercise. It’s important to not play any music with lyrics if you haven’t heard the songs before. The purpose is to prevent distractions, not add to them! If EDM doesn’t work because I’m working with others or I need to stay attentive to outside interruptions, I will play white noise (often mixed with brown and pink noise).
  3. Timers are key to focus: Use a timer and work for shorter periods. I’ve found I can work for about forty-five minutes when focused, but I start with twenty minute periods at first, building up from there. Once the timer goes off, take a mental break. Look around. Check in with others. Disengage from your task for a moment. Then, after a few moments, start your next timed session. If you work at home, an old fashioned kitchen timer can be effective, but if you work with others, a soft alert sound on your phone can be just as effective.
  4. Alarms and reminders can keep you on task: Similar to timers, having a message pop up on your phone can jog your memory if you’ve become distracted, or keep you on track if your focus is fading. I often utilize Siri on my iPhone to set reminders. Where this tool becomes most useful is when I’m in the middle of a working session, but don’t want to forget something that comes to me. “Hey, Siri. Remind me in twenty minutes to call X.” Utilize your phone, no matter the platform, for on the fly reminders instead of trusting your memory.
  5. Make sure you are fed and hydrated: You can’t focus without fuel, yet this one step eludes me time and time again. Hyperfocus is often to blame. I have found that when I plan in meals with my breaks as outlined above, I focus better, and I am far more productive.

When my productivity drops and time sails out the window, I know I haven’t been applying these coping strategies. I may not be able to get rid of my ADHD, but I can regulate it. Making the effort to tighten my focus helps me accomplish what I set out to do. Hopefully, these tips will help my friend, and maybe you as well.