- Robert Merki
How do you get focused with ADHD?
One of the clearest symptoms of ADHD is trouble getting (and staying) focused. Often we blame distractions or other external forces that take us away from what we really want to work on.
But distractions aren't the enemy, our lack of focus is.
Our focus problems start and end with dopamine. Our brains just don't have enough of it going to the right places. Instead of being able to sit down and continue work, our lack of dopamine causes our minds to wander around, searching for something else to stimulate it. This is also why stimulant medication works so well for people with ADHD.
Getting focused requires some other source of dopamine.
Many other websites give examples around tools like checklists, to-do lists, calendars, or even setting your own internal deadlines. While these tools are an effective part of a plan, they aren't useful for getting focused in the first place. They don't offer any stimulation to our brains.
A better approach is to search for environmental sources of dopamine. External stress, innate curiosity, and even our ego can be fantastic assets in getting focused and productive. They don't always feel great, and can actually be extremely stressful. Nonetheless, here's six different ways you can use and understand your brain to get more focused with ADHD.
The 6 Tips For Getting Focused With ADHD
6) Give Up
This is a bit of a silly one, but it's true.
If you're sitting in front of your computer right now and unable to focus, one of the best ways to get productive is to do something else. Give up on your current task, and come back to it later.
Seriously. Give it a try. Go do some chores, cook dinner, etc. If you're totally unable to get started, don't waste the rest of your day getting frustrated with yourself.
Sometimes the best advice is to try again tomorrow.
5) External Pressure
Stress sucks, but it's highly effective. Having an authority figure tell you to do something is a great way to get your brain stimulated.
It doesn't have to be a boss or a teacher yelling at you to get started. It can be anything external that's causing you a huge amount of stress.
Personally, I've never been so full of focus as the time I broke one of my client's websites during business hours. I laugh about it now, but it served as a fantastic example of how effective stress can be for getting focused.
This is also we sometimes look back on difficult, stressful jobs with some degree of nostalgia. It's not that we want that stress back, but some part of us misses the power of the stress-focus.
This one is straightforward. Curiosity is a highly stimulating feeling, and once we get interested in some topic it's hard for us to get distracted.
If you're stuck on something, try and remember what made you like it in the first place. What was it that initially piqued your curiosity? Is there more you can find out about this topic that will help you rejuvenate that original curiosity?
Sometimes when I'm stuck, I like to review what made me like a topic in the first place. It doesn't always work, but I highly recommend trying this before giving up.
This one is more rare, but ego is a supremely powerful way to get focused.
Remember that time someone didn't believe in you? They didn't think you could accomplish something? If you have an ego, the first thing you'd think of is how great it would feel to prove them wrong.
And how fast did you get to work? How unstoppable did you become?
If you're like me, this is one of the most powerful way to get focused.
Unfortunately, it's also difficult to manifest by yourself. You can't simulate someone not believing in you. It just happens by itself once in a while.
2) External Deadlines
Let's make a big distinction here between external deadlines and internal deadlines.
Internal deadlines are created from within yourself. I see a lot of blogs and articles recommend setting internal deadlines as a way to get focused. That's just wrong. Deadlines only work for focus if they have some penalty associated with a failure to stick to them. Creating a deadline within your own mind is useful for planning, but doesn't create useful external stress.
External deadlines are outside of your control. The due dates are non-negotiable. This can be an essay you have to write, or a work project you have to deliver on time.
External deadlines carry external stress with them, which is why they work so well. They aren't fun, but they are extremely useful.
You can partially create them yourself by promising people that they can rely on you to get something done by a certain date.
External deadlines are promises made to others, and breaking these promises carries a penalty towards your reputation. If you seriously need to get started on something, try making a promise to someone that you'll get it done. It sucks in the moment, but it works very well.
1) Enjoying What You Do
Enjoying yourself is the best way to stay focused. There's not much to really explain about how this works. Enjoying things is a healthy, happy, consistent supply of dopamine. You will never feel stress about focusing on something you enjoy doing. It's also the most difficult to use properly.
First of all, you can't decide to enjoy something. It just happens.
Second, even if you do enjoy something, there's no guarantee that you will enjoy it forever. Sometimes we have interests that simply fade away over time.
Finally, enjoyment-based focus can be dangerous! Not life threatening, but enough to make you work to exhaustion.
If you really enjoy something, you run the risk of hyperfocusing. Hyperfocus is when you "go down the rabbit hole" and start working on something for 10+ hours straight. You forget to eat, you forget to drink water, and you ignore your other responsibilities.
Hyperfocus is also extremely productive. This is the state where you get five days of work done in just one afternoon.
The problem with hyperfocus is that you get burned out. Think about it, hyperfocusing is like your brain sprinting. Yes, you're able to sprint for 10+ hours, but it leaves you exhausted. Exhaustion is one of causes of brainfog and distractions.
So what should you do if you hyperfocus?
Just stop! Not right away, but don't let yourself get carried away. After a few hours, go eat a big meal and drink some water. Let yourself keep working for a bit longer, and then force yourself to stop.
Yes, I know it's tempting to sit back down and work into the wee hours of the morning. Don't do it. I guarentee you will have a great, productive day tomorrow if you get enough sleep and rest your brain. Getting burnt out should be avoided at all costs.
If you're able to be mindful about your hyperfocus, you'll be able to continue working for longer periods of time on your favourite projects, and you'll be able to avoid dreadful brainfog and exhaustion!