ADHD affects approximately nine percent of the US population. As anyone who lives with ADHD knows, it makes it hard to get started on tasks, hard to stay focused on those tasks, and even harder to ultimately finish them. Here are a few ADHD tips that can help you buckle down and get to work when your ADHD is getting in the way.
1. Use timers and alarms.
A timer is not only a good way to keep yourself on task by giving you a restriction to work under, but it’s also a great way to get started on tasks. The action of activating a timer is a good way to start yourself focusing on a task. Treat it as a trigger to shift your mind into “get-things-done” mode.
A physical timer also tends to work better than a digital one; get a standard hour-long egg timer, crank it up to however long you want or need to work, and that action can help put you in a much more productive mindset. It’s the physical action that’s important; actually turning the timer to your desired time works in and of itself like a stim toy, and helps to focus your attention.
2. Take short, frequent breaks.
A big problem with ADHD is how it prevents you from staying on task for an extended period of time. A way to counter this is to split tasks up into smaller tasks, which makes your ADHD work for you; by making tasks quicker to complete, jumping from one task to another keeps your ADHD satisfied.
A great way to break up tasks is known as the Pomodoro technique, which has six steps:
- Decide what task you’re going to do.
- Set a timer for how long you want to work on the task, traditionally 25 minutes.
- Work on the task until the timer runs out.
- Put a checkmark on a piece of paper when the timer ends and take a short break, about 3-5 minutes.
- Repeat from step 2 until you have four checkmarks.
- When you reach four checkmarks, take a longer break, around 15-30 minutes, then reset your checkmarks and return to step 1.
By using this method, you can get things done while avoiding the feeling of boredom that tends to come from forcing yourself to focus on a task. The Pomodoro technique has also been shown to help with mentally retaining information and learning to keep focus in the face of distractions. There are even kitchen timers built with the Pomodoro technique in mind.
3. Use a small distraction to keep your mind grounded.
One of the reasons ADHD affects attention so severely is because a brain with ADHD is basically under-stimulated. A person with ADHD craves mental stimulation, which is why people with ADHD tend to jump from one activity to another the instant an activity becomes boring. If you need to knuckle down on one single task that can’t be split up easily, a good technique is to have something running in the background that gives your brain the stimulation it wants.
There’s a number of ways to stimulate your brain this way; music is a common one, listening to a podcast or radio show is another, and fidgeting with a toy or other stim object is a widely-used physical stimulation. The important part is that the distraction should never be something that takes over from the task at hand; if you put some music on, make it a song you’ve heard before, preferably without lyrics. If you listen to a podcast, make it an episode you’ve already listened to. If you use a fidget toy, use the same one all the time.
Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that doesn’t provide any new information or stimulation to your mind; make it a familiar sound or action that simply provides background noise to keep your ADHD satisfied.
4. Exercise to get in the right headspace.
An important part of beating ADHD is finding a way to actually get started on tasks, and breaking out of the paralyzing state of executive dysfunction. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, so one way to break out and start getting things done is some light exercise.
It isn’t necessary to do serious exercise; getting to the point where you’re working up a light sweat is enough. All you need to do is get to the point where your brain releases a few of the chemicals that focus your mind and improve your mood. Like the kitchen timer, exercise is a way to switch you brain into a productive mindset.
5. Personal organization: How to do it with ADHD
Keeping your things organized can, obviously, help you be more productive. The problem is that organization doesn’t come easily for people with ADHD, and a lot of organizational tips can be downright counterproductive. Most organization tips tend to emphasize the look of your workspace just as much as the functionality of it, which leads to many of the things you need being put into drawers and closets where you can’t see them. While the intent is to keep a nice, orderly workspace to avoid distraction, it creates problem for people with ADHD. Not being able to see something makes it much, much harder to remember it and focus on it.
To that end, organizing for ADHD runs counter to common organization advice. Keep all the things you need for getting stuff done somewhere you can easily and always see them. Try placing things on surfaces that contrast their color so they stand out better. Overall, you want to strike a balance between tidy enough that you can do work, but still having all the things you need lying conveniently in your field of view.
While none of these tips are intended to be a one-size-fits-all solution, hopefully, they’ll help you overcome your ADHD and get you focused on whatever you need to do. If you can get in the habit of doing these, even better; the best way to beat ADHD is to form good habits that help you stay focused.