Do you struggle with maintaining your focus? Dealing with ADHD as an adult can bring on a whole new set of challenges. For example, if you struggle with focus and concentration, getting through a full workday can be difficult. Research of adults in a simulated work environment shows that adults with ADHD struggle with concentration and hyperactivity when working. However, when they finish their work, they complete tasks just as well as adults without ADHD.
This may be something you can relate with - you know you can get the job done, but you struggle to stay focused throughout the process. This can cost you both time and money. Here are our tips for improving focus, so you can show your best work (and your best self) on the job.
1. Keep your priorities clear
Keep your priorities and goals in front of you. Take time to make lists of goals for your life, career, or even simply for the next week or day. Write them out in order of importance. This will help you prioritize and focus on the most important tasks. You should also put your list somewhere where you will see it often. This way you’ll be more likely to finish important pending tasks. Reviewing the list at the beginning and the end of the day to hold yourself accountable.
2. Set frequent deadlines
Now that you know what you must get done, the next step is to work on when you want to get things done by setting frequent deadlines. Deadlines can help your focus by giving you a little extra pressure that can boost your productivity. If you find yourself struggling to complete tasks, those tasks may be too big or too broadly defined. Try breaking them up into smaller, easier-to-accomplish tasks. An MIT study found that deadlines improved both the time that individuals spent on the task as well as their performance. It also found that evenly spaced deadlines were most helpful.
3. Get organized
When living with ADHD it's easy to get distracted from what you're doing. The more organized you are, the easier it will be to stay focused. Here are a few more tips to help you stay organized:
- Live by the rule "a place for everything and everything in its place.” This way you don't waste time having to look for things you need or figuring out where to put them. A classic example is to always put your wallet, keys, and phone in the same place when you get home, and keep them in the same place in the car or office.
- Compile all appointments into one calendar. Keeping everything in one place will help you to stay on top of the tasks you need to be on top of and any appointments/commitments that you have.
- Go paperless and try using an organization app like Evernote. You can create online notebooks and notes for the different areas of your life. Everything is searchable, making it very easy to find what you need.
4. Minimize distractions.
How many times do you suddenly realize that you have been mindlessly scrolling on Instagram or Reddit for the last 20 minutes? If something like this happens to you, here are a few tools that may be useful depending on which device you’re using:
- “App Limit” on iPhone (Settings > Screen Time)
- Setting your phone to “do not disturb” mode
- SelfControl (Mac)
- FocusMe (Windows)
Are your emails pinging on your computer (or phone) non-stop and distracting you constantly? Schedule email downloads for 3 set times a day. Deal with your emails at that time and move on. You’ll find that you’ll be less distracted and more productive.
Work in a loud office? Are your workers gossiping non-stop in the next cubicle over? Buy yourself noise-canceling headphones and wear them without listening to music. This will give you much-needed quiet and make your colleagues less likely to interrupt you (if music works for you, by all means go ahead).
If you are struggling to stay focused and avoid distractions during meetings, conferences, or even conversations, try taking notes on paper, not digitally. A Harvard study found that students that took notes on paper tested better than those that took notes on a laptop. You can always add these notes to your digital note taking app later.
5. Practice self-care
Two of the most important areas of self-care to target that can make a quick impact on your ability to focus are sleep and exercise.
Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) affects up to a third of the adult population and affects two thirds of people with ADHD. Getting enough sleep and feeling rested is important for you to be able to focus during the day. It’s important to make sure you are going to sleep early enough that you can achieve 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
You might have heard that exercise is good for helping boost your mood, but did you know that it can help your ability to focus and recall information as well? There have been many studies completed that show that physical exercise can improve cognitive functions including those such as attention and memory. So, whether it's a short run, strength training session, yoga, or a 1-hour walk, get exercise on your schedule. It will help clear your mind and release endorphins that can improve your mood and help keep you focused. Most jobs are fairly sedentary. If this is the case with your job, make sure to get up and move around a little for every 2 hours that you are sitting.
Start slow when making adjustments
Making a lot of changes at once can be overwhelming (and even counterproductive). We recommend starting with one change discussed in this article and try that for a week. Once it’s a seamless part of your daily routine, try adding another skill. If you are continuing to struggle after making changes, don't be afraid to reach out for help from a therapist or wellness coach.