Focusing When You Have ADD

Focusing When You Have ADD

Focusing can be a challenge for any of us, but when you have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), keeping your mind on your task can become a monumental effort. Not only does no technique work for everyone, even those that do work for you can sometimes lose their effectiveness over time or will only work in certain situations. The best way to stay productive when you have ADD is to develop a focus toolkit and regard it as a fluid instrument.

A lot of the regular guidance to eliminate distractions does help. Break your task up into smaller chunks and take breaks between work periods. A timer is an essential tool to keep this on track.


juggle, time, clock, tasks


Pre-planning my workday can make a huge difference, especially planning what I’ll do during my breaks. I set my timer to five minutes because I know how easy it is to get carried away and lose myself in fantasies of fun activities. Preparing healthy snacks ahead of time makes them as convenient as junk food. Having a list of a few exercises (squats are my favorite, seated knee lifts* are a second) that I can do quickly and easily in my work area when my body needs to move makes doing these more automatic so I don’t lose my focus having to think about it.

Starting can be hard! Anxiety about your task can a huge distraction because it’s so uncomfortable. Before I know it, I find myself looking for ways to feel better. When I feel like the mountains of work will never end, I short-circuit my apprehension by making segments of the task end. Then as I dive into each segment, I put myself into focus mode, promising myself that I will be able to enjoy my relaxed, ADD mode later, during my breaks. Making this distinction between different modes of being and keeping them separate helps quell my anxiety because I have a pre-set, non-anxious way of being that I can invoke. 


carpe diem, seize the day, get things done


Sometimes I’ll sit down at the computer only to realize that I’m famished, I forgot to schedule something, or the dishes need washing. The common approach is to put these off to handle during breaks, but I find that they become an even bigger distraction if I try to ignore them. Well, maybe not the dishes…

For me, what works is to take care of those urgent things quickly and in a set amount of time. Here are some other “tried and true” techniques that may work for you:


  1. Do a “Distraction Dump.” When you first sit down at your desk, set the timer for a few minutes and jot down everything that your mind comes up with to distract you from your task. The main purpose is to cleanse your mind, but when you look over your list, you might find it more efficient to get a few of these quick things out of your way before you start.
  2. Daydream! Daydreaming can be a curse when it’s distracting us from our focused work, but in reality, it has an important place in our lives, ADD or not. Use your breaks to let your mind wander, either while just sitting in reverie or by working on a mindless task. This gives needed relief and can lead to renewed focus, like taking a micro-vacation.
  3. Learn how to make your tasks more interesting! If you find your tasks unpleasant or boring, finding ways to make them more interesting can aid those with ADD even more than others. My course, Get Motivated and Get it Done: Learn to Enjoy Doing Your Disliked Tasks can give you more energy and enthusiasm for your work as well as your personal life.
*For seated knee lifts, sit on the edge of your chair and lean back, holding onto the sides of your chair. Then raise your knees alternately in rapid succession. This a good exercise to alternate with squats so that both sides of your legs are activated.

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