Finding focus and sustaining it can be challenging with ADHD, but these strategies can help you develop your attention skills.
Scattered thoughts and difficulty concentrating can be part of living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). You might set ambitious goals only to find yourself getting distracted or walking away completely.
This lack of focus can present challenges at school, at work, and at home.
While you may not be able to force yourself to focus, there are ways you can help sustain your focus.
Being easily distracted when you live with ADHD does not mean you’re lazy, have a poor work ethic, or are being rude.
Almost all of us have days when we find it hard to stay focused. Distractions are everywhere. Barking dogs, fighting kids, phone notifications — all of these can pull our attention away from what we should be doing.
When you live with ADHD, staying focused can be even more of a challenge. You may tend to procrastinate often.
The primary symptoms of ADHD are inattention and lack of focus. The reason for this may lie in your brain chemistry.
Research suggests that people with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine — neurotransmitters in the brain associated with attention and focus. They are that “nudge” in our brain that motivates us to do stuff.
But while focusing might be a challenge, it’s not impossible.
Improving your focus means learning what works best for you. Not every method will be a good fit for your unique situation.
It might take some trial and error to find the right ones for you.
Create a thought dump
Distraction can be one of the greatest hurdles when it comes to focusing on a task.
It can be tempting to want to follow every thought that pops into your head, and you might feel that these new thoughts take priority over what you’re currently doing.
Thinking, “I forgot to put the laundry in the dryer” while you’re putting together a new TV stand could sidetrack you for hours.
To help honor those other tasks you want to get done while still staying on track, consider keeping a notepad or whiteboard where you can “thought dump.”
As a thought enters your mind, write it down to be completed at a more convenient time.
Deliberately interrupting a task might help you focus on completing it.
Experts theorize that pulling yourself away from a task creates a tension and fixation on the task that ultimately enhances your focus. Your brain was focused, and then the object of that focus was taken away, which can leave you feeling incomplete.
While distractions can be a risk during project interruption, setting an alarm for short breaks may help you want to get back to what you were doing.
Work with someone you trust
Having someone who supports your efforts might help keep you on track during the day.
Whether it’s at work or at home, another person can help you be accountable for what you’re doing. They can gently guide you if you seem distracted, or they can help redirect your energy.
If you can’t have a trusted support partner with you in person, having someone contact you regularly throughout the day might also make a difference.
Work toward clarity
Understanding a task can impact how motivated you feel to complete it.
Projects and jobs that are vague can feel too daunting to start, or you may not know where to begin.
If you feel hesitant or distracted about what you’re doing, asking clarifying questions might help. The more details you know, the easier it can be to create an outline of what needs to be done.
Give yourself deadlines
A loose deadline — or no deadline at all — can fool you into thinking you have plenty of time to complete what you’re working on.
If you get distracted, you can justify putting off the original task because you “have all the time in the world” to get it done.
Deadlines provide a solid goal and can help you manage your time.
Turn off your smartphone
If your smartphone isn’t critical to the work you’re doing, you may benefit from turning it off.
Smartphones provide easy access to everything from social media to games, and before you know it, you’ve spent hours watching videos and posting memes.
By turning your phone off completely, you can help fight that urge to surf the internet, even if you give in to the impulse to pick up your phone.
Use organization tools
Notepads and whiteboards are fantastic tools when it comes to organization, but why stop there?
Electronic reminders, alarms, and scheduling apps can help you maintain focus during the day. These programs can be set to notify you of upcoming obligations, or they can repeatedly remind you about time-sensitive tasks.
Write yourself notes (not just reminders!)
Notes can be great when it comes to reminding you about what you need to focus on. They can also be motivational tools.
A note can remind you to pay your water bill by the end of the day. It can also remind you how much you’re looking forward to having a finished deck out back.
Recalling the end-goal for projects can increase your motivation. Yes, building a deck is difficult, but having family and friends over for meals together is priceless.
Break tasks down
Some tasks are more involved than others. When you’re faced with a complicated task, breaking it down into smaller goals may help.
Small goals within a larger goal can prevent a project from feeling as though it’s taking too long.
Smaller goals can also help maintain a sense of accomplishment, which can help you feel motivated.
Keep your workplace clean
Distractions don’t have to take the form of thoughts. Sitting in an untidy space can offer distractions of its own.
You may find yourself wanting to reorganize those files in the middle of the email you’re writing. Maybe you’re fidgeting with a broken stapler.
Keeping your workplace clean and tidy can help keep you from getting sidetracked.
Make use of healthy distractions (stress balls)
Sometimes being able to focus excessive energy mid-task can keep your mind from wandering.
Fidget gadgets, stress balls, and even chewing gum can sometimes give your brain a harmless outlet that doesn’t take you away from your overall goal.
Repeat anchor words
Anchor words are words or phrases that can bring you back to what’s most important during the day.
By repeating certain words or having visual reminders of them, you can help bring your mind back to your primary goal.
Repeating or seeing the word “bills,” for example, can bring you out of a distraction.
Anchor words can also help you refocus during conversations. If you’re sitting through a lecture, training yourself to hone in on certain key words can help bring your mind back to the discussion.
Like words, images can help reorient your focus.
Hanging a picture of a beautiful bathroom on your refrigerator, for example, can help remind you that you need to finish installing the new water tap.
It’s also a reminder of a larger goal for the space.
Once the water tap is installed, you’ll have completed the task and will be one step closer to that dream renovation.
Make a plan
Planning goes hand-in-hand with breaking down tasks and clarifying them.
You may have small goals, and you may be clear on the details, but if you don’t know where to start, you may never begin at all.
Creating a plan not only keeps you goal-oriented, it helps you create a timeline to stay on track.
Find a relaxation technique
When you live with ADHD, inattention doesn’t always relate to tasks or projects. You may get lost in conversations, or you may find that you start to skim, rather than read, long documents.
When you need a quick focus technique, adding relaxation training could be the answer.
If you’re living with ADHD and you’re having trouble focusing and sustaining attention, you’re not alone. Lack of focus and inattention are telltale symptoms of ADHD.
There are resources that can help you retain your focus. Consider trying one of these free tools from ADDitude Magazine:
- 6 Ways to Retain Focus
- Daily Focus List
- Stop Procrastinating! 18 ADHD-Friendly Ways to Get Things Done
Here are some of our other resources to help you learn ways to manage daily life with ADHD:
- 12 Foolproof Tips for Finding Focus
- Tips for Living with ADHD
- How Do You Concentrate?
- 9 Ways for Adults with ADHD to Get Motivated
- 9 Tips for Creating a Routine for Adults with ADHD
If you need extra help, consider using an ADHD Coach. A coach can teach you strategies to help accomplish your goals and overcome challenges. You can connect with a coach using the ADHD Coaches Organization directory.
If you have ADHD, symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention are common. Lacking focus is not a reflection of you or your work ethic.
Though finding focus — and reining it back in when it strays — might be frustrating, there are ways you can sustain it, even during boring tasks.
Remember that every technique might not work for you. The trick is to try each one until you find the one that does work.
If these tips and focus exercises aren’t working, consider talking with your doctor or a mental health professional. They can work with you to create a treatment and management plan for your needs.