Psychotherapist and ADHD coach Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, believes that technology is a double-edged sword for adults with ADHD. It helps you be efficient. But it also distracts you from your work. Because before you know it, you’ve spent one hour surfing the web for something you can’t even remember. Or you find yourself sending just one more text when an important project requires your attention. And, inevitably, just one more leads to 20.
“Technology is like a drug, providing that dopamine hit after dopamine hit. It’s really stimulating,” said Eric Tivers, LCSW, a psychotherapist and ADHD coach who leads the ADHD reWired Coaching & Accountability Group. And that’s powerful for people with ADHD since they have low levels of dopamine.
In a previous piece we shared five suggestions on managing technology so it doesn’t manage you—everything from tracking your use to, ironically, using apps to block the internet. Below are five more tips and tricks to try, some of which also include using apps to your advantage.
Ask someone else to create a concrete barrier.
One of Tivers’s clients is a big gamer, who realized that he was playing way too much. He asked his girlfriend to set up the parental controls on his games to limit his use.
What type of technology do you need to stay accountable with? Who can you ask to help you? Maybe it’s your spouse, best friend or an ADHD coach. You might brainstorm together to create an effective buddy system.
Try a digital to-do list.
“It can be mightily motivating to stay away from tech distractions when you have a great to-do list or task management app,” said Matlen, author of two books on ADHD, including The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus and Get More Done. Her clients like these apps:
However, make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself with too many tasks, said Tivers, who hosts the podcast ADHD reWired. And make sure that you don’t let picking a good app turn into another distraction.
Use unpleasant sounds.
Naturally, we tend to pick notification sounds that are pleasant to hear. Or the sounds that are already built in are positive, such as those for email programs. Matlen suggested finding a .wav or other audio file that you hate or is irritable. “You’ll be more apt to want to turn off your mail program.” (Here’s one website to check out.)
Be sure to self-reflect.
Check in with yourself regularly on how technology is affecting you—especially before you start checking your social media feeds and in the moment that you’re using technology. For instance, Matlen suggested considering these questions: “What should I be doing right now that I need to be doing and that which is good for me? Will I feel better or worse after doing this?”
Set rules for texting.
If texting is a problem, ask your loved ones to only text you during specific times of the day, such as your breaks and lunch, said Matlen, also creator of the online coaching group QueensOfDistraction.com. If it’s an emergency, ask them to call you (on your work phone).
Make your smartphone more difficult to access, she said. For instance, put it in your purse or brief case. Put it in a desk drawer, or keep it in another room altogether.
Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb.” Smartphones also have settings that let you control when you receive texts and from whom, she said. If you’re the one who tends to text, then jot down your text: “who, what, can this wait? Then wait until you’re on your break or after work and text then.”
The best method, if you’re able to do it, is to completely shut off your phone when you’re at work, Matlen said.
Both Tivers and Matlen stressed the importance of not being so hard on yourself. There’s a lot of shame that can come with not being able to follow through. But remember that ADHD inherently makes starting and completing tasks that much harder. And it loves shiny, ever-shifting things like email, texts, video games and social media.
Examine how you use technology every day. Consider when it becomes a problem. And remember that you can use technology as a reward after you complete your work or chores, Matlen said.
Experiment with different tools to see what works well for you. Come up with your own creative solutions. And remember that you’ve got this. It’s not easy. But most worthwhile things rarely are.