A wandering mind is common for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Whether you’re talking to your boss or best friend, you might easily lose track of conversations. Or get easily distracted and forget what you were working on. Or miss details and make careless mistakes.
But this isn’t an oversight on your part. An inability to focus is a prominent symptom of ADHD. While you can’t fully control your capability to pay attention, you can find strategies that help you sustain it. Here are 15 tips to try.
1. Focus your energy on problem solving. It’s common for people with ADHD to get frustrated with their focus troubles and blame themselves. But gently remind yourself that this is a symptom of ADHD. Instead of being self-critical or judgmental, use diminishing attention as a reminder that it’s time to try one of your focus-fueling tools, said Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and author of Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload.
2. Employ some background noise. Having background noise helps drive out distractions, according to Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and author of 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Chronic Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals. When you’re studying or working, she suggested turning on your ceiling fan, a white noise machine or music on low volume.
3. Clear your workspace. “Visual clutter can impair focus,” Sarkis said. So to pay better attention, clear the disarray from your desk before sitting down to work, she said.
4. Dissect tasks and projects. It’s hard to focus when you’re overwhelmed by a big project and iffy on everything it entails. “Chunk your goal into manageable sub-goals,” Palladino said. She gave the following example: “Divide ‘Start writing this paper’ into ‘Outline 3 main points,’ ‘Plan intro,’ ‘Write first page of rough draft.’”
5. Get support from loved ones. According to Palladino, relying on people who are rooting for you can help. She suggested remembering your cheerleaders — who might be your parent, partner, child or coach — and keeping their photo close by. A 2003 University of Wisconsin study found that flashing the names of certain friends and family helped students work longer on concentration-heavy tasks.
6. Use an accountability partner. Another way to ask for support is by having an accountability partner. This could be your friend or an ADHD coach. “Make a deal with them that you will text or email them with your tasks that day, and then text or email that person as soon as you finish each task,” Sarkis said.
7. Paraphrase conversations. Paraphrasing what a person said helps you digest the conversation, ensure you understand them and formulate a response, according to Sarkis.
8. Use a “concentrated distraction.” For instance, when you’re sitting in a meeting or lecture, fiddle with a mini-Koosh ball under your desk, Sarkis said.
9. Have visual reminders of your goals. For both short-term and long-term goals, have a tangible touchstone that connects you to your objectives, Palladino said. For instance, you might keep a piece of paper with your graduation date, a photo of the car you’re saving for or the amount of money you’ll earn after finishing a project, she said.
10. Move while you work. Constantly moving can help you focus better on the task at hand, Sarkis said. One way to incorporate movement is to sit on a large exercise ball by your desk.
11. Encourage yourself along the way. Use positive self-talk to help you pay attention, Palladino said. For instance, you might remind yourself of your past successes, such as “Last term, I finished my 20-page history paper on time,” she said. Positive self-talk is helpful when it’s simple and direct, such as “I can do this,” she added.
12. Concentrate on certain words. According to Palladino, repeating anchor words like “focus” can block distractions. Another option is to create a mantra based on your task, such as “Expense report; expense report; expense report,” she said.
13. Write down everything. “If someone tells you they need you to complete some tasks, either ask for it in an email or in writing, or tell them to hold on while you get paper and a pen, or your digital device,” Sarkis said.
14. Practice healthy habits. As Palladino noted, engaging in healthy habits helps improve attention long-term. This includes: “regular sleep, physical exercise, good nutrition, limited caffeine intake, reasonable planning and — to the extent possible in today’s world — a distraction-free work environment,” she said.
15. Get a proper diagnosis. If you haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD, but you’re noticing difficulty with paying attention and these other symptoms, see an ADHD specialist for an accurate assessment. If you have ADHD, medication is a huge help. “ADHD is a neurobiological disorder, and medication can help your brain work more effectively,” Sarkis said.