How to Focus With ADHD
Focusing with ADHD can be challenging, but these tips can help people with ADHD improve concentration and increase productivity.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
August 11, 2023
Table of Contents
Tips for maintaining attention and focus
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. ADHD symptoms can vary in severity and may present differently among different people, but all of them make managing attention and focusing challenging. Thankfully, there are many strategies and tips that can help improve concentration and productivity for people with ADHD.
Remember that finding the right strategies may require some trial and error, as what works best for one person may not work for another. Be patient with yourself and be open to adjusting your approach as needed. Here are tips for focusing with ADHD.
Create a structured environment
Establish a daily routine and organize your physical space to reduce distractions and create a conducive environment for focus. Minimize clutter, keep essential items in designated places, and maintain a consistent schedule for tasks and activities.
Use timers and alarms
Set timers to create structured work periods with designated breaks. This can help maintain focus by providing a clear start and end time for tasks and preventing hyperfocus or getting lost in distractions.
Break tasks into smaller steps
Large or complex tasks can be overwhelming, making starting or completing them hard. Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and focus on one step at a time. Celebrate your achievements as you complete each step.
Determine which tasks are most important and need immediate attention. Create a to-do list and prioritize tasks based on deadlines and importance. Tackling high-priority tasks first can help you stay focused and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Use visual aids
Visual cues can be helpful for maintaining focus. Use color-coded labels, sticky notes, or visual reminders to prompt and guide your attention to specific tasks or upcoming events.
Identify common distractions in your environment and take steps to minimize them. For example, turn off notifications on your phone or use website blockers to prevent access to distracting websites during work or study time.
Utilize fidget toys
Some people with ADHD find that using fidget toys or tools like stress balls can help channel excess energy and improve focus during tasks that do not require fine motor skills.
Take regular breaks
Schedule short, regular breaks during tasks to recharge and prevent burnout. Physical activity or brief walks help release pent-up energy and improve focus upon returning to the task.
Practice mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can enhance self-awareness and help train your mind to refocus when distracted.
Establish a system of rewards for completing tasks or staying focused for a specific duration. Positive reinforcement can help motivate and reinforce good habits.
Get enough sleep and exercise
Adequate sleep and regular physical activity are essential for managing ADHD symptoms and promoting overall well-being, including attention and focus.
Consider medication and therapy
Consult a healthcare professional about medication options and behavioral therapy. Medication can help manage symptoms, while therapy can provide coping strategies and support.
Why ADHD makes it hard to focus
ADHD affects the brain’s executive functions, which are responsible for tasks like attention, focus, impulse control, and organization. The condition is associated with neurotransmitter imbalances, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine, which are crucial in regulating attention and focus. Furthermore, brain imaging studies have shown that some regions of the brain responsible for attention and focus, such as the prefrontal cortex, may be underactive in individuals with ADHD. This reduced activity can affect their ability to filter out distractions and concentrate on a specific task.
Another challenge faced by people with ADHD is working memory deficits. Working memory is the ability to hold and manipulate information in mind while performing tasks. Those with ADHD often struggle with working memory, making it challenging to keep track of multiple pieces of information and stay focused on a task.
Additionally, ADHD can make individuals highly sensitive to external stimuli, leading to increased distractibility. Even seemingly minor distractions can easily shift their attention away from the task at hand. Moreover, ADHD can affect a person’s motivation and interest in a task. Tasks that are perceived as boring or unstimulating may be difficult to sustain attention on, while tasks that are highly engaging can capture their attention more easily.
People with ADHD may also have difficulties with time perception, struggling to estimate and manage time effectively. This can lead to challenges in allocating enough time to complete tasks or feeling overwhelmed by time pressure, further affecting their ability to focus.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
As mentioned, most people with ADHD experience symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms can vary in severity and may present differently among individuals, primarily depending on the specific ADHD diagnosis that someone has. Symptoms must persist for at least six months, occur in multiple settings (like home, school, or work), and significantly impair daily functioning to meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
The presentation of symptoms can also change as a child grows and matures, and some people may develop effective coping strategies over time. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is essential to seek a comprehensive evaluation from a qualified healthcare professional or a specialist in ADHD to make an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate management plan.
Here’s a breakdown of the three main types of ADHD and their corresponding symptoms:
Predominantly inattentive presentation
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
Predominantly inattentive ADHD involves difficulty sustaining attention, organizing tasks, avoiding mentally demanding activities, forgetfulness, and being easily distracted.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD involves fidgeting, restlessness, excessive talking, impulsivity, and difficulty waiting or taking turns.
People with a mixed ADHD presentation show a mix of symptoms from both the “can’t focus” and “hyper and impulsive” sides of ADHD.
1. Predominantly inattentive presentation (formerly known as ADD)
Symptoms mainly related to ADHD with a predominantly inattentive presentation include:
- Difficulty sustaining attention on tasks or activities
- Trouble organizing tasks and activities
- Avoidance of tasks requiring sustained mental effort
- Frequent forgetfulness in daily activities
- Often losing things needed for tasks
- Difficulty listening and following instructions
- Becoming easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or stimuli
2. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
Symptoms mainly related to ADHD with a predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation include:
- Fidgeting or squirming in seat
- Inability to stay seated in appropriate situations
- Running or climbing in inappropriate situations
- Excessive talking, even when it’s not appropriate
- Interrupting or intruding on others’ conversations or activities
- Difficulty waiting for turns
- Acting impulsively without considering consequences
3. Combined presentation
People who have a combined presentation of ADHD display a combination of symptoms from both the inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive presentations of ADHD.
Is ADHD a neurodivergent disorder?
ADHD is considered by many to be a neurodivergent condition. Neurodivergence refers to people whose neurological makeup differs from the dominant societal norms. This can include conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and others.
Neurodivergent people have diverse cognitive styles, perceptions, and ways of processing information, which may deviate from what is considered neurotypical or the societal norm. In the case of ADHD, people experience persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can significantly impact their daily functioning and social interactions.
The concept of neurodiversity recognizes that neurological differences, including those associated with ADHD, are a natural part of human diversity and should be respected and accommodated. The Neurodiversity Movement promotes understanding and acceptance of neurodivergent people and seeks to create inclusive environments that value their unique strengths and perspectives. By recognizing ADHD as neurodivergent, we can foster empathy, support, and appropriate accommodations for people living with this condition.
What are the treatments to help manage ADHD symptoms?
The management of ADHD typically involves a combination of different treatments, including behavioral interventions, educational support, and, in some cases, medication. The specific approach may vary depending on a person’s age, symptom severity, and other factors. Here are some common treatments used to help manage ADHD symptoms:
Behavioral therapy, often in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can benefit people with ADHD. This type of therapy focuses on teaching coping strategies, time management, organizational skills, and problem-solving techniques. CBT helps people develop more adaptive behaviors and address specific challenges related to ADHD.
Parent training and education
Parents or caregivers of children with ADHD can benefit from training and education programs. These programs provide guidance on managing their child’s behavior, implementing effective discipline strategies, and creating structured routines at home.
Students with ADHD may need additional educational support to succeed in school. This may involve Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans, which outline accommodations and modifications to meet the student’s specific needs, such as extended time for exams or reduced distractions in the classroom.
Medication is a common treatment option for managing ADHD symptoms. Stimulant medications (e.g., methylphenidate or amphetamine-based drugs) are often prescribed to improve attention, focus, and impulse control. Non-stimulant medications (e.g., atomoxetine or certain antidepressants) are also available for those who cannot tolerate or do not respond well to stimulants.
Counseling and support groups
Individual or group counseling can provide emotional support and help people with ADHD address social and emotional challenges. Support groups can offer a sense of community and understanding, allowing people with ADHD to share experiences and coping strategies.
Organization and time management techniques
Learning and practicing organizational skills and time management techniques can help people with ADHD stay on top of tasks, reduce forgetfulness, and improve overall productivity.
Exercise and physical activity
Regular physical activity can be beneficial for managing ADHD symptoms. Exercise can help release excess energy, improve mood, and enhance cognitive function.
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques
Practicing mindfulness and relaxation exercises can help people with ADHD reduce stress, improve self-awareness, and enhance attention and focus.
Managing ADHD with Charlie Health
If navigating life with ADHD is feeling overwhelming, Charlie Health is here to help. At Charlie Health, our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) combines individual therapy, supported groups, and family therapy to create a personalized treatment plan based on your unique mental health needs. Our clinicians are here to answer your questions, discuss your treatment options, and help you manage ADHD. Fill out this short form to get started today.