How to Focus With ADHD

Strategies to Help you Stay Focused at Work

Businesswoman looking through papers on cluttered desk, elevated view

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Work can cause many frustrations for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These challenges can include struggling to start and finish tasks, difficulty prioritizing projects, and feelings of boredom.

Finding effective strategies to help you cope with certain challenges can greatly impact your work success and overall happiness. This article discusses some tips on how to focus with ADHD, including strategies that can help you deal with specific challenges and capitalize on your strengths.

Why ADHD Makes It Hard to Focus

ADHD is frequently diagnosed during childhood, but the symptoms usually persist into adulthood—although it may look slightly different in adults than in kids. The signs of ADHD may be more subtle in adults, but that does not mean that feelings of restlessness, distractability, and inattention don't affect adults in different areas of their lives.

Some of the symptoms of the condition that can make it more difficult to focus at work include:

The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) suggests that 9.8% of kids between the ages of three and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that around 4.4% of adults have ADHD. This might be due to changes in symptoms as people transition from childhood to adulthood, but it may also result from the underdiagnosis of the condition in adults.

How to Focus with ADHD

Finding strategies that work for you is important if you have adult ADHD (or suspect that you might). Not everyone has the same abilities, symptoms, experiences, or challenges, so it might take trial and error to determine how to focus with ADHD and which strategies are right for your needs.

People with ADHD are often pressured to use techniques—such as planners, schedules, and organization systems—focused on neurotypical expectations. You might find such tools helpful, but you might also feel they are stress-inducing or distracting.

And while ADHD is often framed in terms of deficits or challenges, it is important to remember that this form of neurodivergence also comes with certain benefits and strengths. For example, while you might sometime struggle to stay focused on boring tasks, your high energy levels mean you often have the enthusiasm and motivation to pursue your goals. The key is to find ways to minimize the challenges of ADHD, often by playing to your strengths.

As you learn how to focus with ADHD, some of the following techniques may be beneficial:

Avoid Multitasking

Staying focused and on task is necessary to get work completed. Some people find that this is when multitasking becomes a problem. Rather than staying focused on one task, an individual becomes distracted by multiple tasks, yet none ever gets completed.

Multitasking hurts productivity and causes people to lose time switching between tasks.

Some studies have found that multitasking can impair attention. Others suggest that it impedes executive function, which are cognitive processes that allow people to plan, organize, and execute behaviors.

Because tasks take longer, work might spill over into non-work hours, including evenings and weekends. This often creates more stress and less downtime for fun. It also infringes on home life and makes it more difficult to keep a healthy work-life balance.

Try Doing One Thing at a Time

Instead of multitasking, you might try a focused single-tasking approach. The key is setting a time limit so you can focus all of your attention on a specific task for a set period. Once that time is up, try taking a short break before either returning to the same task or moving on to a different task.

This ensures variety and can be a great way to stave off boredom. Rather than trying to shift your focus between multiple projects, it gives you a chance to work on one thing at a time while minimizing other distractions.

Use a Timer

There is more than one way to use a timer. For some people, setting a timer for 45 minutes of work followed by a 15-minute break can make it easier to get through the day. Shorter work/break periods may work better for other people.

The trick is to be sure that the amount of time you allow for work is significant enough to complete a portion of the task at hand – and that break time is long enough to feel refreshed but short enough to avoid getting involved in a new activity.

Pomodoro Technique

One variation of this is known as the Pomodoro technique. 

  • Try setting a time for 25 minutes and spend that time focused solely on working on a single task. 
  • When the timer sounds, give yourself a 5--minute break.
  • After the break, get back to work for another 25-minutes.
  • Repeat this cycle a total of four times. After the last cycle, give yourself a 20- to 30-minute break.

However, feel free to change this approach to suit your needs. You may find that you need to use longer or shorter periods of work/break cycles. For example, you might try 15 minutes work times paired with two-minute breaks.

Break Tasks Into Manageable Chunks

When you have ADHD, you may find that big projects seem overwhelming. You might struggle to figure out where and how to get started, how to organize the steps of the project, and how to maintain motivation to get it done. 

Breaking tasks into smaller pieces can help you feel less overwhelmed with all there is to do. When work feels insurmountable, procrastination can quickly take over, and getting started on any task can be hard. Chunking work into smaller, more manageable steps helps.

Before you begin, sit down and make a list of the different components of the project. Various strategies such as to-do lists, mind maps, or outlines can help you better determine the sequence of steps you'll need to follow to complete the task.

Once you've broken it down into smaller chunks, set a timer and start at the beginning. Pairing chunking with time-blocking can be an effective way to improve focus and avoid procrastination.

Use Visual Reminders

Here is a very creative and fun way to stay alert and focused on tasks: post personalized acronyms around the office to remind yourself of social and work rules that will help you manage your day. 

Keeping important things in sight can also help combat forgetfulness. If you keep certain things hidden away, you might never remember to do them. You can combat this by keeping things in visible locations, writing things down on a whiteboard, or posting notes to help jog your memory.

Connect With Positive Coworkers

A supportive co-worker who understands your difficulties with staying on task can be a source of support and encouragement. Some people have found it helpful to share information about ADHD with their employers and develop simple accommodations to make work more successful.

Weight the pros and cons of sharing your diagnosis with your employer. It may be helpful if you would like to request accommodations, but it is also a personal decision.

Not everyone is comfortable having their employer know details about their ADHD, and not all workplaces are neurodiversity-affirming.

Hand-Held Fidgets

Some people find that fidget toys—like a small ball to roll in your hands, a tactile ball to squeeze, a pen to twirl through fingers, or paper for doodling—can be helpful. A pen and paper are also helpful for taking notes or jotting down any thoughts, questions, or ideas that pop into your head while you are working. 

Fidget toys have become popular with kids and adults to improve self-regulation, but not everyone agrees that they are effective. Some research suggests they may reduce attention and create disruptions. However, you may find such objects helpful, so experiment to figure out what works best for you.

Paraphrase Instructions

If you tend to lose focus while someone is talking to you, try to paraphrase back what is said periodically during the conversation. This keeps you active and involved and helps assure that you are getting and understanding the important points the person is trying to convey.

You can do this by email or memo if it's easier and more effective. Alternatively, if you catch yourself drifting during a conversation and realize you have no idea what was just said, simply ask for it to be repeated.

Limit Distractions

Try to limit distractions as much as possible while you are at work. If possible, request a private office and shut the door to block out distractions. If this isn’t possible, ask to be placed in a spot away from the hustle and bustle of the main work area. Of course, these options aren’t always available.

Tips for Limiting Distractions

  • Use earplugs
  • Keep a white noise machine running in your workspace
  • Listen to soft music
  • Turn off digital devices (or put them on silent)
  • Remove unrelated objects from your view

Try Using Planners and Other Tools

A daily planner can be a helpful tool for many people with ADHD. Planners can help you manage your time more effectively and act as a visual aid to help overcome forgetfulness.

Some people may find that old-fashioned pen-and-paper planners are the quickest and most effective tool. In other cases, you might find that electronic software, websites, and apps work best for you.

Built a habit of actively using large calendars, day planners, daily to-do lists, and regular routines. Stick with the strategy that works for you. Block out a few minutes each day to write down important information and review upcoming due dates, tasks, projects, or appointments.

Calendars can be a great organizational tool because they are visual. Just be sure to write down important notes so you can refer back to them later.

Practice Self-Care

To fuel your focus and productivity, it is also important to ensure that you are taking care of yourself. Strategies that can help include:

  • Getting enough sleep: Sleep can play an important role in focus and attention, and evidence indicates that many American adults don't get enough sleep each night. Make it a goal to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Fuel your brain and body: A healthy diet can also help you feel better able to focus during your workday. Limit processed, high-sugar, and fried snacks instead of eating a balanced diet of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Stay active: Research indicates that regular physical activity may help improve attention and focus in people with ADHD. 

A Word From Verywell

Improving your focus at work often involves a bit of experimenting and trial and error. Keep track of which strategies you're using and monitor your progress. Consider visiting a mental health professional to assist you in managing your symptoms so you can perform your very best.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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  5. Brooker RJ, Moore MN, Van Hulle CA, Beekman CR, Begnoche JP, Lemery-Chalfant K, Goldsmith HH. Attentional control explains covariation between symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety during adolescence. J Res Adolesc. 2020;30(1):126-141. doi:10.1111/jora.12506

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By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.