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12 Surprising Ways to Improve Your Focus When You Have ADHD

12 Surprising Ways to Improve Your Focus When You Have ADHD

It’s frustrating, isn’t it? You have trouble filtering information. You constantly feel scattered. You can’t seem to manage and plan your time effectively — to the point that you’re constantly late, forgetful, and unable to meet engagements or deadlines.

In today’s fast-pace world, society demands that you’d be on point, meticulous, or productive. Anything but that, you’re put into a box of broken dolls. So naturally, you believe that you’re stupid, that you’re powerless, and that you’re unable to change your life’s course.

Your anger rumbles and you can’t help but wondering: how can others can get things done or move forward so effortlessly? Are you missing that special chip in your brain that allows you to stay focused?

You’ve been lead to believe that if you’re not highly efficient, you’re unlike the norm — you have a disease called “attention deficit” (ADHD). And it’s confusing because ADHD is not an attention deficit. It’s rather a deficit in the ability to control your degree of attention, of impulsivity, and of hyperactivity.

What you need is clever and somewhat unconventional strategies to put in practice. This way, you can manage and improve your focus.

So let’s dive in.

1. Throw out your paper planner

Normally, keeping a paper calendar or planner is a great way to write things down like appointments, reminders, birthdays, your kids’ countless activities…

There’s just one problem, though… You need to remember to look at it!

Sure, you might think that you have a great memory. You do for certain things. But your memory works best when you associate newly received information with a strong emotion or a sensory experience (sound, image, odor). Otherwise, for someone like you, remembering things easily can be difficult — as new ideas constantly race in your head at a thousand miles an hour.

So setting electronic and physical triggers work best. Synchronize your electronic calendars or reminder apps and place reminder objects in strategic places.

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2. Stop listing it all

You might believe you need to write down everything that needs to be done in order to remember them. But that’s the last thing you should do. Why? Because people like you can write or rewrite a ridiculous amount of lists. (I know I have.)

The problem is not the list in itself; it’s the implementation. It doesn’t take any effort to write down all the things you should do. But it does take effort to act upon them (even the quicker tasks). Because as soon as a shiny object presents itself, you can easily look the other way.

So only list things that require more than 5 minutes to do and do the ones that can be taken care of in lesser time right away. Seriously! This way, your list will be lighter.

3. Postpone certain tasks

Isn’t postponing tasks a bad thing? It is if you keep postponing them repeatedly. And that’s called procrastination — which I’m not telling you to do. No way Jose. Procrastination is your worst enemy.

What I’m saying is that certain tasks require a lot more time to get done. To know whether some of them require immediate attention or not, you’ll need to assess the tasks. Decide if they fit your context, your availability, your level of energy, and your priorities first.

Here’s another trick. You can postpone certain tasks if:

1) You don’t have uncomfortable feelings, like boredom, guilt, tension, indecisiveness, etc.
2) You don’t say “I’ll do it later” without knowing exactly when.

Write them down on a list (remember: they have to take more than 5 min to do), then review it once or twice a week to get them done.

4. Don’t get stuck in details

Being detailed-oriented is generally a good thing. But you need to watch out. You can focus so much on certain details that you can lose yourself in them and lose track of time. And the next thing you know, you didn’t accomplish all the other things you wanted to spend time on.

People like you are sometimes perfectionists. So the best thing to do is to set a timer, an alarm clock, or what have you, when doing all your tasks. Leave out certain details and come back to them at a later time. Or, delegate them if they’re time-wasters.

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Anyway, what does perfection look like? Move on to the next thing. You’ll be much more likely to reach all your goals this way.

5. Forget about decluttering first

It’s always nice to start fresh in a clean, neat environment. This should help improve organization and focus. It’s understandable.

How could you ever get anything done or churn out your best ideas in a cluttered space? But be aware that cleaning your space can be a double-edged sword.

If your space is a big mess, decluttering your space becomes a project in itself. And such a project can last a very long time before accomplishing the first task.

So if time is a constraint, you need to divide your projects into mini-projects and clean your space during times you’re not doing anything important.

6. Don’t take notes to a tee

Nobody will argue that taking notes while someone is speaking allows you to remember things later. But in my experience, I’ve found that I still lose bits and pieces of the conversation. And sometimes, I lose the most important information because I’m too busy taking notes. If that’s your case, I suggest doing this instead.

Record long talks with a dictation app. (If you’re a having a private conversation, make sure it stays private.) Listening to the recordings adds another task to your schedule, but trust me, you won’t regret it.

You can try to pay attention as much as you can and if you wander off, it’s okay. You’ll have your recordings to refer to and will remember things twice as much because of the repetition.

7. Ignore your incoming messages

Of course, the more you can respond to your messages quickly, the more you can keep things rolling. And especially nowadays, with all the technological progress we’ve gone through. Technological progress like voice mails, emails, and text messages mean people expect and sometimes demand immediate answers.

But the world doesn’t stop if you don’t respond right away. You don’t have to be a slave to always having to be available for phone messages or emails. Doing so can distract you and derail you from taking care of your most important tasks.

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If you’re prone to distraction, rather than reading and responding to these incessant incoming signals as they come, allocate specific times to respond to people.

8. Break the silence

Most people would say to limit other distractions or work in a quiet place in order to focus better. It’s even highly recommended to turn off or get away from any disturbing sound. The constant signaling of electronic devices (like mentioned earlier) or chatter from other people standing near you can be of putting.

But some people find that dead silence can be even more distracting and, to the contrary, background noise can help drive away distractions. When you’re studying or working, you can turn on your ceiling fan, a white noise machine or music on low volume (more about this later). This gives a constant noise and doesn’t call for your attention.

9. Embrace your least favorite task

If you have trouble getting things done, some people would say to start with the thing you love doing first to get things going. Although, it’s a great starter, it’s also a great killer. Because you leave the things you hate doing the most for last and when it comes to accomplishing it, you can find it even harder to do so.

So when you plan out your day, tackle the things you’re least passionate about first. Tackle all the things that seem tedious or boring to you. Get rid of them once and for all.

Once completed, your focus will improve when working on the other tasks since they’ll be more enjoyable.

10. Schedule time to be idle

Wait a minute. Idleness is the complete opposite of productivity, right? Not if you’re strategic. If you’re easily distracted or impulsive, you can become even more so under stress. And boredom can also ruin your productivity.

That’s why it’s important to take breaks. That’s why, it’s important to give yourself time to regroup. So make it important to detach yourself from your work and schedule time to relax, be it just deep breathing, meditation or visualization.

You can also move around. Getting up to walk around and stretching may be all you need. These things will help you get into a very focused state and help you make well-considered decisions when it comes to your priorities and actions.

11. Talk to yourself out loud

I’ll admit that people might think you’re completely loco if you talk to yourself, akin to the ones who have conversations with themselves in the subway. It’s far better to do it in closed doors. But it’s even better to do it purposefully.

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When you put objects in places, voice where you put them. Or when someone says something, paraphrase the conversation. In the first case, this will help you register where you’ve placed your items and lower the risk of losing them. In the second case, this will help you digest the conversation and ensure you understand the other person in order to formulate a response.

12. Continue fidgeting

Restlessness is a sign of hyperactivity or more fundamentally, impatience — whether you can’t stand still in one place or you cut people off when they speak all the time. But if you learn to occupy that urge to fidget, it can come to your advantage.

In fact, you can enhance your focus and improve your productivity in your primary tasks when engaging in mindless secondary tasks. I’m not talking about wriggling in your seat erratically and unconsciously. I’m talking about pacing your movements intentionally. I’m talking about using a “focused distraction.”

For instance, leave your desk to take a walk and listen to ambient music. Use a fidget toy that has interesting shapes and textures — such as pens or pencils, stones, Nerf balls, etc. Or, sit on a large exercise ball by your desk.

How to Be Successful

Paying attention can sometimes be a challenge. Especially in a world in constant movement where you need to conform and be compatible with a stiff lifestyle that isn’t yours, especially the workplace.

You don’t suffer from a lack of intelligence, strength, or talent. Your brain just works differently. You have the same abilities and potential as others. So don’t let that impede your professional or personal success.

Stop being a space cadet. Stop being ineffective. Stop being negligent.

Use the tricks above to boost your productivity. Attack your day in a whole different way and make your countless ideas come true.

Because you are an innovative thinker. You are a visionary. You are a creative genius.

It’s time to show your creative prowess and be a force to be reckoned with.

More by this author

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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