As any adult with ADHD knows, this condition can be difficult to diagnose - distraction is not rare, and that gives people a tendency to diagnose us with “lazy” or “unusually bad at focusing”, which tends to result in advice that sidesteps the actual problem.
As an adult with ADHD, I would argue that there is advice to be given in the other direction. The current explanation for ADHD is a lack of dopamine receptors, which means that where a normal person would be rewarded for completing a task, we just… don’t. Instead, we get to spend our lives tricking ourselves into making things more rewarding - so I (and friends) have some tips on the subject.
Everywhere, and all the time, people will tell you that in order to focus, you need to eliminate distractions. These distractions are generally characterized as something external, where if you get rid of that thing, you become capable of working to your heart’s content. Get rid of your phone, get rid of those captivating social media sites and games, and use beams Focus Mode to block out all of your annoying beepy distractions.
And yes - that is definitely a good idea.
Unfortunately, sometimes and for some of us especially, distraction can be an internal force, which you have to struggle with whether or not you’re in the appropriate environment. This isn’t just an ADHD problem - in fact, according to author Nir Eyal in Indistractable, “internal triggers” account for 90% of all distractions. This can crop up when you’re especially tired, when you’ve had a long day, or when you’re doing particularly boring work (filling out spreadsheets). Maybe your mind keeps drifting towards dinner, or you’re conducting a suspicious amount of “research” instead of writing that report, or you keep clicking towards your facebook even when you know you shouldn’t.
In this article, I wanted my top work hacks as someone with ADHD.
Start the next task before you leave.
It’s probably nicer to do the dishes if your sister brings them to the kitchen. In the same vein, it’s more fun to write the article if yesterday you got the evidence sorted. There’s several reasons why this works so well - not only is there less work to do, but there’s a better environment to begin with, and it also leaves an itch in the back of your mind that makes it almost freeing to get back to it.
And what do I mean by a better environment? I mean that you have helped alleviate some of the inherent distraction of a break. According to our data, one of the main reasons that Beams is so helpful is because we do the job of compiling calendars and meetings for our users in an easy to reach place. This removes the distraction in having to fiddle around with setting up tabs and checking calendars, and finding where you put this or that, or getting your pen and pencil out. If you set all that up before you leave, you’ve utilized the momentum of almost-break-time to skip a good chunk of the danger zone.
You are now free to frolic, and you had the fortune of putting it in your head beforehand. Now you get to mull over it in your Default Mode Network (see Take A Break), so you come back with all sorts of ideas.
Have you ever been told to make your New Year’s Goals achievable? Because you might not actually manage to exercise more than twice a week, but you will go to that vegan place you like three times a week if you make a commitment.
One of the big problems that can show up with ADHD is mess - in your head, outside your head, on your computer, on your desk. It’s such a nice idea, to commit to keeping all your paperwork color coded and put away, or setting up all your work on your calendar at the beginning of the week. Unfortunately, some of those commitments can fall apart. Maybe some of your files can’t quite be resolved but you have to work on something else, or maybe your colleague just won’t confirm when they want the meeting and now you don’t know where you can fit in your side-project. Two weeks later, nothing’s in order.
If you think you can keep to the commitment - great! But if, historically, there are certain things that just never seem to stay in place, you should take a closer look why, and how you can accommodate that, instead of continuously trying to force yourself into a habit you won’t keep.
Make folders for “in progress” or “I don’t want to look at this right now”. Notice which projects keep ending up in progress, and make specific, easy to reach folders for those. Set up a pipeline for your indecisive colleague to pick his hours around you instead, by blocking out work time with beams Focus mode. Put post-it notes where you actually do see them, and set up tags on notion for even the smallest tasks you need to do.
Overall, it’s just really important to take a hard look at what isn’t working, and change that, instead of trying to mold yourself to whatever seems like the most orderly, straightforward approach.
One of the biggest lessons you have to learn when managing ADHD is that the best way to improve the way you live is to adapt to the person you already are, and that’s advice that works for everyone. You can make it easier to work by creating an environment that suits your tendencies, and you can make that easier to start by preparing even a tiny piece of your project in advance. If you especially struggle with getting started, go check out 3 ADHD Tips for Managing Dysfunction, the second part to this article.