Coping with ADD?
January 26, 2008 7:31 PM   Subscribe

I have ADD. What are some specific steps that can help me focus on getting a task done?

I was diagnosed as having a 'borderline' case of ADD: I showed some symptoms, but not enough that they thought it was worthwhile to treat at the time. Consequentially, I am not prescribed anything to help, nor am I seeing anyone to help.

I function well most of the time. But periodically, no matter how hard I try, I just can't concentrate.

So how do I cope with situations where I can't put the task off for another time, but I can't get myself to focus? Surely there are some tips out there.
posted by fogster to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I found the book "Driven to Distraction," by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, to be very helpful
posted by winston at 7:38 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second "Driven to Distraction." I haven't read it personally, but I've heard some rave reviews on it from people in the field.

Sites like this might help, but they're probably geared more to school aged individuals.

I think a google search with keywords like "adult adhd interventions" might help. This site had some tips under the self-management section:
Adults with ADHD benefit considerably from direct education about the disorder. They can use information about their deficits to develop compensatory strategies. Planning and organization can be improved by encouraging patients to make lists and use computerized schedules. Placing a large calendar with important dates and deadlines in a central location in the home or workplace is a valuable memory aid.20 Ways to reduce distractions may include having a clutter-free desk, a carrel-style desk or a windowless office. ADHD adults may benefit from going to work early to accomplish tasks before coworkers arrive and phones begin ringing. Most adults are aware of their "personal clock" and know their prime times for completing intellectually demanding tasks. Task completion can be improved by systematically breaking down large projects into manageable "chunks," each with its own deadline.20

Adults with ADHD should be educated about their elevated risk for drug and alcohol dependence and should be encouraged to drink in moderation or practice abstinence.
How long ago was your assessment? If it's been a while, it might help you to see a psychologist/psychiatrist for a new assessment. He/She should also be able to give you some tips for living with the attention difficulties.
posted by Nickel at 7:54 PM on January 26, 2008

Response by poster: The diagnosis was several years ago. I do plan to go back for a re-evaluation, because I think it's gotten worse.

I very much appreciate the replies so far; they're helpful. But my question was more of a, "What can I do right now?," immediate type one.
posted by fogster at 8:05 PM on January 26, 2008

Ever try meditating? If you're borderline ADD it might be a helpful activity to doesn't even need to be spiritual...the idea is instead of concentrating, sit in a quiet room and concentrate on nothing. The reason I mention it is your dilemma could be largely due to stress or anxiety (eg. when you mention you have tasks you can't put off until a later time)

An ADD diagnosis doesn't neccessarily mean that you have it clinically. It could be entirely due to your stress or anxiety levels...or pace of your lifestyle, which is where finding time to yourself really distractions. Also, finding the time to relax and focus on yourself will often leave you more prepared to focus on tasks in the future.

Other than that give yourself plenty of time for everything...train your mind to remember details, make sure you're getting the right amount of sleep. It might be tough to do, but it's not impossible given enough time and focus...noticing, but primarily tuning out other distractions.

Maybe grab a nice PDA to help keep the rest of your life organized, minimize the amount of things you have to worry about.
posted by samsara at 8:14 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd try getting a second opinion with another psych/therapist. If you're really distracted, drugs might help. But they're not perfect, you will probably be trying loads of drugs before you find the right combination, and as I've unfortunately discovered, the older you get, the less likely they'll work.

But to actually answer your question, when I need to knuckle down and focus, I do one of three things:

1. Self-medicate with a double tall mocha. The caffeine isn't a permanent solution, but it'll at least jump start me long enough that I can get stuck into what needs to be done and the trademark ADHD hyperfocus kicks in.

2. Break the big project down into little 3-5 minute pieces, then challenge myself to complete them in a set timeframe. I'll set the clock to go off every 5 minutes, then just plow through. I take a break every 30-45 minutes just for sanity's sake. Honestly, setting ANY artificial deadline works for me.

3. If all else fails, I just pick something easy and start and hope that it engages the hyperfocus.

Sorry this is the best I can do. I struggle with trying to stay engaged all the time. It almost got me fired recently. Of course, when I'm focused, I do killer work. I just can't stay focused at that level without my brain melting down.
posted by dw at 8:17 PM on January 26, 2008

Best answer: I've been living with ADD all of my 55 years, and have developed specific techniques to compensate.

Lots of the answers above do not address what you seek, they don't see the "trees for the forest" (sic) like we do. (Not the forest for the trees...) In other words, we see details but no generalizations unless we are in the hyper focus stage like dw indicated.

Coffee-good, works like meth for us ADD people.

A simple kitchen timer to break up the projects into chunks.

Hard rock music-loud (or something equally annoying) playing in the area you're working.

A reward such as a beer, chocolate or a movie for yourself after the task is done.

I've also found a whiteboard is great for keeping tabs on your progress for each task, write it down then cross it off each step of the way, it keeps you moving and gives little rewards along the way.

A brisk walk before you start to cleanse the body and tire the muscles.

Deep breathing with a cleansing breath as you sit to do your task.


Good luck.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 8:52 PM on January 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: From what I have heard from other parents, Sushma's advice is very good. I'll add a few details that might help
1. Use the timer! Set it for the amount of time you can realistically concentrate - even if just 5 minutes.
2. When the timer goes off, get up out of your chair and "Shake the willies out" (It's a Raffi song - move around, stretch a bit for 30-60 seconds)
3. After a couple of short work sessions reward yourself with a real break. Set the timer here too if your breaks tend to run to long.
4. Create a distraction of your own choice (like hard rock) to block out everything else that would be distracting you. (Headphones would be considerate if anyone else is around.)
posted by metahawk at 9:05 PM on January 26, 2008

Work in a location with no distractions. If necessary, use a bathroom. Stay away from using the computer if possible. Make it a rule that you can't get near the computer, television, or telephone until you are done. This is always the problem for me. (Going on the internet and getting distracted by MeFi is the last thing you need). If you are writing a long paper or something of the like, get a table and sit on the toilet where there is nothing to take your time. Make a strict schedule (i.e. 5:00 to 6:00 is x and 6:00-6:15 is free and 6:15-7:00 is y) Punish yourself if you fail to follow it. (take away spending money, etc...) If you start to get restless, stop working on what you are doing and do something else for a bit. Take a short food break. Just don't go on the internet. Remember the last thing you want is to be forced to sit and work.

if you are unable to pay attention long enough to read this, you need really need medication.
posted by ooklala at 9:17 PM on January 26, 2008

Best answer: I apparently lived a "normal" life with undiagnosed ADHD through the use of compensatory behaviors (except housework, which was what led to the diagnosis recently). Some of these are:

* Outlook, Google Calendar & iCal synchronization with recurring appointments and alarms for a wide range of activities. I enter reminders using whatever method I have on hand when I think of the item. Remember The Milk is also popular.
* Daily to-do lists. I set an Outlook reminder for 4:55PM to get me to start tomorrow's to-do list.
* Google notebook. Or a paper notebook if you work better in hard copy.
* If you are a procrastinator: Structured Procrastination. Step cautiously with this, as it can make an already scattered process harder. You really do need to have a physical list in order to structure effectively.
* Embrace your ability to multi-task! If you can collect many "small" tasks, or tasks that can be broken down into multiple small bites, you can switch between them as your attention wanders. This works well in conjunction with the structured procrastination.
* Reward structures and achievable, measurable goals (for example "To leave my seat no more than twice during this meeting," rather than "To behave"). If you have an external observer who can help you gauge whether your goals are effective and attainable, use them.
* Red Bull/Tea/Coffee or other stimulants as necessary.
posted by subbes at 9:56 PM on January 26, 2008

I don't know how well my suggestions will help, I've never had ADHD. But I have lived a life with no internet in my home, no tv, regular reading and mediation. Right now I live a life with constant internet, TV, no meditation and no reading. And there is a HUGE difference in my ability to focus on anything. Right now I have trouble reading a book, sitting through a movie and doing lots of other little things.
posted by bindasj at 6:35 AM on January 27, 2008

I respectfully disagree with ooklala. The more overall noise and activity as a background is best for those with ADD. The very BEST time for me to focus is when I ride my motorcycle-fast. All the cool air, noises, smells, the riding technique, balance, taste of the air, the dirt, dust, bumps in the road, ALL of the distractions one gets while keeping a 500 lb machine upright and moving the legal limit are the prescription for supreme vision and mental illumination. Whenever I have an issue or project to plan, I ride, ride RIDE for as long as it takes to get the answers.

I also carry around a RECORDER to use while driving my car and walking the park with the dog....otherwise that brilliant cure for global warming will get lost among the other thoughts!

Why degrade yourself by going into the toilet??? That's just nasty. No one should be punished with what I consider the GIFT of having ADD. We do wonderful things given the right circumstances, most of which would completely overwhelm somebody without it.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 9:25 AM on January 27, 2008

The more overall noise and activity as a background is best for those with ADD.

I've never found that to be so. Well, at least for noise/activity that I can't control.

I worked in a open office that cow orkers decided to use as an impromptu meeting room. The endless arguments jammed my ability to think. I tried using headphones, but people complained that didn't look "helpful." Eventually, I convinced my boss that they had to give me an office. My productivity soared.

And yet, I still have noise and distractions. It's just that I control them. I play my music. I can close the door if people talk in the hall.

I'm not denigrating motorcycles. It's just that it's different for everyone. My best thinking is in the shower, e.g. One of the most frustrating parts of ADHD is that trying to find the right balance -- organization method, distraction level, work environment, right career, chemicals, etc. etc. -- to be successful. OTOH, it also means you get to try a ton of stuff. :)
posted by dw at 9:51 AM on January 27, 2008

Though it appears that the title is directed at parents, Taking Charge of ADHD is very helpful to everyone. My son was diagnosed with a "moderate" case at age four. He is 15 now and thankfully my working with him (via this book) has some proof, because he's very functional. Most of the time, it's easy to forget that he suffers from it. I hardly dwell on it any longer, but the testing years are about to come.

In your case, the BIG hurdle to make is in finding out what works best for you. It's my opinion that the above book will help you do just that. That book was a life saver for me and at the time, was the best one on the subject... at least in my opinion. I read lots of them too.

The only thing I would say is to be careful (or even perhaps, wary) of too many lists. Structured lists don't work for a lot AD(H)D people. It's easy to get sidetracked by overly organizing those lists, then moving them around and then rearranging them and so forth. You get the idea? Lists can be more of a distraction than a stepping stone.
posted by magnoliasouth at 10:31 AM on January 27, 2008

Various of the above have worked for me, but I'll mention a couple that haven't been mentioned yet:

First: exercise. Hard, hard exercise can give you a buzz that you can ride and get some work done. Helpful, and healthy, to boot!

Second: music. For me, though, the hard rock above isn't what does it for me (vocals are distracting), but rather electronic dance music mixes--specifically I use Podrunner. This wasn't really a genre I was into before I stumbled upon it--but let me tell you, if you have ADHD you have really got to try it, because it's been soooo helpful for me. Something about the fast continuous beat and limited (almost no) vocals just kicks my brain into gear like nothing else.

An added bonus is that I can quickly set a timer for myself, as it were. If I get into the groove it's pretty hard to get me back out of it again and I may miss appointments, etc. But the mixes tend to be about an hour long, and if I need to check on something before then I can simply fast forward accordingly. When the music stops, I can look around and see if I'm missing something.

Hindi dance music works for me as well. If you don't speak any Indian languages this may also be something to try.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:27 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes. Eliminating distractions is a futile exercise. Someone with ADD can be distracted in a gray, soundproofed, empty room.

The solution is to change your reaction to the distractions, via either therapy or medication.

Also, I find that green tea is a better home remedy. It has a combination of stimulants, and I felt it was always a little smoother.
posted by gjc at 6:54 PM on January 28, 2008

One thing that has helped me recently, in addition to my meds, is customizing my google homepage to show me things I need to see on a regular basis. I just added a scratch-pad applet and I use it as a running to-do list. It makes it harder to just click over to Metafilter or something when I get online. And since there are no bells and whistles, I didn't squander any time making it all pretty and perfect, which is something ADD folks tend to get distracted by.
posted by Biblio at 8:12 PM on January 28, 2008

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