Ten Easy Ways To Minimise Inattention And Stay On Task
Most ADHDers, regardless of subtype, will exhibit at least some symptoms of inattention. Inattention isn't a lack of attention, it's the inability to regulate how or when focus happens, and it results from ADHD's brain chemistry.
Simply put, sustained attention results from many areas of the brain working together. ADHD brains tend to lack the neurotransmitters ("messenger" chemicals) that allow these different areas to communicate effectively with each other.
The result is that we lose our ability to maintain and regulate our attention much more quickly than neurotypicals. Regulating our attention is considered an executive function; a category of abilities such as working memory, response inhibition, motor control, emotional regulation, planning, and motivation. These areas are all impaired in some manner in those of us with ADHD.
What Does Inattention Look Like?
There are several ways ADHDers can experience inattention:
Being diverted by things around you or thoughts in your head
Spacing out or being forgetful
Being late or procrastinating
Not paying attention to details or being unable to finish things
Being able to focus on some things but not others or at some times but not others
Having trouble following instructions or prioritising
As a functioning adult, it's vital to be able to get the important things done in our daily lives. Work, school, home life, personal development, all require our most valuable and limited resource; our time. Inattention sucks up this valuable time, diverting us from staying on task, preventing us from getting the things done that will allow us to both function in the adult world and, more importantly, feel happy and fulfilled.
What Can We Do About It?
Thankfully, there are things that we can do to help our brains stay focused. Here are ten easy things you can start doing right now to minimise inattention and stay on task:
Turn off notifications. All those unnecessary pop-up notifications can snap your brain out of whatever you were doing, even if it was more important! Turn off all the notifications on your phone and computer, except for the most important, time-sensitive ones. Instead, have set times throughout the day where you check your messages. That way you won't miss anything important, but you also won't get continually distracted.
Have a notepad for spontaneous thoughts. The ADHD brain is very good at having sudden, random thoughts. Writing down your thoughts as they come to you means they're out of your head, and you don't have to worry about forgetting about them later once the task you're working on is finished. If the thing you've just thought about actually is more important, write down what you were working on previously so you can return to it later.
Make a "Go Box". Take a brightly-coloured box (or make one by covering a cardboard box in wrapping paper) and label it as your Go Box. Keep it by the door and store your phone, keys, wallet, and other essentials inside. When you leave the house, you're "checking out" the items. When you come home, immediately check them back in. No more leaving your keys in the fridge!
Cheat your appointment times. If you have to be somewhere at 5:00pm but you are usually 15 minutes late for everything, set a reminder for 15 minutes earlier than you think you need to. If you have a poor sense of time and you don't know how late you tend to be, make a note of it the first few times it happens and you'll soon notice a pattern. Time trackers in your Bullet Journal are great for this!
Remember your end goal. Sometimes it's hard to finish the things we start because we "tune out", forgetting the end goal and losing interest. Write down your end goal, or better still create a "dream board" - a collection of visual aids to remind you of what success in this area will look like. A dream board for completing a work project might include a fun drawing of you getting praised by your boss, or pictures of what you might be able to afford next payday.
Proofread on a different day. Often when we read something back straight away after we've written it, we tend to read what we think we've written instead of what we've actually written. Rather than re-reading straight away, look at it the next day with fresh eyes. If you don't have time for that, ask if someone else can look at it for you.
Use fidget toys. In situations where you know you have to pay attention for a long time, take a fidget toy and play with it while you listen. Studies have shown that fidgeting can help improve attention span and the ability to concentrate.
Switch between tasks. Divide your time into 25-minute blocks and pick ONE task to do for the first block. When you start, set a timer for 25 minutes so that you're not clock-watching. Do two or three 25-minute chunks, switching between tasks for each chunk, then take a 15-30 minute break away from your workstation so that your brain has a chance to rest, and your body a chance to move.
Make boring tasks interesting. There are ways you can spice up a boring or tedious task to stimulate the ADHD brain enough for it to want to take action. Make it a competition with yourself; how many paragraphs can you write in ten minutes? Play music while you work; dance around whilst you dust the house! Incentivise; have a healthy reward waiting for when you're done.
Get a sense of your day. When you arrive at school, at work, or even right when you wake up, make a few notes about your most important tasks and what you want to accomplish by the end of the day. Keep it simple: "Do my laundry." "Complete the Sales Report." "Finish English Essay." You can add to this throughout the day, too. This is a great way to use your Bullet Journal!
Remember that we will likely always find focus and attention more of a challenge than our neurotypical peers. We will probably have to work harder than average just to achieve the minimum standard of focus.
So take it easy on yourself when you inevitably slip up—remember the obstacles you manage to overcome every day, and be proud of that achievement rather than berating yourself for the times your inattention gets the better of you.
Strategies, techniques, therapy, medication (when appropriate) and allies in our friends and family can all make dealing with the daily effects of inattention that much easier.