Secrets of Focus
David, Mary Ann's husband, is a scientist. He listens to classical music through headphones when he tackles a new piece of computer software. "Constant stimulus screens out other distractions," he explains. "When I'm concentrating, I don't really hear the music."
Just as some kids need music and movement, others need absolute silence. For Maggie Bern, a 9-year-old from Los Angeles, sound makes studying like being "in the midst of a snowstorm," says her mother, Anne. She says Maggie takes three times longer to complete her homework when there is background noise.
Maggie's brother, Andrew, stays focused with daily exercise. Only after his daily after-school romp with the family's two Labrador retrievers is Andrew calm enough to focus on reading and writing.
What works for you?
Which buffering strategy will be the most effective for you (or your child)? "Notice how and where you work best," say Edward Hallowell, M.D., and John Ratey, M.D., in ADD & Adults: Strategies for Success from Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders. Do you focus better when you hear sounds like a "noisy train"? Or do you prefer to be "wrapped in three blankets," holed up in a quiet room?
"Children and adults with ADD can do their best under odd conditions," Hallowell and Ratey say. "Let yourself work under whatever conditions are best for you."
Finding the best way becomes a process of trial and error, says Houston psychologist Carol Brady, Ph.D., a member of ADDitude's scientific advisory board. "Follow a structured plan in trying different approaches," she says. "Develop a pattern or routine that works for you."
Does music have a calming effect on you - or is it a distraction? Is the kitchen where you like to do homework? What electronic aids might help? Would an alarm watch enhance your focus by taking away your worry about time?
Experiment with setting, time of day, and stopwatches. And, says Brady, don't forget the role that medication plays in curbing your distractibility.
Improving your child's focus might be as simple as making use of highly interactive computer learning programs. So suggests new research, including a study published last February in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The research suggests that kids with AD/HD are better at retaining information when they get that information from these programs.
Henderson, the television producer, offers one final bit of advice: "When you find yourself growing tired of doing something that has to get done, do the work with someone else present. I have a colleague, and we both can get more done when we keep each other company," she says. [For more on using a "body double" to boost productivity, see "You Don't Have to Be a Star to Need a Body Double."]
And for those dreadful meetings that seem to drag on and on, Henderson recommends escape. "When I just cannot stand sitting there any longer, and I know I am going to blurt out something," she says, "I pass the person next to me a note saying that I have to make a phone call. Then I go to my office, take a few deep breaths, move around a bit, and go back to the meeting."
This article appears in the June/July 2005 issue of ADDitude.
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