How to Focus

Where Focus, Fatigue, and Fidgeting Meet

Daydreaming during a college lecture or important meeting at work? It’s time to reel in ADHD-related distractions. Learn how taking notes, getting enough sleep, and even fidgeting can help you focus.

woman with ADHD staying focused in a meeting at work
woman with ADHD staying focused in a meeting at work

It’s a common misconception that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are unable to focus.

Adults with ADHD are able to focus. It’s just that we have a hard time staying focused. That’s especially true when the activity calling for our attention isn’t one that we find especially engaging. Ever struggled to pay attention to a boring lecture? Or stay involved in a business meeting that drags on?

During my 30-plus years working with adults with ADHD, I’ve found six strategies to boost the ability to focus:

1. Get it in writing.

If you’re preparing to attend a meeting, lecture, workshop, or another gathering that requires close attention, ask for an advance copy of the relevant materials (meeting agenda, lecture outline, and so on). Take the materials with you to the gathering. Use them to guide your active listening and — just as important — your note-taking. Writing as you listen will help you stay focused on what the speaker is saying.

2. Get a good seat.

Where you sit is critical. You may find it easier to be attentive if you sit up front, facing the speaker. Arriving early will increase your chances of getting a seat far away from distractions, such as a noisy fan or a doorway that opens onto a busy hallway.

[Free Download: How to Focus (When Your Brain Says ‘No!’)]

If the event is scheduled to run for several hours, change your seat after each break. That will give you a new perspective and allow you to refocus your attention. If you will need to work independently for some time, such as in a science lab or during a lengthy exam, ask ahead of time for permission to take occasional breaks and, possibly, to change your seat. Standing up and walking around will help you stay fresh and focused.

3. Ask for a review.

As soon as possible after the class or meeting, ask your teacher or co-worker for a brief review of the main points. Explain what you think the points were, and see if he or she concurs. This is a good time to fill in any details you might have missed when your focus flagged. It’s also a good time to find out exactly what is expected of you next-assignments to turn in, succeeding steps on a project, and so on. Don’t forget to confirm deadlines.

4. Avoid fatigue.

It’s hard to pay close attention when you’re tired. Whenever possible, sign up for classes that meet early in the day (or whenever your focus is greatest). At work, you may not be able to control meeting times, but, whenever possible, pick a time that works well for you.

5. Move!

Feel the urge to fidget? Go right ahead. As long as you don’t disturb others, clicking a pen, playing with your hair, knitting, and so on can help you pay attention. If discretion is an issue, chewing gum, sucking on hard candy, or even sipping from a glass of water might do the trick. If there is any doubt as to what’s permissible, ask the speaker-before the lecture or meeting begins.

[Fidgeting — It’s Not Just for Kids]

For more ideas, see the book Fidget to Focus, by Roland Rotz, Ph.D., and Sarah Wright (iUniverse).

6. Choose your leader carefully

Picking classes? Look for an instructor who is well-organized, flexible, and dynamic enough to hold your interest. You also want someone who announces deadlines well in advance and provides students with lots of feedback.

You may not be able to choose your supervisor at work. However, you can ask for accommodations that allow you to function at your best and get the job done. Getting deadlines in writing, working in a quiet spot, and scheduling frequent short meetings to confirm that you are on track will help enormously.

[Workplace Hacks to Stave Off Boredom and Apathy]