Ask the Experts

Q: “What If Your College Study Buddy is Super Distracting?”

Many ADHD coaches advise college students to study alongside an accountability partner. But what if your library companion keeps breaking your focus and compromising your productivity? How to respond constructively.

Q: “My daughter just started her freshman year at college. She has ADHD and has found that working in the library really helps her stay focused and motivated. She complains that she has this one friend who constantly interrupts her with questions about the class they take together. My daughter will answer her, but then she can’t get herself back into the other class-mode. Everything is taking her longer than it should. She doesn’t want to not be helpful, but she needs a way to refocus herself without giving up studying in the library. Can you help?” — ADHDMom


My college coaching clients often tell me that the library’s mix of quiet and social can be the perfect recipe for getting motivated to study and complete homework. But getting back into the groove after being interrupted for any reason, especially one that requires you to switch your brain to an entirely different subject and then back again, can be frustrating because the distraction is, as my clients say, “a time suck.”

And they’re not wrong. When you’re working on something and turn away from it, it can take your brain a full 20 minutes to refocus. A constant switching back and forth, or even the tiniest of interruptions, can cost you valuable studying time and – understandably – lead to frustration.

Here are some ideas to help your daughter refocus and stop losing precious time.

1. Counteroffer. I talk A LOT about “offer-counteroffer” scenarios with my college coaching clients. It’s really my way of reframing interruptions and distractions so my students feel more in control of their time and tasks. Here’s what I mean:

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Working with a classmate on a subject can be very helpful to reinforce what you already know and get help with what you don’t. However, your daughter doesn’t need to be on her friend’s clock and calendar all the time. Instead of dismissing her friend outright, your daughter can take the “offer” of “Can you help me right now?” and “counteroffer” it with something like “I really need to finish my calc problem set first but find me in an hour and we can review history then.”

2. X Marks the Spot. When you read a book and need to stop, don’t you always bookmark your page? This makes picking up where you left off a breeze. Have your daughter apply the same technique when she gets interrupted. She can take out a sticky note or piece of paper and jot down exactly what she was working on. Even have her include what she was thinking about and what she was going to do next. This technique will allow her to easily get back into gear and regain her focus.

3. Lean Into the Interruptions. The likelihood of eliminating distractions and interruptions all the time is, unfortunately, slim. So, how can she quickly refocus herself while still making the most of these interruptions? The quickest and most obvious answer is to say, “Not right now” and continue working. But how about leaning into the interruption and taking a break?

Hear me out! I know this tip goes against some of my previous advice, but sometimes the effort to do something else takes more time than just doing what is present in front of us. If your daughter has some flexibility in her time, then encourage her to take this opportunity to work with her friend. Viewing the interruption as an unplanned break or needed work session will reduce frustrations and have her back to her other work with a better mind-set. Not to mention that switching subjects frequently helps keep our brain active and engaged.

Good Luck!

How to Focus with ADHD: Next Steps

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