Focus & Attention

9 Productivity Tricks for the Easily Distracted

Your phone is buzzing. A coworker is typing. Facebook is calling. The list of potential distractions keeping you from a tedious or overwhelming task is never ending. Use these strategies to resist the urge to wander.

An easily distracted woman drives while talking to her friend and texting on her phone.
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Distraction Triggers

People with ADHD are especially prone to distractions — external and internal. Whether it’s a coworker interrupting you when you’re on deadline, your wandering mind, or stressful emotions, distractions get in the way of getting things done. Take these actions against distractions.

A woman upset about how easily distracted she is
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“See” the Task Getting Done

Visualize yourself finishing the task. Many people with ADHD are easily distracted when trying to break down a task into smaller steps. Visualization drills make those steps more concrete. See the finished product and ask, "What would be the midpoint?" "What would be the first steps to getting started?" Studies suggest that this focus increases the chances of getting the task done.

Woman giving thumbs up to easily distracted readers
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Talk to Yourself

Make positive statements about things you’ve achieved to urge yourself on when you get distracted by a hard task. Say, “I was able to finish the report when I was working at this desk. I wore my baseball hat and it really got me focused. I was able to work for 20 minutes straight.” Focusing on things you’ve accomplished gives you the can-do mind set to finish a tough task.

A woman writing a check but being easily distracted
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Follow Your Own Advice

When you tell yourself the steps for doing a task, your focus often follows suit. If you’re writing a check and your attention wavers because you wrote the wrong date or the wrong amount, make a little checklist and say to yourself, “OK, the date is so-and so. Got it.” “I should make the check out to xx. Good. Done.” And keep telling yourself to do one little task after another.

Upset woman crumpling up piece of paper because she is easily distracted
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Keep a Lid on Your Emotions

Adults with ADHD are especially distracted by feelings of disappointment: “I wasn’t picked for the promotion” or “I didn’t get accepted into my No. 1 college.” Latching on to these feelings can lead to poor performance on the job. Put failure in perspective. Failure doesn’t prove you’re not good enough. It is one experience, not an evaluation of your worth as a person.

A sign that says "Do Not Disturb" on the door of someone who is easily distracted
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Nip Interruptions in the Bud

Positive assertiveness wards off unnecessary interruptions. Place a sign on your desk at work or at home that reads, “Genius at work. Please leave me a note.” It’s necessary to tell a boss or family member when you need to have quiet time to think, even if it’s for 15 minutes. Assert your right for a quiet, protected, and distraction-free setting.

A woman with many items being pushed in her face, looking at the camera because she isn't easily distracted
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Juggle Your Tasks

Sometimes you have to do the least-preferred task first, to get it off your plate and out of your mind. This way it won’t distract you from the other things you have to do. If you hate doing laundry, say, but don’t mind unloading the dishwasher, start the day with washing clothes, and use the activities that you sort of like as motivation to get you through it.

Three coworkers read a slideshow about being easily distracted on a computer
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What Did You Say?

Many people with ADHD don’t get clear directions from their boss or spouse. Or they miss vital information when the task is being explained due to poor listening skills. So they spin their wheels instead of getting the missing information and getting to work. Instead of worrying about looking bad by asking a question, request the directions you need to complete the job.

A clock on a table, a good tool for the easily distracted
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Stop, Look, and Listen

If a task is not going well, set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and take a break instead of yielding to distraction. When the timer goes off, stop and tell yourself, “It’s fine. Smart people can get a lot done in a little bit of time.” Look into your mind’s eye and review what you still need to do. Perhaps you’ll decide that you’ve done enough and come back to the task later. Don’t overreact: allow logic to rule, not your emotions.

A woman talking to a friend about being easily distracted
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Put a Team Together

If you get distracted a lot, enlist help. ADHD medication gives some people the ability to pause and think about whether they are sidetracked by distraction. Others hire a coach to call or text them several times a day to make sure that they stay focused on the task at hand.