Make your brain wiring work for you
It’s getting closer to the Virtual ADHD Conference when I’ll be presenting “Obstacles to Time Management” on October 9. One of those obstacles for ADD / ADHD Adults is the challenge of dealing with our unpredictable attention span. For us, simply staying on task could take up an entire chapter.
You actually have a lot more control than you realize, once you become aware of your attention and distraction patterns. Here’s how.
The one thing we can count on with ADD / ADHD is our tendency to hyper-focus when we’re extremely interested in a task. When you love what you’re doing, or it’s the kind of activity you get absorbed in, your brain locks in and NOTHING distracts you. In cases like this, if you fear losing track of time and spending too long on one thing, you should set a timer with at least one warning to pull you out.
Other ways that some people with ADD fall into hyper-focus are:
Adrenaline when you’re close to a deadline – This is a good thing, allowing you to do your best work when you most need to.
Perfectionism, focusing extensively on details – This can be a problem if you spend too long on unimportant minutia at the expense of getting the project as a whole in on time. If this sounds like you, use that timer!
Time Management Solution – If you think about it, you probably could predict pretty well what activities in your day are likely to send you into hyper-focus. By setting a timer judiciously, you will be able to control how much time you spend on those tasks. It’s important to give yourself several transitional warnings, since you will not be willing to pull out too abruptly.
Now for the more challenging problem – distraction!
We deal with two basic kinds of distraction:
External – co workers chatting next to your desk or loud noise outside your window
Internal – your own ADD / ADHD mind jumping to something completely off-topic that sends you down a rabbit hole.
It’s primarily that internal distraction that plays havoc with our ability to plan and manage our time the way our non- ADD/ ADHD peers do. When your focus feels out of your own control, then you can’t predict how you’ll perform the task. So in order to manage your time productively, it’s critical that you understand your own distraction tendencies.
Task-related factors – You probably know that your mind is likely to wander off a task that you find too boring, too challenging, or is very detailed in a way that you find tedious.
Non-task factors – These will affect your attention span, no matter what the task:
Environment – where do you have just the right amount of stimulation to keep you focused?
Medication – if you take medication for focus, what time is it working the best?
Sleep – when you don’t get enough, your attention span will be affected! (See April 30, 2013 post on ADHD & sleep.)
Eating /drinking – when and what you eat can affect your focus and energy level. (I know I work better with chocolate!)
Time of Day – your brain is likely to focus better on certain kinds of activities at different parts of the day. Consider when you have been most inclined to do boring work, creative work, and difficult work.
Time Management Solutions:
Plan your tasks around the non-task factors – In other words, plan your activities based on when your mind will be most equipped to handle them. If you are a “morning person” and your medication is working best at 9:30 a.m., then take advantage of your heightened focus ability at that time. If you know you are at your most creative starting mid-afternoon, then schedule your writing for that time and get your more routine work done earlier in the day.
Maintain a “parking lot” to park non-relevant directions or ideas – If you’re in the middle of working on something and you suddenly have an idea, your boss gives you a directive on something else, or you come across a web link you want to explore – don’t go off and do it now! Instead, “park” that new thought in one place where you know you’ll find it later. This parking lot can be a notebook, a running document, or online cloud platform where you go regularly to find these inputs later.
Just make sure you develop a regular ritual to look at your parking lot at least once a day. (Set reminders to do so until the ritual becomes a habit.)
Be strategic about how you take breaks – This is a whole topic in itself, so I’ll save it for the next post!
Check out the Virtual ADHD Conference with its new “Master Class” format, October 7-10.
Attend this learning-rich conference without leaving home. This year, it’s all focused on Adult ADD / ADHD.
Click here for the complete agenda and speaker line-up.
PLEASE COMMENT & SHARE: What “other factors” most affect your attention span at work? How do you take advantage of these factors to manage your time and productivity?