ADHD and Hyperfocus

ADHD and HyperfocusWhen we focus on something, we make it the center of our attention. We block out distractions, (external and internal) and mentally engage with it, for minutes or hours at a time. Focusing is how things get done. It feels rewarding and satisfying.

ADHDers have the ability to take focusing to an entire other level and hyperfocus. When you hyperfocus, you do such a good job of blocking out distractions that you aren’t aware of what is going on around you. My friend, Bonnie was reading a newspaper while her 2 small children were happily playing. The next thing she knew, her daughters head popped up between her and the paper and she was saying, “Mom, are you in there?” She had been trying to attract her mom’s attention for several minutes before deciding she needed to physically check in.

This lack of awareness of what is going on around you, can get you into trouble; you might miss appointments or worse. In her book, Adventures in Fast Forward, Kathleen Nadeau writes about an ADHDer who was hyper-focusing on writing a paper. She was so engrossed, she didn’t notice that her house was on fire. “She had missed the sirens and all the commotion and was finally discovered by firemen, as she was working contentedly in her room while the kitchen at the back of the house was engulfed in flames!” says Nadeau.

When you hyperfocus on a work project, or a creative hobby, it feels fun, creative, productive and gives a huge sense of accomplishment. When you hyperfocus on something such as a TV watching binge, or 8 hours surfing the web, it doesn’t feel good because it comes with an element of guilt or shame. Also, the people in your life gets annoyed when you are late, or they want your attention and you seem to be ignoring them.

Hyperfocus can be confusing. You can’t really choose what you hyperfocus on. Boring mundane tasks, like housework will never be tasks that you can hyperfocus on, even though you wish you could. In order to hyperfocus on something, it has to be interesting, and just the right level of difficulty. Not too difficult; not too easy, but taxing enough that it engages your brain in a rewarding way.

Here are some tips so that you can enjoy the benefits of hyperfocusing and limit the negative.

1) Write down the activities that you do hyperfocus on: The good stuff and the not so good stuff.

2) Plan chunks of time when you can do the good activities. When you have ADHD,  a lot of the time, you are trying to force yourself to take action, or focus. It seems a shame to have to pull yourself away when you are being productive and focused.

For example, I get into the flow when I do my taxes (I know it s weird!) So once a year, I schedule an uninterrupted day where I can do all the tax things at once. This takes advantage of my brain energy and makes an enjoyable day.

3) Limit hyperfocus on the not so good stuff. When you have identified your danger activities, you can still do them, but know when you start them, it will be hard to disengage. For example, if a particular computer game is one of your hyperfocus things, plan to play a day at the weekend, rather than in the week when you have work commitments.

4) Set very loud timers. If you have an appointment, or a time you need to stop doing a task, set a very loud timer and put it away from where you are sitting. This means you will physically have to get up to switch it off. You will be forced to mentally disengage and then, it will be easier to stop your hyperfocus activity.

 

What activities do you hyperfocus on? Leave a note in the comment below!

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Comments

  1. Rosemary Janicki says:

    If I could get a paid job working on jigsaw puzzles I would be in heaven. I have worked on many different sizes over the years, my largest being 24,000 pieces, yes that is the right number, it was done in 4 sections. It took me about 9 months to do and at that time I was working overnights. Before heading to work I would work on it. When I came home I would too. I basically told myself I had to put in X number of pieces each day. There were times that I would actually doze off sitting upright at the puzzle. I would wake up and tell myself to go to bed, I would sleep brokenly for a few hours, then get up eat, puzzle, get dressed, puzzle, then off to work, and repeat. Work was extremely boring, and I wasn’t treated well, so I discovered that working the puzzles were actually therapy, especially for depression. There is nothing like working on a puzzle with tears running down your face. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any jobs like this in Canada at least.

  2. Nidhi says:

    I never knew i suffer from ADHD disorder till i read the articles on this website. Literally i used to feel stupid and depressed since i was 5-6 years old (am 39 now ); used to blame parents for bad parenting. Now i feel my elder child – 10 years may be suffering from the same….

  3. Where in New Mexico is there help for
    ADHD? I can work forever on big projects like screenplay and books, but trying to do a job like retail or a clerk, I go insane within 20 minutes I find it so boring I really would rather die. This is a big problem since it is these small jobs I have to take to survive. What to do?

    • Hi Jane
      If you visit http://www.chadd.org/
      it has information about what is available in each state.

      In terms of your jobs, the best situation is to earn money working on what is effortless and enjoyable for you. In your case getting paid for screenplays and books. It is very common for people with ADHD to job hop because they do find them so boring. Until you get to the best case scenario (full time writer) come up with creative ways to make the ‘boring’ jobs interesting. Play like games like how fast you can stock the shelves compared with yesterday, how many people you see with an orange hat in one day. How many people you can make smile, that sort of thing. There are ways to liven up even the most boring of jobs!
      warmly
      Jacqui

  4. Dave Hinsdale says:

    I like that phrase ” when I get into the flow” (on taxes?….Ok…) when I go into to hyper-focus it’s like tapping into a flow of energy. It’s an amazing experience. The “flow” description is very accurate to me. Thanks for the article.

    Dave Hinsdale

    • Hi Dave, ‘The Flow’ is a term coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. I learned about him first from a psychology text book, then read a couple of his books. They are very readable and fascinating.
      Flow seems to have all the positive aspects of hyperfocus
      Glad you liked the article!!!

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