Three Steps to Managing Distraction

Everyone is distracted from time to time, especially when engaged in boring or tedious tasks.

Distractions can be external, such as sounds, a messy environment, visible activity (there goes a squirrel!), or the internet. Distractions can also be internal, include daydreaming, mulling over problems, and the like.

Sometimes distraction can be used to an advantage – such as daydreaming to occupy one’s mind while waiting in line.

Sometimes it can pull attention away from a routine task, like dish-washing, with no adverse impact.

While most people are distractible at times, some have an easier time than others pulling their attention quickly back to the task at hand.

For many with ADHD, both internal and external distractions can make it difficult to complete tasks – especially if boring or tedious – in a timely and efficient manner.  This can have a problematic impact on school success, work success, and home life.

It is possible to get a handle on distraction. Good medication management can be one piece of the plan for some individuals. Meditation, too, can help with focus. But, with or without ADHD meds, managing distraction can be learned.

Try this three step process

#1:  Become a distraction detective.

  • Notice what types of tasks are most associated with distraction for you. 
  • Watch to see whether distraction is more likely at certain types of day. 
  • Pay attention to environments in which you are more distracted than others.
  • Try to ferret out how long you can maintain your focus on a tedious task. 
  • Notice your self-talk: are you saying to your self, “this is sooooo boring” or “I hate this”?
  • If you take meds, consider how they impact your distraction.

#2: Make environmental adjustments to address external distractors.

  • Close curtains or shades if that helps.
  • Move to a different environment (for example, library, conference room, or quiet room at home).
  • Use music, or try noise-blocking earphones or other sources of white noise.
  • Do a quick clean-up of up your workspace before starting to work.  
  • Use internet-blocking software if needed. 
  • Put a note on your door: Please do not disturb!

#3: Experiment with a toolbox of strategies to tackle internal distractors.

  • Plan boring work in small chunks between more engaging activities or short breaks.
  • Incorporate physical activity, such as jumping jacks or stretching, into break time.
  • Time your breaks to assure that you get back to the task at hand!
  • Use movement to maintain alertness: sit on a yoga ball or inflatable cushion, or try standing to work at a high counter.  
  • Fidget to focus – have a beverage to sip on or something to twiddle in your fingers while you work.
  • Give yourself a set time of day to work through problems to free your mind during work time.
  • Keep a notepad or index card with you to jot down distracting thoughts you don’t want to forget. (You can attend to them later.) 
  • Use a timer at 10 minute or random intervals. When it rings, pause and ask “Am I on task?” If not, simply return to the task at hand. (No self-judgement allowed!)
  • Develop and practice some positive self-talk, such as “I can get through this boring work quickly,” or ” I only have to do this for ___ minutes until I take a break.”

When working on distraction management, bear in mind that different strategies may work better for you at different times and/or with different tasks. Practice, practice, persistent practice will help a lot. If you are having trouble, pick up your magnifying glass again and see if you can figure out what the glitch is about.

For help implementing these strategies, or for help with any aspects of ADHD, consider working with a coach.

Posted in ADD, ADHD, adult, college, distraction, executive function, student

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