Living with ADHD: Tips for Managing Distractions

Health & Wellness

Living with ADHD is something that’s informed every aspect of how I approach my life, both at work and at home. To manage my schedule, I focus on three steps—prioritization, time blocking, and managing distraction. On Friday, I broke down the former two steps; today, I’ll be covering the latter.

Last week I also wrote about why everyone feels like they have ADHD now, which is why I think my own personal systems for managing my different brain will work for the rest of you. If you haven’t yet, I suggest you read that article first to gain an overview of how the digital age has affected our ability to focus and what we can do about it. Ok. Onward.

Three: How I’ve Made Systems for Battling Distraction and Other ADHD-Related Problems

When I found out how severe my ADHD was, my self-esteem tumbled. I didn’t see the value in my busy brain, only the pitfalls. I shamed myself for missing appointments. I told myself I was stupid for missing deadlines. I nearly quit writing because I couldn’t focus on editing once I lost interest in what I was writing. It took me a couple of years to understand most of what I’ve accomplished in life came from the fact I hadn’t given my different brain a label for 27 years. Could it be what made me different was actually a gift and not a disability? I don’t know. Some days it is tough to do simple things. But I knew I had to find a way forward and let go of my own stigma around what it means to have ADHD. I could wallow in my misfortune or figure out how to use it to my advantage.

So, with clear priorities and a new workflow system to work, I learned to create a way to manage all the “bright, shiny objects” tempting my attention. That was the first step in building real confidence while embracing who I am. I have most of my exciting ideas when I’m avoiding doing the tasks I hate doing. Literally, I will distract myself from what really needs to be done with something that would take 10000x more time than it would to just DO THE DAMN TASK I was avoiding. I know this about myself now. So when I have a new idea or request for a member of our team that falls outside what we are working to complete this week, I can file it away in my notebook and return when it is appropriate, because I’ve scheduled a time to plan. It is a bit like being my own micromanager, but if I’m not strict with how I use my time, I will find myself falling down some rabbit hole just to feel productive while avoiding my email. This is CLASSIC ADHD behavior, but it is also familiar with other stressful emotions like anxiety, depression, and OCD. Avoiding everyday tasks is my own personal struggle and a pretty serious issue when it comes to essential realities like managing money, bills, and daily communication.

Learning to channel my ability to get hyper-focused has come from knowing how bad it can get when you avoid real life and then the rest of your life kinda falls apart. And if you’re overworked because you’ve been trying to achieve this big project, you won’t have the energy to handle the fallout. It’s a dangerous game of dominos and the Achilles heel of any hyper-focused individual. It’s both a gift and a curse.

It can be hard to sit down and start focusing even when you’ve scheduled time. Here are a couple of ways to deal with your distractions when you’re in not in the zone or just not feeling it:

Understand how focus affects your brain, how much energy it takes, and which tasks are more taxing for you.
Do your most important work at the beginning of the day because it takes energy to give something your full focus. Plan breaks after each significant task and squeeze in activities like going for a walk, tidying up, or drawing when you need to rest your mind. Start slow and manage your to-do list accordingly.

This kind of focus is like training a muscle in your body. The more you stick to your schedule the easier it will be. The difference between how much I’m able to write now vs. last year is staggering. All I needed to do was implement structure and believing in that practice would make the painful process of just getting started easier.

Switch off all modes of communication for a long period.
I keep my cell phone away from my writing space for at least 30 minutes. If I’m not focused on writing by then, I move to another full-focus task on my to-do list to see if I can get into the zone. Many of us worry that we’ll miss some sort of valuable information if we switch off our forms of communication. It’s important to remember the act of CHOOSING to remove the distractions and temptations will require you to be a bit brave, lean into the FOMO, or put into place other ways of being alerted if you have a situation where you need to be available 24/7. If the way you’re working right now isn’t working, if you are genuinely distracted (which is 99% of all of us), then something has to change.

Set a timer.
Give yourself 20 minutes of your full attention and the freedom to move on to whatever you WANT to after it goes off. Most likely, you’ll keep doing the task at hand.

Make it easy to jump in: do your most demanding tasks at the same place with the same amenities.
For writing, I like to be out of the office with coffee and a little snack. For editing, I like to be plugged in at the office. For designing, I like really loud, energetic music. The setting can be a big trigger in snapping you back into the zone once you’ve exercised that muscle.

Automate as much as you can.
If everyday tasks are the things that drag you down the most, take one week to organize and automate AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. I have an in-depth post coming later this week that goes into detail around each app and service I use for my life. While my phone can be a huge distraction, it is also my saving grace once I organized it to suit my needs.

Celebrate your wins.
Give yourself a treat yourself moment when you successfully make it through long periods of focus. Get excited about your ability to tune out the rest of the world and focus on what is important to you. It’s hard. It’s worth it. You’re doing yourself and those around you a service for making time for yourself and learning more about how your different brain works.

I would love to chat more about this topic so please, ask questions below!! We will be going way in depth on the tools, tricks, and systems I use in my own life throughout the year, so if there’s a course, worksheet, or e-book opportunity, please speak up. We’re excited to help take my experience with being SUPER distracted and give you the tools to navigate this distracting world with yourself and your purpose in mind.

BY Kate Arends - April 15, 2019

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April 18, 2019 8:08 pm

Love this post! Thank you! I was diagnosed with ADHD when I turned 32. I struggled my whole life and finally understand why. Now I’m working on how to live with it. Love your tips. Can’t wait to hear more about your suggested apps and tools.

Meggan Jamison
April 22, 2019 4:35 pm

This is very helpful. I’m a mom trying to find ways to help my son live up to his potential in school Would love to hear more tips & tools you use.

Laura Roos
April 24, 2019 7:11 am

So so helpful, Kate! I struggle with focus and ideas overload. Love the part about snapping back to the task you are on by setting demanding tasks in the same place with the same things around you.

May 3, 2019 12:22 pm

These articles are excellent! As a kid I was often labeled as a daydreamer and absent minded, but it was in college I started to really suspect I had ADHD. I know this series isn’t specifically about ADHD and your productivity and time management “tips” have been SO encouraging and enlightening, but I’d be really interested to hear more in depth about your process of being diagnosed, how you advocated for yourself, etc.

Please keep this series up! Its helpful and inspiring and I’m grateful to have found it.

May 16, 2019 10:22 am

Thank you so much for your insights and tips. Like Katie, I’m also interested in hearing about your process of being diagnosed. I’m 26 and based on my my own and my siblings’ behavior, past experiences in school, and my current experiences at work, I wonder if I might have some form of learning disability. I feel a little daunted about where to start.

January 3, 2020 12:57 pm

what are the apps you use? I could really use this advice. I switched to an office job about a year ago, and it’s been a challenge finding the focus most days, trying to stay organized, prioritized at work then again at home.

August 27, 2020 2:31 am

I love this kind of article of yours! I am suffering from ADHD for almost 20 years. I was not able to focus at work, at home, and even in public places. I am okay now because I always read articles like this to help myself and getting ideas like your article. I am looking forward to reading more of your articles about ADHD.

October 14, 2020 12:53 pm

I just found this post after being diagnosed with ADHD literally yesterday. Thank you for being a few steps ahead of me so that I can learn from you. As a designer, it’s so hard to do menial tasks but I’m excited to try your tips!

Thanks for making me feel a little less alone and I can’t wait to read more!

November 9, 2020 4:13 pm

Thank you for this! I have ADHD (diagnosed at 29) and it’s been tough lately to stay on task and manage all of my responsibilities working from home (COVID – ugh). I used to resent the rigidity of working 9-5 in an office but now I’m seeing how useful that structure was for me. These are great tips for creating some of that structure for myself! It’s also just really validating to read about your experience and how similar it is to mine. It can be hard to communicate just how much ADHD affects my life and I often feel… Read more »

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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.

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