For many of us, thinking about attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) still brings to mind that one distracted kid who couldn’t sit still in elementary school. But as we’ve learned more about the disorder, we’ve come to understand that there are a bunch of different ways that it may actually show up in our behavior (in other words, it can go way beyond simple hyperactivity). And, because the way ADHD manifests in women may not fit our stereotypes, women often don’t get diagnosed until adulthood.
Plus, treatment is complicated: It generally consists of therapy designed to help build organizational strategies and treat any other mental health issues, and may or may not include medication, so there may be some trial and error in getting it right. That means that many adult patients — about 38% of whom are women — are still looking for a way to deal with the disorder that makes sense for them.
“Our approach is different because we highlighted that ADHD is not just about inattention — it’s about inattention and over-focusing,” says Greg Crosby, MA, LPC, one of the authors of the just-released book Transforming ADHD: Simple, Effective Attention & Action Skills to Help You Focus & Succeed.
Translation: People with ADHD don’t just find it challenging to concentrate on activities they’re not interested in but are important for them to get done (e.g. finishing homework), it’s also especially hard for them to stop focusing on activities they are interested in (e.g. playing a video game). So, a major part of the book’s strategy is helping readers find ways to pair activities they’re particularly fascinated by with activities that aren’t all that exciting.
“There’s no need for the boring, mundane, and effortful to be a horse pill you just have to swallow,” explains Tonya K. Lippert, PhD, the book’s other author. “For instance, if you like being around others, do the task with somebody else. If a change of environment — a cafe where you can sit outside — will increase the pleasantness of the task, change your environment.”
But on your path to actually getting shit done, we all know there are a million potential distractions in the way. Below are five tips — based on Crosby and Dr. Lippert’s work and book — to help you stay on track.
1. Get a planner — for start dates, not deadlines.
“That could be a calendar, an app on your phone, or on your computer,” says Crosby. But, he cautions, one often overlooked hurdle to getting a planner is actually setting a date to begin getting it done. So, don’t just “get a planner,” make a plan to buy one at 9:30am tomorrow. And Dr. Lippert explains that a planner can serve as both your “second brain” so you don’t forget things, but also as an environmental cue to check on what you need to get done (and when).
2. Carve out time to wind down before bed.
One of the major elements of the book is finding ways to get enough sleep, including exercising during the day, explains Crosby, because sleep deprivation makes it harder to pay attention and regulate your impulses. To improve your chances of getting good sleep, he says, “you need wind-down time — at least 45 minutes of transition so that when your head hits the pillow you don’t start worrying.” That nighttime ritual can be anything that works for you. Maybe it’s taking a warm bath or listening to relaxing music. Ideally, this doesn’t involve your phone or laptop.
3. Be mindful about your worrying.
That whole worrying thing may be especially common among women: “Overall, the research shows that what accompanies ADHD and its expression differ between women and men,” says Dr. Lippert. “Women are likely to present as less hyperactive but more anxious than men with ADHD.”
If you find yourself becoming anxious, Dr. Lippert advises a mindfulness-based approach: “Recognize and call it by its name — anxiety or fear — and try to allow room for it non-judgmentally, even being curious about it and where you feel it,” she says.
4. Try to “surf” your urges.
For some people with ADHD, it may be difficult to control impulses, such as interrupting a conversation to interject with a point you’re really excited about adding. But these urges come and go in waves. So you can learn to “surf” those urges rather than obeying them immediately, explains Crosby. Again, this requires you to flex your mindfulness muscles: Simply notice when the urge arises and how it affects you physically and mentally — making sure not to judge it as good or bad — without acting on it. Or, if you must act on it, try delaying it until there’s a natural break in the conversation. You’ll still be building up your surfing talents, and your friends will feel less annoyed.
5. Plan with others efficiently.
“Couples have a lot of inattention problems without having ADHD,” says Crosby, “and if you add kids and ADHD to the mix, it can be a total nightmare of who’s doing what when.” So whether you’re figuring out weekend plans with your partner or team assignments in a work meeting, writing down the details — who’s going to do what and when — and putting them up somewhere you’ll see ’em can be a lifesaver. And, if possible, have “visual meetings” at the office in which you use things like Post-It notes, whiteboards, or index cards to visually organize the group’s discussion. Your colleagues will thank you whether or not they have ADHD — after all, we could all use a little extra organization.