Multitasking with ADHD: How to Reclaim Focus?


Around the globe, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is more common than you might think. It affects roughly 5% of children worldwide. In the United States, a place known for its high rates of diagnosis and treatment, the figures push even higher, landing between 8% and 10%.[1]

But ADHD doesn’t stop at childhood. Though it tends to decline with age, its presence can continue into adulthood. When we account for the global demographic structure in 2020, we find that the prevalence of persistent adult ADHD stands at about 2.58%, with symptomatic adult ADHD at 6.76%. That’s a staggering 139.84 million and 366.33 million adults affected globally.[2]

For people with ADHD, staying focused can feel like trying to catch a gust of wind. You reach out, but it slips through your fingers again and again. This can be particularly challenging in our fast-paced, multitasking world. The typical ADHD tendency to shift attention rapidly from one thing to another[3] can often hamper productivity instead of boosting it.

So, what can we do about it? This article is going to shed some light on the unique challenges faced by individuals with ADHD, particularly with regard to multitasking, and offer effective strategies to reclaim focus.

Understanding ADHD and Multitasking

People with ADHD might find themselves drawn towards environments that demand multitasking, an attribute that might even be viewed as a tolerance or skill. But here’s the rub: despite popular belief, multitasking isn’t the productivity powerhouse it’s often portrayed to be.

In fact, the weight of evidence suggests that it’s a rather inefficient work technique, undermining our capacity for learning and critical thinking.

People with ADHD may be more comfortable with multitasking.

The constant quest for fresh and exciting stimuli typical to ADHD might make a multitasking environment feel comfortable. The inclination towards novelty-seeking and task-switching could create a sense of ease transitioning between different activities.

Interestingly, a 2011 study[4] explored the multitasking abilities of individuals with and without ADHD. The results may surprise you: adults with ADHD didn’t display impaired multitasking performance in the standardized task.

However, these same adults reported better mood and higher motivation when focusing on one task at a time, without the need for frequent task-switching. It suggests that for those with ADHD, a task structure minimizing distractions and reducing executive control demands may be beneficial.

Multitasking is counterproductive though.

When we assume we’re multitasking, juggling multiple tasks at once, we’re usually mistaken. Most of the time, we’re rapidly switching between individual tasks. Each switch forces our brains to refocus, which eats into our mental energy and time.

“When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing two things at once. But instead, we’re doing individual actions in rapid succession, or task-switching.” — Neuropsychologist Cynthia Kubu, PhD[5]

The result? We often face extra costs in terms of time and energy, produce lower quality work, and experience reduced cognitive function. This can be even more challenging for some people with ADHD.

Multitasking demands that we divide attention, prioritize tasks, and shift focus quickly between different activities. People with ADHD often face challenges with their working memory, organizing and planning, and controlling impulses, which can further hamper their ability to retain task-related information, coordinate tasks, and resist impulsive distractions during multitasking.[6]

Since ADHD includes difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, which can make it tough to effectively manage multiple tasks at once, this can lead to decreased efficiency, increased errors, and trouble organizing thoughts and actions.

Strategies for Reclaiming Focus With ADHD

If you’re living with ADHD, reclaiming focus might seem like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. But don’t lose heart. There are strategies that can help you master the art of focus and build productivity.

It’s about building the right environment, nurturing productive habits, and adopting the right mindset:

First up, let’s think about your workspace.

A calm, clutter-free environment can do wonders for your ability to concentrate. It minimizes distractions, allowing you to direct your attention where it’s needed.

Try creating a workspace that is clean, well-organized, and conducive to focus. Make it a sanctuary for your mind.

Next, build a routine and structure.

ADHD can make your world feel chaotic, but establishing a clear structure can help navigate the chaos.

Routine provides a predictable pattern, creating a rhythm that makes it easier to move from one task to another. Set specific times for certain activities, break bigger tasks into manageable chunks, and use a planner or digital tool to keep track of what needs to be done.

Thirdly, make mindfulness a habit.

Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, paying attention to what you’re doing without getting distracted by the flurry of thoughts and impulses. It can help you stay focused on one task at a time, reducing the need for constant task-switching.

These are just a few of the strategies to stop multitasking, read my other article How to Focus With ADHD: 7 Practical Strategies for more detailed insights into reclaiming focus and boosting productivity.

Final Thoughts

Living with ADHD, in a world that often demands you to multitask, can be akin to sailing through a storm. You’re trying to juggle multiple tasks while your mind pulls you in different directions. It’s challenging and can be draining, but it’s not an unbeatable feat.

Reclaiming focus isn’t just about being more productive. It’s about managing ADHD symptoms and improving your overall well-being. The ability to concentrate on one task at a time can bring calmness, reduce stress, and boost your confidence.

The strategies we’ve discussed can help you navigate the rough waters, maintain your course, and improve your focus abilities.

TL;DR

Don’t have time for the full article? Read this.

ADHD affects a significant number of children and adults worldwide, causing challenges in maintaining focus, especially in a multitasking environment.

Multitasking, contrary to popular belief, is an inefficient work technique that often leads to lower quality work, extra time and energy costs, and reduced cognitive function.

For individuals with ADHD, the demands of multitasking can exacerbate difficulties with focus, leading to decreased efficiency and increased errors.

Despite the challenges, people with ADHD may feel more comfortable in a multitasking environment due to their constant quest for new stimuli and a natural inclination towards task-switching.

Studies suggest that adults with ADHD perform better, experience improved mood, and display higher motivation when they focus on one task at a time, without the need for frequent task-switching.

To reclaim focus and improve multitasking abilities in ADHD, read How to Focus With ADHD: 7 Practical Strategies

Reference

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