Once a fortnight, we spotlight a different ADHD trait. This week: distractibility.

Does every notification distract you from what you’re doing? Do you lose focus at the drop of a hat? Why do people with ADHD suffer so much from distractions?

Being easily distracted is a common symptom of ADHD, and a key part of the “attention deficit” part of the disorder. In truth, we don’t have a deficit of attention. Attention-Dysregulation Hyperactivity Disorder would be a much better name, as we are able to concentrate. We just can’t control how and when we do it.

Distractibility means that we struggle to block out things in our environment when we’re supposed to be focusing. This might be your phone buzzing or music in the background. In my case, it can even be the sound of the breeze outside. It could be your own thoughts distracting you. Distraction and ADHD unfortunately go hand-in-hand. We lack the filter that neurotypical people seem to have – everything competes for our attention, and we can’t ignore any of it.

Sometimes we get distracted by less important tasks on our to-do list, and tackle these first, to procrastinate doing the more important ones. I may or may not sometimes decide to “quickly” clean the bathroom before starting my ANKI cards for the day…

Does this sound familiar?

How can I resist distraction?

I have ADHD, so I will never not be easily distractable, but there’s a number of strategies I use to try and keep me focused

1. Medication. If you take meds for your ADHD, they can top up the fuel your brain needs to effectively filter out distractions.

2. An impulse list. I often get distracted by thoughts popping into my head, and before I know it, I’ve been down a Wikipedia rabbit-hole for several hours. When I’m studying, I keep a pad of sticky notes on my desk. When I think “Oh, I should look that up / do that / check on this”, I write it down on a sticky note so I don’t forget. Once I reach a break or finish for the day, I let myself do everything on the sticky notes.

3. Noise-cancelling headphones. These are an absolute essential for me – the breeze, the hum of the fridge, and the sound of drink bubbles all stop me concentrating. Sometimes I play music, but a lot of the time I just enjoy the quiet. I have tinnitus, so nothing is ever truly silent, but these headphones make studying so much easier – no matter where I am. They were definitely a good investment!

4. Put your phone on silent. Texts are especially good at taking me away from an important task. When I need to be concentrating, and avoid distraction, I either put my phone on airplane mode, or use Forest. You can find a list of apps to help you focus here.

Most importantly, remember that being easily distracted is not your fault.

Distraction is a problem related to your ADHD, not your sense of willpower.

Interested in learning more about the symptoms of ADHD?

Our Symptom Spotlight series is a great place to start!

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