Many of us with ADHD struggle to focus in lectures, but it can be even harder to stay on track when your teaching is online. There’s no longer that risk of disapproval from your peers and lecturers to keep you on track – because they can’t see what you’re doing.

I personally really dislike online lectures for this reason.

However, the final year of my BSc at St Andrews featured a lot of this type of teaching, so I had to learn to play the game. In this post, I’m going to share my most-used strategies for staying engaged with online lectures. I hope some of them work for you too, and you find an ADHD focus hack that fits.

1. Push / Pause Your Online Lectures

The term push/pause is often used to describe an intravenous flushing technique, but it’s also an apt term for how I work through online lectures. It works around my ADHD, instead of trying to fight it.

Because all of my lectures so far have been recorded, they were a perfect opportunity to employ this adapted Pomodoro technique.

I would often open my online lectures while they were live, and focus on whatever task I was doing alongside it (more on this in a second!) until I began to feel distraction creep in. Then, I would set a timer for 5 minutes, pause the lecture, and go and fix whatever impulse was occupying my mind.

When the timer finished, I would press play on the lecture and ‘push’ through until the next distraction.

Rinse and repeat until the lecture’s done.

Medical students in an exam

2. Fidgeting

It isn’t a new concept to many ADHDers, but we often love to fidget. It is often considered to be a symptom of the hyperactive aspect of the disorder. Some may assume that by fidgeting, you can’t possibly be focusing on your lectures. However, fidgeting – in fact, any form of physical movement – has been shown to improve focus. It is said to do this by increasing the levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in our brain, which is the same way ADHD medication works.

I couldn’t get through online lectures and tutorials without an elastic band or a clicky pen – especially when I needed to have my camera turned on. Last year, I treated myself to a ‘taster selection’ of lots of different fidget toys on Amazon – I found the novelty of some new things to meddle with so satisfying, that my ADHD friends and family have since been gifted ones like this and this. Giving my hands something to do definitely lets information soak into my brain much better.


3. Off-Task… But Still Focusing

I don’t like to write notes, as I usually spend more time worrying about the presentation than the content. However, my aversion to note-taking made it much easier for me to start staring into space without a drop of focus, so just pushing myself to try and listen wasn’t a solution either.

My solution to this is to go partially off-task. The greatest tool in my ADHD-friendly study arsenal is medicine question banks – I will pick questions or spaced repetition cards related to the topic of my lecture to do while I listen. This makes me handle and use the information, which puts a lot of the discussion into context while I listen, and ultimately helps me understand the content much faster.


4. Flashcards

We all know them. You either love or loathe them.

I usually don’t make my own flashcards anymore (PassMedicine and other question bank saves me a lot of time and effort with their premade sets), but they were essential for my exams when I was still at St Andrews.

Like doing questions or flashcards while you listen to a lecture, you can also use the time to make your own. This is another good strategy to use the information you’re listening to, and check your understanding in the moment, rather than just let facts fly in one ear and fly back out the other.

5. Treat Yo’ Self

When all else fails, I like to incentivise myself. ADHD brains respond much better to short-term rewards than long-term ones, hence why the promise of a Mars bar once you’ve finished your portfolio reflection is much more enticing than the thought of successfully graduating in a few years time.

I don’t like to use this strategy all the time, because my favourite treats tend to be food or allowing myself to cave in to an impulse buy – and neither is good for my waistline nor my wallet…!

However, when all else fails and I really need to focus, a reward usually does the trick.

You can find links to some things that my ADHD brain personally loves on the Resources section of the site here.


(These are affiliate links – any funds raised go towards the monthly costs of hosting this website 😊).

How do you study?

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