ADHD! Things that help me when I really can't focus

ADHD makes it really difficult to get things done. Here are some things that help me work through it.

Amanda Rosehart

3/23/20224 min read

I know that there are a lot of resources available for how to function with ADHD, anxiety, and basically any other mental health issue. However, I find a lot of them sound like they’re written by people who have never dealt with these issues themselves. Like they’re just telling you what helps them and “why isn’t this helping you? You clearly aren’t doing enough.” And that gets really tough to hear. I know I try really hard every day to try and function like “everyone else.”

So, here are some things I’ve found that actually help me. They may work for you. They may not. They may give you an idea of something else that is tangentially related. Hopefully there’s something in here that’s helpful.

Taking breaks: I don’t necessarily use any strict method (i.e., Pomodoro), but I do allow myself to take breaks. Especially as someone who sits in front of the computer all day, breaks allow me to get up and move around, give my brain a break, and do something fun to offset the less-fun work.

Using tools: Having a counter to know how much work I have left and be able to see the progress. I’m a very visual person, so being able to see my progress is important. So, when I’m editing articles, I actually use a counter I made (originally for Magic the Gathering but hey, whatever works) as a countdown for how many pages I have left to edit. This way I can see my progress as I change the counter and know how much I have left. It’s been really useful so far.

Want the counter? Here’s the video I watched from Woodfish Toys: It has a free PDF in the description with the printable part. Then you just need paperboard. I used a soda box. I've been using it for everything from tracking hit points for games to noting the date I last watered my plants.

I really like those timers with the circle that slowly disappears so you can see how much time has passed. But they can be expensive. Right now I use my Fitbit and a little cube timer that has different pre-set times on it. They work. I just wish I could see the passage of time better. Oh well.

Also, give yourself permission to not use something that doesn’t work and don’t carry around guilt for it. I do not use a to-do list. They just haven’t worked for me in the past. Maybe one day I’ll find a method that works … “but it is not this day!” (:D)

Use whatever tools are available to you. If something helps you, use it. Society may have opinions about it, but it also has opinions about whether you get stuff done. So use whatever helps. For me, I cannot ignore human voices. So, while editing, I use Word’s Read Aloud function and have it read the article to me. Is the voice annoying? Yeah. Does it mess up on words and phrases? Yup. Does it also make it more obvious when there’s a word missing (like “it” or “the”) that I may have glossed over otherwise? Yes. And does it keep me on track when my mind wants to think about anything other than concrete structures? Absolutely. So I use it. Maybe it’s designed for a different use, but it helps me, so I use it.

Also ear plugs. I do really like Loops. I’m not a fan of the foam ones. They even come with different sized ear tips so they fit perfectly - I use two different sizes because my ears are weird. And however Loops work they don’t block voices as much, but they do deaden children’s high pitched screams. Win-win. I even use them at movie theaters.

Here are the links if you’re interested (I get nothing if you do): for North Americans, worldwide and for Australians.

Self-care: I know this one is super common, but in a world that wants us to keep moving past the point of healthy, making sure I take time for myself is super important. It’s not just how you do the work. It matters what you do the rest of the day, too. This is definitely one of the hardest things for me to do. You really have to know yourself to use this one. You can stay in the bath tub all day with 20 bath bombs, but if you don’t like baths, they aren’t going to work.

For me, self-care includes taking time to do crafts. My depression has been super high since the pandemic started, and only recently did I figure out that doing some sort of craft actually helps (only took about 3 decades!)

As much as I like video games, they’re more of an escape, which is fine … until I escape from my own needs. I also use them to be social, but I’m an introvert … you may be able to see the flaw. I play games a lot, but they don’t help my mood in the long run. Crafts are important to me. For you, it could be writing, hiking, gardening, playing with Legos … some hobby that lets you be yourself and brings you joy.

Note: Self-care can include medications. I know society has a lot to say about this. Here’s my take if it’s helpful to you: People use tools to help them all the time. Glasses, coffee, exercise, high blood pressure medications, step stools, washing machines… If medications are helpful, there’s no shame in taking them. And please make sure you take them as prescribed. I’m really bad about remembering them and taking them consistently, so I have a really loud alarm go off and snooze it until I take them.

Take care of yourself. You deserve peace. And as long as it’s not hurting anyone, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else how you live your life.

Let me know if there are things you’ve learned over the years that have helped you. Also, if anyone has any tips about sleep for ADHD, let me know. I still haven’t figured that one out :(