Hyperfocus is the intent focus on one single activity. During times of hyperfocus, you might become oblivious to your surroundings, including the passage of time, and forget completely about other responsibilities.
It might seem strange to talk about hyperfocus for people with ADHD when one of the main symptoms of ADHD is lack of focus. But, if you think about inattention as more of the inability to regulate attention, it makes more sense. Some activities, especially boring or mundane tasks are hard to focus on for any length of time. During other activities, those that are enjoyable, you might find yourself immersed in the task so much so that the world around you seems to disappear. Hyperfocus is a controversial topic when associated with ADHD. It is not included in the “official” description as ADHD and, as with other symptoms of ADHD, not all people experience it.
For those that do experience hyperfocus, it can be both a blessing and a curse. At times, your hyperfocus might interfere with your work, completing chores or cause you to ignore family members. At other times, you might be grateful for periods of intense concentration because it gives you a chance to immerse yourself in an important task.
When you harness your hyperfocus, you can use it to your advantage. The following are tips to harness your hyperfocus.
Understand how hyperfocus develops. According to Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, tasks that often cause hyperfocus usually have four features: instant feedback, are active or interactive, are fast paced and are enjoyable.
Keep track of the situations and activities that cause you to hyperfocus. There may times when you aren’t even aware that you have entered into hyperfocus. You start an activity and then look up to realize that an hour, two or three have disappeared. By writing down each time you hyperfocus, you gain a better understanding of what types of activities will draw you into hyperfocus.
Always keep your goals in mind. There are many times hyperfocus can be used for unproductive tasks - online shopping, poking around ancestry, playing video games or focusing on a hobby. Use these as “rewards” and set times and time limits for these activities - once you complete your required tasks and responsibilities of the day, give yourself time to engage in these activities. You might want to set a timer to remind you to end, however; many times hyperfocus activities can last well into the early morning, leaving you tired the next day.
Practice your hyperfocus so you can better focus it when you want to use it. Knowing what tasks and activities tend to cause you to hyperfocus, use those that are productive to practice starting and stopping it with strategies such as timers and being conscious of your state of mind. Using hyperfocus purposely and for activities of your choosing changes it from a disadvantage to an advantage.
Enlist your family’s help if necessary. If you are starting a task that you know might draw you into hyperfocus, ask them to remind you when it is time to move on to the next activity or task. If at work, set a reminder on your computer to stop one project and move on to the next task. You might ask a coworker to email you, text you or call you at a certain time to break your hyperfocus.
Write a to-do list** each morning,** with the most urgent tasks at the top of the list. Complete these first so that if you do begin to hyperfocus, you have already finished important tasks. If you have tasks that need to be completed later in the day, write down the task and the time it needs to be completed (such as picking your children up from school). Keep the to-do list, as well as setting reminders on your phone, to remind you to stop what you are doing so you can get to the next task.
No matter what strategies you use, there are times you might find the best course of action is to avoid tasks that have a good chance to lead to hyperfocus, especially if there are important tasks that need to be completed at a later time.
For more information on living with adult ADHD:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.