Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 05, 2020
Tips to Manage Your Hyperfocus in Pictures
ADHD can make it hard for you to ignore distractions and stay on track. But the flip side of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is that it can make you concentrate so intensely, you block out everything else. It’s called hyperfocus. For example, you don’t notice the hours flying by while you plug away at a project or practice the piano. Some people call it getting into “the flow.”
Who Gets It?
Just about anyone can slip into hyperfocus mode. But experts say it’s more common -- and happens more often -- in people with ADHD. It may be because their brains are less sensitive to a chemical called dopamine, which is linked to reward and attention. The faulty brain circuits can make it easier for you to be distracted and to be hyperfocused.
The Downside of Hyperfocus
When you get too engrossed in a task, that tunnel vision can get in the way of the rest of your life. You get on the computer to check something and wind up wasting hours online. That might make you late for a job interview or miss a family event. This can strain your relationships or hurt your career. But you can learn to curb your hyperfocus and even turn it into an asset.
Some people call hyperfocus the “superpower” of ADHD. Because you’re so absorbed in a task, you can get more done quicker. You may also get better at it. Playing a video game with hyperfocus, for instance, can help you rack up high scores. The key is to channel that attention to useful goals.
Train Your Hyperfocus
You can’t just switch your trait on and off. But you can learn what causes you to zero in on certain things. Case in point: You’re likely to lose yourself only in activities that you find interesting. In other words, you can set the stage -- or not -- for going into hyperfocus mode.
ID Your Triggers
Take note of what grabs your attention and makes you tune out. Can you fritter away a whole day shopping online, or researching historical trivia? This can help you spot what sets off your hyperfocus. Once you know, you can take steps to manage it.
Alert Your Friends and Family
Other people may not know or understand how easily you can fall into a black hole. Explain it to them, and ask for support. Help them help you snap out of it. For many, a pat on the shoulder works better than calling your name.
Time It Right
Hyperfocus makes you lose track of time. To avoid conflicts, steer clear of your triggers before bedtime and appointments. Are you trying to concentrate on a task? Plan on tackling it when you tend to have the most energy. If you’re an early bird, work on that project first thing in the morning. That’s when your brain can focus most easily.
If you find yourself in hyperfocus, ask yourself: Is what I’m doing useful? If you answer no, it’s time to move on. But it can be hard to break your focus. Wiggle your body to redirect your brain. Do a few pushups, go for a walk, or just brush your teeth. Changing locations can also help, so go to another room.
Before you start on a project, decide how long you want to spend on it. Then set an alarm as a reminder to stop. You can also ask a family member or friend to check in. After you go into hyperfocus mode, your brain takes a while to change gears. If you have something to do, build an extra 15 minutes into your schedule for transition time.
Hyperfocus during an important job can help you get more done better. If that’s your aim, keep yourself from getting sidetracked. A smart move: Gather everything you need for that project before you start. That way, you won’t need to stop midway. Also, turn off your email notifications, log out of social media accounts, and mute your phone.
Spell Out Your Goals
You can’t always control what ends up absorbing you. You might lose yourself in designing a presentation instead of writing it up. Or spend hours digging into a side topic. To stay on track, write down your goal. Include the steps you need to take to reach it. If you find yourself veering off track, give yourself 20 minutes to redirect. Can’t do it? Move on to a different task.
Build in Breaks
Regular timeouts can help refresh your brain. They also give you a time to check that you’re staying on task. You may choose a set time, such as every 45 minutes, or stop at certain milestones. For instance, get up after you finish a level in a video game or a chapter in a book. Go for a walk or do a chore in another room. This can help you snap out of the spell of hyperfocus.
Write It Down
Having ADHD can make it tough to juggle tasks, or it can make you do them in fits and starts. If you take a break, you may forget where to pick up to get going again. Fix: Before you stand up, jot down where you stopped. Plowing through your math homework? Write down the equation and explain how to solve it. This bookmark can help you pick off where you left off.
Spark Your Interest
It’s hard to hyperfocus on something you dislike. Look for what you might enjoy about the task at hand. Not keen about loading the dishwasher? Turn it into a game and place each plate and glass into the perfect slot.
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Jon Belford, PsyD, clinical psychologist, New York.
National Institute of Mental Health: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”
Research in Developmental Disabilities: “Hyperfocusing as a Dimension of Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”
Shanna Pearson, founder, Expert ADHD Coaching.
University of Birmingham: “In the Zone: Hyperfocus and ADHD.”
JAMA: “Evaluating Dopamine Reward Pathway in ADHD Clinical Implications.”