Do you have trouble remembering where you placed your reading glasses? Or maybe you are lacking the motivation to do that load of laundry. There are some simple tips and tricks that people with ADHD use to improve their attention, memory and motivation. The good news is that anyone can use these techniques, says Ari Tuckman, a psychologist in Pennsylvania and the author of ADHD After Dark: Better Sex Life, Better Relationship.
“The cognitive challenges of ADHD are exacerbations of universal issues,” Tuckman says. “We all get distracted and we all sometimes forget things.”
1. Focusing techniques for ADHD: Use a body double
ADHD coach Linda Anderson used the term “body double,” which is when a person does a task like laundry with you. The idea is that the person helps to anchor, or focus, the other person. Plus, you can complete the task faster with two people, and it’s usually more engaging. But the other person doesn’t have to help you to be a body double; they can just be present, like two people working on different projects next to each other at the same time.
Caroline Maguire, a family coach in Massachusetts who also has ADHD, explains that a body double also creates accountability. Using the laundry example above, if you were to start playing a game on your phone instead of doing laundry, your body double can hold you accountable and remind you that you are off task.
Maguire further explains that a body double can act as a “second brain.” The person can “offload some of that executive function weight,” she says. They can do this by offering their opinion or by helping you do a challenging or boring task.
Another reason body doubles are helpful is that we are wired to connect, explains Tamara Rosier, a clinical psychologist, founder of the ADHD Center of West Michigan and author of Your Brain’s Not Broken. “We tend to do things that other people do around us, and we’re not even aware of it,” she says. She and her husband often do separate work at the dining room table, which they refer to as “study hall.”
If you can’t find a body double but need to get things done, then going to a public space like a coffee shop or a public library can have the same benefits as a body double. If you need some motivation for your fitness routine, going to a gym or a fitness class can also act as a body double.
Another option is using the website Focusmate. Certified productivity and organizer coach, Cena Block, explains that the website provides an online accountability partner who works virtually at the same time as you.
2. Time a task
There are a few different techniques related to timing and motivation. One is to time a chore, such as putting away laundry. If you realize that it only takes five minutes to do, then you will be more likely to do it next time. You could also say, “I’m only going to do laundry for five minutes,” and then set a timer. If you are unable to finish the laundry after five minutes, you might resolve to continue putting it away since there isn’t much left.
The last way to use a timer is to see how quickly you can do the task, and then try to beat your record when you need to do the task again. Maguire explains that this use of the timer is “gamifying” the task and making it more fun. She says when she uses a timer this way, she feels “stimulated and motivated. My arousal levels in my brain are up and I’m racing toward [completing the task].”
3. ‘Resparklize’ the task
Barbara Luther, director of training at the ADD Coach Academy, created this technique. “It’s basically the idea that things need to be sort of shiny,” Maguire says. She explains that you might do a task like laundry for several weeks without an issue, but then you no longer want to do it. To “resparklize” or make the task interesting again, you need to find a new way to do it.
4. Name the time block
Rosier suggests that you name your block of time and list specifically what you are going to do during that time frame. She explains that people with ADHD often have trouble focusing since they pay attention to everything around them. The goal is to figure out how to direct your attention. “It’s like water going everywhere. How do we push that water to go in one direction?” she says. By naming the time block, you are helping your brain to identify what you need to focus on during that time.
5. Train your brain
“I’ve been brain training for 20 years,” Rosier says, adding that she plays games—think Sudoku, crosswords—that are not necessarily fun but require her to think. Research studies have shown that this type of brain training can help to improve your attention and memory. You can search for game apps by using the phrase “brain training” to find ones that would be a good fit for you.
Another type of brain training that Sid Khurana, a psychiatrist at Nevada Mental Health, suggests is “mental math,” or using your brain instead of a calculator to compute math problems daily. For example, if you are at the grocery store, calculate how much it costs to buy two gallons of milk without using a calculator. This type of brain training will help improve your working memory.
6. Decrease your cognitive load
People with ADHD can have trouble with their working memory or how their brain processes information at the moment. For people without ADHD, their working memory can be “overloaded” when they are trying to do too many things. The solution for everyone is to first recognize your cognitive load—something Rosier compares to a sponge. “How quickly does that sponge get saturated?” she poses. “Another way to put it is how much can you carry before you drop things?”
“I always ask people to be aware, ‘What is my cognitive load right now?’” Rosier says. Then if you realize that you are trying to remember too many things at once, Rosier suggests “downloading it” by writing the information on a physical list.
Tuckman also discusses this overload by saying, “I think about signal and noise. Signal is the thing that you’re supposed to pay attention to. Noise is everything that interferes with that.”
One way to improve your attention is to increase the signal and, at the same time, decrease the noise. In other words, avoid multitasking. In order to remember something, you need to first pay attention to it. This can be difficult if you’re distracted. Also, when possible, Tuckman recommends externalizing tasks. “If I put a Post-it note on the door, I can’t help but see it,” he says. You can also use reminder apps to externalize what you need to remember.
7. Make an effort to pay attention
If you are always forgetting where your reading glasses are, then Tuckman suggests taking a few seconds to say, “I’m placing my reading glasses on the kitchen table.” This will help your brain to create a mental image of where you are putting it. If you do not remember where you placed the glasses, then your “attention is probably somewhere else than the task at hand,” Tuckman says, adding that “your memory is only as good as your attention.”
Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock.com