For children, adolescents, and adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), difficulty maintaining focus is often the most prominent challenge. Although medication can lead to huge improvements in the ability to focus, some individuals cannot take medication, choose not to, and in some cases medication alone is not sufficient to fully address difficulties with attention.
In the absence of help from medication, here are several simple strategies to help improve focus:
- Take frequent notes on class material.
- If possible and feasible, have the child or teen complete fill-in-the-blank notes provided by a teacher.
- Some children and teens sustain focus better by keeping their hands occupied with something small, such as a stress ball, eraser, or a similar item.
- Younger children may do well with using exercise hands on the legs of their chairs. Allowing them to push their legs against these will provide tension, reduce fidgeting, and in turn may improve concentration.
- For older children and teens, teaching them how to stretch subtly during class may help reduce fidgeting and improve focus.
- Use a vibrating watch to prompt the child or teen at specific time intervals to regain focus.
- Have the child or teen create an agenda each evening for which assignments will be completed and the order in which they will be completed. Encourage the child/teen to estimate how long each will take when creating the agenda. This will help the child/teen to mentally prepare to complete the assignments for a designated period of time and may help improve focus.
- For reading assignments, designate a chair for the child or teen to sit in. Let the child/teen sit in that chair only when reading for school. This will help train the child or teen to focus on reading when in that chair.
- Reduce distractions such as the availability of a cell phone, computer access not related to homework assignments, noise, etc. Using apps such as White Noise (to reduce background noise) and Interval Minder (to stay on task) may be helpful.
- Create a daily to-do list and estimate how long each task will take.
- Block out time in your calendar to complete each task as if it were an appointment.
- As appropriate, schedule specific blocks of time to return phone calls, email, etc., instead of returning them as they come in. Obviously, this depends on your job responsibilities and the urgency of responding, but doing this will limit distractions that impede your ability to complete specific tasks in a timely manner.
- If getting to meetings on time is an issue, use countdown apps or reminders to prompt you 30 minutes, 15 minutes, and five minutes before you have to leave to attend the meeting. When the five-minute reminder goes off, stop what you are doing and go.
- When writing/editing a report, set realistic deadlines to finish writing/editing each paragraph, section, page, or other part of the document. If you get slowed down when editing and keep rereading the same lines or sections over again, try tapping your finger or hand on the desk as you read each word. This action may help you edit more quickly and keep you moving along.
- If having trouble editing carefully, try reading the text out loud. This may help improve the quality of your work.
The strategies above are likely to help improve focus. Obviously, the exact cause of the difficulty sustaining focus, and individual differences, will affect how helpful each of these strategies may be. I suggest you try the strategies that seem appropriate for your needs and work on developing your own. If needed, seeking out a therapist who specializes in this or an ADHD/executive functioning coach may be helpful. A trained professional can ensure that you are able to follow through in carrying out implementation of these types of techniques successfully.
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