How Do You Keep Your Eye on the Ball - Maintaining Attention with ADHD

First step: Get started.

That was the topic of my last blogpost, dealing with the activation aspect of ADHD.

Following my own advice, just now I did two quick little internet tasks and crossed them off my list. Got a dopamine hit off that, like taking one bite of a piece of pie. So now I have a long task in front of me, writing my next blogpost on attention.

Oops, damn. Just took a break to eat a banana. And then I started a timer on one of my games. And now I'm remembering it's a friend's birthday and I haven't sent a card yet.


NO! I will get back to the blogpost. Ugh. Even with a med on board, this is hard.

So. How do I keep working when my friend really deserves a birthday card and I really want to send it?

Here are my tricks:

  • Keep it short. Don't even try to work three hours at a time on any one project. I have a number of projects going right now. Each could benefit from an eight-hour-day effort. I never put in an eight hour day on any of them. My day is divided into blocks and I assign a different task to each block. No task gets more than two hours. And I take mini breaks in the middle of two hours. So yeah, I will check my email - waiting to hear back from my publisher. And I won't beat my ADD brain up for doing it.


That reminds me: decades before I knew anything about my brain, one of the reasons I loved working in a parish was the variety of tasks within a day/week/year. Hurray for CHANGE!

  • Break it down. This one is related to the former. I have a whole book to edit. Nope. Gonna edit one chapter today. That's it. Next chapter tomorrow. Move on to a different task. Laundry: I pile the clean clothes on top of the dryer and fold one item each time I pass by. Who made some dumbass rule that says you have to wash, dry, fold, and even put away a load of laundry all in one day? You're an adult. Change that rule.


  • Build in movement. I write at a standing desk and shift my position frequently, wiggle my hips, stretch my arms over my head. Go fold one more piece of laundry.

  • Build in a mindless task to run in the background. In grade school, I used a coloring book. My grad school notebooks are filled with doodles. Back when I went to in-person conferences (remember those days?) I would bring my knitting for those two hour meetings. Now that all my meetings are on Zoom, I can play a game while listening (yes, I really am listening) and no one is the wiser.

  • Make yourself accountable. Give yourself a deadline. Your boss or your professor may handle this for you. But those deadlines are probably for the whole task. Once you have broken it into the bit you can accomplish before lunch, tell somebody else what you're doing, a coworker, a spouse, Twitter, whatever works for you.

And look -- there's a whole blogpost!

But I gotta tell ya. Sure, my little kid ADHD prefrontal cortex developed, and sure, I developed some of these coping mechanisms on my own. But there is a difference between [agonizing over a blogpost for four days, eventually abandoning it in the draft pile] and [hanging in there with a few little breaks but getting it done in one morning.] And that difference seems to be medication.

Next up: well, I'm not sure. But I think I will continue on the ADHD thread and review a resource or two.

How Do You Get Going? Working with ADHD

Screens for ADHD measure five clusters of symptoms: 

  • organizing and activation for work
  • sustaining attention and concentration
  • sustaining energy and effort
  • managing affective interference (emotions that get in the way)
  • utilizing working memory and accessing recall.
The DSM checklist assumes that ADHD is a diagnosis for children. If you didn't have it as a child, you don't have it now.

Well, okay. I am not qualified to quibble with the American Psychiatric Association about how many angels dance on the head of a pin and when they showed up for the dance. But the problem of diagnosis is this: I can't remember which of their criteria I demonstrated in my childhood. And my mother certainly never noticed any struggles that her brilliant and perfect daughter may have experienced in the early 1960s. I mean, she didn't even notice suicidal depression...

So what do I make of that DSM assumption?

CHADD - Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder has this to say about diagnosing adults:

There's That Squirrel Again! How Do I Know if I Have ADHD?

There is a reason why I haven't posted in months. My latest diagnosis -- ADHD -- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome -- the adult version.

I have a fistful of posts in my draft file that were never finished before they seemed beside the point. That is not an unusual state for me. Many years ago my brilliant brain was unable to write the doctoral thesis for which I had already conducted extensive field research and had a thorough outline. Periodically I would write whole chapters in my head. But when the laptop was in front of me...


I was stuck.

We'll see how this post goes.


Wait a minute. Don't I have bipolar disorder? Where did this new diagnosis come from? What are the chances a person could have both?

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