“Do I have A.D.D.?” Tips on organizing to increase your focus

We’ve all been there.

We start an activity—any activity—folding clothes, washing the car, writing a paper, preparing tax information, and then, out of nowhere, our focus simply abandons us. But why? Are some of us just predispositioned to distraction? Is it a chemical problem, like ADHD? Or can we simply organize our lives to focus better? Umm…what was I saying? Oh, yes! We CAN organize for focus. Hooray!

The Buttoned Up team got the chance to speak with Harvard Medical School neuropsychologist Dr. Jerome Schultz who agreed to answer our questions. After a lengthy and fascinating discussion about ADHD in both children and adults (more info on the topic can be found in his book Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It, we came to the conclusion that people are a little bit too liberal with the “A.D.D.” (ADHD) label.

In the words of Dr. Schultz, “ADHD is a clearly diagnosable neuro-biological disorder, which is characterized by developmentally inappropriate impulsivity and inattention and occurs in about 4.4% of adults.” So, rather than “having “ADHD,” the majority of the distracted masses are simply failing to organize life in a way that promotes and maximizes our ability to focus.

So how does one organize life in a way that promotes rather than diminishes focus? Dr. Schultz kindly shared some tips with us. We were surprised at how simple they were.

The brain is an organ

Duh. But do you ever really think about it as one? The brain is an organ that controls focus, thinking, and pretty much literally everything else that you do or feel. Everything. But just like all of our other organs, to function properly and efficiently it requires some very basic things: sleep, exercise, hydration, and a healthy diet. Surprised? We didn’t think so.

Somewhere the message gets lost in translation. If you are having trouble focusing ask yourself if you’re treating it as one: Have I eaten today? Did I sleep well last night? When was the last time I exercised? Am I eating in a way that promotes or diminishes focus? If the answer to any of these questions is no (with most of us, at least one will be) then perhaps it’s time to organize your life in an effort to focus better. Write down one of the things that you can be doing better—whether it be going to sleep before midnight, exercising daily, eating five fruits a day, or drinking more water— and then, for at least a week, make sure to include that thing in your life. If you still have a problem focusing, then give it some more time. If nothing is working and you are as fit as a fiddle, then perhaps there is another agent of distraction in your life.

Stress is stressful

Even with a healthy lifestyle, sometimes stress can leave us unfocused. But Dr. Schultz gave us one of his techniques to aid focus under stress.

Talk down bad stress.
Dr. Schultz distinguished between bad as good stress. Good stress is normal, and it gets us ready to take on life, but bad stress simply hinders us. Schultz characterizes bad stress, as stress that comes with a sense of despondency—stress in response to something we cannot control—or something that we at least feel is out of our control. But there is a solution.

You can talk yourself down from this stress, literally. Tell yourself that it won’t be easy, but that you can still do it. Use inner language to guide your thoughts, and employ methods to get through whatever it is that it causing this bad stress. The key is in believing that you can get through this situation.

Seek help. Maybe you do have ADHD

If you’re living a healthy lifestyle, and managing your stress effectively but still can’t seem to focus. Make an appointment with a doctor to find out. It can’t hurt.

Simple recap
1. You Probably Don’t Have ADHD
2. To focus better: Eat well, sleep well, stay hydrated, and exercise
3. Bad Stress Takes Away Your Ability to focus, so pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that everything will be alright; up until now you’ve dealt with whatever situation life has thrown at you, this won’t be any different.
4. If you really feel that you have ADHD, seek professional attention. Even if your diagnosis is incorrect, a physician may have specific answers to your problem focusing.

How do you stay focused when you find yourself constantly distracted? Please comment below.