I have long wondered if I have ADHD.
- being easily distracted
- difficulty sustaining attention
- trouble with organization
- trouble staying seated
- avoiding tasks requiring sustained mental effort
Or is it possible that we’re jumping the gun in reaching for prescription meds to fix the problem? Maybe those are just a means of treating the symptoms, and not addressing the underlying cause.
The more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more evidence I’ve seen indicating that our chemistry is not to blame for our inattention, restlessness and hyperactivity, but our environment. Life itself moves faster than it ever has, we have more roles and responsibilities than before, we are expected to produce results in ever-shorter timelines, and there are a thousand daily distractions vying for our attention.
Consider even the nature of digital entertainment. If you watch a movie, TV show or commercial, you’ll notice that the average shot rarely lasts more than 3-5 seconds before changing scene or camera angle. When scrolling a social media newsfeed, our attention rests on a post only long enough to read the couple sentence caption. If someone writes a long story or rant, we tune out and seek the next easy to digest post with a picture that sums it up. Studies show that even if videos are engaging, the ideal length on something like Instagram or Facebook is one minute or less. We will rarely sit still to watch a 15-minute TED talk that our friend sends us, but we’ll sit on the toilet and watch seven two-minute videos of cats or fails or stupid human tricks back to back. We change the Spotify station while changing lanes and eating a breakfast burrito in between checking texts and driving directions on Google Maps, and then have phone calls discussing important business while keeping our eyes on the road about 70% of the time. No wonder that I go to cook breakfast, unload the dishes while eggs cook, find myself throwing dirty dishrags in with the laundry downstairs, and end up vacuuming for our next airbnb guest until I smell something burning upstairs.
I submit that most of us don’t have a chemical deficiency requiring medication. We have chaotic environments and structures that reward our short attention spans, and we’ve forgotten how to actually sit still long enough to finish reading a whole chapter at a time. We’d like to think that we’ve become more masterful at multitasking, when in fact most of us are actually just briefly engaging with more tasks and distractions throughout the day without ever being fully present and focused on one.
So if the problem is not genetic, but environmental, what can we do about it?
– Set up structures to have us win.
Some of these might feel grounding and others more akin to working with blinders on, but nevertheless, I’ve found them helpful in actually getting things done. Here are some tools and recommendations in no particular order:
1) De-clutter your workspace
Simply put, get any visual distractions out of the way. It’s hard to stay focused on one task when a simple glance away from your screen has you notice a full day planner, stacks of correspondence on the desk, 50 motivational quotes on the walls, and boxes on the floor waiting to be put away. Clean the space so your eyes don’t wander too often, and devote your mental bandwidth to what is directly in front of you. Sometimes we clean in order to procrastinate or avoid doing work, but in this instance, it is time well invested that will pay dividends in future productivity.
2) Silence your phone
3) Select music that doesn’t distract
4) Set a timer and work in blocks
6) Prioritize your to-do list
7) Use Self Control
I’m no doctor, and don’t play one on the internet. I do, however, advocate for natural remedies in lieu of prescription solutions as frequently as possible. In adopting one or a combination of these practices, I believe that you’ll find yourself better set up to tackle the seemingly insurmountable day of tasks without feeling exhausted from being mentally pulled in 100 directions at a time. Perhaps you won’t feel like you need a prescription to fix you.