Recently, I attended a support group meeting in Seattle for adults with ADHD. At one point, we were talking about the positive aspects of ADD and the group leader mentioned multi-tasking. She said that being able to do lots of things at once is a strength for many people with ADD and it makes life so much more interesting.
Looking around the room, I could see that people had mixed reactions to that idea.
I think that many people end up working on lots of tasks at the same time not because they are so good at multi-tasking, but because they are subconsciously jumping from thing to thing. Is it a strength in this case? I’m not so sure when a primary ADD symptom for so many of my clients is that they find themselves doing lots of things at once – yet not getting anything done. One man I know describes it as “going down the bunny trail.”
The brain wiring of ADD does make it difficult to focus on only one thing at once. It’s boring and requires a sustained attention that isn’t easy if the task is not stimulating or interesting. I think that many people react to this discomfort by moving on to something else without even realizing it. That leads to something else and before they know it, their original intention is lost in the shuffle.
Medication can help people sustain attention on one thing at a time. So can strategies from ADD coaching such as breaking a task down so that each part is less overwhelming and easier to finish. External cues can keep us on track. And so can Mindful Awareness.
Being mindful means knowing what we are doing while we are doing it. One strategy for this is to build in pauses throughout the day to take a step back and check in with yourself. What are you doing right now? Is what you are working on what you intended to be working on? Do you need to go back to your original task so you can finish it? Do you need to take care of yourself in some way so you can get back on track? Do you need to change environments? Get more support or help?
To remind ourselves to take this pause, an external cue is essential. What would work for you? Can you program your cell phone to remind you a few times a day? Set a timer? Maybe send yourself emails? (www.dailynudge.com)
Sure, working on more than one thing at once can make life more interesting. But being aware of when we are shifting from one thing to the next so it becomes a conscious decision will allow us to finish more tasks and be more effective. This definitely takes lots of practice. But knowing what we are doing when we are doing it can help us gain more control over our lives and get a lot more done.