Have you ever found yourself so absorbed in something that everything outside it seems nonexistent? You intensely focus on a single task or activity, losing track of time. Nothing can break your attention.
This phenomenon is called hyperfocusing, and it’s common among individuals with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
ADHDers often find this hyperfocus state to have both pros and cons. On the one hand, hyperfocus is amazing for productivity and creative thinking. However, it’s also easy to hyperfocus on an activity meant to distract or procrastinate.
The trick is learning to use hyperfocus to your advantage, channeling it toward the things you want to focus on instead of distractions. Here, we’re defining hyperfocus, how it impacts productivity, and how you can learn to work with it.
What is hyperfocusing?
Hyperfocusing occurs when you become so absorbed by an activity that you lose track of time and tune out everything around you. You’re unaware of your surroundings, with the task at hand receiving your undivided attention.
Characteristics like inattentiveness and hyperactivity are more commonly attached to the neurotype. Because of this hyperfocus is often considered as the “flip side” of ADHD. However, ADHDers have a remarkable ability to focus on tasks, especially if it’s something they enjoy doing.
Hyperfocusing is a relatively common symptom of ADHD, although psychological research doesn’t use it as diagnostic criteria. When ADHDers hyperfocus on an activity they enjoy, they report feeling rewarded and satisfied by this intense focus.
This ability to focus likely has to do with how an ADHD brain creates and processes dopamine. It naturally has lower levels of dopamine, making it more difficult for people with ADHD to manage their attention. This means there’s a higher chance of an ADHDer honing in on activities they like while procrastinating those they find less stimulating.
What are the pros and cons of hyperfocusing?
If you have ADHD, hyperfocus can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, you can accomplish impressive sums of work in short spans of time when you focus on important tasks or ones you enjoy. Yet, it’s all too easy to fall into hyperfocusing on distracting activities like researching a new special interest, scrolling through your phone, watching a TV show, or playing video games.
There are times when focusing all your attention on these kinds of activities is enormously relaxing and you should invite it. However, if it starts getting in the way of completing important work with pressing deadlines, it might be time to take a closer look.
Understanding hyperfocus and the activities that tend to draw your complete attention can become a superpower. Here are some of the benefits of hyperfocus:
- Enhanced productivity. Without distraction, it’s easier to work efficiently through tasks. You maintain a heightened level of concentration that helps you stay locked on to the work at hand.
- Better problem-solving. A hyper-focused brain is one privy to making new connections between ideas and finding creative solutions. You might find your mind exploring new ideas and proposing innovative solutions to age-old problems.
- Increased motivation. Due to the spike in dopamine ADHDers get when they hyperfocus, they are more likely to stay fixed on a single task and see it through to its end, likely doing excellent work.
- Improved learning and memory retention. Hyperfocus is a major asset when retaining new information. Whether researching a new topic or learning a new skill, you’ll remember more when you tune into the task before you.
As much as hyperfocus can support ADHDers to do great work, there are some challenges associated with it. See if any of these common ADHD characteristics are things you experience when it comes to focusing on work.
- Neglecting to do the tasks you need to complete
- Difficulty prioritizing tasks
- Impulsivity in accepting too much work
- Forgetting deadlines or struggling to plan ahead
- Difficulty switching from one task to another
Once you’ve pinpointed the challenges hyperfocusing may pose, the trick is learning how to work with your brain so you can enjoy intense concentration on the tasks you choose.
6 ways to train your brain to hyperfocus efficiently
1. Set clear and realistic goals
Setting clear goals and expectations for your dedicated focus time creates the foundation for doing it successfully. They serve as the guiding principles for how you structure your work and focus.
When you set your goals, employ the SMART goal-setting technique. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based—it’ll help you create realistic goals that promote sustained productivity and support your natural attention span.
As an ADHDer, aim to discover a way of approaching work that aligns with your instincts. You’ll be far more successful and productive when you match your work habits with your neurodiverse brain instead of trying to fit it into a neurotypical box. Remember to keep your goals realistic so they’re actually achievable. Expect a learning curve with any new process or change to how you work. Allow yourself wiggle room to experiment and figure out precisely what will work for you.
2. Get everything you need to work uninterrupted
When you sit down to focus on the task, ensure you have everything you need to work. This means gathering all the necessary items and placing them easily within reach, so you don’t need to interrupt your intense focus to get them.
Don’t forget items like your noise-canceling headphones, water bottle, and a timer. If you want to sit down with a cup of coffee or tea, have a freshly brewed cup on hand. Having a snack nearby might also be a good idea—maybe a bag of trail mix or granola bar for a quick bite while you cruise through your tasks.
3. Remove all distractions from your workspace
Grab any potential distractions from your workspace and ditch them. Consider both your physical and digital workspaces. If you have pets or colleagues that might be distracting, seat yourself somewhere you can’t be disturbed. Close the door and put on noise-canceling headphones to block out external stimuli.
Silence notifications on your cell phone or put it in another room entirely. Temporarily pause notifications on your computer from Slack and email. Set your Slack status to Do Not Disturb so your colleagues know you’re focusing and will follow up on their inquiries later.
Aim to create a workspace that supports deep work. Individuals with ADHD are often more easily distracted, so take extra steps to build a distraction-free environment.
4. Choose a time frame and set a timer
Settling into focus comes easier when we have a set amount of time dedicated to work. Time management strategies like the Pomodoro Technique are particularly effective, especially for those with ADHD.
You can lean on a Pomodoro-style timer or create your own time management approach—whatever works best for you. The usual setup for the Pomodoro Technique is 25 to 30 minutes of focused work time followed by a 5 to 10-minute break.
Ensure you set it up with a realistic amount of time to focus. When you’re feeling rested, how long do you think you can focus before taking a break? Start by setting the timer for about this time and work to increase it.
5. Schedule breaks
When you’re in a state of hyperfocus, taking a break can feel like a massive disruption. It might be difficult to get back into a flow state of work after taking a break, even if it was only for a few moments.
Yet, when you hyperfocus without boundaries you’ll likely feel exhausted when you finally do stop. So much so that little else gets accomplished that day. You want to create sustainable work habits—ones that respect your mind’s natural ability to focus while leaving you with enough energy to do personal activities once you’ve wrapped up work.
Whether neurodiverse or neurotypical, our brains need time to rest and decompress to work effectively in the long term.
6. Stop working at a realistic time
When you create boundaries around when you focus and how you do it, you’re working toward building sustainable work habits. You’re fostering long-term healthy work practices that support your mental health, which is why stopping work at a predetermined time is so important.
You don’t want to exhaust yourself by hyperfocusing for so long that you’re too tired to enjoy your hobbies or spend time with loved ones outside of work. Using a timer to manage your work sprints and timeboxing your tasks are reliable strategies for ensuring you stick to your end date and wrap up the workday at a reasonable hour.
At the heart of learning how to work with your natural practices is optimizing the time spent working, so you can get more time back in your schedule for yourself. You’re working toward achieving a greater work-life balance.
Build a daily routine that supports your focus
ADHD hyperfocus has pros and cons—all of which have an impact on your daily life. If you can learn how to work with it, you can build a sustainable working routine that supports how you naturally work. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses can better set yourself up for success and utmost productivity.
Sunsama focuses on helping you create sustainable routines that align with how you like to work, so you can be as productive and efficient as possible.
Use the Focus Mode feature to pause notifications from Slack or email so you can focus on specific tasks without interruption. The Focus Bar is a small pop-up box on your screen, allowing you to set a timer for your deep work time. No matter where you work, you can see how much longer you have to work on the task. Round out your day using the tool’s daily shutdown feature—end the day with reflection to see all you accomplished and prepare for another day of success.
Give Sunsama a try with a free trial and see how the tool can help you manage your time and focus.