“Hey Demir, I think I have ADHD. I just can’t seem to focus on anything, and my attention span is 2 seconds long. It’s really interfering with my ability to get work done, and I feel like my productivity has taken a big hit because of this. What should I do?” – Mark K.
Thanks for the question, Mark. Many people seem to have questions surrounding ADHD and muddled productivity.
There’s a lot of buzz going around the internet about how our multitasking culture is “giving us all the symptoms of ADHD.” ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is one of the most common lifelong disorders among Americans. Common symptoms include an inability to focus for long stints of time, restlessness, and getting bored easily.
Sounds familiar, right? If my clients acted as a sample of all working American adults, 100% of us would report having ADHD!
First, let’s get something straight: we live in a technologically-saturated multi-tasking culture — the internet gives us a limitless supply of entertainment, information, and socialization. Most of these distractions come in bite-sized packages–a tweet is 140 characters, the average YouTube video is less than five minutes long, etc.–which enables us to absorb insane amounts of information in the course of a day. And sometimes, this inundation of entertainment and socialization starts to creep in on blocks of time that we should be spending working.
When you should be responding to important emails, you get side-tracked by a ping from Facebook messenger and start chatting with a friend for a few minutes. You get back on track, and remember that you wanted to Google the average temperature in Miami in February, because you are thinking about taking a trip next month. Down the wormhole you’ve gone. If you’ve ever gotten here and started to wonder if you’ve developed some of the symptoms of ADHD, you are not alone.
So do you have ADHD, or are you just in a constant state of distraction that feels like ADHD?
Listen, the fact of the matter is only about 4-5% of adults have diagnosed ADHD. Those people struggle with even the simplest knowledge tasks, and have been held back from graduating school and succeeding at work. Most of my clients don’t fit that bill – they are professionals who have accomplished incredible things, but still feel like they can’t unlock 100% of their brain’s potential. Guys let’s be honest for a second, when we wrongly claim symptoms of a serious learning disorder it’s insulting to those who actually suffer from it!
So if we’re not ADHD, but we KNOW that something is wrong – we’re not nearly operating at 100% of our capability – then what are we? What should we call ourselves?
My diagnosis 99% of the time is CHRONIC DISTRACTION. That is, distraction that is so pervasive that we stop noticing it! And we don’t see the corrosive effects it is having on our energy, our productivity, and our lives!
How do we ignore the revolving door of distractions we face on a day to day basis and become more productive?
Here’s what to do:
1) Start NOTICING the distractions in your life.
Studies show that we are distracted from our task once every 18 seconds! Start bringing your attention to those distractions in your environment. What is distracting you? Is it your phone dinging? Emails popping up on your screen? Other work catching your eye on your desk?
Once you start seeing those repeat offenders, you’ll naturally take steps to eliminate them and get that focus back! Funny fact: People who track their eating without trying to change their diet at all lose an average of 5 lbs! So you don’t always need to take conscious action – just noticing something can result in automatic action!
2) Make a list of what is distracting you, and eliminate it systematically.
Instead of working longer hours, downloading a bunch of new productivity apps, or trying to juggle 100 balls, the best solution to our attention deficit is to ELIMINATE the superfluous layers of distractions. Is it your phone? Is it social media? Is it a weakness for your favorite blog or podcast? Recognize these distractions and restrict your access to them.
(PS – for my overachievers out there who have this voice in their head saying “But I just wish there were more hours in the day!” guess what – we all have the same 24 hours as Warren Buffett, Obama, Branson, and Elon Musk. There ARE enough hours in the day, we just need to figure out how to use them more efficiently!)
3) Turn your phone onto “Do Not Disturb”…and turn off email notifications on your laptop.
We test this out all the time in workshops: We have teams of workers turn off their phones and notifications so that they are completely unreachable. A distraction-free workspace is now in place. We get to work together as a group for a powerful, focused amount of time. I walk around like a school teacher and enforce this “no distraction” environment.
The result? People report back nearly miraculous results: their productivity doubles (or even triples), and they are able to stay focused for much longer periods of time. The “ADHD” goes away – at least while we are in the room preventing distractions.
Sounds too simple to be true, right? But all we are doing is clearing away the distractions that they’ve become accustomed to, allowing their natural productivity to shine through. And they’re amazed at what they can do!
Listen, there are some amazing products, apps and programs out there that can amplify your productivity. But we we have to balance the utility of those tools against the added layers of distraction they are building up around us. The optimal balance is having few tools that have a huge impact, and working in short bursts of complete focus. To do that, we have to clear away those layers of distraction and get back to our true, hyper-productive, potential.