Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA 4.12.21
Has anyone else been feeling more and more distracted by the world? Having a hard time focusing on things? It seems that the distractions in the world are ever-growing, between nonstop news, social media, and the entire world at your fingertips everywhere you go when you carry your smartphone with you. This phenomenon has been growing for years, and does not seem to be getting any better.
Recent studies have looked at increasing trends for ADHD in children and adolescents. In 1997-98, 6.1% of children between the ages of 4-17 were diagnosed with ADHD. That number rose to 10.4% in 2015-2016. There may be many reasons for this disturbing trend, but most experts agree that access to devices most likely plays a role. Parents and teachers can and should work on structures, guidelines and limits for using electronics to help with this situation.
What about adults? Several studies have shown a marked increase in adult ADHD diagnosis, with reports of between 2 and 3 times as many cases of adult ADHD in recent years. Some of this seems to be due to greater understanding of symptoms and recognizing the need for assessment. However, is not out of the question that an increase in symptoms of ADHD for adults is also due to constant access to distraction from our devices.
Over the past year, many people have had to adjust to working from home and finding a balance that is healthy between productivity and leisure in the home environment. Some have surely been successful with this. Others may have great struggles staying focused when working at home. There are all kinds of distractions, including household tasks (“I’ll just go put in one load of laundry now”), food (“I’m a little hungry and bored and the kitchen is right here”), neighborhood activity (“it’s too loud to work when someone is mowing the lawn so I will just have to take a break”), and kids (“I can’t get anything done when the kids need my help”). How is one supposed to manage?
On top of that, whether you’re working from home or not, for people who have access to devices during the day it can be difficult to stay focused on work when your phone alerts you to something. You may also be distracted by the impulse to look up answers to every question that pops into your head throughout the day, pulling you away from your work. Or you may be feeling a little lazy and unmotivated so a quick game of Candy Crush seems like it might be ok. All these little distractions add up.
So, what can we do?
That is mainly up to us, as individuals. Whether a lack of focus is affecting your studies, your professional work, or your responsibilities at home, you can do things to improve your focus and motivation.
- For starters, set daily goals for yourself. Make a list of reasonable priorities for the day, and when you have gotten those things done, reward yourself with one of your distractions.
- Work on changing how you are thinking about your time and your tasks. For example, if you have the thought to check your phone for something unrelated to your current task or goal, talk yourself out of it. Remind yourself of your current goal and remember that whatever you wanted to do on your phone will still be there in a little while. Try to avoid impulsive distractions.
- If you are distracted by thinking about other things you have to do or want to look up, jot them down for later.
- If you are able, put your phone away or put it on airplane mode, or do not disturb mode, when you are trying to finish other things.
- Practice mindfulness. Focus on the moment, and if you find yourself having a hard time with focus, pause for a couple slow breaths to help you bring yourself back to your focus.
- Take intentional breaks when possible. Use your breaks to re-set. If this is a scheduled lunch break or a coffee break, enjoy the time and allow your mind a break from your work.
- Avoid multi-tasking. This applies to work, but it also applies to leisure time. Are you on your phone or your laptop while you watch your favorite series on Netflix? Try to allow yourself to enjoy one thing at a time. This will help improve your focus habits, both for leisure and for work.
- Self-care. Even though this comes up all the time, sometimes we forget. Having a healthy diet, good sleep habits, and taking some time for exercise every day are all positive tools for maintaining focus and a good balance in your day-to-day life.