Losing focus? 9 ways to concentrate at work

You're late to work (again), behind on a project, or can't remember the action points from the last meeting. If you're one of the roughly 10 million U.S. adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it can be a constant challenge to stay on task. Dr. Anthony Rostain, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, says you can get distracted by external stimuli like noise or internal stimuli like daydreaming. These different distractions require different coping strategies, he explains. From our friends at Health.com, here's how to pinpoint your weaknesses and 10 strategies for getting the job done.More from Health.com: 5 reasons you can't concentrate istockphoto

Over the past few decades, attention deficit disorder has been recognized in schools; most good educators are aware of what is needed to help students succeed despite symptoms that include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. But dealing with attention issues in high school and college is different from coping with them in an office.

"While there are excellent support services available and many accommodations available on campus, this is less likely to be the case at work. Although the ADA offers some protection through requiring the employer to provide 'reasonable accommodations,' this is a lengthy, difficult process to achieve in the workplace and many employers are [resistant]," says Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., Director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland and co-author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.

Here are some tips, from Nadeau and her co-author, professional organizer Judith Kolberg, for anyone who feels his or her attention isn't where it needs to be. While Nadeau and Kolberg are focused on helping people who have an actual diagnosis of ADD, their advice can help all of us navigate the onslaught of distractions at the office.

Change your scenery

Between your TV, your smartphone, and your office cube, life can get redundant and feel like a collection of boxes -- and this can cause your mind to wander. "For ADDers, the lack of diversity of surroundings in offices can be especially tough. I always encourage my clients to get out of the building, take a walk, have a conversation, and move," says Kolberg.

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Help your manager help you

Suggest concrete, unobtrusive solutions to your direct supervisor, says Nadaeu. For instance, instead of complaining that you need a quieter working environment, ask if you can work in the conference room when it's empty. Or ask to schedule a weekly check-in meeting with your boss to show you're motivated -- not that you need help.

Carry a pen and pad with you

If you take notes constantly, you won't forget things as they get thrown at you. "ADDers have trouble keeping things in mind, an issue called 'weak working memory.' Details, work assignments, reminders, to do tasks -- much of it verbal. No ADD client of mine ever walks around without a way to capture flying bits of information," says Kolberg. If pad and pen seems too old-school, use your smartphone or even a service like Jott, which converts voice messages to a text message, suggest Kolberg. You can also ask people to put details in a quick email.

Overestimate how long it takes to do things

In an office, other people are relying on you to do something in a timely way. It's imperative to finish those tasks on time so as not to inconvenience others. "I tell my ADD clients every task will take them longer than they think so don't make false promises to begin with. I remind that ADD can devastate executive functions like time assessment, prioritizing, and follow through," says Kolberg.

Find your own best coping practices

Specific ways of dealing will vary person to person, says Kolberg: "Make your work fit you. Sometimes its best to read a report out loud, analyze data on a big white board, and do internet research with a timer on so you don't fall into a black hole."

Celebrate your successes

"ADDers can have a pretty low tolerance of frustration," says Kolberg. Being perpetually frustrated can make you feel like you're bad at your job -- even when you're not. Regularly reviewing what you've done right can give you a clearer view of your value.

Pair up with a partner

Whether you're self-employed or work for a corporation, finding a partner or team to work with can help you stay on track, says Nadeau. If you work from home as a freelancer, you might consider joining an office space with others who can help you stay on task.

Choose a career you're very interested in

This is an obvious tip for any recent grad, but especially important if you have attention issues. "Interest can lead to hyper-focus -- one of the unsung advantages of ADHD -- which can lead to superlative performance," says Nadeau.

Get professional help

These tips can all help -- again, whether you have a diagnosis of ADD or not -- but a doctor and/or coach can target a plan for someone who's struggling. "Some people have the misunderstanding that medication is only for school years and should be discontinued after graduation. Working with a coach can [also] be tremendously helpful," says Nadeau. These experts can tailor a plan devised specifically for you and your working environment.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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