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Stopping Hyperfocus Before It Starts

People sometimes talk about hyperfocus as if it gives ADHDers a secret superpower. And to be sure, when the stars align and you hyperfocus on something productive, it’s a great feeling.

Just as often, though, someone with ADHD might hyperfocus on something that’s basically a waste of time. You lose a whole day by getting sucked into an activity that you intended to do for a short period of time.

StopIn this context, hyperfocus is about not being able to stop an activity that, on some level, you want to stop. This type of hyperfocus isn’t the same as addiction, but it does have some addiction-like qualities in the sense that you are pulled into an activity offering an immediate reward, which starts to interfere with your life. Think: you start researching something online, get drawn into researching it more, and never get around to doing all the other things you actually needed to do.

This isn’t the kind of hyperfocus where you surprise yourself with your own productivity or become immersed in a hobby that makes you happy. It’s the kind where you come to your senses hours later and say “I can’t believe I just spent my whole morning on that.”

One tip for warding off this kind of hyperfocus is to set alarms when you’re starting activities that could draw you in like this. Or to save those activities for when you’ve done everything else you have to do.

But I’ve found the most effective way to avoid hyperfocusing on time-wasting activities is to never start those activities in the first place.

For example, this type of hyperfocus can pop up in the context of watching TV series, where you sit down to watch an episode, but then end up watching the next episode, and so on.

I used to watch a fair amount of TV shows, and my problem was that once I’d gotten into a TV show I’d always want to watch all the episodes of the show. So eventually I resolved simply not to start watching any new TV shows. I’d finish the ones I was already watching, but I wouldn’t create the possibility to get sucked into new TV shows.

That’s what I mean by stopping hyperfocus before it starts. I now don’t watch much TV, and I don’t miss it at all.

It’s a similar situation with video games. I never really played video games because I figured if I started it was something I could get drawn into and spend a lot of time on.

So if you have activities that tend to eat up more time than you’d like, possibly by bringing out the unproductive kind of hyperfocus, try seeing if there’s a way to simply not start those activities in the first place. Sometimes it’s easier to make a clean break than to try placing time limits on yourself. Unproductive hyperfocus is a plant that can very easily take over the whole garden if you don’t nip it in the bud!

Image: Flickr/thecrazyfilmgirl

Stopping Hyperfocus Before It Starts

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). Stopping Hyperfocus Before It Starts. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Aug 2019
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