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The Efficient and Inefficient Sides of ADHD

When you think of adjectives associated with ADHD, “efficient” probably isn’t the first that comes to mind. After all, doing things inattentively wouldn’t seem to translate into doing them efficiently.

That said, the impatient, hyperactive aspect of ADHD can lead to completing tasks quickly and efficiently, especially tasks that aren’t cognitively complex. When I walk somewhere, for example, I get there faster than most people would.

Those with the H part of ADHD have a tendency to rush through tasks, which is a kind of efficiency in a way. When we took tests in school, I was often the first one to finish – which, needless to say, is a whole different ballgame from being the one to get the highest grade.

StopwatchIn fact, that leads to a point familiar to impatient ADHDers: doing something quickly and automatically isn’t the same as doing it well. If you already have a tendency to make inattentive mistakes, for instance, rushing through a task at top speed won’t necessarily help.

Even when we approach tasks with an impatient urgency, ADHDers can be unreasonably inefficient in actually getting those tasks done in a timely way. This happens when we make mistakes and have to go back and redo stuff, when we have trouble sustaining concentration, when we hyperfocus on one part of the task in more detail than necessary, and so on.

The paradox of ADHD efficiency is that we can be blisteringly fast and devastatingly inefficient on the same task. Even if we rush through all the specific actions associated with a task, we might not have paused to plan out the best order to do those actions in beforehand, and we might lose time mind-wandering in between the different actions – or even have to go back and rush through one of those actions again if we did it wrong the first time. Impulsivity can mean committing to specific actions quickly but still losing time in the long-term.

What’s useful to know is that most individual ADHDers tend to have some tasks where they’re more efficient than others. Every task is a different mix of different factors like planning ahead vs. responding in the moment or sustaining attention in understimulating situations vs. following what you want to do.

The more we can identify the tasks we do efficiently and fill our lives with those tasks, the more efficient we become. Although as ADHDers, to some extent we will always probably be efficiently inefficient.

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The Efficient and Inefficient Sides of ADHD

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). The Efficient and Inefficient Sides of ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Nov 2019
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