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When ADHD Makes Simple Tasks Exhausting

For all the times people with ADHD have been told to try harder, there’s something that needs to be said: having ADHD can be a lot of work.

What you can’t tell from the outside is that ADHD symptoms can make a seemingly straightforward task much harder for someone than it would be if they didn’t have ADHD.

FatigueThis is true of tasks that make demands in areas where ADHDers struggle, such as sustaining attention, forcing one’s self to engage in an understimulating activity, or ignoring distractions.

There’s a recent study out that illustrates this point quite nicely. The study compared young adults with and without ADHD on a task that involved listening and paying attention to speech.

The study showed several differences in how the two groups managed their attention, especially when distracting stimuli were present. Most relevant for the present purposes is that even though they didn’t ultimately perform significantly worse on the task, the participants with ADHD apparently had to put in much more effort, leading the researchers to conclude that “listening effort is increased among those with ADHD.”

According to the researchers:

Among young adults who need to continuously process great volumes of auditory and visual information, much more effort may be expended by those with ADHD than those without it. As a result, those with ADHD may be more prone to fatigue and irritability, similar to those who are engaged in more outwardly demanding tasks.

In other words, when tasks that other people might take for granted put greater cognitive demands on people with ADHD, that means ADHDers might become tired more quickly even when engaged in tasks that don’t seem especially strenuous to others.

One subtle distinction to note is that this is different than saying people with ADHD get fatigued more easily on all tasks. For example, someone with ADHD might have seemingly endless endurance for a task that induces hyperfocus, but then quickly become overwhelmed if they have to engage with tasks that ADHD symptoms make especially demanding.

The study I quoted above specifically highlights the example of listening to spoken information. When the researchers talk about “young adults who need to continuously process great volumes of auditory and visual information,” the context that immediately comes to mind for me is college – where, in my experience, trying to stay receptive to information communicated through endless verbal lectures did become draining.

It’s a good reminder that if certain, seemingly simple tasks make you fatigued, that doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t trying hard enough or that something is wrong with you. If those tasks are targeting your ADHD symptoms, you might be having to work twice as hard as non-ADHDers in order to get the same result!

Image: Flickr/Abigail G

When ADHD Makes Simple Tasks Exhausting

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). When ADHD Makes Simple Tasks Exhausting. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Nov 2019
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