I had to hyperfocus for the home stretch, and now that it’s over, I’m wondering: was it worth it?
First, what is ADHD hyperfocus, anyway?
“Hyperfocus is when you pay so much attention to one thing you ignore everything else around you. Many adults with ADHD find hyperfocus helps at work, making it easier to complete tasks.” (p. 171)
~ Eileen Bailey and Dr. Donald Haupt, authors, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD (2010)
When this happens and you’re supposed to be doing something else, like paying attention to traffic when you’re walking across the street but instead you’re texting your boyfriend, it’s definitely negative.
On the other hand, by using hyperfocus consciously to achieve a major life goal, was that completely positive?
What price did I pay? I decided I wanted to think about that so I could make adjustments in the future if need be.
My hyperfocus balance sheet
– completed a major project
– finished the project faster than if I did it in short bursts; it takes me a long time to get back on track if I leave a complex task even for a short period of time
– hyperfocusing helped me remember details in a complex, multi-faceted task
– felt a sense of satisfaction sacrificing other things for a worthy goal
– proud of my self-discipline and commitment to a goal in saying “no” to a lot of opportunities
– chose long-term over short-term gratification – not easy for someone who’s impulsive
– super-motivated to get back in shape now that the project is over, and excited about that
– aware that I was hyperfocusing and conscious that I’d need to catch up on other things when the project was done
– out of touch with my friends
– other activities sacrificed: exercise, bass practice, other interests
– physical and spiritual well-being compromised (no time for exercise, yoga, meditation, contemplation)
– forgot about some important commitments at the expense of the larger project (e.g. this Wednesday’s blog post, part three of a series which, by the way, I intend to make up next Wednesday)
– feeling guilty about missed commitments
– lost track of a bill thrown in a pile of papers and snapped at the employee when they called to remind me to pay it
– feeling out-of-balance
Could I have gotten this project done without hyperfocusing?
Honest answer: doubtful.
I’m reminding myself that this year was exceptionally challenging. Time-robbing life events culminated in sabotaging my ability to establish a steady work routine. With the deadline looming, I had to pull out all the stops to make it to the finish line.
Whenever I’m hyperfocusing, I’m also aware of the toll it’s taking on my body. I worked late into the night, and got up early the next morning to finish the project. Three days later, I’m aching all over. I have a headache. I’m exhausted and I think I’m coming down with the flu.
On the other hand, the adrenaline rush of a deadline always sharpens and keeps my focus (hyperfocus), gives me a rush of energy, and helps me meet my goals. It’s the same way before a performance. I’ve always suffered intense stage fright, but three or four minutes onstage, and hyperfocus kicks in. My nervousness evaporates.
Will working in spurts of hyperfocus have a long-term negative effect on my health?
I worry about that.
Do I think I can change this pattern of hyperfocusing to achieve major goals?
When I first started reading about ADHD, I was stunned when I discovered several writers who described people with ADHD as going full-out, giving 100% in short bursts of productivity. This is contrasted with the more usual, 20 to 30% effort over the course of the day, day in and day out. In Tom Hartmann’s book Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception, he describes people with ADHD as “hunters,” with short bursts of energy, focused on the hunt, followed by lulls.
This describes the way I’ve always worked to a tee. No wonder we get exhausted. If, as some authors suggest, we have a genetic predisposition to work this way, how can I hope to change it?
In spite of all the tips, guidelines, books, articles, and other time management tools written for people with ADHD, I feel like I’m swimming against the current if I try to force my natural energy flows through a contrived system of dams and channels.
As long as it doesn’t kill me (I need to do more research on the physiological effects of hyperfocusing) I like the idea of literally going with the flow. My goal is not to fight it, but to make sure (if at all possible) the rest of my life doesn’t get quite as out of balance as it has recently.
I need to keep reminding myself that the past year has been exceptionally overwhelming, and see what the new year holds.
Now, before I snuggle in bed with a hot toddy, a good book, and the hope that sleep will fend off illness, let me ask you this: do you use hyperfocus to accomplish big goals?
Do you use it consciously? Have you tried to change that? Why or why not?
I’d love to hear your stories.