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How I deal with my ADHD symptoms

Sep 11, 2022
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Table of Contents

I was recently diagnosed with ADHD and thought I’d share some tactics that work for me in managing my symptoms. I’ll start with a disclaimer: I have no medical qualifications and don’t claim that my approach is the right way to go for anyone else (or probably even myself — I’m still figuring things out). I am not taking medication and hope to avoid going down that path. My coping mechanisms are a bit unconventional but they mostly work for me and I’m reasonably high functioning (successful career, married, financially stable, fit and healthy etc.). It’s worth noting that I’ve also been diagnosed with ASD and that probably influences the approaches I’ve gravitated towards.

My symptoms/problems

Let’s start by discussing the symptoms I experience:

  • I find it hard to stay focused on tasks I consider dull and struggle to unfocus from tasks that entrance me
  • I am frequently late (or flat out don’t show up) for appointments
  • My tendency to hyperfocus results in me being a terrible cook: I have destroyed many pots and saucepans and inflicted horrible burnt odours on my wife and parents
  • I am very bad at paying attention during video calls with more than one person
  • I compulsively start new projects — at one point in 2020 I was basically working 4 jobs (2 jobs and running 2 businesses)
  • I lose possessions

Many of the problems I listed above cause me significant shame “Oh no I’ve done it again”, I think as I dive towards a blackened pot or realise I’ve forgotten to show up for a meeting. I’m doing much better at managing them though and hope that by writing down my (slightly whacky) solutions, I’ll think of further ways to optimise them and maybe give other people some ideas.

My tactics

Staying focused on dull tasks/avoiding unhealthy hyperfocus

Left to my own devices, I tend to flit around to whatever feels interesting on the day. This is rarely what is most important. I do get things done but it normally involves greasing squeaky wheels rather than operating in the “important and not urgent” quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix. Quite often I can have a thought like “I wonder what’s happening in the Ukraine conflict” and go down a rabbit hole of checking news websites/Wikipedia articles about Russian tanks. Often in the evening, I get a burst of hyperfocus and get a huge amount of work done in a short amount of time but then struggle to unwind and sleep in the evening.

What works for me for dull tasks is:

  • Change jobs/delegate: ultimately if I’m having to do boring tasks all day, every day, I’m going to end up pretty dissatisfied. Every job has some boring bits though so I can’t up and quit the first time something dull ends up on my plate. Where possible, delegating those tasks to someone who enjoys them is a good solution but again that isn’t always possible. Also what counts as “dull” varies from day to day — I quite often enjoy tasks once I get stuck into them even if they sounded awful at the beginning.

  • Use heavy duty distraction blockers. I built my own (Focus Bear) as most productivity apps don’t work well for my brain — I need an “allow list” not a “block list” as there are an infinite number of distractions available. Once I flick the distraction shield on and get started on a task, I’m normally able to make good headway. If I finish a task or get stuck, I’ve had a tendency to take a quick break to check emails or read the news which derails my productivity. Having Focus Bear enabled prevents me from going off the rails.
  • Turn on focus music (I like instrumental trance) if the task requires my fullest attention (e.g. writing requirements documents or writing algorithmic code to process data). For other tasks which are utterly dull and mostly mindless yet can’t be delegated (e.g. when I was doing more dev work and had to do anything with CSS), I find listening to an audio book or podcast keeps me stimulated enough that I can continue with the task.

  • Body doubling: if I can do the task with someone else, it’s much easier. I can emulate this on my own by recording a screencast explaining how to do the task.

  • Doing microworkouts during breaks: part of my restlessness can be addressed physically. I find if I get up regularly and do a short bout of exercise (pushups, pullups, crunches, burpees, lift weights etc.), it releases excess fidgety energy and helps me focus. I’ve set up Focus Bear to prompt me to do 80 second microworkouts every 20 minutes.

To manage hyperfocus I find these tactics helpful:

  • Take regular breaks: Focus Bear reminds me to do a microworkout and drink some water every 20 minutes. Without these breaks, I tend to get really bad screen headaches by the end of the day. Although scheduled breaks seem like they would negatively impact focus, I find that because I’m not moving my mind off the task, I often get breakthrough insights while I’m grabbing some water/doing pushups.
  • Adhere to a pre-planned shutdown time: work is ever-expanding and never-ending. If I wait for my body to tell me to stop, I end up reading obscure news articles at 2am and am then wrecked the next day. From a long-term perspective, it’s much better if I stick to a standard work schedule. I use Focus Bear to help me with that. At 5pm, it switches off work apps and guides me through my wind-down routine.


This has been a perpetual problem for me for as long as I have managed my own schedule. When I was 13, I lived 5 minutes walk from my high school but was still late nearly every day. If I have to travel somewhere, I’ll often leave the preparation and packing phase until it’s too late and then miss my train or forget to bring something important and have to go home.

My tactics are:

  1. Work from home: no need to worry about missing the train anymore
  2. Put everything in my google calendar: I can’t trust my brain to remember appointments (and I don’t really want to use my brain for that anyway)
  3. Put everything in my work calendar as well so I get double reminders
  4. Use multiple reminders for online meetings: most calendar apps are too easy for me to ignore. On many occasions I’ve hit the “snooze” button on my calendar reminder and only remembered to show up for the meeting 15 minutes later. I use BusyCal on my Mac and find it quite good though I wish the reminder would stick around and show me a countdown timer when there are 2 minutes to go so I definitely get onto the meeting. I might have to add that feature into Focus Bear.
  5. Join virtual meetings a few minutes early: if I join right at the start of the meeting, I normally have some kind of tech malfunction (self inflicted by having 10,000 chrome tabs open) and end up being a few minutes late.


When I was 19, someone bought me a pressure cooker so I could soften up chickpeas at warp speed. That turned out to be a bad idea. The seal started to malfunction at one point and even though I knew that I needed to keep an eye on it and turn the heat down when it reached the right pressure, I forgot on at least three occasions. The result was that I essentially let off a chickpea filled pipe bomb in the kitchen. The ceiling was spattered with legumey goodness and the sound almost set off the neighbour’s car alarm. Needless to say my parents weren’t impressed. I stopped using the pressure cooker which reduced the explosiveness of my cooking related disasters but I continued to regularly forget about frypans on high heat or let curries go so dry, only steel wool would salvage the pot. Once I was steaming some vegetables and forgot to put water in the bottom.

I performed no better in the biochemistry lab during my honours year. There was a simple procedure for growing up some e coli for an experiment: put various amounts of strange smelling powders into a flask, add water and leave it on a shaker for a certain amount of time. I got transfixed by reading a journal article and by the time I remembered to look at the shaker, it was too late. I’d killed the e coli — how do you even do that?

The common advice I had was to just set a timer. Problem was I’d forget to do that. In the end, I changed to a bioinformatics project and went from killing e coli to “killing it” with a solid thesis and mark to go with it. Turns out computers are much more forgiving than living organisms and much better suited to my brain.

While I was single, I was able to avoid burning pots by always cooking with a microwave. The great thing about microwaves is you have to set the timer to do anything. Why can’t stove tops work like that?

When I met my wife, I had to expand my repertoire. Things generally went ok when she’d cook with me but if I’d try to cook her something on my own, she’d end up with charcoal on her brocolli at least 20% of the time. After the final burning experience which almost led to marriage counselling, I decided to find an engineering solution. A Cuisinart benchtop steamer was the answer to my problems. Like the microwave, you have to set a timer and it turns itself off if it runs out of water. The other appliance that works well for me is a rice cooker. Turns out you can cook almost anything in a rice cooker and it detects if it’s low in liquid so there’s no risk of a hot, blackened mess for dinner.

Video calls

One of my least favourite parts of working for a largeish company is being expected to attend bloated meetings with 5+ people (often 10+). Because so many people are there, the topics are mostly not relevant for me. I know I should be there to absorb context but I find people talk so slowly and go on so many tangents that it bores the hell out of me and I end up multitasking and then not really taking much in.

My tactics for these calls are:

  • Don’t show up if it seems completely irrelevant. If I do need to be informed, watch the playback at 2x speed

  • Go for a walk while I listen if etiquette allows me to have my camera off — it’s much easier for me to pay attention if I have my body moving and don’t have the distractions of the computer in front of me

  • If I must have my camera on, unplug my keyboard, position my laptop at an inconvenient angle, put my other devices out of arm’s reach and take notes on paper

I’d really like to get a treadmill desk. For times where I need to look at the screen or be ready to present my screen, I reckon being able to walk while listening would work well for me.

Compulsively starting new projects

I have tended to say Yes to too many things. The overyessing often coincides with times that I am almost in a manic state and feel that I have limitless energy. To give you a picture: in 2020, I had two part time developer jobs, was handling several consulting clients, was building two startups and was doing a relatively intense carpentry course. Each of those activities seemed good in isolation but there was just too much.

Balancing all of them was tricky — I wasn’t excelling in any of those areas. I’ve read the book “Essentialism” and heard a lot of advice over the years about the necessity to choose “One Thing” but have never really been able to implement it. To a certain extent, my approach has worked for me. My side business, Smooth Messenger, did turn out to be successful. I hope that my new side business, Focus Bear, will also be successful. Nonetheless I need to be really mindful of my inclination towards shiny objects.

I don’t really have any good tactics for this besides one: throw money at the idea. I’ve recognised that I am an ideas guy and am not good at following through with implementation. However, if I have a team or even one other person working with me, it’s less of a problem. It’s easy for me to keep the momentum going if I have someone else doing more of the heavy lifting and I’m just providing vision/direction.

“Body doubling” is another tactic for this where I’d use a tool like Focus Mate to create microaccountability for a work session. However, that only works if I actually have the time to put into the project. If I legitimately don’t have enough time to do the project justice, I either need to delay the project or put money into it. If I’m not willing to spend money on it, that helps me make the decision to defer it.

Losing possessions

I quite often get into hyperfocus while I’m on public transport. I’ll pull out my laptop/iPad/phone and get deep into some task (or just reading the news) and just before the train doors are about to close, I’ll realise that it’s my stop and I NEED TO GET OUT NOW. If I only have my phone with me, it’s not a problem but often I carry a bag (or multiple bags) with me. You can imagine the consequences. One day I left my laptop sitting on a train station bench (miraculously it was handed into the police station). Another time I lost my gym bag. Once I left a whole suitcase of carpentry tools on a bus. My wallet fell out of my bag once and I walked off the bus without it.

Most of the time I got my things back but it’s not a pleasant experience to realise that you’ve left a whole suitcase behind.

My tactics for dealing with this are:

  • Don’t buy expensive possessions

  • Attach tiles (lost item tracker) to unavoidably expensive objects

  • Commute by walking/cycling as much as possible. Less chances I’ll lose something.

  • Travel with my wife as she’s much more attentive

  • Zip up my bag fully after I take something out

  • Look under my seat before I get off the train

  • Pack my bag the station before and stand at the door ready to leave in a relaxed manner

This blog post was first published in Medium

Sep 11, 2022

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