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Multitasking and ADHD


Multitasking and ADHD do not mix.

Actually, Multitasking doesn’t work for neurotypicals either, but I’ll explain that later.

I remember when I was a kid, I would sit in math class and take these detailed notes about how to do whatever type of math we were learning. Frankly, no matter what it was it was lost on me.  Algebra, trig or geometry, it didn’t matter.

You know why? Because no matter how detailed my notes were by the time I got home and started my homework, those same notes were like trying to read Chinese.

Why the h-ll can’t I remember anything no matter how hard I try?!

Because I have ADHD and a really crappy working memory. I was concentrated on taking notes, which is not the same as learning.

Fast forward to today.

We are in the middle of a pandemic and I’m pretty much forced to multitask in order to survive. I have to parent, teach, make a home, make a living etc. And I have to do all of these things every single day.

ADHD women are at a breaking point.

Some of us have given up and just started numbing out on Netflix and food. We are in no position to work on our personal growth right now. And that’s totally ok. Even if the people on Instagram are telling you a different story.

Whether you have ADHD or not, multitasking does not work. The research is solid on this.

Unfortunately,  we live in a world where it looks like everyone else is doing it.


multitasking and ADHD


There are some specific challenges when it comes to multitasking and ADHD.

Working Memory

After a quick Google search I found this article on the website Understood.org.   I think it does a nice job of explaining what working memory is and how it works.

By definition, working memory is “the ability to store and manage information in one’s mind for a short period of time.”

In the same article I learned that we possess both auditory memory and visual-spatial memory capabilities. Auditory memory records what you are hearing, while visual-spatial captures everything you see.

As a side note, humans instinctively respond to what they can see, which explains why so many of us with ADHD are better at visual learning. And why we rely on visual cues to remind us of things.

In some of us, a poor working memory makes it harder to grasp and then hold on to new information. So accessing the information about say, how to teach your child third grade math, is not going to stick.

managing attention

The other really interesting piece of information I took from the Understood Article < source > was this:

The same part of the brain responsible for working memory is also responsible for attention and concentration. 

You know ADHD is not about lack of focus or getting distracted. 

ADHD is about the ability to regulate attention. And our attention is being pulled in soooo many different directions we cannot discern where to put it.

Think about what happens when you try to make dinner, while also going over your child’s online learning for the day. (Yes, this is multitasking.)

You get frustrated. Your child gets frustrated. And dinner gets burned.

This didn’t happen because you have ADHD, it happened because you are human and multitasking doesn’t work.

But there is an simple solution: it’s called monotasking.


Yep, I said monotask. Not multitask. The opposite of multitasking, actually.

Monotasking is when you intentionally choose to put your mental energy into only one thing at a time.

I first heard about monotasking from Carla Birnburg. HERE.  How had this idea never entered my consciousness?

Everyone with ADHD should be monotasking.

Check out this short video from Sanjay Gupta explaining why multitasking doesn’t work:

Here is a link if the video doesn’t work for you  LINK

Here are my suggestions for how to improve your productivity by monotasking:

choose one task at a time

If you are a list person, and many of us with ADHD are list people, only focus on one task at a time. In fact, limit your list as much as you can. I prefer to keep my list to 3-4 items per day.

Choose the task you want to start with and focus on that.

Hide the list until you have come to a stopping point that feels satisfying.

Cut Back on Your Obligations

For most of my life I have been a “yes” person. I tell people I will do something even when I know I don’t have the time or mental energy to follow through.

Then I end up irritable and overwhelmed with my schedule.

I suggest you start to limit your obligations.

Commit only to the meetings and activities that really matter to you.

For example, I spend each weekday up until 1pm doing schoolwork with my son. I don’t check email, or try to write, or host peer coaching in the Enclave.

I focus on just homeschooling my son through this pandemic.

Control the environment

If you need to support your monotasking, take steps to control the environment and plan for extraneous demands on your attention.

Try playing a specific type of music while you perform a specific activity. For example, I put on what my son calls, “spa music” when we are doing his schoolwork.

Believe it or not, I sometimes listen to rap when I am thinking and writing. (and driving) Apparently I listen to rap a lot.

My point is, if you want to get out of the trap of multitasking, you have to create an environment that supports that goal.

Multitasking and ADHD don’t play well together. 

If you concentrate on one thing at a time you are much more likely to make progress.

Juggling ten balls at once gives us a false sense of productivity. But it also leads to burnout.

The answer to better productivity with ADHD lies in monotasking and understanding how to regulate your attention in ways that work for you.

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