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ADHD Adults

Study Habits and Focus Techniques

Hi everyone. Does anyone have any healthy study habits that keep the A.D.D brain focused? I have a real problem with “staying with the programme” when it comes to studying for college exams. What makes it worse is that I’m not focused during the examination either, and I make careless mistakes all over the place. It’s getting worse because I now feel depressed whenever I sit down to study, and we all know that is no state of mind to be in while studying!


When I was in College and studying, I would listen to one CD while I was studying a specific class.  Then at the test, I would listen to the same CD.  I know it sounds silly, but it would work for me!  It helped my mind focus on a certain topic.

Also, I just got a LiveScribe pen.  There expensive, but I would have loved to have one in College.  You can sink all your had written notes to EverNote,  Convert them to typed text, edit them.  Also it has a built in audio record system.  It will remember what you where writing and what the Prof was saying at that time.  Check out the videos!

Hope this helps!


PS - I have a BS in Computer Science for Penn State

Posted by h82read on Jul 02, 2014 at 2:07pm

My biggest thing while studying was to turn my phone and Internet off (simple and horrible I know but as soon as I looked at one text I was somehow lost in the Internet for hours).

During exams if I noticed I was getting off task/ distracted I would put my pen down, either shut my eyes or look out the window and take a short break (like 2 minutes?) although it “wastes time” I always felt I came back to the test refreshed and able to concentrate better - it also keeps stress down - I ended up doing this about once an hour. Maybe talk to your uni/college/school about extra time?

Livescribe sounds amazing! I’ve heard really good things about it smile

Finally I’ve always found sitting alone in a room depressing - I’m really extroverted. I found I was better at studying if I could study with a studious friend - even if they were studying a different subject, just sitting next to someone who was studying well reminded me that that is what I was meant to be doing (also timed breaks for tea were much more fun with a friend!) smile

Also if you can give yourself a reward that won’t distract you at the end that should help - take plenty of short breaks (I think the ADHD brain stops working at its best after 15-20 minutes or something) so maybe a 5 minute break every 20 minutes? (But set an alarm and don’t do something you know will distract you i.e. Internet/TV.

Good luck!! You can do it!

Posted by calicat9 on Jul 02, 2014 at 3:47pm

Creating a schedule and setting goals (as mentioned 20 minutes with a 5 minute break) is a great starting point.

The pen that records the lecture is another tool that works for many people. 

Removing distractions (phone, email, facebook, ...) is important. 

The more structure you put into your life the better.  Create regular routines that you can do every day.  Developing regular habits is good for the ADHD mind. (It takes work)

Have an accountability partner that can help you stick to your schedule.  Alarms or timers are great to create a work zone that you can put your full effort into.

Getting 7-8 hours of sleep is another important part of managing ADHD.  Getting up at a regular time and going to bed at a regular time is important.

The practice of breathing - every hour spend 5 minutes doing slow relaxed breathing.  That will help re-energize your brain.

Healthy snacks (not sugar snacks), nuts, berries, or protien (without carbs) is another way to restore brain function.

Exercise - use your 5 minutes breaks to move, and get the blood flowing.  Do something that elevates the heart rate and the blood moving.

To summarize:

1. Create a schedule
2. Take short energy filled breaks
3. Focus on the goal
4. Be consistent
5. Get enough sleep
6. Eat right
7. Move
8. Write it down - write down your schedule and how you are doing - what works, what doesn’t.

Posted by coachwithheart on Jul 02, 2014 at 4:13pm

Great advice from everyone!! I too, struggle with distractions! I’m going to look into the pen…

Posted by Lolabell5 on Jul 02, 2014 at 7:43pm

I do not have any personal advice to offer on studying, but I think the comment above to study with someone can be very successful.

I’m going to give you links to several articles on that offer great tips and strategies for studying when you have ADHD:

I learned some valuable tips to help my kids as well in these articles. Excited to try some of these strategies.

ADDconnect Moderator, Author & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Jul 02, 2014 at 10:33pm

The way I got past working on just 1 subject is to work on several. The constant switching really helps. It takes some practice to know when to switch before you lose focus on the one, and you have to be the one to switch out before things start moving around in your head. The only subject this doesn’t work with is math. With math what I did was study ahead or sometimes behind if I was having difficulty with a particular formula to grasp.

Our mindsets are different, and with ADD we get extra kicks. Use that to your advantage and don’t just muddle through. It’s counter productive to try and focus in one dimension when we never stay there to begin with. Remember we aren’t normal, don’t fight it because you cant win. It’s like being caught in a riptide, best to swim out and around.

Posted by Meathead on Jul 02, 2014 at 10:47pm

Thank you so much everyone for the excellent advice! I’m trying them all out.
Unfortunately, after I read your replies, I went to look for a pen and paper to write all these down, then completely forgot to as soon as I found what I was looking for. I turned off my laptop before realizing what I’d done, then spent at least 10 minutes trying to remember what I wanted to copy down. Aye, one of those bad days haha!

Posted by R.J on Jul 02, 2014 at 11:23pm

Great ideas!  When I was in college, I had to study in the snack bar because the library was way too quiet and I was afraid of making noise or having my iPod be too loud.  The snack bar was lively but the conversations themselves didn’t catch my attention. 

Music is key.  I listened to Mannheim Steamroller and it really helped.  My mind felt extremely functional and there aren’t words so there wasn’t any way to get hooked in to distract it from my work.  I’m good at math but I’m turbo with Mannheim Steamroller.  They’re off the beaten path but worth finding.

I want to try that pen with the Evernotes software.  I always lost track of what the professor was saying because I was trying to write down what he was saying and kept getting behind. 

I’ll be following this thread to see what everyone else does!

Posted by Missed That on Jul 03, 2014 at 2:43am

Hey there. Here are some techniques that led me through my LLB.

1. Record the lecturers, and if you did not, record your self reading the material – and put some background music. Later – hear it, and you can write notes to keep your self concentrated.
2. You can listen to those records while u are driving, walking or doing housekeeping jobs. When you listen to academic stuff while being on move, the brain works better.
3. Try techniques such as meditation or juggling.
4. You can listen to the studying records while juggling – it helps concentrate.
5. Summarize every thing you read, or re-write the material in a form of QnA.
6. After every 50 minutes of studding – 10 minutes of break – but not for the net – but for something such as meditation, sports or jugging.


Posted by MoltyTasker on Jul 03, 2014 at 11:51pm

I have an interesting study habit I used back in college (had no idea I had ADHD, but did have a higher than average intrinsic motivation to make straight A’s plus the IQ to achieve that, which led to me coming up with some unique ways to make sure that happened).  This particular method will only work if you are also:
a) a fast typist and
b) find typing fast to be an enjoyable activity.

If you are neither of these maybe it can be tweaked somehow?  I stumbled on this study aid quite accidentally, btw, when I decided to type up some “study notes” for a General Education class I found dreadfully boring (and was looking for anything to do to ace the class but knew that just sitting there and forcing myself to RE-read that horrible chapter & memorize some facts would be of very little actual value).  Who knew I’d stumble on what would later be coined as Fidget To Focus?  The simple act of typing up my notes was the physical outlet that allowed me to actually focus on what I was “reading.”  After several different times of using this method what I found was that I really never had to study those “study notes” much at all—simply find the few things that hadn’t already been “typed into” my memory, highlight them, and try to drill them into permanent storage. 

Higher level classes required more—and I relied on RE-writing my study notes on color-coded index cards PLUS color-coded ink colors.  Physically creating these Flash Cards led to more retention than studying them later on ever could.

Posted by BC on Jul 04, 2014 at 2:07am

I was only recently diagnosed, and I’m 20+ years out of college (in fact, we have one child who’s graduated, one about to enter after spending 2 years away on an LDS mission, two in college and two who will start in a few years - but I digress…).

My “tool” in college was taking copious notes. That pen sounds like an amazing help, certainly something to look at. Don’t despair, you’ll figure it out. I was super-lucky in that note taking kept me focused enough to learn the material, and I could hyper-focus so when it came time for exams, I did well. I also picked majors which didn’t require super attention to detail.

In my very busy, hectic, unpredictable career as a partner in an IT security consulting firm, I have started using a tool call, which is a personal/work kanban. If you don’t know about kanban, read up on it. It’s awesome. I make kanban cards either for discrete items I know I’ll be interested in (but might forget) or for hour-long tasks I know will be boring. I have a personal kanban, a work kanban, and then I run a couple of kanbans for major work projects, etc.

The biggest challenge with my kanban is getting stuff onto it. My wife has access to my personal kanban, my boss has access to my work kanban, and any project teams of course have access to the project kanbans. Either my wife texts me or I text myself to remind myself to add items to the kanban when I don’t have a computer in front of me.

In fact, case study: I’m writing a book on personal IT security. The idea was super exciting and I wrote the first chapter in an hour. I recently gave a presentation at a Rotary district conference, and the attendees are so excited to get it in book format. And now I’m on week 4 of trying to finish and I still only have one chapter done. I decided last night I have to break the book into 1-hour tasks, and then just knock out 1-2 of them a day. So I’ll be building a new kanban specifically for the book, adding the tasks in order, and then I’ll get back on track.

Other than the kanban organizational skills, tghe absolute biggest change that has occurred for me is starting ADD meds. I was adamantly opposed to it when my oldest (now over 20) was diagnosed at 12. I was just as opposed when I was diagnosed 4 months ago. I gave in and tried medication and my marriage has never been stronger (my wife’s love language is thoughtful things being done for her - imagine what ADD can do to interfere with me speaking THAT language!), and I have doubled my effectiveness at work. I remember more things, and I’m more careful about organizing my life. It has meant the world to my wife, and I see a lot less of that disappointed look on her face. And when I do mess up, I get the reaction we all starve for “Well, I understand - let’s figure something out and move forward…”

One other trick I use with work: if I have a major project due and I know I’m going to procrastinate or be distracted, I take my meds on an empty stomach, shut off e-mail, IM, and my phone, and knock it out. I have discovered starting work at 5:30 or 6:00 is very helpful, and when I combine these three techniques I accomplish epic things. I can write a 35-page project report in a few hours now, whereas before the medications that task would take me several days.

There’s a time, place, and personality for everything, including medications, but if you’re not on medications and you’re struggling, you have to make a decision between your current struggle and your attitude towards the meds. I understand now what my counselor meant - they aren’t a cure, but they are enough of a help that life is so much more manageable. they reduce the noise and help me process the wealth of incoming information, and pick the most important pieces to focus on.

Oh and one other thing for me: absolutely avoid caffeine. I know my ADD meds are a stimulant, but they’re somehow very different from caffeine. That just makes my brain think fast in 21 different directions! I get less done, faster. wink So I avoid colas and all that, like the plague.

Hang in there. I was a B- student in high school, and an A student in college mostly because the environment changed and I could leverage my strengths. Be flexible and be adventurous and you will find what makes it click for you and you’ll be back on track.

Posted by johno on Jul 05, 2014 at 6:14pm

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