How to Stay Focused in Meetings If You Have ADD/ADHD

How to Stay Focused in Meetings If You Have ADD/ADHD

Adults with ADD or ADHD -- and those who are undiagnosed but have problems focusing as well -- face many challenges in the workplace, challenges that become most pressing and most public during meetings.

“Most ADDers take a passive, let’s-just-show-up-and-see-what-happens approach to meetings, which typically results in either boredom or inefficiency,” says Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland and author of ADD in the Workplace.

But there are ways for even the most easily distracted workers to make meetings productive. Try these strategies:

Do Something Physical Prior to the Meeting

Doing something physical arouses your brain, helping you focus. You don’t have to go to the gym, says Michele Novotni, a psychologist who helps adults with ADHD cope in the workplace. Going up and down stairs at a brisk pace or walking a couple of laps around the building can help. Novotni also suggests listening to music, doing something you enjoy or just visualizing a pleasurable activity, like surfing on a beach, before the meeting. These can “light up your brain,” she says.

Eat Foods High in Protein

Eat protein-rich foods like nuts, cheese, turkey, chicken, beef or yogurt before the meeting. Drinking a protein shake or milkshake also helps, Novotni says.

Be Up-to-Date on Your Medication

If you’re on medication, make sure it covers you for your meeting and beyond. For example, if your medication runs out at lunchtime and your meeting will go later, delay taking it. “You should always plan on meetings running late or being delayed,” Novotni says.

Choose Your Seat Carefully

To keep distractions at a minimum, choose a seat away from a window or active doorway. The best spot is in clear view of the main speaker, preferably in front of him, according to "Coping with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the Workplace," published by Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida. During the meeting, try to maintain eye contact with speakers. This lessens visual distractions.

Consider Whether and How to Take Notes

Taking notes helps some people stay on track. However, others with ADHD may find that note-taking itself is distracting. “See what works for you,” Novotni says. If you do take notes, use colored pens and papers. Black ink on white paper looks boring and may thus be distracting, Novotni says. Colors also serve as an organizational aid.

Record If Appropriate

Recording a meeting can help, but be sure to ask first if doing so is permissible. “When you drift off in a meeting and snap back, you may try to figure out what you’ve missed and end up missing even more,” Novotni says. A tape recorder with a counter can help pinpoint the spot at which you snap back, allowing you to hear later what you missed.

Actively Engage

Try to be as active as possible by asking questions and making comments. If you’ve read the agenda in advance, you can prepare your comments in advance, Nadeau says. This keeps you focused and also reduces impulsiveness. You could also meet attendees to write out questions or comments you’re considering and then assessing how these sound when spoken aloud.

Don’t Suppress Fidgets

Fidgeting with a pen, paper clip, cufflink or coins is good. “It may look distracting to others, so be discreet and don’t make noise, but it helps you focus by stimulating brain activity,” Novotni says. 

Get Support from an Ally

Ask a trusted colleague to tap you or pass a note if he sees you start to drift off. Of course, this is effective only if you feel comfortable disclosing your distractibility.