Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
September 6, 2021
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

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Do you have trouble multitasking? Do your thoughts often wander when attempting to focus on one task at a time? If so, be sure to read this article—you may be suffering from ADHD

We will discuss how ADHD affects your ability to multitask and what you can do about it.

So, let’s get started.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects your ability to focus and control impulses. 

ADHD is a chronic condition that includes trouble paying attention, controlling behavior, and hyperactivity.

People with ADHD may be easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli—this makes it difficult for them to stay focused on one task at a time or to shift their focus from one task to another.

In addition, people with ADHD may exhibit impulsive behavior and trouble waiting their turn during games or activities.

The Three Main Types of ADHD

There are three subtypes of ADHD: 

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type (PHIT)

This is the most common type of ADHD. People with PHIT usually have trouble staying seated and may act without thinking, interrupting others, or behaving recklessly.

They tend to be fidgety, restless, and act as if driven by a motor.

Predominantly Inattentive Type (PIIT)

People with PIIT may daydream, become easily distracted, forget things like appointments or homework assignments, have trouble finishing tasks that require concentration, and be disorganized in their daily activities.

They may also have trouble following instructions or tend to leave things unfinished.

Combined Type (CIT)

People with CIT have trouble staying focused on tasks, are often forgetful or distracted by external stimuli, and may act without thinking.

These individuals also tend to be restless and fidgety—similar to people who suffer from PHIT type ADHD—and display impulsive behavior.

What Causes These ADHD Symptoms?

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but your genetics and environment can influence whether you develop this condition.

Some environmental factors have been linked to the development of ADHD in children or adults:

Although some environmental factors have been linked to an increased risk for developing ADHD, researchers don’t know for sure if they actually cause ADHD.

Is Trouble Multitasking an ADHD Symptom?

Yes, trouble multitasking is a symptom of ADHD. 

People with ADHD may find it difficult to switch their attention from one task to another and complete several tasks in the same amount of time as people without this condition.

In fact, most adults diagnosed with ADHD report experiencing difficulty focusing on long-term projects or activities at one time.

Many people with ADHD experience trouble multitasking, which can be caused by their difficulty shifting attention from one activity to another.

What Can You Do About Trouble Multitasking and Focusing?

Fortunately, there are many strategies that you can try if trouble focusing makes it difficult for you to complete tasks at work or home—these tips can also help if trouble multitasking is a symptom of your ADHD.

Create structure in your daily routine.

The first thing you can do to combat trouble focusing and trouble multitasking is to create structure in your daily routine by prioritizing tasks, scheduling activities, and organizing your time so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by all of the responsibilities on your “to-do” list.

Keep a to-do list and schedule your time efficiently.

You can also benefit from keeping a daily planner or calendar that includes all of the tasks you need to complete, as well as appointments, such as doctor’s visits and meetings at work or school.

In addition, try completing larger projects over shorter periods of time.

For example, if you have trouble completing a long-term project on time, break your work into shorter parts and schedule deadlines for specific tasks.

Finally, keep track of the steps that you need to complete each task so that it’s easier to stay focused throughout its duration.

Take breaks from tasks.

Another strategy to use for trouble focusing is taking breaks from tasks when you need a break.

You can take quick, short breaks or set aside time throughout the day to complete small activities that help refresh your mind and body (e.g., meditate, walk around outside).

When planning your daily schedule, include these breaks to help reduce trouble focusing.

Limit distractions at home and work.

At the office, try wearing headphones while you work—this can block out surrounding noise that may be distracting, which is especially helpful if trouble multitasking makes it difficult for you to stay focused during meetings or co-worker conversations.

Also, limit background noises (e.g., traffic sounds or a television that’s on) at home to help you focus better and feel less overwhelmed by trouble multitasking.

In addition, try setting boundaries for children who may be distracting you from work—for example, instruct them to play quietly in another room when it is time for you to complete your tasks.

Limit distractions during leisure time.

One way to manage trouble multitasking if it’s a symptom of your ADHD is by limiting the number of activities that you participate in at once.

For example, don’t start watching a television show while also trying to read a book and check email—instead, make it easier on yourself by focusing on one activity at a time so that your mind isn’t divided between different tasks.

You could also try reducing the number of leisure activities you participate in each day or week—for example, limit yourself to completing only two or three hobbies rather than six.

Make it easier for others around you to help you focus.

If trouble focusing and trouble multitasking are symptoms of your ADHD, ask those around you to reduce distractions as well, such as by keeping conversations brief or no longer than 15 minutes at a time when you’re trying to complete tasks.

In addition, try asking others not to interrupt you while working if trouble focusing makes it difficult for you to shift from one task to another.

Is Multitasking Efficient for Everyone?

No, multitasking is not efficient for everyone.

Some people can successfully complete several tasks at once and feel like it doesn’t take them much longer to do so than if they were completing one task at a time.

However, others, especially those with ADHD, find that trouble focusing while also trying to complete other activities makes this process inefficient (e.g., it takes them much longer to complete tasks) and overwhelming (e.g., they feel more stressed out because of trouble focusing).

Finally, some people are only able to successfully multitask when completing simple or routine tasks—for example, brushing their teeth while talking on the phone may not be too difficult for them, but simultaneously doing their taxes would likely be overwhelming.

If trouble multitasking is a symptom of your ADHD, try strategies to reduce distractions and make it easier for you to focus on one task at a time (e.g., wearing headphones or setting boundaries with children).

Limit the number of activities that you participate in each day/week, set guidelines for those around you so they reduce distractions and consider whether multitasking is efficient or effective for you.

Benefits of Multitasking

Here are some of the advantages when you are a master at multitasking: 

  • You are able to get more done in less time.
  • You can do several things at once.
  • You can focus on one task while doing another.
  • When you have trouble focusing, multitasking can be effective for relieving stress and anxiety.
  • You are more efficient because you can complete several tasks or projects at once.

Drawbacks of Multitasking

Here are some of the disadvantages when you try to multitask: 

  • You may not be able to complete the task at hand and instead, get stuck on a project or activity that isn’t as important.
  • It can take you much longer than expected because of trouble focusing while also trying to multitask.
  • You lose track of time when multiple activities are competing for your attention, which could lead to trouble keeping track of deadlines.
  • You may feel overwhelmed because you can focus on only one task at a time.  
  • You may not be able to focus on the task at hand because you are thinking about other things.
  • Certain tasks and projects will always take precedence over others when multitasking (e.g., completing household chores).

What Multitasking Does to the Brain 

When you are trying to multitask, the prefrontal cortex—the logical part of your brain that can control impulses and make decisions—becomes less active.

This means that trouble focusing may become more difficult when you try to multitask because it becomes harder for this area of your brain to focus on one task at a time.  

The trouble focusing that comes with multitasking may also lead to you putting off completing tasks since it is harder for your brain to shift from one task or project to another.

Do Multitaskers Have Better Memory?

Many people believe that those who are good at multitasking have better memories than others; however, this isn’t the case.

When you are able to focus on one task at a time, this means that your brain is more likely to remember what happened during that activity because it isn’t distracted by other concerns or activities.

Because trouble focusing can make multitasking difficult, those who have trouble with managing their attention may be less likely to remember what happened when they were multitasking.

Tips for Multitaskers

Here are some tips if you tend to have trouble multitasking:

  • Identify your trouble areas and consider how often you have trouble focusing on one task at a time.
  • Have an organized list or schedule that allows you to stay focused on one task at a time.
  • Determine what distracts you and then work to avoid that distraction when possible (e.g., turn off notifications for social media, ask others around you to reduce distractions).
  • Start small—instead of trying to do multiple things each day or week, begin with completing one task or project at a time. 
  • Avoid multitasking when completing important tasks or projects because it will make the task take longer to complete.
  • If you are overwhelmed by trouble focusing while trying to multitask, try breaking down your project into smaller parts (e.g., write an outline before writing a paper). 

If you suffer from trouble multitasking and ADHD symptoms like trouble focusing or trouble finishing tasks, talk with your doctor about what treatments may be best for you.

Other Common Symptoms of ADHD 

Common ADHD symptoms include the following:  

  • trouble staying focused on one task
  • trouble organizing tasks
  • trouble completing schoolwork, chores, or other assignments
  • disorganization
  • forgetfulness
  • poor time management
  • being easily distracted
  • being unable to follow instructions
  • forgetting things
  • losing items
  • procrastination
  • interrupting others
  • hyperactivity
  • impulsivity
  • fidgeting
  • excessive talking

ADHD Diagnosis

If you are experiencing trouble with attention, it is important to talk with a mental health professional. 

A psychiatrist can diagnose ADHD and determine if treatment may be beneficial for you. Treatment options include talking therapy, medication management, or a combination of both.  

Don’t delay talking with a mental health professional who specializes in ADHD if trouble focusing is affecting your everyday life.

ADHD Treatment

ADHD can be treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of the two.

Medication is generally used for trouble focusing and trouble controlling impulses/hyperactivity. However, it may not always work on its own, so talk to a psychiatrist about what treatment options are best for you.

Therapy helps people learn new coping skills that they can use to deal with trouble focusing, responding impulsively, and hyperactivity.  

It is important for treatment to be ongoing and adjusted based on how you are responding.

The Bottomline

The trouble with multitasking is that it can make you feel more stressed out, overwhelmed, and unable to focus on one thing at a time.

If trouble multitasking or other ADHD symptoms like trouble focusing are affecting your everyday life, talk to a mental health professional about the next steps for treatment.  

If you are not sure whether or not you have ADHD, feel free to take this ADHD quiz TODAY to find out.

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