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Using Hyperfocus To Your Advantage

Using Hyperfocus To Your Advantage

Dealing With HyperfocusI’ve been known to be organizationally challenged. It’s not that I don’t know how to be organized – I do. In fact, people have said that I am the most organized person they know. They attached that label to me because of my ability to develop systems and processes for accomplishing a wide variety of tasks, and my vast ability to get things done – even large projects that no one wants.  And I’ve usually done them single-handed (Yes delegation is something I am working on).  My ability to get it all done boils down to my gift to hyperfocus.

Intense focus does have it’s advantages.  The ability to focus on things for hours on end can get lots of big projects done.  But in my case, at least, the big projects  get done and the little ones tend to remain on my to do list for a long, long time.

It’s a common symptom for someone with Attention Deficient Disorder, or ADD. And a ADHD symptom in both children and adults.

Once I get started on a project I go at it for days, or even weeks, literally stopping briefly to sleep, and even forgetting to eat. The dishes stack up in the sink, no one in the family will have a clean thing to wear, but my filing system will be in top shape by the end of the week – just because that is what I am focusing on.

Then I’m on to the next big project. The filing gets neglected again for months and months, or even perhaps years. Based on the number of boxes of papers that I had to go through recently I would say it is closer to a year.

It’s a vicious cycle. It can lead to lots of different things all partially done and it can lead to resentment from family members. And admittedly it drives me just a little crazy.

With a mind that is always thinking about a thousand things at once (at least it seems that way) those unfinished or neglected items are always there in the back of my mind. It gets tiring just thinking about it. I once read that Attention Deficit Disorder should be called Inconsistent Attention Disorder and I totally agree. I’m not lacking anything in the attention department, it’s just that generally my attention is focused on too many things.

Let’s say I have just one hour to focus on house cleaning. Normally I would start in one room and concentrate all my efforts on the room, and most likely one thing on that room – perhaps the closet. That leaves the other rooms untouched and the remainder of the room looking just as messy as before.

A Method That Works For Me

The good news is that some time ago I figured out a method that works wonders for me – at least when I use it. Plus it takes advantage of my ability to hyper focus.

It takes just one tool. A small timer, one that can go with you from room to room. I got mine at the dollar store and it can clip on to the waistband of my pants.

Here’s what I do when I clean the house:

I set the timer for 15 minutes. Then I concentrate fully on the bathroom for those fifteen minutes. I concentrate on the things that will make the most noticeable difference the room.  Once the fifteen minutes are up I drop what I am doing and move on to the kitchen. After another fifteen minutes I’d move to the living room, and then to the bedroom.  Sure each room may not get 100% done in a day.  But this works for me and when done consistently none of the rooms then get totally out of control and many of them stay very, very clean.

Why this works:

The alarm is a signal to stop hyper-focusing on that project.
Fifteen minutes at a time doesn’t seem like an overwhelming amount of time.

Here’s how I handle business tasks:

I always got several large projects going.  Projects that can take an average of six months to get it ready to the launch stage.  Hyper-focusing on a single project simply wouldn’t work.  So I set a time limit for that particular project.

If it’s a business branding project for a client I set the timer and work on it for the time allotted.  Then I move on to the next project doing the same thing.  One thing I’ve finally learned is to not to try to take on to many projects and to many clients.

If I’m working on some social networking and I dedicate a set amount of  time to commenting on blogs or forums. But  I also set myself a limit of usually five comments.  So I keep a scratch piece of paper next to me and I find a blog post I want to comment on.  I make a comment on that blog post and make a hash mark on a piece of paper.  Make another comment and make another hash mark.  Once I reach five comments I’m done. Even if I have time remaining.  That time remaining can then be dedicated to something else.  Maybe a walk.  What happens if I run out of my allotted time and haven’t made the five allowed comments?  I walk away anyway.

Using Hyperfocus To Your Advantage

The ultimate ability to get things done rests in the fact that I don’t try to fight the desire to hyperfocus.  But rather, I use it to my advantage.

How do you focus your efforts on a project?
What tips do you have that help your concentration levels?


Where did I put that timer?

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Leisa Watkins

Leisa Watkins is co-founder of Wealth, Wisdom and Success. You can find her on and Twitter. Over the past 12 years, Leisa has worked as a web strategist, providing online marketing strategy and branding advise to numerous businesses.
  • Steve-Personal Success Factors February 21, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Leisa, loved this article. I must share some common qualities with you, because I can relate to getting a lot done, but sometimes focusing too much at the expense of other things. I also set the timer quite a bit in order to get things done without spending too much time on it.
    .-= Steve-Personal Success Factors´s last blog ..Do You Know How to Succeed Like an Olympian? =-.

    • Leisa Watkins October 1, 2011 at 3:23 am

      Nothing like a late reply. I have been “focusing” on other things lately. My kids. But I wanted to make sure you were aware I am grateful for your contribution to the conversation.

  • Jon September 24, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Absolutely useless for me because, like a lot of adult ADD sufferers, I cannot control what I hyperfocus on.

    • Leisa Watkins October 1, 2011 at 3:21 am


      Sorry you found the article “useless.” I can relate to what you are saying. I have been known to focus on a project for days upon days – and that isn’t on purpose. There were plenty of other important things that need my attention as well. But I found that I have been able to stop that cycle by using some type of signal to basically signal my brain to refocus on something else and begin to develop some control over what I focus on.

      Who knows – maybe if you tried something like the article suggested you may find you have more control than you believe.

  • Someone with ADD :) January 28, 2012 at 6:16 am


    I’m 16 years old and besides the fact that I don’t have to worry about cleaning the house, I match for around 99% to your description :). I used to hate it but like you said, I can hyperfocus. Playing games for hours or read books for a long time at once without going fast. I recently discovered what is actually the matter with me and tests seem to point to ADD. But thanks to the internet and other people I’m willing to use this all in my own advantage. thanks for the article :).

    Maybe something that helped for me: The world wide web is just like my head: A lot of information a once, and a lot of junk info. So what I did and it helped for me is reading book about learning how to “tame” the internet. How to filter good stuff out of the mass. read Google Code for example. It helped me managing my own mind and I’m starting to like the constant stream of info; It’s incredebly usefull for social purposes: Your talking to someone and you will have seen or heard everything that’s around you, which will make you sound interested becouse you know for example what shoes someones wearing or what someone has done that weekend…

    Anyway thanks for the article

    PS: Reading the Sun Tzu helps As well ;)

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