“Boosting or Breaking Productivity: The Impact of Hyperfixation on People with ADHD”

Are you ever so engrossed in an activity you love that you completely lose track of time? Does it seem like you lose sense of where you are and what’s happening around you? And when you snap back into the reality of what’s going on around you, are you disoriented? People with ADHD and neurodivergence are more likely to experience this heightened state of focus known as “hyperfixation” than neurotypical children and adults. Hyperfixation is defined as full immersion in something of interest to a point where a person appears to ‘tune out’ everything else. While this can be viewed as a productivity superpower, it can also draw you into unproductive, procrastinating activities. That’s part of what makes it both exhilarating and frustrating.

Hyperfixation, it seems, is a double-edged sword: a great capacity for effective performance on interesting, high-value tasks on the one hand and a great capacity for avoiding things by disappearing into pleasurable distractions on the other. So how can you harness hyperfixation as a productivity tool more often while not letting it become a mechanism of avoidance and procrastination? Nurturing executive functioning skills such as prioritization, time management and self-awareness will help you apply the power of your hyperfixation more efficiently. 

ADHD Hyperfixation vs. Hyperfocus

The terms ADHD hyperfixation and hyperfocus are often used interchangeably, but they refer to two distinct phenomena.

ADHD hyperfixation refers to an intense and often prolonged state of concentration on a particular activity or object which is pleasurable and can be productive. Because hyperfixation is fueled by a deep passion for or interest in the activity, it can quickly become an obstacle to productivity. When you’re fully engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time, you may neglect other tasks and obligations to your own detriment.

On the other hand, hyperfocus is task-driven and is often accompanied by clear goals and a sense of purpose. It’s less about enjoyment and satisfaction and more about getting into the flow of an activity. It’s a state of being fully engaged in a task for which you have a clear sense of direction. Hyperfocus is linked to increased productivity and a sense of accomplishment.

Both hyperfocus and hyperfixation may be challenging to regulate. If not managed well, they can get in the way of daily living. That’s why learning to manage these states is important, especially for people with ADHD and neurodivergence.

4 Tools to Help You Manage Hyperfixation

Productivity is an important aspect of life for kids and adults alike. However, it’s a process that many folks with ADHD and neurodivergence struggle with, especially when hyperfixation gets in the way. The best way to cope with hyperfixation is not to fight it by forbidding certain activities, but rather to use it. Making work or school stimulating can capture your focus in the same way as your favorite activities. By finding a job that caters to your interests, an individual with ADHD can truly shine, using hyperfocus to their advantage.

Here are four strategies to assist adults with ADHD with managing hyperfixation and using it as a superpower: 

  1. Identify and investigate: Learn more about your pattern of hyperfixation by increasing self-awareness. What does it look like for you? How long does it occur? Do you neglect self-care? How do you respond to interruptions? Notice when you tend to engage in hyperfixation by examining the situation, the environment and your motivation. Are you focusing on an interesting task or avoiding something unappealing? This type of reflection builds your capacity for metacognition. Thoughtful self-evaluation will help you monitor when hyperfixation takes over and what you can do to exit mindfully from an episode.
  2. Plan and prioritize: Do a brain dump of all of the tasks in front of you for the day or the week. Then make another, shorter list where you order them in terms of urgency (do it now because of a deadline) or importance (value and satisfaction with less pressure). Break down your day into blocks of time and assign the urgent tasks first followed by the important ones. Flag the ones that can be rolled over into the next day. Limit the quantity of the tasks so you can complete tasks and feel accomplishment.
  3. Improve time management: Use tools to increase your awareness of time and how it passes. Set up several alerts using a variety of tools–your phone, your computer, banners across the screen, or analog clocks or timers. Work in intervals with planned, structured breaks to keep yourself on track and limit the negative aspects of hyperfixation. If you struggle with initiation, help yourself overcome task paralysis by setting up meaningful incentives and breaking down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
  4. Find an accountability buddy: You don’t have to address the challenging, over-absorbing aspects of hyperfocus alone. Ask someone in your life who understands ADHD and cares about you (a family member, friend or colleague) to check in within you at times or during activities when you are prone to hyperfixation. This can help you break up these periods. If this person also has ADHD, you can support each other as well. Helping somebody else with their hyperfixation can assist you with self-regulation too!