What is hyperfocus?
Just about anyone can slip into hyperfocus, but it is primarily a mental state in people with ADHD, like myself, where a person can concentrate so intensely on a task, they can block out everything else. ADHD is not necessarily a deficit of attention, as is so commonly thought, but rather a problem with regulating one’s attention span to a task. So, while mundane tasks may be difficult to focus on, others may be completely absorbing.
Hyperfocus is characterized by very long periods of highly-focused attention on something that meets a person’s interests. It is a symptom of ADHD that many people view as opposite to the main symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. In states of hyperfocus, a person may find themselves fully engrossed in work, hobbies or other activities. In states of hyperfocus, a person can focus their attention to really win.
What is the cause of hyperfocus? It may be because the ADHD brain is thought to result from abnormally low levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is normally active in the brain’s frontal lobes and is linked to reward and attention. The faulty brain circuits can make it harder for the person to “shift gears” to take up boring but necessary tasks, and ironically easier for them to be both distracted and to be hyperfocused.
A person in a hyperfocused state doesn’t notice the hours passing by as they play a sport or zero in on a project or a job. Because they’re so absorbed, they can often get more done more quickly than others. Due to their extreme focus, they may also increase their aptitude at certain tasks which they find particularly relevant, as well as refine things that captivate their interest.
People with hyperfocus can have tunnel vision or operate in what some people call “the zone” or a “flow state.” They even might experience a kind of ecstasy and barely need to consciously think for the work to “flow” out. At its best, hyperfocus can be a trance-like altered state of total absorption and effortless concentration. In a work or job situation, these attributes are also linked to productivity, motivation and company loyalty .
Some people choose to believe that hyperfocus is a negative trait. In my opinion, it depends on how you use it. Hyperfocus has allowed me to obsessively focus on building a wildly successful company in just five years. When I made the decision to leave the old established company I was working for, I got into a mental state where the only things truly fluid in my mind were the check list of everything I needed to do to form Ansley. I was one-pointedly obsessed and hyperfocused on the success of my new enterprise.
Athletes can sometimes feel like they are in the zone or a trance-like state when they can’t hear the noise, crowds, or anything else around them. Many athletes who are capable of being hyperfocused do extraordinary things.
Alternatively, the flip side of hyperfocus is that you can get too engrossed in one aspect of what you are doing, and that can get in the way of the rest of your life. You can end up expending valuable time and energy that takes away from the real work you need to accomplish. The key is to channel that one-pointed attention to useful goals.
You can’t just switch hyperfocus on and off, but you can learn what causes you to zero in on certain things. Case in point: you’re likely to lose yourself only in activities that you find interesting. In other words, you can set the stage — or not — for going into hyperfocus mode.
Hyperfocus during an important job can help you get more done better and more efficiently. If that’s your aim, keep yourself from getting sidetracked. A smart move: Gather everything you need for that project before you start. That way, you won’t need to stop midway. Also, turn off your email notifications, log out of social media accounts, and mute your phone. To stay on track, write down your goals. Include the steps you need to take to reach them. If you find yourself veering off track, give yourself 20 minutes to redirect. Can’t do it? Move on to a different task.