ADHD Hyperfocus: The Phenomenon of Intense Fixation

Hyperfocus refers to the intense concentration that some people with ADHD experience when engaged in activities they enjoy.

It is characterized by deep absorption in an activity for extended periods, to the exclusion of external stimuli.

While hyperfocus can boost productivity, it can also lead to neglect of responsibilities. It contrasts with the distractibility more commonly associated with ADHD.

hyperfocus video game

What does hyperfocus look like?

Hyperfocus in ADHD is the opposite of distractibility and is common among both children and adults with ADHD. 

Unrelated external stimuli do not appear to be consciously perceived – they may have a diminished perception of their environment and may not even notice if someone is talking to them.

Many people have described this ADHD hyperfocus as falling under ‘hypnotic spells’ as they become immersed in an activity (Brown, 2005)

People often think that those with ADHD have a short attention span or that they are unable to pay attention at all (hence the name ‘attention deficit’). 

However, it is more accurate to describe people with ADHD as having dysregulated attention, meaning that there are some tasks where they may struggle to give attention, but others where they may give extreme attention. 

When someone hyperfocuses, it may be hard to get their attention. When spoken to, there may be no response or even acknowledgment that they heard anything. They can get so absorbed in a task that they appear to completely ignore or tune out everything else. 

People who hyperfocus may often experience ‘time blindness,’ which means they do not see or feel time (Ozel-Kizil, 2016).

Someone may hyperfocus for hours at a time and not realize how much time has passed. They are unaware of how quickly or slowly time is passing. 

James finds it difficult to focus during conversations that he has with his parents. He often gets very distracted and cannot get through a household chore without losing interest and doing something else. 

However, James can be very engaged in video games for hours at a time, to the extent that he often loses track of time. Not much can draw his focus away from the game. 

James' dad is confused and exclaims to James, "You can pay attention when you want to!"

It is not the case that people with ADHD are choosing when and how they become hyperfocused. Often, they really want to be focused on work or chores, but find it extremely difficult to do so. They may only hyperfocus on enjoyable activities.

“It seems to be specifically used around instances of activities that are highly engaging, interesting, rewarding to the individual and is far less likely to occur when there are tasks that are boring, unrewarding, uninteresting.”

Dr. Russell Barkley, Clinical Neuropsychologist

During a hyperfocus state, task performance improves. It can take a lot of energy to get started on a task, but then energy can be gained once one enters hyperfocus.

‘…people with ADHD have the capacity attend, but they can’t engage that attention for things they don’t really, really want to do’

Dr. Andrew Huberman, professor at Stanford School of Medicine.

What can cause someone to hyperfocus?

The brain’s role

Like distractibility, hyperfocus is thought to result from abnormally low levels of dopamine in the brain (Wu et al., 2012).

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in motivation, reinforcement, and rewards. This dopamine deficiency can make it hard to shift from interesting tasks to more uninteresting tasks. 

This is because the brains of people with ADHD are drawn to activities that give them instant rewards, such as video games, TV shows, and other activities they may find enjoyable. 

There is significant evidence from brain imaging studies that demonstrate increased prefrontal activity when hyperfocused attention is in use (Sklar, 2013). 

Instant feedback

Activities such as video games provide instant feedback. Feedback is a response from the environment as a result of a person’s action.

Everyone can benefit from instant feedback, but those with ADHD thrive from it and will keep seeking feedback in order to get that dopamine hit. 

Intrinsically motivating tasks

Those with ADHD will usually hyperfocus on an activity that they are intrinsically motivated towards. Intrinsic motivation means that someone engages in an activity because they get pleasure from the activity itself rather than being motivated by external factors.

People with ADHD may have greater difficulty focusing on tasks that are not intrinsically rewarding (Kauffman et al., 2000).

For something to be intrinsically motivating, an activity may require the following:

  • A clear goal to work towards 
  • Visible progress toward reaching that goal
  • Clear and immediate feedback
  • A balance of challenge and skill 

‘because I think the energy that the ADHD brain seems to have….it’s unfocused, quite scattered, chaotic and a bit random…but give that brain something that really you can tune into and it’s your interest, then all that random stuff just goes boom… I get this incredible intense concentration and that’s great for work….’

Interview extract from Sedgwick et al. (2019)

Are there any Benefits to Hyperfocus?

If someone with ADHD is able to tap into their hyperfocus abilities, it can come with many benefits.

Many people with ADHD can see hyperfocus as their superpower in many ways if used to its advantage:

Increases productivity

Many people with ADHD are able to channel their hyperfocus on productive activities such as school or work-related tasks. For instance, someone may focus on a work project until completion while in a state of hyperfocus (Hupfield et al., 2019). 

Others may also reward themselves with a hyperfocusing activity for completing all their other tasks first, giving themselves the incentive to complete less interesting tasks. 

For instance, they may reward themselves by playing their favorite video game (an activity that triggers hyperfocus) after finishing work-related tasks.

hyperfocus at work

A sense of accomplishment 

If someone has hyper-focused on a task, spent a lot of time and effort on a project, or built something impressive, they are likely to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Their achievements can also bring them self-confidence and increase their self-esteem. 

Become successful in a career

Hyperfocusing can help elevate careers when used strategically. Scientists, writers, and artists, among others, who are able to hyperfocus, can achieve amazing things and get a lot achieved due to their ability to focus on what they’re good at for hours at a time.  

People who can hyperfocus on work-related tasks can develop a reputation as someone who is hard-working and dedicated. Plus, this means they are likely enjoying time spent working. 

Meeting deadlines

When there is a deadline approaching, everything can be pushed aside, and all of someone’s focus can be put on meeting the deadline. 

Learn new skills

If someone can hyperfocus on a new hobby, they may become skilled in this quicker than others may be. For example, they may become masters at learning another language, knitting, or playing a musical instrument if they are able to spend large amounts of time and effort perfecting their skill.

“because I think the energy that the ADHD brain seems to have….it’s unfocused, quite scattered, chaotic and a bit random…but give that brain something that really you can tune into and it’s your interest, then all that random stuff just goes boom… I get this incredible intense concentration and that’s great for work….”

From Sedgwick et al. (2019).

Complete tasks quickly

When someone is able to hyperfocus on a task such as work or school assignments, they may be able to complete these in a shorter span of time than someone who cannot hyperfocus. 

Become more skilled at tasks 

Hyperfocusing allows people to fully devote their attention to something that interests them. This improves their skills through hours of focused, dedicated effort.

‘…I think if you can learn how to harness it… if you can tap into the energy and direct it…if you can learn how to control and direct it and focus it on the right things, then the positives have huge potential…. huge…huge potential…’

Interview extract from Sedgwick et al. (2019)

What Are The Limitations Of Hyperfocus? 

While there are some benefits that can come from hyperfocus, if it is not managed properly, it can cause many problems: 

Neglected school or work tasks

If someone is only able to hyperfocus on things they enjoy, they may not be able to focus on their school or work tasks. For instance, a child may spend hours after school hyperfocused on their hobby instead of doing their homework.

Adults with ADHD may miss meetings or deadlines because they are intensely focused on other activities outside of work and lose track of time. 

Poorer work performance

If someone with ADHD does not find any enjoyment in their job, to the extent that they cannot focus on it, this can lead to poorer work performance.

Those with ADHD may find that they can hyperfocus on some aspects of the job or schoolwork but not other parts. For example, a teenager with ADHD may be able to hyperfocus during History classes (because they have a strong passion for this subject) but cannot focus in all other classes.


On the flip side, some people with ADHD may hyperfocus at work, to the detriment of their other responsibilities.

“There’s always the temptation to work, it’s always there. Sometimes some guilt associated with not working if you feel like there’s something to be done and there’s always something that could be done.”

Dr. Randall Duthler

Puts a strain on relationships 

Parents of a child with ADHD may become frustrated that their child doesn’t listen when spoken to and will not do chores or their homework without constant reminders. 

Likewise, if someone is in a romantic relationship with someone who has ADHD, they may also become frustrated that their partner spends so much time focused on activities they enjoy rather than contributing to the chores or other house management tasks. 

They might also feel that their partner does not seem interested in them if they feel ignored and that their partner does not give them sufficient attention. 

No time for other tasks 

Hyperfocusing on activities for hours can mean that other responsibilities may be neglected. It may be that once out of hyperfocus, there is not enough time left in the day to do the other tasks that were on the agenda for that day. 

Their ‘time blindness’ can often result in them being rushed, late, and unprepared (Barkley, 1997).

“I’m like, oh, I’ll just look at this for five minutes and then 45 minutes go by or an hour, and why did I research more author, why did I research whatever? It’s an hour and a half or more digging into something you weren’t supposed to.”

From Ginapp et al. (2023).

Become self-critical 

People who hyperfocus on tasks may become very critical of themselves and feel frustrated that they feel they have wasted time on things that are not deemed productive to them.

They may also question why they cannot focus on important things like work when they can easily spend large amounts of time on enjoyable activities. 

Neglect self 

If someone hyperfocuses for hours on end, they may find that they have neglected to take care of themselves (Sklar, 2013). They may have skipped meals, not drank any water, showered, or spent any time outside or exercising. 

“There’ve been countless times I forgot to eat, I won’t hydrate, I won’t go to the bathroom.”

From Ginapp et al. (2023).

How to hyperfocus with aDHD

There may be some ways in which hyperfocus can be used to your advantage if you need to complete boring tasks:

Put away distractions

If you have a work or school assignment to complete and you know you are likely to be distracted, remove the distractions.

This could include putting your phone in another room or switching it off and blocking certain distracting websites on your computer until your work is complete.

Without your usual distractions, it could trigger you to hyperfocus on the task at hand. 

“It’s important to take stock, especially if there’s a task that you struggle with – what do you find yourself deviating towards and remove that stimulus.”

Mickey Atkins, Theapist and Social Worker.

Distractions can be different for each person – what one person may find distracting may not be distracting for someone else.

For example, many neurotypicals may find it distracting to work with a podcast or video playing in the background, but someone with ADHD may find that this extra stimulation helps them work through their less engaging tasks.

People with ADHD may find distractions elsewhere. For example, someone with ADHD could be distracted by having many pens on their desk.

They may find that they spend a lot of time playing with the pens, lining them up, hitting them on the desk, and repeatedly taking the lids on and off them.

Make work creative

Injecting creativity into mundane tasks can make them more engaging and conducive to hyperfocus. Think about how you can transform boring work into something more dynamic that taps into your interests.

For example:

  • Set your notes or flashcards to music and choreograph a dance routine to help memorize them.
  • Draw diagrams, charts, and illustrations to visualize concepts instead of just writing paragraphs.
  • Reimagine a paper you’re writing as a play, movie pitch, or comic book.
  • Use colorful pens, highlighters, and fonts to add visual interest to worksheets.
  • In a presentation, integrate multimedia like videos, animations, and interactive elements.
  • For vocab words, make up mnemonic songs, rhymes, or raps to aid recall.
  • When problem-solving, act out scenarios physically or use props if helpful.
  • Weave personal stories and examples into your work to engage yourself.

Applying your imagination and talents can transform mundane tasks into more stimulating, creative activities that hold your attention. Let your intrinsic interests guide you in making work fun and engaging.

Triggering Hyperfocus on Boring Tasks

Pomodoro method

This is a technique that is commonly used for studying. It involves dedicating a certain amount of time to focusing on work, followed by a short break.

For instance, you can set a timer for 25 minutes, during which you only spend that time on your task (e.g., on homework or chores), and then when the timer goes off, you have a 5-minute break. After this break, set another 25-minute timer, and so on.

There are plenty of Pomodoro videos on YouTube with different themes and background music to make your focus time more interesting. In this way, you don’t need to remember to keep setting reminders – just press play, and the video will guide you.

Shorter time blocks are most helpful for people with ADHD because if you try to knuckle down on a task for 2-3 hours, this can be extremely challenging and can set you up to fail.

“Generally, when in clinical intervention, what we see is that, especially for folks with inattention, being realistic about the amount of time that we can devote to one particular thing is very very important.”

Mickey Atkins, Therapist and Social Worker.

Exercise before tasks

Engaging in physical activity before sitting down to work can be an effective way to trigger hyperfocus. Exercise releases dopamine and other neurotransmitters that boost motivation, focus, and attention.

Try incorporating movement into your pre-task routine:

  • Go for a 15-30 minute walk or jog to get your heart rate up. Aerobic exercise that elevates your breathing can be especially beneficial.
  • Do a brief HIIT workout – alternate short bursts of intense activity with rest periods. Jumping jacks, squats and lunges are options.
  • Try a focused yoga flow to settle your mind before work. Holding a plank pose can be grounding.
  • Dance to some lively music to get energy flowing before starting tasks.
  • Shoot hoops, kick a soccer ball or jump rope for 5-10 minutes beforehand.
  • Stretch thoroughly after warming up muscles. This promotes blood flow to the brain.

The key is choosing physical activities you enjoy and look forward to. Stay hydrated afterward. A mini-workout can optimize your mental state for hyperfocus.

Experiment to find movements that work best for you before tasks requiring concentration.

Don’t do fun activities first

It can be hard for someone with ADHD to switch out of doing fun activities once they have started, and this can also trigger hyperfocus on the fun task.

Instead, try to complete your other, less exciting tasks for the day first, and then the enjoyable activity can be used as a reward for whatever time is left in the day. 

Also, try not to force yourself to complete all of your boring tasks in one go.

For example, if you know there are a lot of dishes to wash in the sink, trying to complete this chore can feel overwhelming. Give yourself permission to just wash what you need at that time. Or, set yourself a two-minute timer and try to wash as much as you can in that time. Once the timer is finished, you can walk away.

Gamify your life

Gamification is the application of adding game-like elements to non-game contexts to encourage participation. 

Since games are a popular hyperfocus activity for people with ADHD, gamifying tasks can make them more enjoyable and could trigger hyperfocus (Sújar, 2022).

For instance, there are many phone apps that are formatted as a game but help users focus on their goals and productivity in real life, such as apps that can turn your mundane tasks into quests with rewards.

Create an optimally stimulating environment

The environment you are in can have a big impact on your ability to focus and enter a state of hyperfocus. The key is finding an environment that provides just the right amount of sensory stimulation for your individual needs.

For some, a busy coffee shop with a moderate buzz of chatter and activity can hit the sweet spot. For others, near-silence in a library study room is best. Experiment to find what works for you.

  • Play instrumental or lyric-less music (like lofi hip-hop beats) in the background at a moderate volume.
  • Add ambient nature sounds like rain or ocean waves using a sound machine or phone app.
  • Keep fidget toys within reach to occupy your hands while you work. Fidget cubes, spinners, and squishy stress balls can help.
  • Change up your location throughout the day – move between a desk, couch, floor, or table. Variety can help sustain interest.
  • Diffuse essential oils like peppermint, which may promote focus.

Experiment to find the optimal level of sensory stimulation that triggers your hyperfocus zone. Tweak the sights, sounds, textures, and smells around you to dial in an environment that engages you fully.

How to manage your hyperfocus time

If you find that you want to break out of a hyperfocused state, especially if it is negatively affecting your other responsibilities, there are some ways in which this could be achieved.

Note that not every tactic will work for everyone in all situations. If you are continuously trying the same tactic and it is not working, then that is probably not the right method for you. 

Identify hyperfocus triggers

A good place to start is to be aware of what your hyperfocus triggers are. These will often be activities that are intrinsically enjoyable for you. Consider what it is about those activities that trigger hyperfocus. 

Here are some tips for identifying your unique hyperfocus triggers:

  • Observe when during the day you tend to hyperfocus most, and capitalize on those natural productive times.
  • Talk to friends/family to get an outside perspective on what activities you seem most focused on. Others may notice your patterns better than you do.
  • Experiment purposefully with different environments, tools, stimuli, and framing of tasks to pinpoint exactly what draws you in. The more you actively test variables, the faster you’ll learn your triggers.


Setting aside a certain amount of time for hyperfocus activities and then arranging a timer to go off at the end is a good indicator that it is time to stop and move on to something else. Setting multiple timers to go off every few minutes can also be useful if you find you may ignore the first one. 

It could also be beneficial to have a visual timer directly in front of you so that you can actually see the time in your environment.

This can also help you to bring your awareness to your surroundings so that hyperfocus is less likely to happen. 


For important tasks or chores, you could set reminders to go off on your phone or other devices. This can help to distract you from a hyperfocus task and bring awareness to what else needs to be done. You can also leave post-it notes in your line of sight as reminders of other tasks to complete. 

Moreover, leave visual cues about tasks, such as placing a laundry basket in your doorway, so you have no choice but to be reminded that the laundry needs to be done. 

Schedule the day

Come up with two or three reasonable tasks for the day that needs to be done. Aim to get these done first before moving on to other tasks, which can cause hyperfocus. 

It may be helpful to also schedule each hour of the day dedicated to working on a specific task. Once the hour is over, it is time to move on to the next item on the schedule. 

This can also be helpful if you are someone who hyperfocuses on work and is neglecting other responsibilities due to overworking:

“Be more fragmented about your time and schedule to block out times that you work and be really regimented about carving out some personal time or family time.”

Dr. Randall Duthler

Ask someone to distract you

If you struggle to end hyperfocus tasks by yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to help you.

You could arrange with a friend or partner to distract you at a time when you wish to stop your hyperfocus activity.

At work, this could involve asking a co-worker to send you an email as a reminder to move on to another task. 

“I’ve learned to have other people kind of let me know when it’s time to move on.”

Jessica, from @HowToADHD

Consider your career

While this may not be possible for everyone, it may be helpful to find a career that caters to your interests. This can help you use hyperfocus to its advantage, and you will likely be more motivated in a career that you enjoy. 

Here are some tips for choosing a career that aligns with your hyperfocus tendencies:

  • Consider careers that involve strategy, analysis, problem-solving, or research, as these activities require deep focus and may trigger hyperfocus.
  • Look for creative careers like design, content creation, or editing that allow you to get absorbed in creative flow states.
  • Find roles where you can share knowledge or compete, like teaching, law, sales, or marketing, to motivate intense focus.
  • Seek work environments with some independence, flexibility, and variety day-to-day to sustain your interest and focus over time.

Schedule hyperfocus activities

If you need to be somewhere during the day, such as an appointment or work meeting, don’t start a hyperfocus activity just before.

Also, try not to do this hyperfocus activity before going to bed, as you may find it hard to stop, and this can disrupt sleep. 

Instead, you could schedule a time when you can allow yourself to hyperfocus, such as a day when you have no other responsibilities or after you have completed all you planned to do that day. 

You can use hyperfocus on an enjoyable activity as a reward for completing your daily tasks.

This can also help to alleviate some of the shame or guilt that may arise from hyperfocusing for long periods of time. As long as you can look back on your day and see that you have achieved what you set out to achieve, then allow yourself permission to enjoy yourself!


What is a hyperfocus hangover?

When coming out of hyperfocus, it can often leave you feeling drained, as if you have a hangover. You may experience some of the following symptoms:

– Being unaware of what time it is
– Feel thirsty as if you haven’t drank for days
– Feel hungry and cannot recall when you last ate
– Feel as though you haven’t been breathing properly for hours and need to take some deep breaths
– Feel overstimulated, as if the lights in the room are too bright
– Feel as if you have overindulged in an activity for a very long time
– The desperate need to urinate that wasn’t noticed before

Can people without ADHD hyperfocus?

A study found that people with ADHD experienced hyperfocus more often than neurotypical individuals, both in general and across a range of specific settings (Hupfield et al., 2019).

However, it is common for anybody to get lost in something that interests them or get into a flow of work. A lot of neurotypical people would likely report experiencing a hyperfocus-like state at some point in their lives. 

Likewise, those who are Autistic can exhibit an intense focus on a particular topic which is sometimes referred to as hyperfocus (Rowland, 2020). 

While associated with ADHD and Autism, momentary hyperfocus can happen in anyone deeply focused on a compelling task.

What is the difference between hyperfocus in ADHD and intense focus in neurotypicals?

While neurotypicals can experience periods of intense focus on tasks they find interesting or meaningful, individuals with ADHD tend to hyperfocus involuntarily on tasks regardless of interest level.

Hyperfocus in ADHD is characterized by an extreme, nearly obsessive immersion in an activity, along with difficulty disengaging attention, to the exclusion of anything external.

In contrast, neurotypicals have more control over entering focused states and can more easily shift attention when needed.


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Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.