How To Stay Focused With ADHD & Too Many Ideas

If you’re anything like me, you never have a shortage of ideas, which are both exciting and distracting. If you’re wondering how to stay focused with ADHD when you have limitless new ideas, then these helpful strategies are for you.

My ADHD brain constantly thinks of new projects and innovative solutions. And while this can be an incredible strength, it can also pull me in different directions.

Because with each new idea comes the desire to pursue it immediately. So rather than sticking with the task at hand, I want to jump to the next shiny possibility.

Can you relate? I thought so.

And here’s the real challenge…

As adults with ADHD, when we jump from one brilliant idea to the next, we rarely finish what we start.

This means we never share our brilliant ideas with the world. Instead, they stay unfinished, looping in the back of our minds.

And that’s exactly what we’re talking about in episode 138 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

We’re exploring my simple, three-step process that allows you to stay focused on your current project while capturing and organizing your new brilliant ideas.

That way, your ideas are waiting for you when you’re ready for them.

So if you’re ready to reign in your focus and bring your brilliant ideas to fruition, check out episode 138 now.

And then, be sure to grab my brilliant ideas template, which allows you to practice what you learn in the episode immediately!

Brilliant Ideas List Access Your Free Template

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:  

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 138: How To Stay Focused with ADHD, You Will Discover How To… 

  • Recognize your distractions and when they come up
  • Navigate your distractions without losing focus
  • Capture and organize your brilliant ideas so they’re ready for you when you need them

Episodes Mentioned In The Podcast

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #138: Too Many Ideas? How To Stay Focused with ADHD (Transcript) 

How To Stay Focused and Organize Your Ideas - ADHD Tips

You’re listening to the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson episode number 138.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Thanks for tuning in today. And if you are new to the podcast, hello! I am absolutely thrilled that you’re here. Welcome to I’m Busy Being Awesome.

A deep dive into How To stay focused with ADHD

More specifically, a few of my favorite tactics we can implement to support our brain and reign in the toddler brain — reign in our distractible mind — so that we are focusing on the projects that matter most.

We are talking about how we can focus on the areas in our lives that we have identified as most important.

Hands down, this is one of the biggest challenges for many of my clients and myself.

  • How can we support ourselves to stay focused and get things done, while also allowing our brains that valuable time and space for creative thinking and imagining that we do so well?
  • How can we ensure we have time for BOTH types of thinking?

As Tamara Rosier talks about in her brilliant book, Your Brain’s Not Broken, both convergent thinking and divergent thinking, which I plan to talk about more in-depth on another podcast.

But for now, how do we balance the structured, get-things-done thinking with the imagining, dreaming, and idea generation?

Many of us are idea machines. We have so many brilliant ideas just waiting to come into existence. And I think one of the most challenging obstacles to navigate is dancing between constraining your focus on that handful of most important projects and priorities while maintaining space for exploration, too.

How can we employ that strength of idea generation and use it to your benefit without letting it go into overdrive and distract you from completing the things you want to get done?

Because that is the reality for so many of us, right?

We have these beautiful ideas and we want to work on all of them. So we dive into one, we get started, and then we have the next new idea and we dive into that. And then the next new idea follows and we dive into that.

And because we have so many new ideas all the time, it’s often challenging to follow through on the project to completion because we can’t wait to start the next idea. 

And while it IS so fun to start these things, if we never get them out into the world, other people don’t get to experience their impact. Instead, they remain abstract ideas in our minds and they don’t have the ultimate impact that they could have on the world.

And so one of the skills that we want to hone as ADHDers and as idea machines is striking a balance between idea generation and idea implementation and completion.

How do we allow room for both?

Today I’m talking about one of the components of this process, which is learning how to capture your brilliant ideas while also maintaining your focus on the ones that you have deemed important for this current season, this current month, or week, or day, or whatever the time frame is in which you’re working.

In our world there are many things for the brain to focus on

  • Events happening throughout the world
  • Events happening within our extended families and our immediate families
  • Exchanges within friendships and other relationships in our lives
  • Personal experiences unfolding in each of us as we navigate our day-to-day

With some of these events, we want to pause and make time for reflection.

We want to allow space to process emotion and have room for contemplation and idea generation. And there are other situations that we may want to release. There are other experiences we don’t want to put our energy toward.

Maybe there’s a cause that you feel particularly passionate about and you do want to dedicate some time and idea generation and movement toward supporting it.

At the same time, maybe there are some interpersonal exchanges at work or between a couple of parents at your child’s school that you would rather release. You would rather not spend your time or your energy or your brilliant ideas focusing on those two colleagues. And that’s okay. 

There is no right or wrong thing to focus on. You get to decide that.

practice being intentional about where you choose to focus.

If we’re not intentional about what we want to focus on and instead try to focus on everything – we ultimately do much less.

When we try to have ideas, solutions, plans and offerings for everything, it often leads to doing much less. Because you’re spread so thin that you can’t complete anything.

So as you think about the concepts we explore today and as you consider all of your brilliant ideas and where you want to put your focus, I encourage you to:

  • Practice intentionality.
  • Think about where you want to focus your energy, time, and attention

Because again, we have no shortage of ideas. And by choosing ahead of time where you want to put your focus, that reduces additional decision fatigue and energy drain later on.

You may be thinking, “but there’s no way I can focus on just a few things. What about all these other ideas? I can’t just let them go!”

And don’t worry, I hear you. I feel the same way.

In fact, that’s what we’re going to talk about today as well.

  • How can we capture these brilliant ideas?
  • How can we ensure that once we finish what we’re working on, we have those new ideas at the ready, waiting for us to dive in? 

Now, when I work with my clients in We’re Busy Being Awesome, my small group program, I love to think about following through on our ideas and getting things done within this three-part framework of plan – act – complete.

> Check out episode 124 of the podcast to learn more about this powerful framework to get things done with ADHD.


Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.


How To Stay Focused with ADHD

When we think about capturing our brilliant ideas and staying focused on just a few of them and then we follow through until completion before starting the next thing, we are really focused on part three of the framework – the complete section.

  • How can we stay focused on what’s most important without going down the rabbit hole and jumping to the next thing?
  • How can we follow through and get our brilliant ideas into the world?
How To Stay Focused with ADHD when You Have Too Many Ideas

Step One: Identify The Reasons You Might Get Distracted

Learning how to stay focused with ADHD starts with identifying (ahead of time) all the reasons you might get distracted from working on a current project or brilliant idea.

As I mentioned, we live in a world full of distractions. And if you have an ADHD brain, those distractions are even more of an obstacle.

These distractions keeping you from being focused could be:

  • Social media or texts from family members
  • Emails from your boss or your colleagues
  • Notifications from your phone or your computer
  • Your children coming in and asking you questions when you’re trying to work

Heck, maybe it’s simply your own brain and your own thoughts distracting you from what you’re trying to do — that’s often the case for me!

There are many things available both externally in the world and internally in our minds to distract us.

When these distractions happen, it’s very easy for the brain to jump.

It’s easy to shift to something that seems easier than the task at hand or something that’s familiar or enjoyable to do.

The brain often wants to go down the rabbit hole seeking dopamine and positive reinforcement.

This is all perfectly normal and we all do it.

So first of all, if this is happening to you, welcome to being a human. Nothing has gone wrong.

Know Your Personal Distractions Ahead of Time

In order to support yourself (especially if you have a highly distractible brain) is to make yourself aware – ahead of time – of the common distractions for you.

Also, follow through with what that distraction often creates for you.

  • What does that experience look like when it unfolds?
  • How can you make yourself aware of this pattern ahead of time?

Example 1: You’re Bored. Maybe you are working on something and you’re feeling incredibly bored. And you’re thinking to yourself, this data entry is so tedious. You feel bored. And your brain’s goto reaction is, “let’s see what’s happening on Instagram.” Or “let’s see what’s happening on Facebook.” 

Now, remember, we are looking with curiosity, not with judgment. Because by gathering this data, we know that often when our brain experiences boredom, it tries to escape that emotion by going to social media.

Example 2: You’ve Hit a Roadblock. Or on the other side of the spectrum, maybe you are working on a project and you get to a part that seems particularly challenging. Maybe you hit a roadblock and you’re feeling really frustrated because you can’t figure out a solution. And because the brain is feeling frustrated, it naturally wants to escape that feeling of frustration. So it thinks, “let’s quickly check email and see if there’s anything new. Let me see if there’s a message I missed or if there’s something I can reply to.” 

Have you been there before? I know I have.

When we’re stuck feeling frustrated, it feels so much better for the brain to jump to solving a quick win in an email or checking something easy off the list with “procrastiworking”.

Example 3: You’re Hungry. Or maybe you are feeling hungry and so your brain starts thinking about all of the different recipes you could make with what you have in the fridge for dinner. And all of a sudden you find yourself on Pinterest scrolling recipe ideas.

This is just a handful of potential rabbit holes that your brain might follow.

To do: I encourage you to do a quick thought download or make a list over the coming days of when you often get distracted and what that looks like.

Once you start bringing that onto your radar, you can prepare for it. You can be aware of how that feeling of boredom feels in your body. You can make yourself aware that your brain may want to jump to something that provides instant gratification. 

When you what’s keeping you from being focused, you can create support for your brain when interruptions happen. This allows you to more easily get back on track rather than dropping what you’re doing in the moment and focusing on the new project or request.

So step one, gain awareness of what your distractions are and the results that they often create for you.

Step Two: Capture Your ‘Distracting’ Thoughts & Ideas

Step two is all about capturing those distracting thoughts and brilliant ideas so we don’t forget them.

One of the biggest fears for the ADHD brain is that if you don’t do it now, you’re going to forget. If you don’t jump on the idea or pursue the request or solve for this or that obstacle, the brain worries you’ll completely forget about it.

And chances are, you’ve had experiences of that in the past, so your brain is trying to protect you from that happening again.

So again, nothing’s gone wrong. But we want to create some support for your brain so that it knows, “Oh hold on. Don’t worry. I have a plan. I’m not going to forget. I have a system in place that allows me to capture it all.”

Here’s what you can do…

Create a Distraction List

So I first start with having a distraction list at my side any time I’m working.

To keep track of your distractions you can record these thoughts on a Post-It note or a notepad.

You can also use the I’m Busy Being Awesome planner that I designed for my clients which includes a notes section in the daily planning pages, which is where I capture all of my distracting thoughts.

The I’m Busy Being Awesome planner is now available on Amazon – check out the planner here! On the first page, you’ll see a link to access a quick course that walks you through my best practices of using the planner and how you can adjust it to work with your brain.

Throughout the workday, whenever I’m at my computer, I have my planner next to me.

Any distracting thoughts that pop into my mind go right in that notes section.

And for reference, as I wrote this podcast script today, I already had one, two, three, four, five, different distracting thoughts about plans for dinner, a newsletter idea, making a haircut, messaging my breathwork teacher, and making a vet appointment for Bruno.

Now if I didn’t have this place to capture those thoughts, I probably would have jumped on them all immediately because I’d be worried that I wouldn’t do them later.

I’d be worried that I would forget. But because I wrote them down and I know I have a system to take care of these thoughts so I can stay focused on the task at hand.

I’m able to jot down the distraction and then get right back to work.

Review Your List

Check over your list when you have some downtime.

Personally, I look at my list during my lunch hour and then again during my shut-down routine at the end of the day.

I look at that list and I categorize the distractions in the following ways:

  • A task I can delegate
  • Something I should do immediately
  • Just a distraction that I can delete
  • Something I want to delay until later

I first learned this approach in David Allen’s 4 D’s of deleting, delegate, defer, and doing in his Getting Things done Method, which I talk about in episode 81: How to Reduce Distractions with Ease.

So that way each of those tasks that would have otherwise started an open loop of distraction in my brain now has a plan. And because I didn’t jump on them immediately, it allowed me to stay focused and keep writing this podcast so I can get it out to you on time. It’s a win-win.

So let’s talk about the delay list (aka Brilliant Ideas List).

  • What do we do with these brilliant ideas that we know we want to do at some point, but it’s just not this moment?
  • What can we do with these ideas so we don’t forget about them? This is where the brilliant ideas list comes in.

Step Three: Create a Brilliant Ideas List

What is a brilliant ideas list?

Honestly, it is an idea I had years and years ago, and it existed as a simple Google Doc that I kept bookmarked in my browser and it was literally titled “my brilliant ideas list.”

Anything that I knew I wasn’t going to do within the next week or two, I would add to the list.

And for years this worked beautifully. Anytime I completed a project, I would return to that list and I could choose the next thing that I wanted to explore.

It worked really well because it helped me navigate any kind of FOMO or worry that I wouldn’t be able to do the things because I might forget about them.

Instead, I could calm my brain knowing that I had captured the idea. I knew it would be there waiting for me when I was ready for it.

Over the last few years, I’ve been revising and refining this approach, and I wanted to offer a couple of different ways that you could do this too.

Now again, for years I simply had my one at brilliant ideas list and it really did work well. I would capture all the research ideas I had for my work or any class topics I’d want to explore with my students.

However, when I began coaching in 2019 and as my business has grown, I’ve found myself getting a little bit confused with having lots of different categories of ideas for all the different things in my business.

So if you’re a person with many roles or many responsibilities or lots of categories where you have new ideas, you may want to try a slightly more nuanced approach to capturing your ideas. 

So first of all, you might consider:

Divide your ideas according to a timeline

I find this one is especially effective for myself.

I mentioned that on my list today I had a newsletter idea that popped into my mind. I know that I don’t want to do that topic idea until probably late March or early April, so I’m not going to put that in my schedule for now.

Instead, I’m going to put it into my brilliant ideas list for the month of March and I’ll make a note next to it that says consider this topic for the last couple of weeks in March.

This way when I do my monthly planning, I can check out my brilliant ideas list, see what’s on there, and decide whether I want to pursue that idea at that time or not. 

So if you have a lot of ideas that might benefit from timeline planning, you could divide your ideas into years, quarters, months, etc.

And then maybe a catch-all “someday” list where you want to capture you’re really big ideas that you know you want to do someday. And perhaps you schedule a time each year to revisit that someday list. 

Divide Your Brilliant Ideas by Category

For example, maybe you have ideas for your current job, and then perhaps you also have a side hustle with ideas for that.

Maybe you have ideas for your home if you’re doing renovations or redecorating.

And maybe you have ideas for relationships or a place where you capture brilliant gift ideas for different people and you maintain that running list.

You can categorize things according to topic.

So there are different ways that you can think about categorization. And I invite you to consider what would be most effective for you.

AND I would caution you against overcomplicating this.

Tip! Make sure you don’t go down the rabbit hole of trying to find the perfect way to organize all your ideas. The important thing is having a space where you know you can safely capture your ideas, return to them regularly, and find them easily. 

Speaking of a safe space to hold these ideas, again, for years I just kept it in one Google doc. You can still do that. In fact, I still use a Google Doc, but I now use the table of contents feature and I give headers to each of the timeline sections (monthly quarterly yearly, someday), which are hyperlinked to the respective pages in the doc.

So if I have an idea for April, I just click on April on the first page in the table of contents, which is hyperlinked to my list of brilliant ideas for April.

You can create categories such as:

  • Work
  • Home renovation
  • Gift ideas
  • Vacation spots

Need some help with this? I made a copy of my own brilliant ideas template so you can use it, too. Access HERE.

Brilliant Ideas List Access Your Free Template

Alternatively, use can use productivity tools like Evernote (create different notebooks for each of the various category topics or timelines).

How To Use These Steps to Stay Focused

The process that I’m sharing with you can be used with both big and small ideas.

Use these steps with:

  • Big picture goals: Ideas and dreams
  • Small picture tasks for things around the house or a project at work.

Make sure to keep your mind open to the different ways in which you can apply these concepts.

Let’s Recap the 3-Step Process To Stay Focused with You Have ADHD

1. Identify all of your common distractors

Identify what they are and see the results that they create. Bring them to your awareness so that you can start catching yourself when you’re slipping into that rabbit-hole of distraction. 

2. Have a Distraction List

Whether it’s and notebook, a Post-It, or a planner, and have it sitting next to you. Anytime a distraction pops into your mind as you’re working, write it down and tell your brain, “don’t worry I’ve captured it. We will return to it at lunch or we will return to it during our shut down routine at the end of the day and decide what to do with all of these things then.” 

From there, you can decide whether those ideas throughout the day are things you want to delegate to someone else, whether the idea was just a distraction you can ignore, whether you want to take action on it at that moment or schedule it out for later in that week, or if you want to capture it in your brilliant ideas for a later time.

3. Create a Brilliant Ideas List

And then, for any of those brilliant ideas that you want to save, I invite you to capture them in your brilliant ideas list whether it’s just the long list of ideas in one document, whether it’s mapped out by timeline, or categorized by topic.

Whatever works best for you, get those ideas captured so that you can return to them easily get started once you finish what you’re working on right now.

And remember, to download my brilliant ideas template so you can get started!

How To Stay Focused with ADHD: Final Thoughts

For all of you brilliant idea machines out there, I hope that this episode of I’m Busy Being Awesome was helpful for you in capturing your ideas without jumping on them immediately.

When you exercise this skill, you can support your ADHD brain to stay focused and follow through on these ideas one by one. 

Remember:

  • When you can complete those projects, that’s when they become real
  • When you make your ideas real that’s when they enter the world and people can benefit from the work you’ve done
  • When we allow discomfort of being bored, of feeling frustrated, of wanting to jump to the next thing. When we can remember why we chose to work on this current project and why we are willing to stick with it because it’s important to us. That’s what allows us to follow all the way through.
  • When you have that safe place to capture your ideas – first with the distraction list and then with your brilliant ideas list – you provide your brain further reassurance and support to stay focused on the task at hand because it knows you will remember and return to those new brilliant ideas at a later time. 

And if you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and really put them to use. If you’re ready to learn how to support your ADHD and work with your unique brain within a small, supportive community of busy awesome humans just like you, I invite you to check out our group coaching program – just click below to learn more.


Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.


Also,  if you know someone who would love to learn more about staying focused and capturing their brilliant ideas, would you be a rockstar and share this episode with them?

Each time you do, you help me get these tools to even more people, and I really appreciate it.

Until next time, keep being awesome.

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