I have diagnosed ADD. Mild but enough to affect my work:

  • Easily distracted
  • Can't concentrate on one project at a time
  • Addicted to the web
  • Procrastination
  • etc.

What strategies do you use to compensate?

One clarification

I have real ADD. I was diagnosed with it when I was a child and have wrestled with it all my life. I am not talking about artificial ADD, which is induced by media overload.


I just read this description ADD/ADHD. It's a great description, especially for us programming ADDers:

I am like a toolbox,
with all the tools I will ever need
lain gently and neatly in the box,
ready for me to use them.
The toolbox is translucent
so I can see them there.

The key to the toolbox is locked inside of it.

  • 9
    Please don't patronize the OP.
    – bzlm
    Commented Sep 26, 2008 at 11:17
  • 9
    You've just diagnosed me with ADD!
    – Ates Goral
    Commented Oct 5, 2008 at 12:25
  • 3
    Thanks for this post. It's good to see others open with their issues, which I share with you in this case.
    – Chris Serra
    Commented Oct 16, 2008 at 14:26
  • 3
    – vitule
    Commented Dec 12, 2008 at 20:10
  • 3
    Google the personality type INTJ
    – TheSoftwareJedi
    Commented Dec 13, 2008 at 5:56

36 Answers 36


I've had similar problems as you do. The two main strategies that have helped me are

  • Only one project at any time: I've suffered from following more projects than I can count on my fingers, each "clamouring" for attention. Now I've radically cut down on projects either by finishing them "once and for all" or by simply dropping them altogether. Earlier this year I've founded a company and now I'm down to three projects: Health, Family and Company.

  • Separation of concerns: When doing everything on one desk, the risk is high to "drift" from one thing to another. I've removed all procrastination stuff from my work PC and use my Laptop only for "play" and other private internet usage (mails, userfriendly, slashdot). The PC is on my desk, the Laptop in the Living Room. This keeps a healthy distance between Company and private stuff.

Of course these two things are quite general stuff. Some of the smaller, but also helpful things:

  • No Lurking on IRC/other chat channels. Either I need or give support/community in the project I'm working on or I'm not in that channel.
  • Close The Mailer. Checking mails because the project just compiles is just stupid, since waiting for a compile is just enough time to see whether or not there is mail. If there wasn't any mail, I've interrupted my flow for nothing and if there was mail, I'd either have to interrupt my flow even more to handle it or punt it anyways. So now, I'm checking my mails three times a day and have reduced my interruption count significantly.
  • Exercise. Often while programming I feel the urge to jump up and run around in my room. Especially when sitting before the tougher design decisions. Going biking every other day has significantly improved my ability to concentrate on stuff as well as the added benefit of improving overall stamina and well being.
  • Spent Time Bookkeeping. I've got a simple spreadsheet where I enter my Company time and some private stuff. I keep it to 15 minute chunks, which makes data entry much easier and any smaller units just cause more overhead. If I'm not doing something I can "bill" on the Company and it's between 8:00 and 18:00 I know I'm doing something wrong.
    Also, at the end of the week I get a nice report how I spent my time. One big caveat here though. When I started this after finishing university it was a hard blow for me how little time I was spending "productively." It took me quite a while to recognize, that I need to record everything I don't do for Family. Specifically:
    1. I need to record times spent exercising as productive. See above.
    2. I need to record times lost due to external factors: I'm travelling a lot lately and when I've only recorded 25 hours of work in a week, I suck. But if I add the two days I spent on the road that week, I see that I did more than 40 hours. Suddenly "I suck" changes into "the external-factors-that-cause-my-travels suck," which is a much healthier thing to say.
  • Eat and Sleep Regularly. Stand up at 07:00, Breakfast, Lunch at 12:00, Dinner at 18:00, Sleep from between 22:00 and 23:00.
  • Appreciate the Small Successes. Even if I'm not yet there, today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today.
  • Adjust you Environment. That's quite a broad topic. As a home worker, I got myself a nice new desk and chair which I now use exclusively for work.
    Also I really like listening to music, but vocals -- especially in my mother tongue -- distract me incredibly. I've tried instrumental music, which worked for a while until the trance beats got to my nerves. Now I'm going for the complete silence. It might be different for you, but there's only one way to find out for real: experiment and watch yourself while working.
  • Become Accountable. Get a Conscience. I founded my Company together with an old friend, whom I deeply respect. By his presence and by knowing that our success is now is interlocked, I feel compelled to give my best.

  • And finally Constant Vigilance! Distractions tend to creep up from every nook and cranny of your life (stackoverflow anybody? ;). Keeping them at bay and managing them will stay a constant struggle. Having said this, I have to close my stackoverflow tabs and get back to programming!

PS: I've talked with someone from my family who is working with ADHD kids. She told me that ADHD is a kind of catch-all/fallback diagnostic (see the ADHD Wikipedia entry for corrobation: DSM-IV V.) and is hard to diagnose "scientifically" since the patient has to be monitored in different settings over a longer period of time AND other causes for the symptoms have to be excluded. Practically ADHD is handled as "the condition helped by the prescribed medicines", since there currently are no globally accepted non-psychiatric assesment test procedures and not enough knowledge about the underlying biochemical functions. Again, quoting Wikipedia: "There are several effective and clinically proven options to treat people with ADHD. Combined medical management and behavioral treatment is the most effective ADHD management strategy, followed by medication alone, and then behavioral treatment."

From what I gathered from the discussion with her, the problem is that doctors often choose (cheap, symptom-oriented) medication over (expensive, cause-oriented) therapy with little regard to the long-term effects on the patient.

  • 4
    "Separation of Concerns..." I've even switched to "one PC for development another for internet, mail, etc." It works wonders. Commented Sep 26, 2008 at 14:32
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    The one that is personally most important to me is having someone I trust to whom I am accountable. Thanks for the list.
    – le dorfier
    Commented Dec 12, 2008 at 20:10
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    Honestly, your list sucks. That's nearly completely the opposite of what I do. +1, I guess. Meh. Time to change my life. Commented Jan 14, 2009 at 21:22
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    I bump this in the headphones. simplynoise.com . Choose from white, pink, and red/brown noise. Commented Feb 14, 2009 at 16:55
  • 1
    @ThomasGHenry, you might want to check out bands such as Merzbow or Aube Commented Mar 24, 2009 at 10:50

Use the development methodology named eXtreme Programming (XP). It's a lightweight, low-ceremony, high-discipline methodology. Specifically, use pair programming, which will help you focus and let you drift away for periods if you have to, without hurting the progress of what you're doing. But don't partner up with someone with ADD. ;]

Also, everyone who belittles the condition should help themselves to a nice cup of STFU.

  • Pair programming will work wonders for this.
    – Paul Shannon
    Commented Sep 26, 2008 at 11:48
  • 4
    "help themselves to a nice cup of STFU" -- love it. +1 Commented Sep 26, 2008 at 12:00
  • "a nice cup of STFU" = awesome! +1 Commented Sep 26, 2008 at 14:31
  • -1: It seems as if you are trying to apply XP to solve any and all problems. Commented Apr 5, 2010 at 12:46
  • @Jørgen If you by "any and all" mean the problems that are clearly listed in the question, then absolutely, I'm confident pair programming (and the specific properties of XP I mentioned) can solve them. :)
    – bzlm
    Commented Apr 5, 2010 at 13:38

I'm a total newcomer to this board (introduced by a programmer friend), and my work is in the field of psychiatry, not computers. I told my friend that the comments on this thread are some of the most intelligent offerings I've seen with regard to ADD and the problems associated with challenging work like programming. As a 62 year-old professor of psychiatry at a major medical school, I can say with some confidence that you guys are offering one another some very sound advice. Even some of the gripes and complaints have pearls of wisdom in them. Naturally I have my own biases and beliefs about all this, being a shrink, but I even agree with some of the negative comments about my own profession. Doctors are not always helpful. The bottom line from the standpoint of good science and evidence-based medicine is that what David S. says in the first post (above) makes a lot of sense. Medication can be very helpful, even life-saving, and certainly career-saving, but it has to be used wisely and prescribed by a thoughtful, caring clinician. Using other substances like marijuana and alcohol can be a slippery slope leading to disaster. It's a challenge being as bright and capable as you guys are, and life is never easy for people who are smart enough to look past the daily grind, thinking at the philosophical level. Thanks for creating this forum! John T.

  • Glad to see comments from a professional of your field. Any advice you can provide will be greatly appreciated.
    – lamcro
    Commented Feb 20, 2009 at 14:15
  • 1
    Yes, I find it such a challenge being so incredibly smart! :) Kidding (sort of) ... thanks very much for the post. Commented Apr 6, 2009 at 19:12
  • +1 for the encouraging comments about the self-help here and also from your professional standpoint. Commented Jul 8, 2010 at 11:43

Turn off your web browser so you cannot access StackOverflow during work hours.


I agree with the comments made.

I am a real believer in the non-existance of ADHD.

This is normal behaviour. We ALL get distracted (just some easier than others - it's not a freaking DISORDER), one problem is that we have easy access to one of the most distracting things ever created, the Internet. We can get almost anything we want within seconds!

The best thing you can do is get back to baby steps. Create a list of real small tasks, work down the list. The second you realise you are doing something else that is not on the list STOP. If you struggle to get back to what you were doing, move to another task. If the tasks are small enough, it shouldn't create an issue (unless of course there are dependencies).

Dude, ignore the god damn doctor. You have already taken the first step saying "I want to be a programmer and stay focused on my job." Start small, stay on task, if you come off, don't beat yourself up, just get back on to it.

If it gets real bad, take drastic measures, disable websites that you dont need to do your job. (like YouTube, but not MSDN if you are a MS dev).

TBH, there are people in my workplace without "ADHD" that need to take a leaf from your book.

Update Following Comments

There have been several comments made stating something similar to, or along the lines of the following:

  • I don't know what I am talking about.
  • My aforementioned friend is wrong/unqualified to make such comments.
  • I am just simly wrong.

My responses to those would be:

  • My friend has the right to say what they like, it's their opinion, much like it is your right to comment arguing against it.
  • If you want to start debating against my comments, you have missed the point.

Like I stated, I personally do not think ADD/ADHD exists. However, even if it does, it does not stop us from BEING IN CONTROL OF OUR OWN LIVES.

The original poster has made the first step in becoming a great developer, I know lots of developers, but the ones I hold in high regard all share one thing in common: they are looking to remove their weaknesses.

The original poster is doing this, and certainly get's my respect for that, I simply tried to offer some advice to them. Getting stuck in the trap in accepting "there is not a lot you can do about it, just take your pills" is a fundamental weakness of attitude.

Hats off lamcro, and I wish him the best of luck, and if you ever need any more advice mate, feel free to ask. I'll support you much more than I would support the Doc.

  • 6
    ADHD doesn't just mean you're "easily distracted". It is a chemical imbalance in the brain that makes it much more difficult to concentrate, make good decisions, and so on. Your answer boils down to "suck it up and just try real hard" which is not in any way helpful.... Commented Sep 26, 2008 at 11:55
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    ADHD is over diagnosed, but it is real, there are studies showing differences in brain MRI and even in EEG readings. Like many conditions some suffer more then others. You can have a sever case of a mild one. Self discipline helps, but it is still going to make it more difficult for a ADHD sufferer.
    – Jim C
    Commented Oct 28, 2008 at 15:02
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    Guys it's his opinion. I even upvoted it, and I'm the OP.
    – lamcro
    Commented Oct 29, 2008 at 15:17
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    secrtean: There are no blood tests for epilepsy, manic depression, autism, or multiple sclerosis either. Doesn't mean those conditions don't exist. Commented Oct 29, 2008 at 15:17
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    Assume that in the spectrum of mental behaviors, there is a set outlying on the normal distribution that obstructs some people's ability to deal with normal activities and these behaviors aren't solvable by willpower. Label that set ADD/ADHD and treat it.
    – CMPalmer
    Commented Nov 18, 2008 at 17:05

I wasn't diagnosed ADD as a children but was close to it. Apparently I'm OK now as an adult, even though i still can become easily distracted. A few hints:

-Stay off the stimulants: coffee, coke, chocolate, etc.

-Don't listen to music. I've found music screws my focus A LOT (it seems to help others, but doesn't work for me).

-Stay off the web. Don't keep tabs open on slashdot, digg, every man and his dog's blog or whatever. Just keep an eye on your important email inboxes and google for stuff you need for your work. Delay idle browsing til after work or lunch time.

-Use the 'one step at a time' approach to procrastination. In short, instead of facing a big task, break it down into smaller parts and say to yourself 'i'm going to do this mini-task and then i'll take a break'. You'll see it's easier to do it this way. Same technique as 'i'll just wash a couple of dishes from the stack', and then once you're doing it you just go ahead and do the whole stack. Works for me all the time.

-Take a break every now and then, but not every 20 minutes. A break every 1,5hours works for me (relaxes your eyes and lets you relax for 5 minutes).

  • 3
    Stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines are actually beneficial for ADHD as they increase levels of dopamine which helps with concentration. Commented Oct 1, 2008 at 19:09
  • Caffeine isn't particularly useful for ADHD and using it as such can be very detrimental to your health. Commented Oct 3, 2008 at 11:51
  • Yea, caffeine hypes me up but doesn't help with concentration. Methylphenidate does a lot more to help maintain focus.
    – MichaelGG
    Commented Oct 19, 2008 at 18:03
  • My doc defines coffee for ADHD as "self-medication" - it's actually a indicator before you're diagnosed.
    – le dorfier
    Commented Dec 12, 2008 at 19:55
  • Get a big white board and position it where you can easily see and access it.
  • Make sure that you have SEVERAL things to do.
  • Write each one on the board, leaving room for notes underneath.
  • Pick one and start working on it.
  • If your mind wanders - jot down any ideas under the topic you're leaving.
  • Pick another topic.
  • If any ideas about other topics come to mind, record them immediately and try to get back to what you were doing.
  • I am doing the same thing. I can frequently move them off the white board, and plop them into google notebook, where i can ignore them. I find that having 2 - 3 tasks available, makes it so i have something to do when I need to wait for one of them.
    – EvilTeach
    Commented Dec 12, 2008 at 20:16

Anyone who gives "advice" on how to overcome a REAL subset of conditions is a fool AND unsympathetically cruel.

It's like saying to someone Multiple Sclerosis doesn't exist, and just saying to someone just walk! It's easy, just put one leg in front of the other, and JUST walk. Forget what the doctor says, you can do it if you think positively... utter rubbish!

Example: some people are naturally more thick skinned than others, and yet they DARE "teach" others how to be laid back... lol how delusional. Someone's psychological traits are NO different than their sporting abilities, e.g. coordination and balance. If Tiger Woods came to someone with poor coordination and just "taught" him how to be a great golfer it wouldn't happen, even if taught from a young age... sure the person would be better if taught... but you are fighting against someone's natural abilities.

A better example might be mathematical ability... I find maths quite easy but some people don't. I find drawing REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY hard! I enjoy it but it's just unbelievably hard... I've had artist friends try and teach me and sure I've improve BUT I'm still really lame! Some people have the same teachers and yet produce VERY VERY different results... this is because everyone has different natural affinities... anyone who doesn't agree with this is delusional.

The problem with modern society (particularly America) is that so many people believe that if you try hard enough you WILL succeed in anything you try... here's the latest newsflash... absolute BS. A lot of people can't admit this. The REAL key to success is finding something that fits your NATURAL abilities, and then doing that as a career... if you work hard at that you have a good chance of being moderately successful, but some people will not do well even if they play to their natural skills, as their best skills might not be that good.

My message is that if you're good at something (and that includes neurological skills that most people take for granted like "focus" and "organisational skills") then don't think that just because it comes naturally to you that someone's difficulty doesn't exist. Only an utter fool would act that way!

Sure SOME people DO make excuses, but the majority of people I meet are doing their best. Indeed I would argue that EVERYONE is doing their best given their nature / nurture, e.g. their gene's, their upbringing and environment. It takes both intelligence and empathy to understand this... if you don't then one of those is missing... harsh of me to say but it's true.

  • Wow one of the best answers I've ever read here! +1
    – André
    Commented Jan 15, 2009 at 16:09
  • Lot of truth here. Read Martin Seligman, or read (recent info) about genetics. We have instincts and abilities that are innate, and that differ from person to person. Make the most of what you have, and stop feeling shame for not being what you or others think you should be. Commented Apr 6, 2009 at 19:10
  • Many people should have that printed, framed and nailed to their forehead :-)
    – anon
    Commented Jan 13, 2010 at 7:53
  • So your answer is that the OP shouldn't be a programmer? If not, then I'm not sure I understand the relevance here.
    – mmyers
    Commented May 21, 2010 at 17:31
  • +1 on the money. -1 doesn't answer the question, so +/-0 from me.
    – Zano
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 13:47

There's one aspect of ADHD that appears to be being neglected here: hyperfocus. It's a common misconception that ADHD means that you can't pay attention to things. In reality, people with ADHD have trouble regulating what they pay attention to. This can play in your favor though. People with ADHD can be totally oblivious to things that would totally destroy a "normal" developer's ability to pay attention to things.

I find that it's more difficult for me to get into the "zone" than other developers, but once I'm there, it's diffuclt to get me out. I've been known to start coding and then look down at my watch and realize that I just spent hours hammering out code without ever thinking about doing anything else.

In fact, I would say that a bigger issue for me is that I tend to go for long periods of time coding and neglect to take care of basic necessities. So make sure that you take a break every once in a while, don't skip meals, and drink plenty of water! (the last two are even more important if you're taking medication)

  • I do this too, and I've always wondered if this is really what "hyperfocus" means. How strongly of an indicator of ADHD is this? Commented Apr 6, 2009 at 19:15
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    The ADHD --aka ADD-- brain (specifically the prefrontal cortex portion) craves stimulation, be it through stimulant medication or through a very stimulating piece of code that you're programming -- heck even the endorphins generated by exercise can do the trick! If you find something interesting enough to concentrate on, you can hyperfocus on it for hours and hours. However, if you are forced to complete a task that is uninteresting, it can be very difficult to focus without the aid of additional stimulation.
    – Dubs
    Commented Aug 31, 2009 at 18:51
  • I know this supreme-zone state but, unfortunately, occurrences seem to be years apart for me.
    – f100
    Commented Oct 11, 2009 at 14:06
  • You nailed it as far as "real" ADD goes. Most of these comments are right, EVERYONE gets distracted. But how often do people get so wrapped up in what they're doing that they don't realize hours go by, they're starving, and the wife is pretty pissed. I bet people wish they COULD but it's not as easy as just switching in it on and off, if we could then we'd be supermen. It's highly irregular and requires a lot of stimulation and interest, everything else falls to the wayside not matter how bad you "want" it. That's "real" A.D.D. in a nutshell.
    – TheFuzzyGiggler
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 8:48

I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 10 or so. For the past 16 years I have been on a myriad of medications and therapies to deal with it.

I have had many problems with trying to work when there are even slight distractions. I used to rely on Adderall to stay focused, but would find myself getting too involved in projects at times. I have stopped taking any medication (a little over a year now) and it has been hard to deal with, but very rewarding.

I find it easier to keep myself focused when I have a good nights rest and have a scheduled routine. I wake up at the same time every day (weekends included) and use my breaks to the fullest. Playing footbag during breaks is a great way to distract yourself and get exercise at the same time. I do find myself straying from time to time, but everyone gets distracted sometimes.


I used and still use Ritalin, but really just a minimum daily dose. I am 33 now, my condition was only diagnosed in adulthood.

The problem is not so much the ADD, but the side effects, especially depression and anxiety, and that can have a very bad impact on productivity.

My suggestion is: Go see a doctor/shrink, and if he prescribes you Ritalin (or something similar), try it. Ritalin has a very short half-life and normally is out of your body within 12 hours. I do not believe it has any long term side effects, unless you abuse (overuse) it.

Alternatively, you can try some calming medicine (or other calming herbs).

  • Good for you. My son has ADHD and Tourette's, and has been on a cocktail of meds, including Ritalin and Concerta, for most of his life. That stuff really works, but an MD should monitor it. Commented Dec 30, 2008 at 23:20
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    I might add that I've taken flying lessons and found out that many pilots are ADD. The reason is that flying requires not focussing too long on any one thing, but monitoring several things at once. Commented Dec 30, 2008 at 23:25
  • +1 for the pilot comparison. Wow. Never thought of it like that. Perhaps that means a career change for some here? Am I in the wrong job! Commented Jul 8, 2010 at 11:45

I probably don't have as ADD as bad as you, but I've found that the 48/12 rules works quite well in general. So work for 48 minutes and then take 12 minutes off, then start again.

I also tend to have several projects ongoing so I work on the one my thoughts have turned to for the day. In general, I find that if I have enough things open in my dev environment, I end up being distracted from one project by another, rather than a browser.

Sometimes that may not work however, so I've found that identifying (and writing down if necessary) several different ways to get yourself started and away from the browser\tv etc is handy. I think they'll be quite specific to you. For example, perhaps taking up a GTD approach so you always have a list of things to do will help.

One last thought - you might want to repurpose your browser's parental control settings so that you can only browser, say, your mail and a couple of programming sites during workign hours and remove that temptation.

Best of luck, Dan

  • The GTD method is partially fine. But it has it's issues. One thing is the walkthrough of the inbox. It is very easy to jump on every sub 2 minute actionable item (because all of them seem to be quick to complete) and suddenly you find yourself yak-shaving. But the lists are very find.
    – daramarak
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 13:22
  • A problem with the browser settings, are that I depend on stack overflow at work, and I am also completely addicted to it :)
    – daramarak
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 13:23

Even if ADHD is a "personality trait" or a "personality flaw" and not something with an easily-identifiable chemical cause in the brain, the end result is the same and the need for solutions is the same.

And either way, it's not something anybody should use as a crutch or an excuse. We all have strengths and weaknesses and those of us with ADHD have a very peculiar and particular set of them.

That's why I find the ADHD naysayers totally misguided. Who cares if it's "real?" There are studies that suggest that there are indeed physical phenomena in the brain unique to ADHD, but like I said, that's besides the point to me.

I used to think ADHD was a scam to sell medicine to kids (mis)raised by crappy parents. Perhaps that's true to a certain extent, but I'm pretty sure nobody's getting rich from the $20 generic Adderall my doctor prescribed me. Anyway...

Non-Tech Solutions

My biggest single leap in dealing with mild ADHD (inattentive type) was reading the book "Getting Things Done." While not specifically written for those with ADD, the core message of the book is a set of concrete methods to reduce mental clutter and focus on the task at hand. Valuable to all, I think, and particularly so for ADHD sufferers!

My second biggest leap was reading books like "You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid, Or Crazy?" Some things in the book will apply to you and some won't. For me it was really just important to know I wasn't alone.

My third biggest leap was getting prescribed stimulant medication. There are a number of medications and they all have drawbacks but the stimulants seemed to have the mildest ones. This was an important step but pales in comparison to the other two. No medicine can compare to learning coping skills and working hard and believing in one's self.

Tech Solutions

Hiding the browser or disconnecting the Internet doesn't work for me because I need to consult it often. Blocking specific known timesucking sites (like S.O.! haha) was somewhat effective for me.

Another thing that works for me, and might sound slightly odd, is using virtual machines. My OSX laptop is my general-purpose computer. But the Win 2K3 VM running in it is "for work" and putting that in fullscreen mode helps me focus on work. In the VM I just have Visual Studio and other development tools. No "toys" or IM.

Working at night helps a lot because there are less distractions. Obviously, it's not always practical.

Investing time and money in keeping my machine optimized helps. If I have to wait more than a second for something to happen I can get distracted easily. When my computer is fast and snappy I can use it at the speed of thought. I seem more concerned with this than your average person so maybe this doesn't apply to you. If this does, install at least 4GB of RAM and an SSD if you can afford it.

Most of all, good luck! ADHD is beatable and has probably given you some genuine gifts, such as hyperfocus, as well. Find out what you're good at and work to your strengths. :-)


Try organizing your time into small and simple tasks


Within the methodologies of eXtreme Programming, there is a technique called Pomodoro Technique which is "a timeboxing strategy originally meant for optimizing personal work and study". The technique "is a time boxing strategy people can apply in any situation, e.g., homework, study, cleaning house, and indeed software development". I think this may help you focus your efforts.

Within Agile software development methodologies, the Pomodoro technique is usually held in high regard.

In essence, the technique was invented by someone who suffered from the alt-tab syndrome you describe, and it successfully helped them counter this.


One clarification

I have real ADD. I was diagnosed with it when I was a child and have wrestled with it all my life. I am not talking about artificial ADD, which is induced by media overload.

Currently I am seeing a psych and using Strattera. Also, I exercise a lot.

I used to do Martial Arts, which also helped, and would like to do it again.

  • 1
    I like Strattera. None of the ups and downs of stimulant-based medications.
    – Scottie T
    Commented Sep 30, 2008 at 10:48
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    I agree, I take it as well. ADHD has been a struggle but like everything else you have to make it work for you.
    – Sara Chipps
    Commented Oct 10, 2008 at 18:23
  • I wish Strattera worked for me. I've been on stimulants for a few years now, and its very difficult to separate myself from them. I do on weekends if I don't have work to be done, and have tried during the work week, but I only became very tired.
    – Chris Serra
    Commented Oct 16, 2008 at 14:20
  • I tried Strattera last year and hated it with every fiber of my being. It was the first ADHD meds I'd ever tried and will never touch it again. I'm glad it works for you. Commented Jul 13, 2009 at 18:35

I too have trouble concentrating and getting things done. What i do is i listen to very busy and active music. Like Drum and Bass or Rock, my brain is listening to all the small nuances of the song and it acts like a calming effect for me.

With the music on i feel relaxed and focused. But of course this could be the opposite for you :S

  • Statistically signficant correlation between two things that I know of: 1. Software development skills, 2. Musical skills.
    – le dorfier
    Commented Dec 12, 2008 at 20:08
  • That's a pretty interesting thing
    – Ólafur Waage
    Commented Dec 15, 2008 at 19:11
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    Listening to music helps me too to concentrate on one thing. I usually listen to music with complex rhythms, like progressive rock with weird time signatures or maybe some IDM. I know I have some musical skill too. It seems that whenever I hear music I can't ignore it. And if it's boring (e.g. radio) it annoys and distracts me. Commented Jun 10, 2009 at 21:06

I dont suffer from ADD myself but I am very easily distracted while working so I can sympathize with the OP.

However I have found a very novel solution to the distraction problem while researching another problem that I do suffer from (RSI, aggravated by badly set bone breakages in both arms)

The solution I found was http://www.workrave.com/welcome/ which is a program you can program to alert you to take mini breaks at user specified intervals. I found that setting it to give me a 30 second break every 15 minutes means that I can concentrate for the full 15 minutes and then when the alert pops up I can take a break and allow my distractions to take over.

There is a countdown for the minibreaks so as it approaches 0 I can force myself back into the mindset I need to concentrate for another 15 minutes.

and of course it has the added benefit of forcing me to take breaks to prevent my RSI from flaring up.


I am a programmer and have been for the last 8 years and I was recently diagnosed with ADHD! Also, I am a REAL programmer, in that I can program in Assembly Language, as well as these OOP's that call themselves programming languages. Even taught myself, Java and Perl last summer. You probably don't have a clue, what Assembly Language is, right? Well, I am able to program down to the bit! Granted it is an old ancient language, there is not one language that is more powerful out there (my opinion)!

Unfortunately sometimes, we feel that our opinions are correct when in fact they are very far from the truth! People with ADHD are able to focus and concentrate on levels that far exceed the "normal" brain; it is called hyperfocusing. Knowledge is power, so educate yourself before giving awful advice and opinions that have no merit.

  • And they can often concentrate on more than one thing at a time. In fact, what's deadly is boredom.
    – le dorfier
    Commented Dec 12, 2008 at 20:06
  • Hmm... you sound self-taught. That is very dangerous. I'm self-taught myself, and there is a huge risk of missing out important stuff. I'd advise actually getting a degree, or at the very least, doing what I did and finding out what you'd be learning for a degree, and learning it.
    – Artelius
    Commented Apr 29, 2009 at 21:59

You probably know your condition best, but here are some suggestions.

Take regular breaks. This applies to everyone, but even more so, I'd think, for someone with ADD.

Get enough sleep and eat well. If you don't, your attention span will be even worse, and you don't need that.

As for procrastination, read up on some blogs about procrastination, there are a bunch of good things written about it, find out what works for you.

Web addiction is a tricky one. I had a friend with ADD that used dual monitors, one for "fun" and one for work. That way he'd be able to tell when he spent too much time on the funitor ;) Your mileage may vary on this though.

Are you on some medication? Is there any or is your disorder too mild? Ask your doctor for advice, perhaps he can recommend some good meds :)

All in all, take care of yourself. Being well fed and alert is never a bad idea.



I knew someone who claimed that doing several things at once (or at least receiving several inputs such as music and TV) while working was actually helpful. He was qualified in physics but worked as a programmer.

  • I find it hard to work without talk radio on. Seriously.
    – brian d foy
    Commented Oct 16, 2008 at 14:15

My 2c

First off, being in the same boat, and being a successful developer of projects both in a professional and private environments I can tell you that there is nothing stopping you from ADD / ADHD need not be an obstacle for your development. In fact, it can often be a bit of bonus as ADD people tend to create different relational links in their heads (this can be a good thing for inspiration / innovation, but a bad thing when trying to maintain the same view points as others).

Something that might help is to look more at ideas like Agile programming (particularly XP) and also using TDD, as the short turnover time can give you the inspiration to keep focussed. You are always working at something and if you want you can choose different parts of the system to work on at different times. The continues refactoring and improvement of the code will give you a sense of accomplishement that you might otherwise not get when taking a traditional waterfall approach.


Today I decided to give up being a programmer :( I am technically very able and academically very intelligent (according to my previous work colleagues and bosses). However my focus issues and disorganisation is so severe that I rarely finish a project.

It really sucks. It has always felt like I have a brand new Ferrari... but I've lost the keys, so I have to drive an old banger. That is how frustrating it is having some great skills at something but being too disorganised to utilise those skills :(

Good luck to you though... I wish I had the focus and organisational skills required to be successful in life. It pretty much ruins my whole life. It's even hard keeping a social life in tact. I will quite often forget friends birthdays and such even though I'm really caring as a person... if you have memory issues though people think you don't care :(

I know someone with a photographic memory for dates who ALWAYS remembers everyone's birthdays or anniversaries or whatever... and of course he LOOKS more caring. Life is so f£$%ing sh!t if you have severe ADHD. It f£$%s up your whole life :( It's worse than being physically disabled!

  • Is this while diagnosed and under treatment? Sounds grim ...
    – le dorfier
    Commented Dec 12, 2008 at 20:05
  • Don't feel bad! i've been there often! This may sound corny or something, but it's true: what's on the inside that counts, not the outside. Plus, i know someone who has a severe physical disability, and i can tell you it's no different.
    – RCIX
    Commented May 21, 2010 at 7:23

One way to increase the difficulty of distraction is to map offending sites (like this one ;) to in your HOSTS file, effectively blacklisting them.

I've done this at times, it helps raise the mental barrier between me & distraction.


While I'm not qualified to offer any medical advice, as a perpetual graduate student I can say that a lot of time it's about playing a game of control with yourself.

If your problem is that you go online every minute just to look at some random site because you have a real urge to, it is sometimes effective ot make the cost of "instant gratification" higher: For example, I try to completely turn off my network when I can (not all workplaces allow this). I only go on between tasks and for a few minutes. Usually connecting to a network takes 30-40 seconds, so it often battles the urge.

Another way is to promise yourself a "gift" after you're done with a task: a break, a cigarette, a snack, a game of Halo, whatever... And you know that you're not getting to that unless you finish that unit of work, that helps reduce time spent online once you do go online.


I also have ADHD served with depression (cold) .. I was diagnosed early age, Ritalin kinda stuff also existed back then but my real problem was the notoriious Tourette's syndrome. So the doc (several docs) did not want to prescribe me with ritalin. So I graduated "as is" from the high school. Then later, somehow I lost that great respect to doctors, thank God and started taking Ritalin. But that happened after I was introduced to marijuana :) Sad story goes on like that ... People always used to tell me I was smart but I was kinda scared to take the IQ test. .. maybe I was afraid of seeing the potential i have and looking back to my life, what I have done with it and suicide. The parmanent solution to a temporary problem some may say but pain hurts. The score was about 140 and I said to myself I will start programming, the advanced LEGO as I see, the only thing I really loved as a child. Object Oriented satisfies this enthusiasm I have and I learn new stuff when I can + feel like to ... I use Ritalin, when ritalin (aka the Kid coke) kicks the depression in I give a call to mary jane .. Thats how I am living ... My point is I think we need our own developer froum as we do need "our own approach" for everything in life .. That includes women :) peace!

PS: A programmer might need high concentration levels, as you need high speed for inter planetary travel but the speed is never enough huh :) Maybe our weird ways of connection making may help bending the space for you guys ...


Proper nutrition, sleep, and hydration are extremely important for proper mental functioning. Cut back on coffee and sugar and drink water regularly. I've heard numerous times that Omega-3 fatty acids (found in Cod Liver Oil) and magnesium supplements are known to greatly reduce ADD symptoms.


Are you SURE you're doctor is a good one ? I mean .. from what you say I have ADD too :| .

But I still get my job done even if after an hour I have to stop and look at stackoverflow or dotnetkicks ... or walk around in the room , or talk to one of my team mates .

So .. don't worry ,you can be a programmer just fine.

  • If you can still get your job done, then you don't have ADHD. Commented Oct 1, 2008 at 19:05
  • That's not true, @Jeff. He said that his ADHD was mild. Also, with more severe forms it's still possible to work, given enough treatment and self-discipline. Commented Oct 1, 2008 at 19:07
  • I didn't mean to imply that people with ADHD couldn't work. I see now that my meaning wasn't at all clear. Sorry. I meant that there's a gulf between having some symptoms and having a diagnosable form of the condition, and I think sometimes people don't understand that. Commented Oct 1, 2008 at 19:16
  • There are several good books and web sites with checklists for ADHD symptoms. It's easy to find one and do a quick self-check.
    – le dorfier
    Commented Dec 12, 2008 at 19:57

Three interesting facts:

There is a statistically demonstrated high correlation between productive (especially outside-the-box) software development skills, and diagnosis for ADHD.

To OP: I think the best thing on your list is having someone you trust, to whom you are accountable.

ummm ... I can't remember the third ...

  • + 1 for making me LOL with "ummm ... I can't remember the third ..."
    – Dubs
    Commented Aug 31, 2009 at 19:01

I shut mail down periodically during the day.

I have my shooting hearing protectors with me at work. When I am wearing them, I can't hear the 4-8 conversations going on around me.

I have a a sign on a strip of duct tape that I can use to block the entrance to my cube.

The sign is a parody of our not-at-work sign that says "I'M OUT OF MY MIND, PLEASE COME BACK LATER"


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