Making Music Work for Your ADHD

Oct. 30th, 2017

I am a huge advocate for the use of music and other audio in ADHD management. Depending on your processing style and individual quirks, many of us with ADHD find music, audio books, podcasts, and so forth very helpful for keeping focused. The reason for this is it gives our wandering attention something to focus on so it doesn’t pull us away from our task out of boredom. It’s like a fidget toy for the ears.

This is one of the biggest reasons I am incredibly thankful I wasn’t born 150+ years ago. I cannot imagine doing all that physical labor without anything playing in the background.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that unless the audio source is correct, it might very well interfere with productivity. Many is the time I’ve thought to myself “Man, I should put some music on, I’m so bored.” only to discover I did have music on. This meant the music wasn’t stimulating enough.

I also think I’ve finally found out what a “scene” in a TV show is. It’s the point where I stop staring at the screen and turn back to what I was supposed to be doing while I was watching TV. This is an indicator that the audio (and in this case visual, and yes that is part of the problem for me) is too stimulating and therefore distracting.

I now have rules for myself. They probably won’t specifically work for anyone else, but maybe will get some thought processes going as to what it is that actually does work.

First is “words once”, so if I’m typing up an email or writing a blog then I have to have either instrumental music or the words are in a language I don’t understand. But if I’m cleaning or cooking, having an audio book or episode of TV on is fine, provided I don’t feel the need to pause and look at the screen because then it becomes a distraction.

My other rule is the energy of the music can’t be above my current energy level. So if I’m feeling exhausted and my audio sensory sensitivity is flaring up, I can’t be playing say this artist or this music. However, there are also days when being tired means this is exactly what I need. Sorry, did I say they’re rules? More like guidelines.

I created a series of playlists specifically for when I need background music of low, medium, and high levels of stimulation to get my brain working. This way, if I get distracted or bored, I can move to the appropriate music.

And no blog about audio and ADHD would be complete without a plug for my favorite audio website and app (iOS and Android!) Want to study in the Ravenclaw Common Room? Or work in the Last Homely House of Elves East of the Sea? Or code at Vaes Dothrak? Also my go-to music for concentration Study Music Project, composed by Dennis Kuo.

What allows your brain to focus where you intend it to?