How To Study With ADHD

Effective study tips and strategies for fellow ADHDers

Welcome to my nerd-dom

I am a self-professed nerd (and proud of it). I love to read, I love to learn, and if school had been free, I would have remained a student for many more years. As it is, I have two degrees, and spend much of my days reading and researching for articles and creating resources for my clients.

I also have ADHD.

ADHD which was not identified until after I had completed my post-secondary education.

Suffice it to say, I have developed some very effective strategies for getting shit done.

I won’t claim to have all the answers, I certainly have my areas of strengths and weaknesses, and days when I’m a lot more productive than others. It also takes me a lot longer to complete most projects because I am forever jumping from one task to another.

What works for one person may not work for others, but my hope is to provide an eclectic collection of various strategies so you can find one that works for you.

Find your time zone

No, I don’t mean Eastern or Central, I mean the time you are most likely to be “in the zone”. I am most productive in the mornings and early afternoons, and I do like to get up early — however, I also know I need my medication, coffee, and time to gradually wake up first.

By the time I’ve worked a full day, had dinner, attended whatever evening sports myself or my son are playing, and gotten my son to bed, I am in no shape for heavy academic reading. My evenings are reserved for reading entertaining fiction.

Some people are more productive in the late afternoons or evenings. Whatever works best for you, identify your zone, then plan your studying and working on assignments for that timeframe whenever you can.

Fresh air and exercise

The old tried-and-true cliché prevails for a reason. Moving our bodies helps us focus, especially for those of us with ADHD. Research suggests that just half an hour each day of moderate exercise has significant benefits for our cognitive performance.

Exercise can be anything you find enjoyable that increases your heart rate. You don’t have to go from couch to 5K overnight. Take your dog for a walk, find a lovely hiking trail, or plan a walk or bike ride with a friend. Jump rope or jump on a trampoline.

If you’re competitive, like I am, you may enjoy team sports more than solo fitness. Join a rec league or arrange a local game of pick-up. The important thing is it needs to be fun and something you will want to do on a regular basis.

Active reading

I’m not talking about reading on the treadmill, although go for it if that works for you. I’m referring to actively engaging with the text as you read it. For me, I use colour-coded highlighters to help me zoom in on important points and make it easier to find those passages again later.

I also like to take a lot of notes when I’m studying or doing research. Sometimes I hardly refer to those notes at all and sometimes they are extremely useful, but the act of physically writing down key information helps me process and retain it.

If our brains are distracted, we’ll start skim-reading, and end up reading a whole paragraph without really absorbing anything we just read. Highlighting and taking notes can force us to slow down and really pay attention to what it is we’re reading.

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Routine and environment

Do you have a routine you do before you sit down to study or work on an assignment? Is it helpful? If not, time for a new one.

Having a familiar set of steps you engage in right before you start studying can help get your brain and body into study mode, and signal your brain to prepare for incoming information.

Similarly, if your workspace is very cluttered and disorganized, this is not conducive to productivity. I say this without judgement because my home office is quite often messy, my desk is usually covered with a variety of papers and books.

The time when I’m best at thoroughly cleaning my workspace is when I’m supposed to be working on something I’m avoiding. Be aware of procrastinating by way of doing other tasks, or getting hyperfocused on cleaning, and forgetting all about your assignment.

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Not-so-executive functions

Two significant aspects of ADHD and executive dysfunction are difficulty with task-switching, and time blindness. We can get stuck on the thing we’re doing in the moment and completely lose track of time. That’s when we end up with a really clean workspace, but no actual school work completed.

I prevent this from happening by setting reminders and alarms at certain times — I’ve even put my phone in a different room so it forces me to get up and go over to where I strategically placed it, ensuring I would tear myself away from whatever I was working on, and end up standing near the next task needing to be done.

I personally love checklists, but like, good ones. They need to be very specific, detailed, and also nice to look at so they’ll catch my attention. Sometimes the hardest part of completing a project is just getting started. Checklists help to break things down into more manageable parts, and also remind me where I need to begin.

Stimulation versus distraction

We ADHDers have to find our ideal balance between adequate stimulation and distraction, and that balance will be different for each person.

Some common ways to get just enough stimulation to help motivate you, but not so much as to be distracting:

  • Music
  • Fidget tools
  • Flexible seating (work on the couch, use a yoga ball, a stand desk, etc.)
  • Frequent, short breaks
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Some people like having another person working in the room with them — not helping them, just doing their own thing, but being present — often called body doubling. Others prefer to have a quiet workspace to themselves.

Take note of works best for you, then do as much as you can to set yourself up for success.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB

Related Articles

Simple Yet Effective Ways To Get Sh!t Done

Body Doubling With ADHD

Strategies for Managing Executive Functioning Challenges for Adults

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More on executive functions

Time Blindness Explained

ADHD Paralysis Explained

How Executive Dysfunction Impacts Daily Life


Piepmeier, A.T., Shih, C.H., Whedon, M., Williams, L.M., Davis, M.E., Henning, D.A., SeYun Park, Calkins, S.D., Etnier, J.L. (2015). The effect of acute exercise on cognitive performance in children with and without ADHD. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 4(1), 97–104.

Taylor, A., Novo, D., Foreman, D. (2019). An Exercise Program Designed for Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder for Use in School Physical Education: Feasibility and Utility. Healthcare, 7(3), 102.

Published by Neurodiversity MB

Jillian has Child and Youth Work diploma as well as a BA in Psychology. Jillian worked on the front lines of Social Services agencies from 2003 - 2012. Jillian has taken numerous continuing education courses and has attended various workshops focused on supporting neurodiverse children, in particular children with ADHD.

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