ADHD and Coding

Tom MacLean
Nov 17 · 4 min read

As long as I can remember I’ve had trouble focusing while learning in a school environment. Whenever the dreaded “progress reports” would be sent home (the ones in between report cards) I would always receive a note saying that I was “talkative” or “distracted during class.” I didn’t receive bad grades in school, but it took discipline to make sure I did all of my work and didn’t talk to others.

Growing up in the 90s, it was a surprise I didn’t end up with a prescription for Ritalin. I told my parents that I didn’t want to go on medication and they also thought that was the best decision. Though that made the rest of my life in school a little more difficult and took some strategizing to stay on task.

Cut to present day and I’m a full stack developer on my way towards my first job. I have never gone on medication for ADHD and I feel like it has always had a hold on how productive I can be.

I attended Flatiron School over this past summer and found myself battling my ADHD on a daily basis. The biggest challenge being the open floor plan at the WeWork building where I went to school. This presented a number of different distractions that doubled as great excuses to take breaks from my code.

Flatiron fosters a safe and enjoyable space to learn, which sometimes resulted in students talking pretty loudly with one another. The best defense for these situations was a combination of noise-canceling headphones and a 10-hour loop of white noise. On occasion I would also listen to a Spotify curated playlist called Binaural Beats: Focus.

The next set of distractions comes to us in the form of anything visual. This can be anybody walking by your desk, someone across your table, or even cars on the highway in front of where your computer screen sits. Of course you can’t simply put on an eye mask to block out all distractions (unless you can code with your eyes closed). In these situations, the only true solution is to move yourself to where the distractions aren’t in your sight.

Overall, I try to maintain a few habits to give myself the best chance for success. The first practice is meditation. With the rise of meditation in the last half decade I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the great benefits. This study, conducted at UCLA in 2007, concluded:

“Mindfulness training is a feasible intervention in a subset of ADHD adults and adolescents and may improve behavioral and neurocognitive impairments.”

With increased focus, decreased feelings of depression, and decreased stress among the benefits of meditation, what’s to lose? I try to meditate in the mornings (Headspace: Productivity Pack) before starting to code and I find it immensely helpful in staying on track with my daily goals.

Along with meditating, another habit I’ve added on to my routine is using a Pomodoro timer. Using Focus Keeper, (mainly because of its obnoxious red screen color), I’m able to put 25 minutes on the clock and stay on track instead of deviating and ending up scrolling through social media. Getting a 5-minute break each interval helps me get out anything I would have liked to have done during the previous 25 minutes but kept myself from doing.

To get up and leave you desk may seem like a backwards approach to getting more done, but sometimes a reset is all we need. Elevating our heartbeats can help alleviate ADHD symptoms, so going for a quick walk around the office or block can do wonders for our focus.

While I was at Flatiron, my cohort (shoutout Glorious Pegasus) decided to start doing at 4:30 every day what was known as “Plank Club.” This included a 20 squats, a 30-second plank, and 10 pushups with increased reps as the weeks went on. I looked forward to this every day because it gave me a chance to take a short break and come back with a fresh perspective.

That being said, an exercise regimen should be in everyone’s routine especially those with ADHD. While attending Flatiron, I chose to cycle to class each day with a 20-minute commute. Though on 100 degree days in the middle of July I sometimes had my regrets, I always felt so much more awake and ready to learn than when I had to take the train because it was raining.

ADHD can be your worst enemy when it comes to learning. There are certain ways to alleviate the symptoms and maintain your focus throughout the day. Recognizing repeated distraction and inability to focus often is the first step, then finding ways that work for you to curb that distraction is next. Ridding your surroundings of audio and visual distractions works. Adding in daily meditation and exercise helps everyone, but those with ADHD need to make it a staple in their routine to achieve their potential. It doesn’t always have to be a hinderance, but daily maintenance and observation is the manageable way to live.