You work ten-hour days and stop to check on your widowed mom on your way home. You're chairing the church fundraiser again this year because you did such a great job last year and everybody begged you to do it again. You've got to get the invitations out for your daughter's birthday party, the dog needs to go to the groomer, you need a haircut, and your in-laws are arriving next weekend for their annual visit. Even if you're not super-worried about any of these things, having too much on your to-do list could mean you're setting yourself up for distractions and forgetfulness.
"It happens to men and women," says Dr. Orford. "They have so much going on they can't keep up. Their minds get overloaded."
"I try to take regular little breaks," says Nolen-Hoeksema. "I'll program my Blackberry to buzz me to stop for five minutes and breathe and regroup. It really helps me take a step back, which can be hard to do, and often I'll realize, 'I could delegate that,' or 'This isn't that important' or 'I can put this off.'"
Carrying a written reminder to "Stay focused" or "Get back to Number 1," whatever that means to you, can help, too. Saying "no" may not come naturally but you can build your skills.
"It takes practice and realizing that the world doesn't cave in," says Nolen-Hoeksema.
Working with a buddy helps. Hers is her husband.
"We have a deal that when I say 'no,' he gives me a treat. If it's a small thing, it might be a candy bar. If it's a big thing, he takes me to dinner. Or I just email him and say, 'I said "No,"' and he emails back, 'Congratulations!'"
It's Just the Way You're Wired
If a new job or relationship is making your problems with focus, organization, time-management and follow- through newly apparent to others, but the truth is they're not at all new to you — you've been struggling with them all your life — you could have undiagnosed Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
You don't have to be hyper to be a candidate, says J. Russell Ramsay, PhD, co-director and co-founder of the Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Symptoms can take many forms, including impatience, distractibility, forgetfulness, impulsiveness, and having trouble finishing tasks.
Rate yourself on the World Health Organization's Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale . If you score high, "it's worth following up with a specialist," says Ramsay.
Visit add.org or chadd.org to find one in your area, or ask a specialist in childhood ADHD for a referral. Meds work, and finding the right one is your first priority. But old habits and defenses die hard. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you replace them with healthier coping skills.
Focused attention meditation — focusing on a sound, image or your breath and bringing attention back to that focus when it strays — helps, too. A 2009 study found that new meditators who practiced daily for three months were more able to stay focused and dismiss distractions with less effort and without making their brains work so hard.
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