Difficulty focusing and inattention

Focus and Inattention

Difficulty focusing and inattention are normal, periodic occurrences for most individuals. They can occur for a number of reasons from something as simple as getting momentarily disrupted from a task, to being preoccupied with the thought of other tasks you may need to complete. For some, this lack of sustained focus and attention can become more frequent and disruptive to daily tasks. This article explores the trouble with focus, and how different factors can affect inattention and what can be done to improve attention and focus.

What exactly is inattention and focus?

In order to understand the trouble of focus and inattention, we must first understand what they are. Put simply, Inattention is a state in which there is a lack of focus on a task that requires it – or when attention drifts back and forth from the task at hand.


What does inattention look like?

Difficulty focusing and general inattention comes in many forms and presentation can vary greatly from person to person. This can include:

  • Making careless mistakes during tasks
  • Appearing not to be listening when engaging with others
  • Difficulty following instruction
  • Forgetfulness/losing important items
  • Difficulty organising and following through with complex plans
  • Total avoidance of tasks requiring prolonged concentration or time
  • Being easily distracted or side-tracked from tasks


Factors that impact attention

Inattention can stem from a range of factors:

  • Lack of interest in task
  • Distractibility or preoccupation with other thoughts
  • Emotional distress
  • Anxiety or fear
  • General mood fluctuations
  • Intoxication
  • Medications
  • Exhaustion


Inattention as a characteristic of psychological conditions

Inattention and difficulty maintaining focus is also a hallmark characteristic of many psychological and cognitive conditions:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – particularly inattentive ADHD
  • Learning disabilities
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Oppositional defiance disorder (ODD)
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Brain injury


What you can do to improve your focus

There are many strategies that you can engage in to help sustain your attention and focus, such as:

  1. Getting organised! – you may find it useful to utilise planners or diaries to organise and prioritise important commitments, which will also help prevent forgetting things.
  2. Breaking down complex tasks into smaller ones – taking bigger tasks and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable tasks is a great way of removing the dread, and subsequent avoidance you may feel toward certain tasks. For example, the hardest part of starting a big assignment can be writing the title and making a plan. Once you start, it’s often easier to get into the flow of it!
  3. Following a routine – you’ve heard of ‘practice makes perfect’, well the same applies to our daily routines! Having structure in your day to day makes it easier to complete tasks effectively when actively practicing time management.
  4. Minimising distractions – decluttering and simplifying your work area will help you maintain your focus on the task at hand without becoming easily side-tracked by your environment. Choosing a quiet space, using noise cancelling headphones, silencing your phone are also beneficial for focusing attention.
  5. Completing existing projects before beginning new ones – while beginning a new project can be fun and exciting, accumulating half-finished ones is overwhelming and can further impact your focus. Seeing through a task and being able to cross it off your to-do list not only makes you feel accomplished, but it reinforces your perceived competence.


Engaging in professional strategies, such as behavioural therapy, may also be beneficial in tackling maladaptive behaviours related to inattention. If you would like to speak to someone about how to improve focus and inattention, you can contact us here.