OC What are your tips to deal with executive dysfunction when medication doesn't tackle it?

Hello, fellow ADHDers. I'm in the verge of despair and irreversible frustration.

Here is my situation. I'm trying to prepare to pass a competitive service exam in Spain, Europe. I'm from Spain, by the way. So, because it's a competitive service exam, there is always a ratio of 30 or 40 people per job offer. So, if there are 1.000 job offers and 40.000 people to pass that exam, I need to be among those 1000 best marks.

Anyway, because of that, I need to study like 10 hours per day, 6 days per week. I put one day to rest because I don't like to be burnt out. But what happens? It happens that I'm only able to study 2 hours per day, or barely 3 during my best days. And the rest of the day, I procrastinate or do useless stuff, even when I want to study with all my strength.

I tried caffeine two weeks ago, and until today, it worked for 2 or 3 days, allowing me to study during those hours. But other days, maybe I was able to study for 4 hours, or even 5.

So, if you struggled like me and you were able to succeed, how did you do that? How can I force myself to study for 10 hours per day like normal people do with no issues?

PS: I'm not allowed to take any ADHD stimulants. No Concerta, no Elvanse... I only take atomoxetine, since March 2023.

snooggums avatar

Studying for excessive amounts of time at a stretch have diminishing returns for nuerotypical people too, so trying to cram 10 hours a day in tends to be counterproductive for anyone.

Before I was diagnosed in my 30s, my successful uneducated approach was bursts of studying with short and frequent breaks where I would note down the distracting things for later so I could get them out of my mind and refocus. Don't remember where I heard the suggestion from, but it worked fairly well. So I would focus for an hour or so until I noticed I was off track, write down the non-related stuff, then pick back up where I was.

It didn't work for things I had no interest in, but it did work well for times when I was getting distracted. Keep in mind that I did not have any idea that I was ADHD at the time, this was a study tip from someone I knew.

Now that I am on medication I still do the same thing and it is even more effective, although with meds it even works when doing things I have no interest in. Regular short breaks to clear the mind help both when the meds are working and when they have worn off. Can't be too long or I move on to something else.

Overall I guess my recommendation is that you don't overdo the time per day because it will become counterproductive at some point, but do take regular short breaks to see if you are able to refocus and continue.

Ignacio avatar

As I commented to the other user, I study using the pomodoro technique. It worked well when I was taking Concerta (don't ask me why I was prescribed that, but I was, by a private psychiatrist before going to Social Security/Public Health System).

@sramder@lemmy.world avatar

I don’t think studying for 10 hours straight per day is a realistic goal. Especially not for someone with a focus disorder and no stimulants – not that the stimulants will magically fix it, but not having them won’t help.

I think you need a study plan that has more variety and built in breaks. There are real limits to what the human brain can absorb, process and, retain in a given amount of time.

Give yourself built in breaks, add some variation by testing yourself and breaking up the material. Study for a bit, do something low stakes or relaxing if you can and then do more study. Try to cycle between learning/cramming and other activities throughout the day. Your brain (and everyone else) has limits, work with them for best results, not against them.

Good luck :-)

Ignacio avatar

I use the pomodoro technique. My plan per day is to study in 20 pomodoro sessions of 25 minutes each, with their proper breaks between them.

I've been trying to pass such exams since 2018, but I got diagnosed last year, so until then I didn't know why I couldn't do anything. Then I didn't have any tools. Now that I have the tools, those are fault.

As reference, my brother, who doesn't have ADHD, is able to study for 12 hours in his peaks.

@sramder@lemmy.world avatar

I suppose first I want to understand why you can’t take your medicine? Is this a condition of the exam? Because that doesn’t seem fair…

I’m glad you have a plan to break it up but I’ll be more blunt; you may not be able to study for 12 hours straight, I certainly can’t. And I’m fairly sure there isn’t much benefit to doing so, but it’s been a few years since I researched it… not the type of thing one generally finds consensus on anyway. But there’s a limit to what anyone’s brain can encode into new long term memory in a given amount of time.

You have to learn to work with what you’ve got, to keep adapting your methods until you find something that works. It takes time and it’s probably going to be different than what works for someone else.

It’s important to understand that the drugs don’t fix your executive function they just sort of overclock your brain, at least that’s the way I think of it.

It’s hard to give specific advice without being familiar with the exam material, but I would try to find different ways to study. Some kind of practice work that you can do in addition to the route memorization. Anything to vary the type of work and keep your mind from wandering. But more importantly if you can’t get back to studying do something else… but give your brain the rest and time it needs to absorb the material, then strengthen the memory by exercising your recall.

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