Jordan McMahon


Wiring Your Tech to Fight ADHD: Drowning Out the Noise

I don’t often feel the need to apologize for my ADHD. It’s something I was born with, and it’s as much a part of me as my brown hair or my relentless hatred of crunchy peanut butter.

But it’s hard not to feel guilty for a condition that makes a battle out of staying engaged in conversation or work for any meaningful amount of time. There’s no way to say “I swear I’m interested but this other thing caught my attention and I drifted off” without sounding like a selfish asshole.

ADHD doesn’t care, though. It treats your brain like a television with 1,000 channels and nothing interesting to watch, so it clicks from station to station, lingering just long enough to get an idea of what’s happening on any given show before moving on to the next one.

My brain is relentless in its channel changing, taking me out of time with loved ones or disrupting my workflow because it has an itch that there’s something more interesting out there that I need to know about immediately. My memory is bad enough as it is; an inability to stay engaged with any activity makes retaining information even more of a struggle.

This is something I’ve struggled with my whole life, but it’s gotten significantly harder since I got a smartphone. Having a constant connection to every social media feed, the latest news, and a slew of brilliant games serves as a constant temptation to look at something that promises to be more enticing than whatever my mind refuses to latch onto.

I’ve toyed with a lot of solutions to this problem, but nothing has worked better for keeping the noise of the outside world to a minimum than my Apple Watch.

Let the right ones in

Each device in my life has been assigned a specific role, which makes getting to work easier and focusing less strenuous. My laptop is where I do all of my audio editing, writing, research, and illustration work. It’s my primary creation tool. My phone is my main method of communication, most-used camera, time manager, and news reader. While my phone is crucial for my workflow, its ability to serve multiple purposes makes it a hub for time sinks and easy channels for my brain to flip to.


The Apple Watch solves this by serving as a middle man between me and my phone. It excels because of its limitations. It’s not meant for checking Twitter or Instagram, playing games, or reading the news, although you can do those things if you’re so inclined. What the watch does exceptionally well is trim my workflow to the bare necessities so I can avoid my phone and its distractions as much as possible.

For my watch I took my approach to notifications and raised the intensity for a more barebones experience. Only the most important notifications, like messages and calls, to-do and calendar reminders, and weather alerts in case I need a change of clothes or an umbrella, make their way to my wrist. I chose these because they’re all immediately actionable, and it’s easy for me decide if it’s something that can wait or if it needs my attention right away.

Your world at a glance

While the watch’s notifications system has helped me in my quest for a distraction-free life, a small set of apps has changed the way I work. When I’m with a client, friend, or trying to watch TV, I can leave my phone in another room or in my pocket and still get important calls or messages without the added temptations. Since I don’t have to pull out my phone to see what someone’s said to me, it’s easier to decide what I need to respond to and what I don’t.


But the real power of the Apple Watch lies in a set of well-designed apps. Thanks to the way Drafts is implemented on watchOS I can tap the complication, a widget that exists on the watch face, and immediately record a thought before my brain clicks that remote and sends the idea on its way. Todoist’s app makes it easy to see my daily tasks without disrupting what I’m doing. Authy’s app has made two-factor authentication seamless; a few taps on my wrist and I’m logged in with the assurance that my account is safe. I can also quickly trigger a Due timer to stay focused on my work and let my watch tell me when it’s time to move on.

These are all things I need to stay current on, so being able to check in without stopping what I’m doing for more than a few seconds is the difference between showing interest in what you’re doing and coming off as distracted and bored.

If you have ADHD, you’ll never have full control over your brain’s remote. You’ll have the channel changed on you at inopportune times and it’ll get frustrating. But that challenge doesn’t have to overpower you at every turn. When you equip yourself with the right weapons to fight back, whether that’s an Apple Watch or something else entirely, you can keep hold of that remote just a little while longer.

Jordan McMahon