Tasking switching is one of those rare terms, in this neurodivergent world of ours, that is self-explanatory! It relates to our ability to switch between tasks as we move through our day.Before reading any further, it would useful to read the entry on executive function, as this is the term that is used to describe the area of the brain responsible for organising the individual mental processes so that they work effectively – thinking, memory, decision making, planning, emotional regulation, and so on. Hence, us ADHDers are often referred to as having executive dysfunction, due to the numerous struggles that we face in many, or all of these areas.

The act of moving between tasks isn’t as simple as it sounds. It involves lots of actions, decisions, timing, self-control, to name a few. Organising and implementing these is the function of our busy little executive.

Let’s assume you’ve already read some or all of the entries on monotropism, hyperfixations, hyperfocus, flow states and special interests, (this is not a homework situation, so please don’t let it stop you reading on, if you haven’t).

Now imagine that you’re deep into your flow, absolutely absorbed in whatever it is that gives you joy and calm. Let’s say you’re writing to a friend, because they’ve asked for your advice on something, knowing that this is your area of expertise. Well, you can’t let that opportunity to talk about one of your areas of intense interest pass you by, can you? It’s not often that we have a willing audience to infodump on! So, you’re in the throes of writing a record-breaking WhatsApp message, and you’re loving it, as is your friend – you’re well and truly in an attention tunnel

Out of the blue, your partner walks in to remind you that you absolutely must be ready to leave the house in five minutes. You, however, are still in your slippers and still in your state of hyperfocus. So, this demand does not go down well. You have been jolted out of your flow and dragged back to reality where less fun, time pressuring stuff happens, stuff as dull, but vital, as the hospital appointment that you now have to leave the house for. You’re suddenly stressed, disoriented – snapping at, if not shooting, the messenger. Your shoes can’t be found, you’ve forgotten to dig out your hospital appointment letter, your anxiety is going through the roof, where’s your bag? Where’s your phone? You eventually leave the house, one shoe on, the other in your hand, ten minutes late, and now your executive’s main function is to conjure a suitably believable excuse for why you’re late for your appointment. Chaos reigns. In the space of ten minutes you’ve gone from being at your most content and focussed, to being an absolute wreck; hammering heart, sweaty palms, still facing the nightmare of finding a parking space at the hospital – your whole afternoon feels ruined. You’re probably in a bit of a grump (or worse) with your partner, you may be in full meltdown at the prospect of the ‘impossibility’ of achieving the task ahead.

The cause? Having to switch tasks without a period of transition. That sounds daft to anyone who doesn’t experience the difficulties of switching tasks quickly or of being dragged out of hyperfocus. Our neurologies are such that, when we finally find our all important monotropic focus, which can elude us for hours, days, weeks… when we’re finally in that very special zone, where we can actually start being productive, we start feeling good about ourselves, better still if it’s one of our special interests. This productivity and creativity produces dopamine, which improves our mood and our concentration still further. We’re in a beautiful cycle, one we can maintain for hours and hours at a time. To be dragged without warning from such productivity is such a shock to the system – it’s hardly a surprise that we don’t respond well to it, if we are able to respond at all.

Given a decent period of transition and the whole scenario above could have been changed. Only you will know how best to create your transitions. Do you need to set a gentle alarm next to you, when there’s half an hour left before you need to switch? Maybe another alarm across the other side of the room for when you actually need to stop? You might find that having a cuppa and a biscuit as your between tasks activity helps completely separate you from the intensity of the previous task, freeing your mind up to start preparing for the next one. You might find having a quick walk around the garden resets you, or even just a few chair spins or jumps for joy – all of these are great for dopamine production! Whatever works for you.

I’ll leave it there, though, once again, I’ve hardly scratched the surface of this topic.

Whilst I don’t endorse whatever online course it is they’re selling (it may be good, it may not), I do think this website’s page → Why is task switching so hard?  is a really informative summary. It also has a whole bunch of useful task switching tips.