Must. Focus. How to Concentrate

If you get distracted a lot, you're in good company. Here are five reasons you can't seem to stay on task and what to do about it.
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I find that it gets worse around the holidays. I begin a task -- say, wrapping stocking stuffers for my niece and nephews. As I'm searching for gift wrap in the hall closet, I spy a pair of winter boots that need resoling. I grab the boots and place them by the front door so I'll remember to take them to the shoe repair shop in the morning.

On my way back to the closet, I notice a dirty coffee mug on a side table. Thinking I'm being efficient, I do a drive-by and pick it up on my way to the kitchen. Okay, where was I? Oh, wait, there's my empty Brita pitcher on the counter. I'd better fill it up and put it in the refrigerator. In shutting the fridge door I notice a holiday coupon I'd posted so I'd use it before the expiration date...which has now passed. I take the coupon to my paper recycling bin, which is overflowing.... You see where this is going. Or not going, rather. My attention is like a wide-eyed baby's, transfixed by every shiny object dangled in front of it. My focus can take a detour during conversations, too. While listening to a friend tell a story I'll space out and start to think about what to pack for my weekend getaway, then I'll re-enter the conversation 15 seconds later, sneaking in a quick uh-huh to cover up my absence.

I'm only 43 but I've experienced enough of these senior moments that I've googled the symptoms of age-related memory loss to reassure myself that I'm not on the fast track to dementia. (I'm not.) I even asked my doctor if he thought I needed to be evaluated for attention deficit disorder. (He didn't.) When it comes to the big stuff -- doing my job, paying my credit card bills, making flights on time -- I'm high functioning. And I've never had trouble academically, one of the hallmarks of ADHD. So why am I acting as though I have it? I went to experts for answers, and they came up with a few possible explanations for what's been going on.

Continued on page 2:  Stress


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