Although it was a few years ago, I remember being diagnosed with ADHD. It took a long time for anyone to notice and, frustratingly, my psychiatrist and I never really explored what that meant or how it would impact the rest of my life. Thankfully, medication helped me manage the condition and live more productively.
Last year, I began to understand ADHD more deeply by reading the book Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder. That book was a shock, but in a good way; it helped me uncover many roots of my condition in my childhood.
I gradually realized that my poor grades were caused by something much more sinister than simply not being “hard-working enough” It was like the proverbial onion-peeling that made me realize how insidious this problem is, and how much harder it will be for me to improve my life or fit into society.
One of the best things I’ve done is to become my own boss. I’m much more productive when I have some control over my work, and office settings often don’t suit me as well because of my tendency to speak up when others are doing something wrong and to not hold back on criticism. The other entrepreneurs that I’ve spoken with seem to agree, so it seems like those of us who struggle might be better off working independently.
While having ADHD can be a challenge, it doesn’t mean that we can’t earn a living. We just need to stay consistent and work hard.
So here’s what I’ve learned to do to support myself as an entrepreneur who feels sometimes like the cards are stacked against her. This post is specifically about being self-employed with ADHD and the tips I’ve learned to navigate it, but for bloggers with ADHD, I’ve written another post here.
Since you have ADHD, it’s likely that you haven’t read any of this material. That’s okay! I’ll just summarize what I’ve found to be helpful in running a successful business with ADHD.
5 Tips For Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur with ADHD:
1. Accept what you’re up against
For so long, I didn’t understand that ADHD meant my brain was wired in an atypical way. I’d end up banging my head against a wall (figuratively), trying to fit the mold of an entrepreneur I just couldn’t be. I had to accept that I couldn’t do everything perfectly and that there would be times when things would just not go as planned because I was dealing with navigating societal expectations I couldn’t achieve. Once I started exploring how ADHD affects my life, motivations, and interpersonal relationships, I could better mold my work to fit into that instead of the other way around.
TLDR: Don’t force yourself into a mold that’s not meant for you. Accept that you’re neurotypical and make your work schedule fit around that. Trying to do it the other way will only result in frustration.
2. Make a plan
The second thing I learned was to create a plan. This might seem like common sense, but for me, it was a revelation. I realized that if I could outline what I wanted to achieve and how I was going to do it, it made the whole process feel less daunting. Plus, having a plan gave me some measure of control in an often chaotic world. What were my failsafes to ensure my customers got their products or services on days I just couldn’t get the focus to be there? I gave myself longer, yet still reasonable, shipping windows for physical products, and created thorough FAQs and canned responses that helped mitigate the customer service that needed to be done.
TLDR: Having a plan makes the process less daunting and gives you some measure of control.
3. Accept help when needed
One of the things that inhibited me most as an entrepreneur was my fear of failure. I wanted to be successful so badly that I refused to accept help when it was offered to me- even from those close to me. This is a mistake I made time and time again, and it cost me dearly in terms of time and energy. As an ADHD entrepreneur, you will inevitably face challenges that you cannot overcome on your own- whether it’s marketing or customer service issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who can provide it- whether that’s a colleague, a VA, or a friend or family member (don’t do this one too often, though). It may seem minor compared to the task at hand, but taking the small steps necessary will ultimately lead you to success.
TLDR: Accept help when needed- even from those closest to you- and don’t let fear of failure prevent you from succeeding.
4. Set boundaries with your co-workers – this goes for everyone, not just people with ADHD.
I covered this a little in point 1, but really feel like it’s worth re-emphasizing, especially outwardly.
For entrepreneurs, you really need to be open about your struggles with your employees, coworkers, and even sometimes your customers. Don’t set yourself up to disappoint others because they don’t have a clear understanding of what you’re facing. The more transparent about your neurodivergence, the better your company will be at navigating the days you can’t be there.
TLDR: Don’t hide your struggle. Tell those involved in your business what you’re dealing with, so they can help navigate it.
5. You are not your work
Hyperfixation is a real issue many of us with ADHD deal with. So many of us will put in long hours at work only to come home and feel like a failure because we’re unable to let go. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our work is who we are when really, it’s just one aspect of our life. Dedicate yourself to making time for other aspects of your life so you can be the best version of yourself both at work and outside of it. Your ADHD might manifest itself by hyperfixating on a hobby one week and work the other. It happens! Don’t let the thought of your work become the only priority you measure success by. You’re multi-faceted and should embrace all of it! If there are days you just can’t do it (“it” being subjective), then you can’t. You’re not a failure if you’re not at work today and are instead reading this (hi!).
TLDR: Work isn’t everything; make sure you balance out your time so you’re not tempted to put all your energy into one area and neglect others.
Uh, Megan, None of These are Really Helpful
I’ll grant you that I haven’t given you much actionable help here when that’s one of the things I usually do. But there’s a reason:
You’re not going to follow what I tell you to do anyhow.
That’s not a slight against you at all! Instead, it’s a reality. I could tell you, “set a schedule of 15 minutes a day to work and do nothing else,” but you won’t because you most likely can’t. You’ll give it a try, sure. But three days from now, you’ll have forgotten you wanted to do that, or will start breaking up that 15 minutes, or will need to pee, or there’s an email you forgot to send and need to do it now!
I’ve tried so many things that are productivity-based. Tomato timers, Pareto Principles, 4-Hour Work Weeks, whatever. The truth is all these things are designed for those without ADHD. For those of us with neurotypical behavior, these just don’t work…not for the long-term at least. Becoming a successful entrepreneur with ADHD means understanding your intrinsic behaviors and molding your business around them. If you don’t stop running into the wall of trying to fit into someone else’s reality, you’ll never thrive.
Believe me, I know.
As an entrepreneur with ADHD, it’s important to remember that failure is part of the process and that persistence and finding support groups or mentors are key to achieving success.