Multiple studies have shown a correlation between having ADHD and being an entrepreneur. It makes sense. Many common characteristics of ADHD—creativity, risk-taking, hyperactivity, and hyperfocus—are also traits that can launch a business owner to success. However, folks with ADHD also face some unique challenges when starting a business, such as struggles with time management, organization, and maintaining focus on tasks that don’t excite them.
Running a successful business is absolutely possible when you have ADHD. (If you have doubts, look at Richard Branson, Ingvar Kamprad, Michael Jordan, and hundreds of other examples.) First, you need to learn to work with your brain rather than against it. We’ve compiled a list of nine tips for succeeding in business with ADHD.
1. Embrace Your Strengths
Remember that, as a business owner, having ADHD isn’t always a setback. It can also be a superpower. Even if you’re thinking, “Maybe ADHD is a superpower for some people. For me it’s just a pain in the butt,” you probably have some ADHD strengths—strengths that made you want to start your own business in the first place. Here are some common ADHD strengths that can help you as a business owner:
Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking
It’s not a coincidence that so many artists and inventors have ADHD. People with ADHD have unique ways of seeing the world and solving problems, which can help them come up with unique business ideas, design gorgeous websites, and create new and groundbreaking products.
Even though most folks with ADHD struggle with focusing on daily tasks, when working on a project that stimulates their interest, ADHDers have the power to focus deeply on a project for many hours at a time. Studies have shown that getting into a state of deep focus, aka “flow,” is essential for accomplishing great work.
A common trait of ADHD is impulsivity, which makes folks with ADHD more willing and eager to take risks. While this trait has its pros and cons, daring to take risks is essential when starting a business. A more cautious person might spend their whole life working a 9-5 office job, even while they dream of opening their own restaurant. But someone with ADHD is more likely to take the leap and make their business dream a reality, even if that means taking some risks, like quitting their day job or taking out a business loan.
2. Create Systems That Work for You
While folks with ADHD tend to have things in common, no two people have the same brain, so different productivity methods will work for different people. For example, some people with ADHD love the tactile nature of using an analog planner. Others get bored of it within a week and prefer to use their phone calendar or a productivity app—with helpful reminders before upcoming meetings and appointments.
Similarly, some ADHDers swear by the Pomodoro Technique for productivity—setting a timer for 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5 minute break—whereas others prefer to tap into their hyperfocus to work for several hours and then take a longer break.
The best thing about owning a business is that you’re your own boss, so you have the freedom to create a schedule and work environment that works for you. Do you work best between the hours of 11pm and 5am? You can do that! Want to manage your Etsy store while eating a burger at Red Robin? Also possible!
3. Set Deadlines
People with ADHD often have a difficult time completing long-term projects, thanks to having what Dr. William Dodson calls an “interest-based nervous system.” According to Dodson, people with ADHD struggle to find motivation for tasks unless they fit into one of these categories:
When you first start your business, it might feel extremely interesting, challenging, and novel, making it easy to throw yourself into the work. But as time goes on and routines set in, you might find it harder to summon the motivation for things like shipping orders, managing payroll, or finishing jobs for clients.
One way to motivate yourself is to make these tasks urgent. Yes, this can mean putting it off until the last minute, but it can also mean setting deadlines for yourself—or better yet, getting other people to hold you to deadlines. For example, if you’re a freelance copy editor who was hired to edit a client’s memoir, ask the client right away, “When do you need this completed?” Knowing when someone else expects to see your work is a strong motivator to complete it by that date.
4. Set Realistic Goals
ADHDers tend to dream big. But if your only measure of success is huge accomplishments, it’s going to be hard to keep your motivation up if success happens more gradually. Instead, try setting smaller goals that are measurable and attainable. For example, your first goal as a business owner might be to make your first sale.
You can also make big goals less overwhelming by breaking them into smaller steps. This is true with starting a business itself. Saying, “I want to start a business,” can be intimidating, but when you break it into smaller steps—write a business plan, open a bank account, apply for a business license, etc.—it becomes more manageable.
5. Give Yourself Rewards
Research has shown that ADHD brains don’t respond to dopamine (a brain chemical related to pleasure and attention regulation) as much as neurotypical brains do. This means that while someone without ADHD might get a natural boost of dopamine from accomplishing a task, a person with ADHD won’t get the same boost. That’s why it’s important to give yourself dopamine-inducing rewards for completing your tasks. This can be anything from making a literal sticker chart to reward yourself for completing small goals to taking yourself on a weekend getaway when you meet a big sales goal.
6. Find a Body Double
Body doubling means working in the same room as another person—on separate tasks—in order to maintain your focus and be held accountable to do your work. Many ADHDers find working with a body double helps them focus on their work. If you don’t have someone to body double with in person, you can also do it virtually. Schedule a Zoom work date with a friend, or check out a body doubling app or website, where you can be matched with other people for virtual co-working sessions.
7. Automate and Delegate Tasks
Another secret to success with an ADHD brain is to put as much time and effort as possible into work you love—and as little as possible into work you hate. This can mean automating boring tasks like scheduling and bookkeeping. A scheduling software can let clients see your availability and book appointments with you online—saving you the trouble of answering the phone. If you have employees, you can use a payroll software to automatically withhold payroll taxes and send paychecks.
It might also help to hire an accountant (or at least use a tax preparation software) instead of doing your business taxes yourself. Keep in mind that business expenses like hiring an accountant are often tax deductible. If you can afford it, consider hiring an executive assistant. A good assistant can keep you organized and make sure you don’t forget an important meeting.
You can even delegate things like forming an LLC or filing your annual report. When you sign up for a free account with Northwest, you’ll have access to our entire legal forms library—every form you need to start and maintain a business in any state. Or, you can hire us to form your company for you.
8. Consider Hiring an ADHD Coach
An ADHD coach is someone whose job it is to help people with ADHD in areas they struggle with—whether that’s time management, setting and reaching goals, organization, or planning. There are even ADHD coaches who specialize in helping entrepreneurs achieve their business goals.
When looking for an ADHD coach, it’s important to do your research and find someone who specializes in the type of coaching you’re looking for. Here are some online resources where you can start your search:
9. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
This might seem obvious, but it’s important to take care of your basic needs when you’re running a business—things like eating and sleeping, for starters. An entrepreneur with ADHD might hyperfocus for twelve hours on applying for a small business grant and forget that she hasn’t eaten all day. Research has shown that a large number of people with ADHD also have a sleep disorder. Plus, some ADHD medications can mess with your appetite and sleep schedule. While losing out on food, sleep, and a social life might turbocharge your productivity in the short term, sooner or later it’s going to lead to burnout.
If you tend to lose track of time when you’re working, set a timer to remind yourself when it’s time for a break, lunch, or to be done for the day. Make time for things like exercise, hobbies you enjoy, and time with friends. Not only will these things keep you healthy and sane, but they may also boost your creativity and mental powers.
Want more tips? Check out How to Avoid Burnout as a Small Business Owner.