The challenges of running a small business and its finances are tough enough for the neurotypical, but as it turns out, ADHD and the desire to run a business go hand-in-hand. People happy with the daily grind and detailed work of a regular job rarely feel the push to go entrepreneurial – and ADHD contributes to being unhappy with that situation.
Sadly, as Michael Gerber pointed out in the productivity classic The E-Myth, that same trait that pushes people to start a business makes it hard to watch the details of finances and operations that makes a company successful. We were lucky enough to sit down with ADHD organization and life coach Nikki Kinzer and talk about success techniques for people in this common situation. She named five areas where business owners with ADHD are particularly challenged, and how they can deal with it.
Prioritizing the Day
One common impact of ADHD is feeling that everything is important and urgent, and that all tasks have the same value. This makes it hard to identify mission-critical jobs, let alone stay on task for them. Nikki advises that her clients work from a master To Do list, and to look at three factors for each item when deciding what to do first:
- Time: Is there a hard deadline for any of the tasks? Do any have soft deadlines or benchmarks that will enable meeting a hard deadline in the future? When in doubt, time-sensitive tasks get priority.
- Impact: What will happen if the task gets left undone? Consider not just the impact to you, but the impact to others. Are there people waiting for you to finish your task before they can complete their part of the project? How many people will feel the impact of your decision about this particular to-do item?
- Complexity: Gauge how complicated or difficult – and thus distraction and procrastination prone – the task is. Assign the highest-rated tasks to times when you’re usually the most productive, or when you can work with a coach or accountability partner who keeps you on track. There’s no One Right Way™ to choose when to work on the hardest tasks, but evaluating priorities with that in mind will help you succeed.
Steven Covey’s “Quadrant Two” is all about distractions – things that are urgent, but not important. Phone calls, emails and social media pings are external distractions everybody deals with, but according to Nikki, people with ADHD deal with a myriad of internal distractions as well.
Nikki recommends that her clients spend one day keeping track of everything that distracts them, from great ideas to small annoyances. She then has them look for patterns and situations that offer solutions. If an open office door means getting into too many conversations, closing the door fixes that. A clean desk or powered-down cell phone are other examples of this in action.
Mindfulness practice is another tool in Nikki’s toolbox. She encourages clients to set concentration goals, starting at 15 minutes. Set a timer and promise yourself you’ll ignore distractions – even really attractive distractions – until the timer goes off. Once it goes off, take a break and let the mind wander. This is similar to the Pomodoro Method we’ve mentioned previously here at the Kabbage blog, and works extraordinarily well.
Office organization is a challenge in every business, but for people who are easily distracted it’s even more of a problem. Piles of paper and computer files in disarray are at best a constant call to stop work and start organizing. At worst, they become a rabbit hole of distracting tasks as you read and work on the items in the piles.
Nikki’s recommendation for getting organized is to seek outside help. Setting up and sticking to a system troubles people who don’t have specific symptoms that impact the behaviors responsible for staying organized. Hiring an ADHD Coach or Professional Organizer who specializes in ADHD gives you the help and expertise you need to set yourself up for success.
It might seem ironic to the uninitiated that too much focus would be a problem for people with ADHD, but it is. Psychology Today defines hyperfocus as a fixation on a specific event, task or topic and notes that it’s a common symptom of ADHD. Among Nikki’s entrepreneurial clients, she notes that this usually takes the form of giving attention mostly or only to the most interesting parts of the job. Other parts – the unglamorous activities that make a business work – get ignored.
Nikki recommends the opposite of her mindfulness practice as a way of overcoming Hyperfocus. Set a timer for fifteen minutes before you need to stop what you’re focused on and move on to other tasks. Once it rings, start transitioning out of your focus mode and into being mentally ready to shift gears. For some of her clients, a timer isn’t enough. They need a partner, coach or co-worker to gently interrupt. According to Nikki, “It’s not as easy to say no to a partner or co-worker as it is to a phone alarm.”
Taking Care of Yourself
Between the rigors and responsibilities of running a business and the energy required to manage ADHD in the middle of those distractions, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. Nikki has numerous clients who forget to eat, and never have time for exercise, sleep and relationships. It’s a major challenge for all busy business owners. Nikki offers two key tips beyond the time-saving focus enhancements mentioned above for preserving your most valuable business asset:
- Take advantage of being the boss of your time to schedule 30 minutes of exercise every single day. Early in the morning is often the best time for that, since it keeps overrunning schedules from making you cancel your workout. Exercise releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin into your body – all chemicals which enhance your ability to focus.
- Give priority to eating well, and “eating well” does not mean “hitting the Mickey Dees’ dollar menu twice a day.” Diet is a complex topic that receives thousands of articles and dozens of books every year, but start with limiting the amount of fast and processed food you take in, and promising yourself you’ll drink water with meals instead of sodas or coffees.
- Take a quick walk outdoors for fresh air and exercise once every couple of hours. Even this small break will refresh your mind and improve your focus for the next part of your day.
If ADHD is getting in the way of your business success, check out Nikki’s website at TakeControlADHD.com for further resources, like her weekly podcast. While you’re at it, tell your success story or share your frustration in the comments so the Kabbage community can learn from your experience.