Some days, my ADHD is my superpower. I’m hyper-focused on what I love to do, my brain is churning out creative ideas at a million miles an hour, and for at least a few brief seconds, everything seems to work right.
And then there are days where it just…doesn’t.
If you have been diagnosed with ADHD (especially if you were diagnosed as an adult), then you’ll know the struggle. People are always quick with “helpful” suggestions: get a planner, slow down a little, just try to focus a bit more.
This article isn’t going to just be a bunch of the same platitudes. I know how annoying — and frankly, unhelpful — those can be. I want to give you a few of the ways I manage my schedule as a business owner with ADHD.
To really plan your schedule cooperatively with your ADHD, you have to know what’s actually going on in that brilliant little brain of yours. ADHD isn’t a lack of attention; it’s a dysregulation of dopamine.
You know, dopamine, that happy little chemical? Turns out, dopamine is actually the chemical released in the feedback loop when you commit a task. When dopamine drops, your brain physically can’t focus on the task at hand. (Alternatively, when dopamine kicks into overdrive, you can get engrossed in a single task to an obsessive degree — that’s known as hyperfocus.)
ADHD doesn’t come from a lack of willpower, so willpower alone isn’t usually enough to overcome the worst aspects of it. I’ve learned this the hard way, but when I stopped beating myself up and starting hyping myself up, that’s when things started to change.
A few schedule tweaks can really go a long way when it comes to running your business while dealing with ADHD. Here are just 5 helpful ways to manage your time and your business.
Think of your mental energy as a fuel tank. Every day, you start out with a full tank, and little by little, you use your energy one drop at a time.
Choosing your shirt for the day? Tank dips a little.
Deciding whether you want cereal or eggs? Tank dips a little.
Deciding which email to respond to when you get to the keyboard? Tank dips a little.
Trying to start on a project with multiple steps? Uh oh–tank is critically low.
It’s possible for someone with ADHD to keep all of these plates spinning, but sometimes it feels like neurotypical people are born with more arms. Why is it so easy for them to keep it going, while you’re running out of breath by 3 pm?
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do them — it just means that when you can simplify, you should.
You may be surprised by the choices you can eliminate right off the bat. When I was struggling to choose what to cook for dinner every night, I decided to meal plan the week ahead and save myself the headache. I don’t do this as much anymore, but it did help for a time!
When I found myself overwhelmed by outfit choices in the morning, I curated a wardrobe of staples that I loved and set them out the night before. I also created a “morning routine” (ugh, I know, it’s such an over-used phrased), which consists mostly of getting ready, listening to something uplifting, and enjoying my coffee. It just helps set my brain for the day ahead without overstimulating it from the start.
I’ve found that these simplifications and rituals really helped me feel a sense of control. If you have ADHD or other neurodivergent conditions, I’m sure you understand what I mean!
But the biggest growth came when I realized it’s totally okay to ask for a little help. Outsourcing some of my day-to-day tasks helped free up that mental space for the critical things I need to do to manage my business.
While these work for me — and don’t necessarily work for everyone with ADHD — here are a few “hacks” I’ve found over the last couple of years:
I know no one likes being told what to do, let alone when to do it. But if you are a business owner with ADHD, you need deadlines now more than ever. At least… I do.
Remember trying to get a paper done at 11pm the night before it was due? As it turns out, there’s a physiological reason for that, especially if you are neurodivergent. Remember, your ADHD is impacted by your hormones. That adrenaline spike from your procrastination helped you overcome that executive dysfunction hurdle and actually helped you focus on the task at hand.
Naturally, this isn’t a healthy strategy for a business you want to grow. But if you’re like me, the same idea still applies: you need direction and direction starts with deadlines. Set out those expectations with your clients, team members, and even yourself ahead of time. If they seem hesitant to give you a time frame — ”just get it back to me whenever” — you may have to insist. Having that accountability can help you push through the worst slogs and give you that sense of satisfaction when you’re done. (Dopamine for everyone!)
What you actually put on your calendar matters. Before anything else, the first thing I write on my calendar is the group coaching calls. Those get priority. Meetings with clients, product development, and team meetings are next.
However, there is one not-so-minor detail that so many people forget to schedule: time for business and personal development. You want to block off specific times to actually sit down and learn something new.
I don’t always write down exactly what I’m going to do with that time, but I do need to schedule time to work on my business — or my brain will just not take it. If you want to try this out, set aside enough time to actually work on your business, not just in it.
I also want to try scheduling downtime, which I know sounds weird. However, I’ve heard it really helps eliminate the “waiting period” syndrome. (If you have ever stressed and been entirely unproductive all day before a 3pm doctor’s appointment, then you know just how nasty the waiting period syndrome can really be).
If you can create a regular schedule that works for you, that’s great. However, you may find that your life looks different from day-to-day; travel, kids, and your business can all throw a wrench in that routine. This is where getting proactive and eliminating any superfluous choices upfront can really pay off, because you have more in the tank to devote to these changes in your schedule.
“The secret” to staying on track with ADHD is actually really simple: don’t count on a perfect routine every day. Make time for your own personal rituals, take control for a few minutes at a time, and recharge. Whether that’s planning your cup of coffee, doing your makeup, or screaming into a pillow, those few minutes of self-determination can make all the difference.
Make sure not to overload your schedule as well. It’s tempting to schedule something every second of the day in your planner because it feels good to plan it. However, sometimes a few targeted days between periods of rest can be more productive than 7 full days in a row. Quality versus quantity still applies.
Self-care isn’t just a trend; it’s essential to avoid burnout. Honestly, this can be really simple. It can be as easy as scheduling regular breaks every 15 minutes to get up and stretch your legs during long days.
Some people love to plan and schedule exercise; you don’t necessarily need to. I walk my dog, listen to my podcasts, and enjoy some movement on a regular basis. (Also great for dopamine).
Did you know that humans process the majority of our information visually, and we retain visual details 60% times faster than text? So it’s really no surprise that when it comes to my workload, the fact is: if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. I’m not exactly proud of that, but it’s true, and the key is to make it work for you.
My team uses what’s called a “Punch List” in ClickUp which really helps for this. In the application, I can see everything that I need to do in a week, all in one list. My team can assign various tasks to me (invoices, responding to press features, etc), and all it takes is a single click. I put in the info they need, I send it back. Boom.
It’s not just easy; it feels good to click off each task one by one. That’s why checklists are an ADHD staple. You can even make your punch-list, or if you prefer the personal touch, you can use Post-It notes in your planner to remind you of various tasks. You can also use visual cues retroactively to see where you are working at your best. I use an app called RescueTime that shows me my screen time and helps determine when I am most productive. I thought for sure that it would be in the morning, but it turns out that between 1 pm and 4 pm are my golden hours!
You may find that every single day with ADHD is different. Some days, you’ll love that. Some days, it’ll feel like an uphill battle from the get-go. I sure do. But what I’ve found is that a few small changes and tools can help me stay on course. Not every day is perfect but my business is still growing and I am able to show up in the ways that are most important.
I hope this inspired you to see how much you can accomplish by putting routines in place and managing your schedule if you are living with ADHD. Leave me a comment below if you use a specific tool or tactic that has helped you grow your business with ADHD.