How to leverage your ADHD strengths for start-up success

Picture: Rankin

By Leanne Maskel, above, Director of coach training company ADHD Works and author of ADHD: An A to Z.

If you’ve got ADHD, you’ve probably got an entrepreneurial streak. We’re 300% more likely to start our own business, but having an ideas-machine brain can come with challenges in sustaining it. The out-of-the-box thinking accompanying ADHD also comes with self-regulation challenges, and we need to be able to manage ourselves to manage our businesses.

Here’s four ways to leverage your ADHD strengths for start-up success and sustainability:

  1. Understand your ADHD

When I was undiagnosed with ADHD, being an entrepreneur was a nightmare. I had a new business every week and was constantly overpromising and letting people down, before chasing the next dopamine high idea. I beat myself up for quickly losing interest, becoming overwhelmed by decision paralysis and people pleasing.

Once I learned I had ADHD, I had context for these challenges: I could ‘name it to tame it’. Understanding how the 30% developmental delay in executive functioning skills such as motivation, memory and impulsivity impacts you empowers you to understand how to apply solutions that will work, instead of repeatedly making the same mistakes.

Apply ADHD knowledge from credible sources to assess your top strengths and challenges at work. Being aware of how you may unconsciously self-sabotage your success enables you to take responsibility for it, and put systems into place to harness your unique ADHD strengths to reach your full potential.

  1. Lay the foundations

ADHD is linked with an ‘interest-based nervous system’, which means we can hyper-focus and be super-productive if we’re doing something we’re interested in, but really struggle with procrastination and avoidance of ‘boring’ tasks.

As entrepreneurs, we might dive headfirst into new ideas without thinking through the ‘boring’ parts, like contracts or long-term viability. Having super-fast minds means we might over-commit ourselves to things we haven’t fully thought through about in the future – or how we will survive financially!

Being clear about your ‘vision’ and ensuring this is aligned to your values allows you to work backwards, setting short-term goals every quarter to hold yourself accountable to following through with all areas of your business. Set yourself clear personal foundations, such as working hours, to ensure you don’t burnout by working non-stop.

Building a mansion is pointless if it’s built with spaghetti – make sure your foundations are solid before signing anything or investing, being clear about how you will make money. Dopamine doesn’t pay the bills!

  1. Set yourself boundaries

The impulsive ADHD tendency to ‘act without thinking’ makes us brave, innovative, and authentic entrepreneurs – but it can also be a serious challenge if we’re over-committing and under-delivering. You can do anything, but not everything – at least, not at the same time!

Fighting the status quo is a hallmark of successful entrepreneurs – and ADHD-ers. You don’t need permission to do the things you want to do, like having a certain number of followers or agents, just do it! However, remember that some rules are there for a reason, like the law – or eating lunch!

Setting yourself simple rules to follow can be extremely helpful, such as having an hourly rate or not working for free. Identifying areas of challenge, such as getting lost in social media vortexes, and applying boundaries accordingly can help us to self-regulate to set ourselves up for success.

Ensure that you focus on following through with your short-term goals before starting new ones, and enlist accountability such as from coaches to help you stick to these boundaries. Having a specific day to make big decisions, reviewing ideas, or spending a certain amount of money can give you a safe container to explore your options.

  1. Get a support network

ADHD can make it challenging to explain what’s going in our brains to other people, which makes it hard to ask for and receive help – but you still need it! If you’re in the UK, apply for the Government’s Access to Work scheme, which can help fund support such as ADHD coaches and virtual assistants.

Having a support system is absolutely crucial for ADHD entrepreneurs, as this team of people can help us to fill in the blanks. For example, having a good accountant is vital to the financial viability of your company.

Understanding which tasks you struggle with most and outsourcing these, such as to a virtual assistant, alongside working with an ADHD Coach to set up organisational systems and accountability, can be game-changing for entrepreneurs with ADHD.

Setting up people and processes to support your business empowers you to focus on what you’re best at, harnessing your ADHD strengths such as hyper-focus and courage, in a sustainable and successful way. This frees you to finish what you start before exploring the next adventure!

Leanne Maskell is an ADHD Coach, the Director of coach training company ADHD Works and author of ADHD: An A to Z.