Did you know that business owners and entrepreneurs are 300% more likely to have ADHD? This fact becomes rather unsurprising when you examine the characteristics of ADHD.
For decades, most folks only associated Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with the hyper boy who couldn’t seem to sit still in a classroom.
But as it turns out, that same restlessness seen in hyperactive boys is what aids those with ADHD to become brilliant problem solvers, brave risk-takers, rule breakers, innovators, and action-orientated visionaries.
And if that doesn’t sound like a born entrepreneur, I don’t know what does.
I can say, as an ADHD entrepreneur myself, my ADHD traits are responsible for my strongest business assets and my biggest barriers.
I’m a 28-year-old inattentive-type ADHD entrepreneur, writer, artist, and owner of the lifestyle brand BerryLemon. The multifaceted aspect of entrepreneurship is made a bit more challenging because of my executive dysfunction (more on this later).
In this article, I want to explore entrepreneurs with ADHD, executive dysfunction, and the workarounds I’ve found to be indispensable.
The male-focused hyperactive-dominant view of ADHD
Neurologically speaking, ADHD brains are just different from neurotypical (non-ADHD) counterparts. Interestingly, female and male ADHD brains often differ from each other too.
The reason most of us think of ADHD as the hyperactive boy disrupting school lessons is that ADHD boys are more likely to externalize their restlessness, while ADHD girls often internalize it.
Because of this, research and diagnostic tools are often skewed toward the male-dominant hyperactive presentation. But, there is another subset of most often female ADHDers –inattentive ADHD.
Inattentive ADHD is widely underdiagnosed and often missed in young girls. But, these undiagnosed girls grow into young adults who are left wondering why starting tasks, focus, motivation, and work stamina are so difficult for them in adulthood.
These ADHD folks tend not to be hyperactive go-getters, but ambitious idea machines paralyzed by their own perfectionism and anxiety.
However, no matter the subtype, one main struggle of ADHD is caused by executive dysfunction.
Executive dysfunction and the business owner
Whether you know it or not, your brain’s executive functioning skills are your career’s biggest asset. For entrepreneurs with ADHD, executive dysfunction can be their biggest hurdle.
So, what is executive dysfunction and how does it affect entrepreneurship?
Executive functioning is the cognitive ability that directly aids in reaching goals and preparing for future events. Executive functioning affects task initiation, focus, memory, organization, planning, prioritizing, emotional regulation, self-monitoring, and self-control.
When you work for yourself, managing your own time, your team, and the business goals of an organization – executive functioning is essential.
Executive dysfunctioning, often seen in those with ADHD, can cause behavioral challenges that hinder reaching long-term goals.
While my ADHD is great at mining the world around me for problem-solving business opportunities, it also makes it difficult to get things done.
Common symptoms of executive dysfunction
If you’re wondering what executive dysfunction looks like in a real-world application, keep reading for the symptoms below:
- Time blindness: Losing track of time, resulting in lateness or missing engagements.
- Long-term goal breakdown: Having difficulty planning the long term. In a business context, you might have a brilliant idea but struggle with breaking it down into actionable steps that span the long term.
- Organizational fumbles: Having trouble keeping your physical and mental world organized. This can be further exacerbated by our impulsivity — while we might plan a to-do list, our focus is impulsive and interest-based.
- Impulsivity & emotionality: This might present as being emotionally intense. Not a good or bad thing in general, but impulsivity plus emotional dysregulation can make for some mistakes in the workplace.
- Focus control: You might start on one task, and find a nugget of inspiration/problem to solve in that task which then takes you off into a totally unrelated side quest. While you are technically focused, you might not be focused on what you “should be”.
- Hyperfocus & task switching: Yes those with ADHD have trouble with keeping focus but they can also have trouble breaking misdirected focus. Hyperfocus might look like spending all day creating an expense spreadsheet complete with every Excel trick imaginable -–you know you only wanted to spend 20 minutes doing this but it’s been 5 hours and you don’t know where your day went.
The challenges come with positive attributes too
It’s clear why working a structured 9 to 5 might be difficult for someone with executive dysfunction or ADHD. Corporate positions are neither stimulating nor flexible –and we require both. We’re easily bored and easily frustrated with the corporate status quo.
This is why many of us end up freelancing, side gigging, and business building. ADHD entrepreneurs find excitement, variety, risk, fun, and freedom in working for themselves.
While ADHD can pose challenges for entrepreneurs, it can also make them extremely creative, multi-talented, resilient, persistent, innovative, optimistic, spontaneous, and compassionate advocates.
But yeah, we’re totally going to forget that you put that planning meeting on our calendar.
So here are workarounds every ADHD entrepreneur should know
If you’ve read this far (or let’s be real, skimmed this far), you might see yourself in some of what I’m describing.
ADHD and executive dysfunction are extremely common. A lot of us deal with it to some degree. But when you’re an entrepreneur and work for yourself these challenges might become magnified and pose issues within your business partnerships.
At 27, I co-founded my E-commerce company with my brother. Pretty quickly I started looking for answers to why I was struggling with so many aspects of self-management. I love working for myself and creating a company with my brother, but there are undeniably some major challenges for me.
Below is a list of what I’ve found helps with being both an entrepreneur and an ADHD girlie.
You’ve heard it a million times, but if your mind works a mile a second, you need to learn the skill of mindfulness. Slowing the mind down during a 10-minute morning meditation can help you process in a more organized way throughout your day.
You might think you’re amazing at multitasking but, are you just starting a bunch of tasks and never fully finishing them? Yeah. That’s why I started doing themed days.
Each month or so I choose 3-4 major themes I need to consistently make progress on. I assign a day, (most likely at a whim) to that overarching task. Content days, product sourcing days, creative output days, and planning days. I focus on the completion of that theme, and only that theme.
Having the theme helps keep me from running in 10 different directions at once.
Do Not Disturb mode
Duh. ADHD folks are highly distractible. While I might be clicking away at a task, one email or text could derail my focus for hours. I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and remove that inevitability. If it’s an emergency my phone will allow the call (2 successive calls) but other than that, things can wait.
If you want to get stuff done, they must wait, actually.
You may feel like you can do it all, and actually, ADHD people are multi-talented and you probably can do it all. But you shouldn’t have to. If certain tasks are hard for you or take up too much focus, hire it out. Detail-oriented stuff like video editing, or accounting, get a freelancer on your team. It makes a world of difference to take things off your mental plate.
Light pressure & due dates
The only reason I even graduated college was the pressure of due dates and the fear of failing. I knew what was expected of me and having the due dates often gave me the rush (at the last minute) I needed to complete large projects. But, the trick is: to make external due dates. I can move my own goalpost, but if someone else is expecting work out of me, I tend to get it done.
Throughout the day you’re going to get ideas that could derail your focus. So instead of trying to ignore the idea persistently rattling around in your brain, write it down and come back to it. Knowing it’s there for you to come back to will allow your brain to relax and go back to your focused task. I call it “my whim list” and I return to it when I’m ready to dream up something new.
Seek out ADHD success
Look to highly successful ADHD entrepreneurs or creatives for inspiration. While it might be challenging, being a highly successful ADHD entrepreneur is totally possible. I keep a list of ADHD folks who inspire me when I’m feeling a little down.
This is a love-hate relationship. ADHD folks are resistant to rigid structure because we like to be in the flow but we also need some structure. Too little structure creates an environment where we could run a little wild, spinning our wheels in too many directions, and end up never actualizing our goals. Light structure, however, you want to define that, can help keep you moving forward.
ADHD causes dysregulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This might explain why we lose focus and seek out high stimulation. Often, this is dopamine seeking. Many things can help us keep our dopamine levels happy (without hypnotizing ourselves by scrolling TikTok). High protein breakfasts are one simple switch that could increase focus all day. Boosting protein, and laying off high carbohydrates have been shown to improve focus.
The bottom line
In entrepreneurship, ADHD is a strength but it also comes with unique challenges. If you know how to “workaround” them, you can superpower your business accomplishments.
No matter if you know for certain you have ADHD or are just starting to wonder, there is nothing ADHD can hold you back from. Learn all you can about it, figure out your personal goals and keep moving on them. Knowledge is power.