ADHD affects how you work. It can affect you even more when your job doesn’t come with built-in structure. When you don’t have set hours. When you work from home. When there’s no boss breathing down your neck, waiting for your next report or project.
ADHD can create many challenges for people who don’t have traditional 9 to 5 jobs — anyone from a real estate agent to a writer to a coach to an independent attorney. For instance, ADHD makes it harder to plan and break down tasks into action steps, said Bonnie Mincu, a senior certified ADHD coach who was diagnosed with ADHD in her 40s. It makes it tougher to prioritize, organize and start projects.
ADHD makes it tougher to set structure. And yet structure is vital.
“Without structure, we may see a whole day on the calendar with no appointments that could be filled with productive work, giving the false illusion that we have ‘plenty of time,’” Mincu said. “But all too often, that whole day goes by with very little getting done.”
While ADHD creates many challenges, this doesn’t mean you can’t be successful and flourish in your career. In fact, many highly successful entrepreneurs have ADHD.
The key is to create your own structure, which is absolutely possible. We’ve already shared five suggestions for how in this piece. Below are four more tips from Mincu, founder of the coaching practice Thrive with ADD.
Experiment with different systems, tools and techniques.
Try different types of systems, suggestions and tools to see what works and doesn’t work for you—and why. For instance, one of Mincu’s clients, an attorney, tried different electronic systems to remind him of various tasks, such as invoicing his clients. He tried setting these reminders on his phone. But he ended up ignoring them because there were simply too many reminders.
Consequently, he started being very selective about the tasks that got a reminder. These tasks either “needed to be performed or rescheduled—no matter what,” Mincu said.
You can experiment with all kinds of solutions and systems. Try paper planners, to-do list apps and your email or computer calendars. Try different filing systems, such as digital versions, crates and filing cabinets. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for every person with ADHD.
Tie new habits to old routines.
It’s much easier to build new habits when we perform them in conjunction with already established rituals. For instance, the attorney from above always started his day with coffee and email. He needed a planner to help him map out his days, so he added reviewing his schedule and tasks to this existing ritual.
Now he makes his coffee and looks at his planner to make sure he’s allotted time for essential tasks. He only checks his email after he’s done and then makes any adjustments. As Mincu said, “After enough repetition, it became automatic to start the day with coffee and the planner rather than with email.”
What new important activities can you attach to existing rituals?
Create a visual system for every step of your projects.
For instance, the attorney had to go through many steps for each client. According to Mincu, he found it helpful to create the following, which he kept in each client’s folder: a chart that illustrated every step; the people that would be involved; the target date or deadline; and a column for jotting down the status of each step.
He kept status updates for his most active cases in a “Daily Action” folder, which he reviewed during his morning planning.
What steps does your work involve? How can you create a visual system that easily illustrates each phase?
Create templates for various communication.
Mincu suggested creating templates for regularly occurring transactions, which you can simply customize for different clients. For instance, you might create templates for invoices; “welcome” letters to new clients; and frequently asked questions about your business, she said.
“Even for individual correspondence, there might be paragraphs that can be lifted from a template.” For example, you might copy and paste sections about your background and pricing into a proposal for your consulting business.
ADHD doesn’t make creating structure easy or natural. But with the right systems (for you), you can establish a routine that helps you focus on what’s most important: performing your meaningful work.