The ADHD freelancer’s guide to success

Entrepreneurship and ADHD can make a great partnership.

A woman sitting at an office desk with multiple screens in front of her.

For people with ADHD, holding down a traditional, nine-to-five desk job can pose a challenge. Looking at the most common symptoms of ADHD, it’s easy to see why:

  • Short attention span, especially for non-preferred tasks
  • Hyperactivity and restlessness
  • Impulsivity, which may manifest as recklessness
  • Disorganization and difficulty prioritizing tasks
  • Poor time management and time blindness
  • Forgetfulness and poor working memory
  • Trouble multitasking and executive dysfunction
  • Trouble completing tasks and frequent procrastination
  • Distractibility

So what is the alternative? 

ADHD and entrepreneurship

You may find it surprising, but freelancing can be a great career fit for people with ADHD. 

One of the reasons why people with ADHD are three times as likely to have their own business is because we need the kind of flexibility and excitement that freelancing can provide. 

Why is running your own business a good fit for ADHD?

The benefits of running your own business with ADHD are…

  • A flexible schedule
  • Work environment and co-workers of your own choosing (or even working from home)
  • Diversity of tasks
  • You decide what to focus on

Of course—just like with ADHD—there are downsides as well. So how do you set yourself up for success?

8 ways to establish a rewarding (and thriving) freelance business

1. Create a niche that inspires hyperfocus, but give yourself wiggle room to work on a variety of projects.

Hyperfocus refers to the ability to “get lost” in a project or task (usually because you are innately interested in it), sometimes to the detriment of other things that need to get done. Use this superpower to your advantage by promoting yourself as a specialist in your area of interest. Just be sure to also set time boundaries (with timers or reminders, or both!), so that you don’t end up spending your whole workweek lost in your niche.

Example: If writing about crypto makes you feel inspired, look for crypto-themed gigs at different companies.

Warning: Make sure you’re not violating any contracts (conflict of interest) if you work for two companies that compete with one another.

Pro Tip: The companies themselves don’t need to be crypto-themed. Look for opportunities! Maybe there’s a financial site that could use a fun blog about crypto, which brings us to Tip #2.

2. Be proactive. Keep a radar up for companies that may be able to use your expertise.

And be creative, too! Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to present itself to you. Stay tuned to the various outlets where people are looking for freelancers like you. 

Example: Join a freelancing platform, create an online portfolio, and set the parameters for your dream projects.

Warning: To avoid falling down any irrelevant rabbit holes, automate as much of your research as possible. And for your own safety, scrolling your social media feeds doesn’t count as research here.

Pro Tip: Use LinkedIn, where you can filter the job postings to suit your search, and that will send potential opportunities right to your inbox.

3. Outsource what bores you.

Every business has its mundane details that require monitoring and managing. However, one of the benefits of being your own boss is that you get to decide what your job responsibilities entail. Of course you don’t get to totally ignore those mundane details.

Example: Bookkeeping

Warning: Don’t get so comfortable delegating away the things you don’t like to do, that you are not keeping a pulse on where your finances (or other aspects you’d rather not concern yourself with) are at. When all is said and done, it’s your business and reputation on the line.

Pro Tip: Use Upwork to find other freelancers that might be able to help you with the tasks you’d rather not do.

4. Design your space to help you focus.

Remember how I said one of the perks of freelancing is that you have control over the environment you work within? Now is a good time to consult with Marie Kondo, or whomever you deem a feng shui guru. The goal is to create an atmosphere that is serene and void of distractions.

Examples: Use natural lighting (window), plant(s), and maybe speakers for white noise to create your own bubble of tranquility. Pepper in a couple items, books, art or otherwise, that inspire productivity and creativity.

Warning: While you want to create an atmosphere that fosters a sense of peace and calm, you don’t want it to be so comfortable that you could take a nap.

Pro Tip: Less is more here. Your workspace should include the things you need to conduct your business, and one or two things that make you feel really good. Don’t junk it up with knick-knacks. 

5. Keep track of your projects!

Not everyone can afford an assistant. Find a project management tool to help you keep tabs on work assignments and stay on top of deadlines. 

Examples:

Warning: These programs are tools, not employees. Just like the exercise machine sitting in the dusty corner of your basement, a project management tool is only as good as the person using it. You still have to do a bare minimum amount of setup to get the most from these systems.

Pro-Tip: Not all project management tools are created equal. Invest a little research time to find the one that suits your specific needs the best. 

6. Take advantage of the flexible hours and work freedom.

This may be one of my personal favorite perks of being a freelancer. Want to sneak a workout in every day? How about a nap? Would you like to be able to schedule a doctor’s appointment before 4pm when everyone else is trying to get in? You can do all of it on a freelancer’s schedule. It just requires a little organization and pre-planning—something that people with ADHD are known to struggle with. 

Example: Take a midday lunch and hike with your best friend on a Tuesday.

Warning: Remember that your best friend isn’t responsible for the survival of your business. Don’t accept any spontaneous off-work invites before consulting with your project management tool, calendar, reminders, sticky notes, and whatever else you use to keep you organized and accountable. 

Pro-Tip: Plan to meet your work deadlines early. This is just generally a good idea for creating a little buffer (and breathing room) around your freelance life. If you have to say no to the hike today, no worries! You’ll be so organized that you can schedule a rain check. 

7. Optimize your workflow.

Help technology help you. The term Workflow Optimization is commonly used in big companies to refer to the specific methodologies which make processes faster, cheaper, and more efficient. For a freelancer, it’s all about streamlining the day-to-day tasks, and making sure that efforts aren’t being duplicated. 

Examples: Internet speed, stand for your phone, browser bookmarks, calendar notifications

Warning: Beware of Shiny Object Syndrome. As freelancers with ADHD, we may be even more prone to distractibility than other entrepreneurs.

Pro-Tip: Once you find a system, program, tool or device that works for you, stick with it. The newest thing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work better for you. Only spend time reviewing new tools that you really think are going to significantly improve your process.

8. Confront your taxes head-on.

Example: Don’t let the word taxes send you running for the hills. 

Warning: It’s a real part of your business, and waiting until the last minute to address them is only going to make ultimately dealing with them worse. 

Pro-Tip: Decide who will be doing your taxes a year out in advance. If you’re going to hire an accountant, find out what documents they will need from you before tax season (January thru April) starts, and make yourself a checklist. That way you can collect things throughout the year, instead of waiting until April 14 to get it together.

If you decide to take the plunge and do the filing yourself, Turbotax has put together this handy guide for freelancers.

Looking for support?

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