As a kid, you couldn’t sit still. In school, you were labeled a lazy, hyperactive, underachiever. Growing up, it was always hard to sit through the requisite classes and force yourself to stick to the task at hand.
As an adult, you’re always putting your foot into your mouth. You get on the boss’ nerves. You’ve been fired for saying what you think. Sometimes you’re organized, and sometimes disorganized. You’ve taken medication, or learned to manage without it.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a diagnosis that follows you everywhere. It shows itself in all areas of your work life and family life. It helps you and hurts you.
Now, you’re freelancing. The freedom might be good for you — but it might not be. How will you force yourself to get stuff done?
I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t pretend to. But as a writer with ADHD, I do have some tips for successfully managing your business while dealing with this ever-present challenge.
1. Work with yourself
And don’t try to work against yourself. You’ll be a happier person if you accept yourself.
If it’s hard to sit, then stand. If you have a short attention span, switch back and forth between assignments. Do you work better with music? Go for it!
Consider finding a therapist or coach who can help you. A coach will be able to help you define goals and reach them. A therapist will be able to help you sort through the feelings of frustration, guilt, and failure that may have accompanied you through much of your life.
2. Get up and move
Freelancing means freedom. You’re not tied to a desk with a boss standing over you. Even if you’re earning per hour, those hours don’t have to be contiguous.
When you need to get up and move, do it. If you can’t concentrate, go for a run. Or, take your bike and go grocery shopping.
After you get home, your head will be clearer. You’ll have renewed energy and patience, and will be more productive.
3. Get a friend to help
Friends are always important. But for a freelancer, especially a freelancer with ADHD, friends can be the difference between success and failure.
Working with coworkers, a boss, and managers helps you stick to your tasks. They pressure you to get the job done. Now, you’re on your own. If you don’t motivate yourself, you’ll lose clients. If you lose clients, you won’t have an income.
Ask a friend to help. This friend doesn’t need to be a writer, but should be someone who’s ready and willing to hold you accountable for your progress. Your friend should you every few hours, or at the very least, every day — and you’ll need to report on how much you’ve accomplished.
Don’t have a friend willing to commit? Offer to pay someone. For $5-10 a week, someone will probably be willing to boss you around once a day.
4. Make a schedule
Schedules mean structure. For those with ADHD, structure is an indispensable tool that helps us successfully complete tasks. Freelancing means that you no longer have a predetermined, outside schedule.
In order to succeed, you need to create your own schedule. Go to sleep around the same time every night. Get up at the same time every morning. Have someone call your phone, or dump water on your head, so that you can’t ignore your alarm clock.
5. Get dressed and get fed
Part of having a set schedule is getting dressed every morning. As a freelancer, you might be tempted to spend all day in your pajamas. After all, you don’t need to wear work clothes in order to work.
But you do need to get dressed — and then start work on time, and sit in the same place, and do the same things, in the same order — so that you’ll be able to concentrate on your work and meet your deadlines.
You also need to set times to eat, and times to prepare meals. Meal preparation can be done the night before, the weekend before, or during those times you can’t sit long enough to work. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re just not able to concentrate on your work. Advance planning and using your “out-of-it” time for something productive will both help you stay on track.
6. Work [when you’re] ahead
You probably have times when you’re on a roll, and times when you just can’t manage to sit. There’s no magic formula for dealing with this, but doing work in advance can help.
If you need to write two posts each week about fixing cars, you don’t have to stop there — you can write seven when you’re feeling creative and energetic. Save those extra drafts for when you hit a low-energy period. By preparing some work ahead of time, your clients don’t notice fluctuations in your productivity.
7. Break it up
A big project can be overwhelming to the point of leaving you frozen in place from fear. You can work through that fear. Find a hand to hold, and a friend to encourage you.
Then, bit by bit, break that huge task into smaller pieces. You’re not doing this task right away. You’re simply breaking it up. When you’re done with that, go to sleep.
In the morning, look at the list of small, easy, tasks that you have to do. You’ll feel more confident and be more productive.
Challenge yourself to see how many of those items you can check off in one day. Yesterday, you did one thing. Can you do two today? Can you finish this list by the end of the week?
8. Find what works for you
If you’re alive and semi-successful, it means you’ve found strategies to help you cope with your ADHD. They’re your personal, subconscious coping mechanisms.
Sit down and figure out what those strategies are. Once you’re conscious of what helps and what doesn’t, it will be easier to use those tools in your freelancing.
Do you have ADHD? Is it a struggle or an asset? How do you cope? Share your thoughts in the comments!