This article was written for Entrepreneur in 2018 for ADHD awareness and to showcase some traits found in people with this condition, and how they can use them to their advantage when running a business.
It happens to even the most focused and driven entrepreneurs. You sit down at your desk and open your laptop, ready to change the world and then BAM — a few hours later you find yourself lost in a sea of browser tabs or so focused on the end goal you forgot to eat lunch.
Hyperfocus and distractibility seem to be typical qualities for many entrepreneurs, but they’re also widely recognized ADHD traits. I was already a year into building my business when I was diagnosed with adult ADHD. I realized that most of my ADHD traits also made me a successful entrepreneur.
Instead of allowing my diagnosis to limit my abilities, I overcame the stigma attached to ADHD and built a seven-figure business in just two years — and I’m not alone. Richard Branson, CEO and founder of Virgin Airlines, refused to be limited by his own diagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia. Author and Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Ellison has been an avid speaker on living with ADHD. And JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman has shared his experience living with it.
As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to push ourselves too hard, and that includes being critical of ourselves and our limitations, whether that’s ADHD or another learning disability. But, if Branson can start companies like Virgin Airlines — and thrive while doing it — then so can you.
Here are five ADHD traits that might make you a better entrepreneur (and might actually be a superpower):
1. Creative mindset: You brilliantly connect seemingly unrelated concepts.
Most entrepreneurs are creative in some way — they have to be to do the work they do — and those with ADHD seem to have a creative mindset that is “always on.”
Entrepreneurs and those with ADHD are often visual thinkers. Peter Shankman, entrepreneur and author of Faster Than Normal, credits his success to his ADHD. “People with ADHD are usually innovators, because they see connections between seemingly unrelated things,” he writes.
We see the bigger picture and connect the dots more easily, which helps us decode problems quickly and intuitively — and that’s an invaluable strength.
If you find yourself on the cusp of the next great innovation but can’t seem to get the words out fast enough, consider creating a mind map to help anchor your thoughts. A mind map is a diagram that links larger concepts to smaller ones and can help you have a visual overview of your creative vision.
2. Hyper-focus mode: You get so laser-focused you get tunnel vision.
Most people think having adult ADHD only means you have a hard time focusing, but that’s not always true. Hyperfocus and distraction are both traits of ADHD, despite being opposing attributes. Just like being easily distracted, people with ADHD can also focus too intently on something, to the point we become oblivious to everything around us.
My husband calls this “the matrix.” I can spend hours coding or creating Facebook ads and the world around me disappears. I’m lucky I have someone who reminds me to eat or drink when this happens.
If you think you will go down a rabbit hole, try a time management trick, like the Pomodoro technique. Focus on your important tasks for a set amount of time, and then take short breaks in between. Not only does this take the stress out of your to-do list, it also keeps your energy levels up. This technique is great if you tend to get too focused on something, but it’s also an excellent way to combat shiny object syndrome.
3. Risk-taking: You take greater risks (and reap greater rewards).
People with ADHD — including those who are entrepreneurs — are known for being impulsive and taking risks. Sometimes taking risks is required, especially when you believe in what you’re doing.
But, it’s important to take meaningful risks that move you forward, not just for the sake of risk-taking. Protect yourself and your business by putting measures in place to mitigate risks, such as doing a risk analysis or bootstrapping with minimal financial risk.
4. Multi-passionate: Your many passions give you greater depth.
Most entrepreneurs I know, even those without ADHD, have many passionate endeavors. You could say we’re professional joy seekers — always looking for new ways to expand our passions and experiences. But, being multi-passionate means taking responsibility for yourself and your time management, especially when you have ADHD.
If you find yourself juggling too many things at once, consider starting a bullet journal — a simplified analog method of tracking projects, events and tasks — to keep track of what you need to accomplish each day, and if possible, delegate everything else to a trusted team member or assistant.
5. High energy: You’re always fueled up enough to take action.
Having high energy levels is sometimes hailed as the ADHD entrepreneur’s greatest superpower. This restlessness, which can be physical and mental, means we’re always taking action in some way. And success loves action. But, it’s important to use our energy wisely, otherwise success will be fleeting.
If you’re nearing burnout, try spending a little time each morning prioritizing your daily, weekly and monthly tasks. One way to do this is with a calendar or a daily planner. Over the years, I’ve realized self-care is also business care, so I make sure to schedule “me time” in my calendar to replenish my mind and body. Not only does this keep you focused, it also helps set necessary boundaries.