Running a Business With ADHD: How I Make My Brain Work For Me

Starting any business, is, to put it simply, really hard. Starting a business with ADHD, is.... interesting, to put it mildly. I can't really attest to running a business without ADHD, but I hear it is quite difficult on its own. Now take the complete lack of control over your attention and add the stress of money.


I think the biggest challenge with running a business out of my home in 2021 isn't dwindling personal savings, or lack of a home office, or even Covid-19 itself. It's just... getting my brain to focus! And as helpful as other people have tried to be, despite all the books on business, none of them explain how to get yourself to Do. The. Thing.

A bit ago, I posted How to Make a Bullet Journal Work for You and that has been a big part of keeping things running smoothly. But it doesn't answer the other glaring problem: How to I manage to keep up with everything when my brain doesn't want to Do The Thing?

In short.... I don't really know. It's different every time. Sometimes it's putting on music and forcing myself to. Sometimes it's tricking my brain into being interested in the Thing. Sometimes it's failing miserably and picking up the pieces as quickly as I can to get back on track.

I write this because I think it's important to talk about our struggles. To remember that there are real people doing the legwork behind every small business. I'm no billionaire, and I don't want to be. I'd rather have everyone working for me making a living wage or ending homelessness or doing something good for the world and not jetting off to space for a quick trip. *Gives side-eye*

This isn't another one of those "Billionaires Do This So You Should Too If You Want to be Rich" articles. Those are, for lack of a more eloquent word, bullshit. This piece is meant to help people who are struggling feel seen, and to provide some tips that might actually work.

No more neurotypicals telling us we're lazy because our brains are different.

Tip 1: Don't Beat Yourself Up About It

I mentioned this several times in How to Make a Bullet Journal Work for You but it really is the most important thing.

Stop. Beating. Yourself. Up. Seriously. Stop it.

I know, I know. Easier said than done.

As cheesy as it sounds, positive self-talk is your primary weapon against your gremlin brain. I'll give you a running start.

You're not lazy.

You're not a failure.

You're not a loser.

You have value.

A trick I learned from.... oh lord, 7 years in therapy. Whenever your brain said "I suck" you clap back with "No I don't." Even if you don't truly believe it. Trust me, even I have trouble doing this sometimes. Eventually, though... it starts to sink in.

So just because "They can do all these things!" doesn't mean you are legally obligated to do as many things. If all you can do is 1 thing or 0 things, that's alright! And you shouldn't punish yourself for it!

We grow up in a system that punishes people for struggling, and that's stupid. That system almost cost me my life. It did cost me the life of a close friend. Unlearning that conditioning is hard. Like, really hard. But it's possible.

So stop beating yourself up about how much or little you get done.

Tip 2: Carve Out Designated Thing Time

This one won't work for everyone. It doesn't even work for me all the time. But sometimes having a designated time to Do The Thing is helpful. I usually set my time in 15-minute increments. If I haven't started the Thing in 15 minutes, or gremlin brain says no, I move on. I go to the next item on my to-do list.

If I've started the Thing, great! If I haven't, no worries. I'll try again later.

If you haven't mastered Tip 1, this one is going to be hard. To not force yourself and make yourself miserable. When your brain won't Do The Thing, now is the time to practice positive self-talk.

You can do this!

Tip 3: Self-Reflection and Experimentation Are Your Friends

What works for you is a personal journey that no one can provide the answers for except yourself. I discovered my system in a perfect storm. I got really lucky initially. But after figuring out that carving out dedicated time each day was helpful, it was up to me to figure out the rest.

What time would I work? Once I no longer had a consistent quiet space, where would I go? How would I keep myself on track?

Through self-reflection and experimentation, I was able to determine that going to the library worked while I was in school, before the world of Covid and online classes. So maybe it would work for work. Bulls-eye. But the local library doesn't open until 8am, and I'm usually awake around 6-7am. So what would I do for the 90-120 minutes before it opened? No one else is awake at that time, so I curl up on the couch downstairs and make my to-do list for the Library trip. If I have time to spare, I read a book I borrowed last time I was at the library.

Through self-reflection and experimentation, I was able to determine that part of why I didn't like working in my new studio was because the concrete hurt my feet. So I got a couple anti-fatigue mats and insoles to combat my plantar fasciitis. That helped, but didn't quite do it. I moved a speaker in. Closer. I added another work table. Closer. I added a pegboard for easy access to tools. Bulls-eye. (I'm a huge sucker for pegboards, by the way.)

Tip 4: Rewarding Yourself Won't Always Work.

I don't know about you, but whenever I try to incentivize myself, it never works. I know the person who said I could play a game after I worked, and nov's full of shit. I'll spend the day doing nothing rather than doing the thing and getting the treat. And if my embarrassingly long time scrolling the internet has taught me anything, I'm far from the only one with this problem.

So, pro tip: stop doing that. If it works for you, great! More power to you! If it doesn't, stop trying to make it work. Forcing your gremlin brain doesn't work. Your gremlin brain is intelligent, and you should treat it as such.

Instead of viewing your gremlin brain as an adversary to be bested, try seeing it as a friend in need of help. If it doesn't want to Do The Thing, something is missing.

Is it boring? Brainstorm ways to make it fun.

Is it time-consuming? Try carving out time for it.

Is it a lack of focus? Take care of yourself first, and try again. (And if that doesn't work, don't beat yourself up! and do something gremlin brain does want to do.)

I have a confession to make: I've been trying to write this article for three days. Gremlin brain said no. So I wrote Let's Talk About the Happy Candles because that's what gremlin brain wanted to write. I pushed publishing this back until Monday because gremlin brain said no.

And that brings me to my last tip....

Tip 5: Get Good at Changing Plans Quickly

This one goes really well with making a to-do list in the morning (or whenever works best for you).

Here's what I do: when I wake up, I get dressed, grab my caffeinated drink of choice, and sit down to make a list. I write down everything I want to get done that day. I deliberately write too many things down. I don't put them in any particular order. Everything has equal weight on my list.

From there, I pick the thing that is the most important. When the library (my workspace) opens, I try to do that thing first. If gremlin brain complains, I open my journal and pick something gremlin brain does want to do. After finishing that thing or getting bored, I try the important thing again.

Rinse and Repeat until Important Thing is done.

Admittedly, it takes me longer to get things done than neurotypical people, but (Tip #1 Again!) I don't beat myself up about it. I'm not neurotypical. I have ADHD. My brain works differently. And anyone expecting me to perform a list of tasks the same way as someone without ADHD is the lazy one, not me. They're the ones who refuse to pivot. I don't care if it's the low-level supervisor or the CEO calling the shots. It's their problem, not mine.

And if they want to make it my problem, I go looking for some place that respects my abilities, despite the process being different. (I actually started this business because I loved making candles and also couldn't hold down a regular job because my supervisors refused to make accommodations for my ADHD, anxiety, depression, or all three. I am not a machine. I am a human being.)

...Back on topic.

But what if I can't get the Important Thing done? It's okay to ask for help! Be it from a housemate, or by calling the company/client/whoever you need to Do The Thing for and explaining some "unforeseen circumstances" have arisen and you will need a bit more time. (For me, the idea of calling someone is so horrifying that it usually spurs me into doing the thing, but I know this isn't the case for everyone.)

The trick to figure out what works for you. Whether it's last-minute panic or meticulously planning every second and being prepared to change the plan if gremlin brain says so.

Ultimately, working with your gremlin brain is a personal thing. It takes work, time, and self-reflection to ultimately achieve. And while trying a new strategy, you may stumble upon your routine that makes gremlin brain happy completely on accident.

At the end of the day, we're all different, and our gremlin brains are all different. But I hope these pointers give you a starting point. Sometimes that's all it takes: figuring out where to start.

My inbox is always open for questions, and I wish you all luck!