My name is Kate Andrews, and I have ADHD.
I also have a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Emerson College. I started a job in my field in the Boston television market (rare for a journalist) right after graduation. I worked as a TV producer/show host/news anchor/writer successfully for 7 years, interviewing celebrities, world leaders, and covering a papal visit to the U.S.
Now I own my own business as a content creator for my family travel website and Instagram, Fashionably Kate & Co. I co-host and produce the Cocktails & Content Creation Podcast. I am a contributor for WDW Prep School, and I write for several other women-owned small businesses, keeping their blogs updated to increase their visibility on Google search results, all while raising my busy and darling 3 ½ year old daughter and with a baby due in June.
ADHD may have once been code for “bad parenting” and a life-sentence of mediocrity and being made fun of for being a little too hyper. But I owe a lot of my success and my ambition to my ADHD diagnosis. I actually call it my business superpower.
In order to learn how to wield your ADHD into a business superpower, you need to understand what causes ADHD.
ADHD is an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, the primary one being dopamine. Dopamine is what makes us feel pleasure and reward. It also plays a role in our high order cognition which is how we do with paying attention, managing time, organizing and planning, multitasking, even recalling details – all important skills when you run your own business.
But unlike popular belief, people with ADHD aren’t operating at a loss. In fact, we are likely to be more creative, more resilient, more spontaneous, have more energy, have better conversational skills and, surprisingly, the ability to hyperfocus – also important skills when you run your own business!
Here are the five things I do almost every day, in pretty much the order that I do them, and actionable steps you can take today to turn your ADHD into a business superpower.
When I decided that I needed to tone up for my 2014 wedding, I started taking barre classes at the only time I had available in my day – mornings before work. As a former competitive dancer, I easily fell back into the routine of getting in my daily dose of aerobics and almost right away I could see a difference in my figure.
The change that I didn’t anticipate? How much more I was getting done post-workout at my job as a TV producer. I would arrive at the news desk feeling more energized, organized, and motivated than days that I didn’t get to my class.
Remember when I mentioned that ADHD is caused by lower levels of dopamine in the brain? Exercise increases production of dopamine. Those mornings that I would get in a workout, my brain would release more dopamine which would help to improve my executive functions.
These days as an entrepreneur and mom, I do not get in a full workout daily like I used to. But I am very active running around after my daughter and I take walks around town to make sure I get in some kind of physical activity every day. If I absolutely don’t have time to do anything, I notice the difference. But I have come to understand how important getting in a workout, even a short one, is to my day so I will do everything I can to make the time.
Actionable Step: Schedule a workout into your day, preferably before you start work, that you enjoy. Then take stock of how you feel after as well as how much you accomplish during the day and make notes of any differences you notice.
Goal Setting & Deadlines
After my workout but before I do anything else, I sit down and write out my to-do list. This can look differently based on where I am in life but currently as a solopreneur I section my to-do list out into three different columns: “Today’s To-Do,” “This Week’s To-Do,” and “Future To-Do.”
Everyday I set goals for what I absolutely need to accomplish within that workday. This is subdivided by the projects I’m working on so it appears more “do-able” to me. The second column is filled with things I need to do by the end of the week such as content planning, some of my freelance projects and any appointments I have on my calendar. The third column is my long-term goals and that varies from updates to my website, to more personal tasks. This type of to-do style also helps me to set deadlines for myself since I know what I need to accomplish and when it needs to be done.
In having my goals and deadlines set, I’m not wondering, “what should I do next?” I have my day, and even my week, mapped out for me.
Actionable Step: While it’s tempting to pick up a fancy planner, start off with a simple notebook that is small enough to fit into your purse or laptop bag so you can take it anywhere. Then every day before you start work, write out your to-do list by dividing it into what needs to be done today, by the end of the week, and then in the near future. You can add to this list as the day goes on, but do your best to stick to what you have.
Now that I know exactly what I need to do during my day, I set up my work station. I know many people will say that having a dedicated workspace with a desk is best, especially if you are not neurotypical (in other words, if you have ADHD). But after 7 years in television, I got used to moving around.
Good thing I’m a family travel blogger and freelance writer! With the path I’ve carved for myself, and thanks to the convenience of WiFi and smartphones, I am able to create content from almost anywhere and that’s what works best for me.
That being said, I do need to have an organized workspace. I will lay out my laptop, phone and my to-do list on my table/desk and then pull up any content calendars I am working from, either for my own blog or my freelance clients, and set up my computer desktop. I’ll take another look at my to-do list and pick that first priority – then it’s off to the races!
Actionable Step: Find a workspace where you feel both inspired and comfortable, and where you can spread out a bit. Then experiment and see if you prefer to stick to a dedicated space, or move around.
Part of creating a successful work routine is realizing that it can change. At the beginning of the year I installed the Toggl Google Plug-in and phone app (there are several different options, but Toggl is free) and I’ve been using timers for everything I do.
Each of my clients have their own timer that I have going when I’m doing anything from reading their emails and replying to them, to writing their blog posts, going over their content calendars, writing up my questions for them, etc. Then I have a general “emails” timer which I use for emptying out my inbox of anything “non-work” related, a “to-do list” timer that I start on my phone while I’m writing up my daily goals, and a timer for the podcast I co-host and produce.
Having that timer going right on my phone or desktop keeps me on task and stops me from jumping from project to project (or worse, tab to tab). It also gives me an accounting of how I am spending my day and helps me to refine my process as I go. If I see I’m spending too much time on a task, I will see what I can do to streamline it and then I can put that time either towards another task or, even better, to enjoying my family.
Actionable Step: Find a timer app/plug-in, like Toggl, and create a few projects or tasks that you know you are apt to repeat like emails, to-do list, client specific timers, etc. That way you just have to press that start button and you’ll not only have a better accounting of how you are spending your time, but it will help to keep your mind from wandering.
Finally, I establish a rewards system so that I have something concrete to work towards. Rewards range from small treats like a chai latte from my local cafe, to a pair of shoes I’ve been lusting after, to planning a day out with the family. If I am having a tough day but still get the majority of my to-do list done, I’ll head out for that chai latte. Whenever I complete a collaboration with one of my brand partners successfully, I reward myself with something a bit larger and more permanent. Money is obviously a great motivator, and a job well done is so satisfying, but I know that with my ADHD I need something a bit more tactile.
Actionable Step: If you find that you’re having a hard time completing tasks or projects, try establishing your own rewards system. Tell yourself that you will do (fill in the blank) if you get all of your tasks done for the day. Plan that dream vacation but implement the rule that you’ll only book it if you reach your monthly income goal. Having something to work towards that you know you’ll enjoy can be the ultimate motivator!
This is a process that I’ve refined over the years, and it continues to evolve as my life and work change. When it comes down to it, these five steps are suggestions to help you to wield your ADHD into a business superpower because this is what has worked for me as an entrepreneur. But just like we need to acknowledge that brains can function in many different ways, so does ADHD. My biggest suggestion would be to give these actionable tips a try and then adapt them to fit YOUR routine.