5 Tips to Help Get your Shit Together as an ADHD Entrepreneur

5 Tips to Help Get your Shit Together as an ADHD Entrepreneur

I really just need to get my shit together.

This phrase is something that has appeared in many a journal entry, and I’ve said it out loud repeatedly over, well, my entire adulthood. 

It’s been said to (or about) me quite a few times, too. 

And of course I’ve tried, time and time again to get my shit together.

And I’ve failed, time and time again.

What I’ve come to realize over the past year is that this is completely normal for those of us with ADHD.  Doubly so if we’re dealing with other chronic mental or physical health issues. 

At the center of the issue lies one core flaw: our definition of having our shit together is based on how neuro-typical people operate.

It’s the classic problem of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  

Once we recognize that, we’re faced with yet another problem:

Society tells us that we have to shave off our corners to fit in the hole.  That it’s how the world works and we need to do whatever it takes to fit in.

But I’m calling bullshit on that.

Instead, we need to accept that we don’t fit there and build ourselves some custom holes to fit into.  

So, as an ADHD Entrepreneur, how do we get our shit together?

Let go of neuro-typical expectations. 

We have to accept that the normal productivity expectations and methods aren’t going to work for us like they do for everyone else.

How many times have you picked up a planner or tried a productivity method that “everyone just swears by” and then hated every second of it?  

I always came away feeling like it was a problem with me.  That I just didn’t get it, or I just wasn’t disciplined enough to stick with it. 

Now, I know better.  Now I know that I’m wired differently 

So, let go of those expectations.  Give yourself the freedom to create something that works for you and how your brain is wired rather than trying to restructure your brain to fit into everyone else’s systems. 

Identify your (actual, specific) gaps.

The real key to finding or creating systems that actually work for you is identifying your gaps.  

“I’m not disciplined” is not a gap.  Neither is “I’m unmotivated.”

Gaps need to be specific and honest.  And at first they can be hard to identify because they’ve been buried beneath the unkind things we’ve been telling ourselves (or soaking in from others) as we tried to fit into the world’s neuro-typical expectations. 

One of my gaps is struggling to remember sequences. I can’t just say “my memory sucks” because that isn’t quite true.  Some things stick in my brain really well.  But when it comes to remembering the steps to do something, that is a gap in the way my brain is wired.  I either completely forget steps and skip them, or I can’t remember where I was in the sequence. 

“My memory sucks” doesn’t lend itself to solutions. But “I can’t remember if I washed my hair or not” is something that we can create a system to remedy. 

“I’m easily distracted” isn’t helpful. But “I can’t focus when there are competing noises in the background” is something we can find a solution for. 

Accept that systems give you freedom.

For many of us, the idea of systems is synonymous with feeling like we are beating our heads against a brick wall.  

Or trying to cram ourselves into a box that’s much too small.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

All we have to do is create our own systems rather than trying to use the rigid ones that are promoted by neuro-typical people. 

The truth is, systems come in all shapes, sizes and levels of flexibility. 

And when we implement the right ones for our brains, they can be incredibly freeing.  

Why?  Because they fill our gaps. 

And filling those gaps allows our brains to rest a bit.  

When we have a system in place to help us remember a sequence, or reduce our distractions, it’s one less thing we have to worry about.  

With every little system we put in place, every gap we narrow, we get closer to the feeling of having our shit together.

Give systems time and commit to tweaking them rather than giving up completely.

Not every system you put into place is going to work perfectly right away. 

Instead of tossing it, take a look at what part of the system isn’t working for you.  Why isn’t it working the way you wanted?

More often than not, the solution is a simple tweak rather than a whole new system.  

If a planner isn’t working for you, is it really the planner itself, or is it the time of day you’re trying to use it, or maybe where you’re storing it?  

If an app isn’t working for you, is it the actual app that’s the issue or is it how you access it?  Can you create a shortcut or move where it is on your device?

When I committed to using systems for 30 days before swapping them out, I discovered all sorts of things about myself and how I work.  More importantly, I discovered that more often than not, it’s a change of habit or placement that needs to occur rather than buying a whole new planner, app, set of baskets, etc. 

It’s a little like the real estate shows where the couple is looking for a new house and then they come back and see their current space updated and staged and realize that’s all they really needed.  

When it comes down to it, tweaking systems to make them work for you requires a lot less time, energy, and money than constantly looking for new systems and moving to them.  

Seek out accountability. 

Another holdover from clinging to neuro-typical expectations is that we harbor this belief that having our shit together means doing it all on our own.

Again, I’m calling bullshit. 

While we’re here, let’s go ahead and admit that the whole “set deadlines for yourself” thing doesn’t work for everyone.  I see that promoted as a self-accountability tactic and I used to feel terrible that it didn’t work for me and it created a belief that I carried about not being disciplined enough. 

Instead I began seeking accountability in formats that actually worked for me.

First, I hired an assistant.  Being an entrepreneur can be really lonely, and when there’s no one with a peek inside, it’s really easy to just let things slide.  Always telling yourself you’ll get to them later.

Having an assistant and delegating tasks built in timelines for me.  She can’t do her job unless I’m doing mine.  It also forced me to set up some systems and leave them alone…it’s a lot harder to justify tossing everything and starting over when there are other people involved. 

Second, I joined a virtual coworking group. We meet for three hours once a week and work in pomodoro sessions.  Saying what I’m working on out loud and knowing that everyone else is working, too, was surprisingly helpful.  

Turns out that body-doubling is a technique that often helps people with ADHD and this is a method that allows me to achieve that virtually.  

In fact, this helped me so much that I started hosting my own virtual coworking for ADHD entrepreneurs. (Click here to sign up for that…it’s free!)

Final Thoughts

Getting your shit together will always be a moving target.  And we’ll always have days where we feel like we’re doing better or worse than others.  

It is what it is.

For me, the goal is always about improving the baseline. 

I recognized that I’m never going to be as put together as someone without ADHD.  Instead I’ve narrowed down what’s important to me, identified gaps, and put systems into place to help me narrow those gaps. 

The more systems I get successfully into place, the more I can relax and enjoy the fun parts of my alternatively-wired brain.

My Reliable External Brain

My Reliable External Brain

Notion is the glue that holds my ADHD-self together.

I never used to be so fanatical about specific apps. I was more of a “whatever gets the job done” kind of gal.

But over the past year, as I’ve learned to work /with/ my brain rather than try to force it into boxes I thought /should/ work, I’ve gotten attached to specific tools that really help me thrive.

One of them, Amazing Marvin, was the catalyst for learning about my brain and trying to work with it. Hands down, it’s the most ADHD-friendly task manager I’ve ever seen. If you’re curious, I wrote about my love for Amazing Marvin here.

But there’s another very important piece to a true personal productivity system. Honestly, a task manager is a very small piece of that puzzle.

I feel like it’s really important for me to stop and define what I mean when I say “personal productivity system.”

It sounds like I mean “let’s get stuff done and be as productive as possible ALL. THE. TIME.” And that is how I used to look at it. My brain never really slows down or shuts off. (And thanks to a recent ADHD diagnosis, I now know why.)

What I really mean is a system that you can rely on to live your best life. Under my definition, productivity encompasses rest, relaxation, enjoyment, hobbies, adventure, curiosity — everything that makes you feel like you are living your life the way you want to live it.

Unfortunately, many of us enter adulthood thinking that we shouldn’t need to rely on any systems. That we should just magically “adult” with the help of nothing more than a basic to-do list and a calendar.

And then, when we need realize that’s not working, we beat ourselves up for failing to be a normal, operational “adult.” We resent systems we need (like that phone reminder to brush our teeth) and even refuse to use them, lest those around us think we’re completely unfit to live on our own or have families and careers.

So I’m here today to share something very important with you:

You deserve to use, rely on, and live by whatever systems make you feel whole and functional.

Got that? Okay, good.

So let’s discuss a huge problem with our current systems. We’ve hodge-dodged them together as any piece became a necessity, and we’ve typically resentment their use, so we go with the quickest, prettiest way to do a thing.

That means we have a bajillion over-complicated apps, plus scraps of paper, and 15 planners that didn’t work.

When our systems are fractured, our focus is fractured.

When we’ve built our systems up piecemeal, they are likely doing more harm than good.

You see, the pieces of our lives don’t exist in a vacuum. Managing them in separate systems only makes them harder.

Taking time to curate my systems into a single platform helped me learn to make connections between areas of my life that I’d never seen before, which smoothed my life out considerably.

The Elements of a Functional Personal Productivity System

Our lives revolve around information, and in the long run, there are three things we do with every tiny piece of information that enters our brain:

  • We gather it.
  • We organize it.
  • We wield it.

And we do this with the simplest information, like “I like the taste of bananas.” We do it on such a subconscious level that we don’t even recognize we’re doing it.

We recognize the taste and feeling of enjoyment, and then our brain files it away for later, connecting it with the scent and visual recognition of the piece of fruit. Then later, when we’re standing it front of the freezer case at Target, we wield that information by reaching in and grabbing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.

Our brains are pretty fantastic at automating this process for simple pieces of information that trigger a strong emotional response (love, joy, fear, disgust). It also helps if there are repetitive sensory pieces to rely on (a smell, a touch, a taste, a visual or auditory cue).

But what about the rest of the information that we encounter on a daily basis that is more complicated, less tangible, or not obviously related to one another?

Some people have an easy time with these things, but I’d say they’re a rarity. Think Sheldon Cooper, from Big Bang Theory. Some brains are simply wired for remembering more and easily making connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.

The vast majority of us, though, need a little help. And some of us, well, we need more than a little help.

That’s where personal productivity systems come in. And when we’re using a million different apps and random scraps of paper, we’re still relying on our brain to remember where it all is and connect the dots.

The Reliable External Brain

Once I realized all of this, and accepted that I /deserved/ to be able to rely on whatever systems I needed, I began creating what I now refer to as my Reliable External Brain.

It’s a single system that supplements my not-so-reliable internal brain when it comes to managing all of the information that I’m flooded with each day.

I use Notion to house my Reliable External Brain because it’s ridiculously flexible, and as my needs change, it can flex and change with me.

It serves as a single place to gather information that I don’t trust my internal brain to keep track of. Whether it’s a link, a file, a random note, an image, just about anything, it can go straight into my Inbox page in Notion. I don’t have to be picky about the format or worry about it going in the right place.

Once information is gathered, it’s easy for me to go back and organize at (semi-) regular intervals. Everything in my life has a home within Notion, and as a new area appears in my life, it’s easy to add a home for it. Again, the flexibility of format is a lifesaver.

But the real magic happens when it’s time to wield that information. Information gathered and organized, never to be used is useless. And this is where nearly all of my past systems have fallen flat.

To properly wield the information we’ve gathered, we have to be able to find it again make connections between other pieces of information.

A quote I highlighted in an ebook a year ago does me no good sitting in my Kindle highlights. At this point, I probably won’t remember I read the book, let alone highlighted something, or remember to even look at my Kindle highlights. But in my Life Notes section of Notion, I can easily locate it when it’s time for me to sit down and write a post on a related topic.

Gathering information in the same place you’ll eventually use it, and organizing it in a way that’s easily searchable allows you to make those connections effortlessly.

The type of information you gather, the level of detail you organize it with, and how you set yourself up to use it will be specific to you and your life.

The relief you’ll feel when you don’t have to wonder which app something’s in or whether or not your best idea is buried in a coffee-stained notebook somewhere, well, that’s pretty much guaranteed.

If a Reliable External Brain sounds like something you need in your life, but you’re not sure where to start, I invite you to join me for my next live Blueprint session. I’ll be sharing how I used Notion to create my Reliable External Brain and I’ll be sharing all of my templates to help you get started without reinventing the wheel. Click here to learn more.

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