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Navigating neurodiversity: An ADHD’ers guide to running a business

I’ve always been a bit of an oddball. Even as a kid, it was obvious that I didn’t think like ‘normal’ people. My brain wasn’t wired to function the way it was ‘supposed’ to. Sadly, in the ’80s and ’90s, we weren’t as switched on to neurodiversity as we are now, so I struggled on in silence, undiagnosed until I was 40!

Millions of people worldwide remain undiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder until adulthood and quite often, as in my case, it crops up during the process of having their children tested or diagnosed.

So, what exactly is ADHD and what does it have to do with running a business, besides the fact that high-profile CEOs like Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Howard Schultz (Starbucks), and even Walt Disney are in the ADHD club?

ADHD is a neurological condition that affects the parts of your brain that control executive function, which is the ability to plan, organise and prioritise tasks. Some skills that are imperative when you run a business.

Adults with ADHD struggle every day with challenges ranging from poor organisation skills, forgetfulness, procrastination, to impulsivity/hyperactivity. None of them are particularly helpful when running a business, so how do you excel when your brain is constantly working against you? You leverage your strengths, and you manage your weaknesses.

There are a lot of perks to having ADHD: hyper-focus, multi-tasking, creativity, risk-taking and problem-solving just to name a few of them. In fact, ADHD can be a “superpower” if you know how to work with it, so let’s talk about how we can use it to our advantage.

  1. Identify your strengths and utilise them: Hyper-focus, for example, can help you smash out tasks that you find interesting, as well as perfect your work; risk-taking allows you to take chances on big-ticket wins that other people might be afraid of; and the ability to problem-solve makes you a great leader.
  2. Acknowledge your weaknesses and outsource or problem solve: If you struggle with disorganisation and forgetfulness, then consider hiring an assistant, or investing in software that can send you automated reminders; or, if blocking out distractions is a challenge for you, try noise cancelling headphones to reduce stimuli.
  3. Routine is crucial: This one will make any ADHD-er in the audience cringe, but whilst we hate routine, the hard fact is that we need it to stay on track. When we implement daily routines, they become habits, thus removing the need for your brain to remember (or agonise over) doing them. Add one habit to the routine at a time and, once that becomes automatic, add the next one. Soon enough you’ll be adulting like a pro without even realising it.
  4. Self-care is important: Self-care is one of the most important tools you have for managing your symptoms as well as your stress levels and motivation. It’ll help keep you positive and motivated when everything gets tough. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to take a break. It could be anything from making yourself a cuppa, to going for a walk around the block, or even treating yourself to an hour at the spa (and yes, those things can be good for ADHD).
  5. Mindfulness and meditation: If you’ve ever watched a meditation video and thought, “I could never do that,” it’s time to reconsider, even if it’s just five minutes at a time. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment and accepting what’s in front of you without judgement. If meditation feels too hard, there are options: Tai Chi, Yoga or even just focusing on your footsteps while you jog.

It’s easy to see ADHD as a weakness, but it’s time to flip the narrative and make it work for you rather than against you. It is, after all, your superpower.

This story first appeared on Inside Small Business and has been republished with permission.

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