Navigating ADHD in Business: 10 Focus-Boosting Tips
If you're an entrepreneur with ADHD and end every day thinking 'did I actually get anything done today?' check out these 10 tools & tips to help support focus.
10 Tips to Sustain Focus as an ADHD Entrepreneur
Managing ADHD on a daily basis can be a struggle by itself, but adding entrepreneurship into the mix brings a whole new level of challenges. If you feel like you’re currently struggling to keep your head above water when it comes to your ADHD and business, keep reading and know that you’re not alone <3
Table of Contents:
- My background with ADHD
- 10 tips to sustain focus as an ADHD entrepreneur
- Turn off digital notifications
- Use noise cancelling headphones
- Listen to science-backed music for focus
- Get specific with your tasks
- Give functional mushroom products a try
- Create a schedule that doesn’t hinder your focus
- Use a Pomodoro timer
- Change your environment when you feel distract-able
- Put on a show or video in the background
- Body double with a friend
- The importance of listening to your body
Navigating an ADHD diagnosis 4 months after starting my business at age 22
In the fall of 2020, I started my business as a Virtual Assistant just a few months after I found out what a Virtual Assistant was and that the online business space even existed. I was working 2 part-time jobs at the time and finishing up my last semester of college—all remotely, thanks to the pandemic—so it wasn’t hard for me to find extra time to dedicate toward my business.
However, having “extra time” and undiagnosed (at the time) ADHD resulted in a hyper-fixation that quickly lead to burnout. I was working on projects for hours at a time with no breaks, skipping meals because I was so focused on work, and not taking time to fill my cup with anything other than work and sleep.
Over the next 3 years I came to understand my ADHD much more, including how it shows up in my business, and what things I can do to better accommodate for the way that my brain works. Now, although I still occasionally have what I refer to as a “bad brain day” where I know that it isn’t worth trying to get any work done because I’ll be working 10x harder and take 10x longer than if I were to wait until the next day, I feel confident in my ability to ensure that I’m able to effectively focus in order to remain on track with project timelines and keep up with my workload.
10 things I do to support my ability to focus as an ADHD entrepreneur
This blog post contains a few affiliate/referral links – meaning that if you use them to make a purchase, I may get a very small commission! However, these are all tools or products I genuinely recommend (and may have used for a while before becoming an affiliate).
1. Turn off digital notifications
I know that my brain is incredibly distract-able, so when I’m working on a project I do everything in my power to limit the potential that something will pop up and pull my attention away from my work. I keep my phone and Macbook on ‘Do Not Disturb’ so that the only notifications I receive are calls from specific contacts, in case of an emergency.
On my Macbook, I also have a setting toggled on so that my Dock is hidden until my mouse hovers over that part of the screen, which prevents me from seeing the tiny red notification bubbles and feeling tempted to check them instead of focusing on my task. You can also achieve the same effect by working in full-screen mode for the window you’re using.
Side note: I actually don’t have notifications turned on for any business-related apps on my phone at any time. Email, Instagram, Slack, etc. are all turned off so I’m only checking those apps when I actively choose to. This not only helps keep me focused, but allows me to set stricter work-life boundaries as well.
2. Use noise cancelling headphones
This was something that I’ve only recently started doing and has been a total game-changer for me. Being able to block out all of the tiny distracting noises, like my partner gaming in the other room or my cats running up and down the stairs, helps keep me in the zone when I’m trying to work.
I use the Bose QuietComfort Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones but there are tons of options to choose from. I really enjoy these ones because of the ability to switch between ‘Quiet’ to ‘Aware’ modes with the press of a button, which easily allows me to switch off noise cancelling to have a conversation without needing to remove my headphones completely.
As someone who is also autistic, I am extremely sensitive to both in-ear and over-ear headphones as they tend to get uncomfortable for me rather quickly. This is the first pair of over-ear headphones I’ve owned that I’m able to comfortably wear for extended periods of time (multiple hours at once) without any discomfort, headaches, etc.
I also typically wear glasses, which is typically another discomfort with over-ear headphones but I find that these are manageable for a few hours at a time while I’m wearing glasses. The only downside is that the noise cancelling isn’t as effective if you’re a glasses-wearer due to the fact that the headphones aren’t able to be fully flat against your head.
3. Listen to science-backed music for focusing
I’ve been using brain.fm for a few months now, based on a recommendation from a fellow ADHD entrepreneur, and it has been so impactful for my workdays. Brain.fm’s music contains patterns that shift your brain state with entrainment (you can learn more about their science on their website).
Inside of the brain.fm app, you’re able to select from 4 different categories: focus, relax, sleep and meditate. Within each main category there are also sub-categories based on what your goal is. The focus category, for example, is broken down into: deep work, creative flow, study & read, and light work, allowing the app to customize the type of music that’s played based on the type of task you’re working on.
Once your music is playing, you have the ability to change the neural effect between low, medium or high. High is recommended if you have attention challenges, such as ADHD and this is the setting that I keep my app on.
Brain.fm is a paid app and, although it is highly worth it in my opinion, if you’re looking for a free option I would recommend listening to film scores. My personal favorites are those from the Harry Potter Series, and Pirates of the Caribbean but there are many to choose from!
Film scores in particular are a great choice for background music while working because they are engineered to be in the background. If you were watching a movie and the music was too intense, it would take your attention away from the movie which, obviously, isn’t desirable — this makes it a great option for work / study music!
4. Break down your tasks into specific actions
If you’re like me, getting started is one of the hardest parts of working or completing any task. One thing I’ve found is that the broader the task, the harder it is for me to start it and the less likely it is to get done. Looking at something like “work on Emily’s project” on my to-do list only overwhelms me so if I take it a step further and say “outline Emily’s email templates, respond to Emily’s email, and work on Emily’s design revisions” as three separate tasks, it’s much more palatable for my brain.
This isn’t the case for everyone though, and some folks are more overwhelmed when using this approach. If having broader tasks works better for you; do that! The most important thing is to find what works for your brain and go with that, rather than trying to do what other people may be telling you to do.
P.S. It's also super important to be reasonable with the amount of things you're trying to accomplish in one day. If you're over-filling your to-do list every day, it doesn't matter how many of these tools you use to help your brain, you're still going to struggle to finish it all.
5. Give functional mushroom products a try
I want to preface this statement by saying that I am not a medical professional and this is not medical advice! Please be sure to discuss with your provider if you’re currently on other medication for ADHD / other mental health diagnoses and remember that it’s not a good idea to quit your stimulant cold turkey!
I’ve been drinking Everyday Dose’s Mushroom Coffee for the past year and it has genuinely changed my life. I know that statement sounds really dramatic for the fact that I’m just talking about coffee, but it’s true. Before I found Everyday Dose, I was really struggling with my ADHD. I wasn’t able to focus, like ever, and was constantly behind on work because of it which made me feel stressed and anxious, which made me avoid the work that I needed to do and it was a never-ending cycle.
I wasn’t sleeping well and didn’t feel rested, and I felt like I was fighting with my body and brain all the time. I had tried Adderall and Ritalin in the past, but neither were a good fit for me due to the reaction that my body had to them and Strattera was helpful in some aspects, but lacked the ability to really help me focus like the stimulants did.
On the first day of trying Everyday Dose, I noticed that I was able to focus better and that I actually felt less anxious. One of the ingredients in Everyday Dose is L-Theanine which is a naturally occurring, non-protein amino acid found in tea that promotes relaxation by reducing stress and anxiety levels. One of the reasons why typically didn’t consume normal coffee, even though it helped me focus, was because it always made me jittery and anxious and gave me a lot of stomach issues so I was thrilled that I didn’t experience any of that with Everyday Dose.
After about a month of consistently drinking Everyday Dose daily, I realized that I actually felt better, beyond being able to focus on what I was working on. I had more energy throughout the day, I was sleeping better, and I wasn’t as irritable as I was before.
Having used Everyday Dose for over a year now, I can say with confidence that it will always be a part of my routine and is something that has greatly improved my ability to navigate my ADHD. If you’re not a coffee-lover, they also make matcha that has all of the same amazing ingredients!
6. Create a schedule that doesn’t hinder your focus
One of the best things I did to give my brain the ability to focus better was shifting my work schedule. Obviously this is only so flexible if you have responsibilities outside of your business that influence your schedule, like kids, pets, being a caregiver, etc. so I recognize that this is a privilege that I have!
I came to notice that whenever I had a call on my calendar, I wasn’t productive at all on that day or those days. I would spend the time before the call constantly checking the clock to see how much time I had before the call and stressing about whether I had time to complete a task, how much time the task was going to take, if I would end up having to stop in the middle of it, etc.
This thought process lead to analysis paralysis and not actually getting anything done so unless my calls were early in the day, most of my time was completely wasted. That’s when it occurred to me to make two changes to my schedule:
- Only take calls on certain days of the week
- Don’t assign myself any work on those days
I currently only have client calls one day per week and I don’t add any tasks to my schedule on that day. This allows me to stack all of my calls on one day so that I can be much more productive throughout the rest of the week and if I don’t end up having calls or if I just have one and I decide to do some work, I’m just allowing myself the bonus of getting ahead.
This also has been incredibly helpful because I tend to struggle with getting my brain to quickly switch from one topic or type of work to another, so even when I was able to get work done on the days I had calls, it took so much effort to resume what I was doing after a call ended when I had to switch my brain to a different topic.
7. Use a Pomodoro timer
This isn’t something that I use every day, but it is something that I find incredibly helpful for the days where I’m doing other things to help myself focus and it still isn’t working. The app I use is called Focused Work, but there’s a ton of different options available.
I find Pomodoro timers most useful because you have the ability to customize how long you’re working and how long your breaks are. The default Pomodoro method is 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break for a total of 4 hours. However, I typically opt for longer work periods and slightly longer breaks because the type of work I do requires more time to complete and doesn’t often have “quick tasks” involved. This allows me to get into a good groove of focus and still remember to give myself a break every so often!
The reason why I find Pomodoro timers helpful for focus is because I like to keep the timer up on my phone screen which stops me from grabbing my phone and scrolling on social media when I start to lose focus or interest in a task. It also motivates me to continue what I’m working on because I know it’s only 20 minutes or 10 minutes until I get to take a break and scroll on my phone or take a quick walk, etc.
I've also found that just using a normal timer on my phone to countdown to a specific time or an app to track my time, like Toggl Track, help me stay focused better because I can see the countdown and it reminds me that I'm trying to get something done!
8. Change your environment when you feel distract-able
Don’t underestimate the power of changing your environment. Sometimes I can be using all of my tools to help my brain focus, and it’s just not cutting it. Most of the time in that situation I switch up my environment and it does the trick!
This can be as simple as moving from one room to another in your house or apartment, or it can be going out and working at a coffee shop, a bookstore, a co-working space, or a library, depending on what type of environment you work best in.
Oftentimes I find that simply moving from my desk in my office to my couch helps me when I’m struggling to focus, even though it seems counterintuitive, but I also periodically go to work at the co-working space in my apartment complex or at my local Barnes & Noble if I feel like I’ll benefit from getting out of the apartment.
9. Put on a show or video in the background
I know this one sounds like it would do the opposite of help you focus, and depending on what you’re working on it can definitely be more harmful than helpful, but there is actually a science behind this.
Sometimes the reason why we’re struggling to focus on a task is because it’s not exciting and we know it isn’t going to be providing our brain with any dopamine. Pairing a not-so-exciting task with your favorite show or a fun video allows your brain to get dopamine while you complete the task so that there’s less resistance to the process.
This typically only works for me for tasks that don’t require a ton of brain energy and with shows that I’m okay with tuning in or out of. I find that re-watching shows I love and have already seen works great for this because I already know what happens and am less likely to get distracted from what I’m trying to work on by paying too close of attention to the plot of what I’m watching.
10. Body double with a friend
Sometimes just watching someone else work is enough motivation to kick your brain into high gear so you can get stuff done. There are a few ways to accomplish this so if you’re someone, like me, who doesn’t have a ton of local friends don’t automatically write this one off as not an option.
You can, obviously, ask a friend to meet you in person while you both work but you can also hop on a Zoom call with a friend and both stay muted while you work, there’s sometimes opportunities to join group Zoom co-working sessions, people go live on Instagram and Tiktok to body double, and there’s even YouTube videos of people working that you can watch.
Last, but not least, it’s important to listen to your body
As useful as these have been for myself and other folks I’ve shared them with, they are not a replacement for taking care of your body. If you aren’t prioritizing getting enough restful sleep, aren’t managing your stress, and aren’t properly fueling your body with the food you’re eating — you still might not see success from these.
These tips I’ve shared are meant to be additions to your routine, but I can speak from experience when I say that when I’m not taking proper care of myself my ability to focus lessens even more because my body is working twice as hard just to keep me going.
If you’re feeling like it’s difficult for you to focus, don’t forget to check in with yourself and make sure you’ve supported your body before you try to “trick” your brain into focusing. And don’t beat yourself up when you have a “bad brain day”, as I like to call them, every so often where no matter what you try, you aren’t able to focus.
It’s better to just allow your brain time to rest than to try and force yourself to keep working, especially when we both know it will take you 4x as long to complete one task on day where your brain isn’t feeling it than it would if you just gave yourself grace, took time to rest, and completed that task the following day.
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