Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Table of contents
- Entrepreneurs have to manage projects and are more likely to have ADHD
- Managing Projects, ADHD and Entrepreneurship
- Managing Projects as an Entrepreneur with ADHD
Entrepreneurs have to manage projects and are more likely to have ADHD
It makes sense — despite the often negative association with the neurodivergent condition — there are many characteristics of ADHD that are must haves in the startup and entrepreneurial world. Some studies have gone as far as to connect ADHD with “entrepreneurial intention” and hyperactivity has been linked as an associating factor. While some of these traits are must haves for a successful business, numbers would suggest that the condition is more complex than that.
Having ADHD does not mean you’ll have a successful business any more than it means that you’re going to fail as an entrepreneur. It does mean, however, that your business path may not be straight or easy because your hurdles will be different. It’s vital to find ways to navigate, optimize where you can, and get support when you need it as a founder of a startup.
Managing Projects, ADHD and Entrepreneurship
While many of us will not likely word associate entrepreneur with project management, it is an inevitable part of being a founder or working in a startup. The reality: Starting a business and being an entrepreneur is to become a project manager.
Everything you do will require strategies involving project management.
Project Management + Entrepreneurship and our natural drive
From both our experiences and our research, we find that there are two types of people when it comes to project management: there are the doers and there are the trackers/planners (who often do too).
In business, someone will suggest a great idea and people jump quickly into action. People will quickly ask, “What do we need to do?” Not enough of us will ask, “Does this even make sense to do?” Not all great ideas should be implemented and sometimes they need to come in down the line.
In order to be successful, you need a balance of both “does this make sense?” and “let’s go!”. You need strategy and execution. They need each other in order to get the best, delivered on time, results.
Understanding the strategy will also promote a continuing state of focus as it helps you work through what is priority.
Managing projects with ADHD (+ motivation)
Here’s where it gets interesting: In order to get motivated enough to get to an outcome, you need to have dopamine. Dopamine aids in the executive function needed to accomplish something and to stay motivated. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with reward and anticipation.
ADHD is associated with low levels of dopamine. This means that, for someone with ADHD, getting motivated to work for an outcome can be really difficult. If your levels of dopamine are low or not engaged enough, it can be darned near impossible to find enough willpower in the motivation gas tank in order to execute anything.
This is one reason that people with ADD & ADHD often hyperfocus. When you find something that really interests you, the thing itself becomes a source of dopamine. When you are a natural do-er and decide you want to have a business about something you love? Dopamine.
If that dopamine is missing, though… the execution function required to start to work on that project often leads to things such as procrastination, being late to meetings, missed details and inconsistent results.
Leantime & Entrepreneurship & ADHD
Leantime is an open source project management system and was born partly out of our own needs. When we first got into the startup world, Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Lean startup methodologies were all the rage. As we followed the steps, we found ourselves frustrated by the fact that we were surrounded by sticky notes and had little way to manage the stickies with our tasks.
How could we assess progress? I probably looked like these guys here.
If we couldn’t see the reasoning (the goal) around what we were doing, it was easy to get distracted because there were so many things needing to be done. All. the. time.
What I didn’t know when we first started in startups?
I have ADHD. Once I was diagnosed, a quick look back on my life revealed that it was there for as long as I can remember.
I still struggle with being overwhelmed by all. the. things. that need to be done.
Knowing that I have ADHD was the first step in figuring out how to adapt to both life as an entrepreneur (I’m happiest when I’m innovating and helping people) and as a product manager. Both are possible, doable, and there are many of us that find and create our own paths to success.
Working with ADHD is not the same as just “getting organized”
If you have ADHD, you’ve likely had someone say to you… “Just get a planner.” “Set an alarm.” “Make a list”.
The folks saying these things, while hopefully well intentioned, may not realize that when executive function & dopamine are involved, these challenges are not as simple as a new planner.
There are things, however, you can do to set your projects up to help you work for success.
Managing Projects as an Entrepreneur with ADHD
1. Know your goals and keep them where you can always see them
When we get so set on getting something done, we might end up working on the thing that sounds nice but doesn’t make impact. To help with this, it’s important to create goals.
With ADHD, we need to know what we’re working for and we need to know that it has impact or value to the overall thing. In whatever way you need to set it, find a way to keep those goals at the front of your brain.
For me, I had to learn the habit of asking myself:
- Does this get me where I want to be?
- Is there something else that I can do that gets me there faster? With less work?
- Am I interested in this thing?
- Can I delegate or time box it if it’s not motivating me?
- What’s the return on the work?
- Does this align with my goals for this week, month, quarter, etc.
If I pick only one question: It’s the first one.
Dopamine comes from seeing the goal… not achieving it
When you can know that the things you’re checking off that list will contribute to getting to the goal, you’re building up those dopamine boosts that help keep the motivation.
2. Take regular breaks
If you live somewhere where you can get some sunshine or step outside, set an alarm (if it helps) and take regular reset breaks. Unless, of course, you’re in a hyper focus mode and interrupting that would derail you.
If you’re like me, though, hyper focusing for too long is mentally exhausting and so the breaks end up being a nice reset. Additionally, if I don’t take a get up and walk break, I’m more likely to grab my phone for my break and that ends up with some sort of doom scrolling.
3. Know your ADHD triggers and how to manage them
One of my triggers is task overload so I know that I need to regularly stop and break things down into actionable chunks. If I don’t do this, I can easily end up working on the wrong things because I can’t find focus underneath being overwhelmed.
Some folks struggle with interruptions, loud noises, silence, uncomfortable chairs, too warm, or even it being too cold. Take a personal inventory and notice when these feelings come up while you’re working as well.
Creating a working space that’s friendly to your ADHD will help to improve productivity and staying on track.
4. You’re an entrepreneur for a reason
One benefit of being your own boss is that, for the most part, you can control your schedule. Use this to your advantage. If you’re better in the evenings, structure your day to get your productive work done then.
There will, of course, be things you can’t avoid and need to do at other hours of the day but if you pay attention to your circadian rhythm, you’ll start to notice some trends and you can begin to optimize those trends.
Check out the app Rise; they map out (using your phone) when you go to bed, your total sleep time, and then map out your best times using circadian rhythm through that. It can then give you recommendations for when you need to take a break, a walk, or even should go to bed. One of my favorite parts about it is that it’s been pretty accurate on when I get my energy bursts and when I can focus the best. It’s been helpful to work smarter and in time with these shifts.
Create a routine that works for your brain as an entrepreneur with ADHD.
5. Find the right tools to help you manage your projects
Leantime is an open source project management system with the goal of making the benefits of project management available to everyone.
We’re building Leantime with ADHD in mind and using science and psychology to help identify ways to improve the experience. We’re working on decreasing system distractions and simplifying the project management experience so that getting the best out of project management gets easier.
Want to try? Sign up here. It’s free to get started.
As we work to improve the system, be sure to reach out and let us know what you think or how we can help.
If you have ADHD and run your own business, you’re not alone and there are things about having ADHD that can really help your success. There are also things that can make success as a founder more challenging. By understanding your goals, taking regular breaks, knowing your triggers and using the right tools, you can take better advantage of the traits that help with success.
For more on project management: