All of the following people have something in common; Sir Richard Branson owner of Virgin Airlines, David Neeleman owner of JetBlue, and Paul Orfalea founder of Kinko’s and a serial entrepreneur. They all have some form of ADD/ADHD. A few other entrepreneurs have another learning disability, dyslexia, and find ways to overcome; Charles Schwab and Alan Meckler of WebMediaBrands. But not everyone has successful results. About 4% of Americans have Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Disorder Hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD). Many in the general public think this disorder revolves around being lazy or having no get up and go, but this could not be further from the truth. This disease is a real disorder and can be paralyzing if the individual does not learn some coping strategies. For someone with ADD/ADHD, everything is a distraction! It is like being the crazy chef in the kitchen with every burner and cooking device being used or having 30 sessions open on your browser. From the ticking of a clock, the cell phone notification noises, the sound of your partner chewing, a bird flying by, a sound of something falling from upstairs, television from the family room, family discussion, laughter, all while trying to write a research paper – yes, this is where I live!
If I shared with you the amount of money I have invested in planners and online planning systems, it would make you blush. All purchases were made with good intentions because I want to be organized. But the systems usually break down within the month with more money wasted.
I have been told I have a lot of energy and that is what people love about me but harnessing that power and putting into production is what I need to be doing. I talk with my hands, and I am very animated. I am also a toe tapper, finger roller and noise maker.
Ask the ones who actually know me and love me, I will be telling a story and right in the middle of it forget why I am even telling the story. Now put that in the perspective of giving a sales pitch or board room presentation, would you really want this person to be the one ‘working’ with your company?
There is treatment in helping you focus on tasks at hand, but sometimes this can turn into what is referred to as hyper-focus. This is dangerous for me! When I am working on a project and getting into this mode, granted I should be in bed each night at 9:30-10 pm so I can wake up at 3:45 am, but the next time I look at my watch, it’s midnight, and I am only going to get 3 hours of sleep. Or a family member comes into the study area and asks why you are awake and do you know what time it is?
I have had this learning disability all my life, but back when I was in elementary school, I was told I was slow and behind my classmates. Hum, how did I go from doing 5th-grade work in 3rd grade while I lived in Virginia to being put a level behind when I moved to Georgia? It was ADHD and dyslexia. But instead of learning coping skills, I became the class clown and entertained everyone! At one point in college, I was ready to quit, and my sister explained, “…sometimes a C is okay – it means average, you can’t be excellent in everything!” That is where I started taking pressure off myself, and by my senior year, last semester, I was making A’s. I bought a voice recorder, and it came to class with me every day. Each night, I had to review my notes with the recorder while everyone else went out to socialize, but I learned and retained the material.
Sometimes we forget details, have anxiety and may seem like a terrible friend. These will be all the thoughts you have about our friendship, but because we are friends, you snicker and love us anyway. We might need your extra set of eyes to review our idea or project. A mind buzzing with activity can start to think negatively and next thing you know, we are in a downward spiral and anxious over something that probably won’t even come true. And as your friend, our minds will drift while you are talking and we will forget about lunch dates or appointment times we set up but just know we will feel awful about it!
I have used some of the following tips to avoid killing my productivity and getting tasks done;
I can only ‘control’ my thoughts, my energy, and actions into being the best that I can be. Trying to please others can be exhausting.
I have to take breaks to trick my brain and reward it for staying engaged! I am always playing a game of 30 minutes of focus and then 15 minutes of reward. Varying the tasks is an excellent way to keep my brain engaged while giving me something to look forward to.
I try to focus on the task at hand and know eventually; I will be able to work on another task. I try not to allow the current or future task to become a distraction from the current project.
I try and let colleagues know how to best communicate with me. I hate email and do not want to get stuck in the email zone – it is boring and disengaging. Calling or sending me an app message allows me to respond quicker getting through the task individually or as a responsible team member (my text message service reads it to me).
I have tried to stop being Wonder Woman. I try to not set myself up for disappointment by thinking every task on my list will be completed, or the project I have envisioned will turn out exactly as I pictured it. Tomorrow is another day. I try and stay focus on the ‘must accomplish today’ items. When completing the task, the sense of accomplishment decreases stress and releases all types of good endorphins and hormones into the body.
When I have a large project, I have to make a plan; putting so many 30-minute focus task blocks down per day, then piecing the days available for that type of work. If I do not accomplish what is on the daily and weekly schedule, I reschedule and try again. Each day gets me closer to completing the task. Easier said than done for someone with ADD but tomorrow is coming, and you need to be ready.
I try not to get lost in the details and try and re-evaluate every 15 minutes (half of my 30-minute timer). Perfection is great if you have the time, but I usually do not. When I really need to get things accomplished, I always work with a timer.
The last point is a perfect lead-in for trying not to become, what I call, a perfectionist procrastinator – both keep you from completing your work. To get a task started, I come up with a simple outline plan and then add details. If I get worried about the project not being sound or possible failure, I try and run it past my inner circle (one of the reasons I am late with this assignment).
I catch myself talking about a project, a form of procrastination, when all I really need to do is take action on a project, even if for just for 10-15 minutes. I find when I get started, the whole anxiety of getting started starts to go away.
I need to avoid big, long to-do lists. They only get bigger and make me feel depressed. I try and put things on my calendar, and if it has to get done that day, that’s right, it get’s put on a timer! I drive my family crazy at times, but they know these strategies work for me.
So why do I share these things? Psychiatrist Ned Hallowell has written that people with ADHD are “natural entrepreneurs.” He has said he sees the condition not as a disorder, but “as an advantage. The reason: Individuals with ADHD possess innate energy, grit, creativity, originality, insight and interpersonal skills. And these are the ingredients of entrepreneurship.”
“The most important skill successful entrepreneurs learn—by instinct, consultation, education, experience or practice—is the skill of maximizing the benefits of their assets while minimizing the internal damage. I’ve learned that what separates successful from frustrated entrepreneurs is their ability—or inability—to capitalize on this. The great entrepreneur learns how to harness and direct mental power, while the frustrated entrepreneur spends life trying to learn how. Entrepreneurs and those with ADHD who find the pot of gold are the ones who learn how to master their minds, rather than letting their minds misdirect.” Dr. Hallowell goes on to explain, and I have experienced, that the mind of someone with ADD/ADHD, the brain is always in go-mode. It’s hard to ‘put on the brakes’ or ‘keep the filter in place’ with the mind going in 15 different directions. The ADD/ADHD entrepreneur must learn to slow down, focus and set up a plan. Easier said than done!
I actually hired Heather MacMillian, an ADD/ADHD coach, and worked with her from January 2016 through April 2016. She also worked with my daughter and my husband (my daughter has ADD and my husband PTSD/traumatic brain injury)! She taught me that the brain can be retrained and will believe what you tell it and what it sees. For instance, when you are watching a movie or playing a video game, and the video image comes to the edge of a tall building, you start to get feelings of scared, queasy, or an adrenaline type rush in your body. Why? The brain does not know the difference in the image and reality. If you stop and think about it, there is no danger, why does our body react this way? Our brain’s primary goal is to protect us, so we have to ensure that the brain has all the facts and keep the misperceptions to a minimum. Heather taught me some tactics of helping my brain retrain the way it perceives threats and rewards that drive my behavior. She explained to me our reaction patterns using the SCARF model. Dr. David Rock describes the SCARF model in a video link listed in the sources section below, and I have put together this brief write up about each of the items.
S (status) – Status is your perception of where you are in relation to those around us. If a person feels a drop in status, the brain activates the same circuit as if experiencing pain. Feedback can be perceived as a threat especially if negative. And an increase in status activates a reward circuitry, almost the same as receiving a monetary reward
C (certainty) – ambiguity of any kind sets up a threat response. Providing information, details, dates can provide clarity and help lower a threat response perception
A (autonomy) – People need to know they have choices. When a person experience stress but has choices, this increases one’s leave of autonomy. And vice versa, a lower level of autonomy when you feel you have no choices
R (relatedness) – brain perceives those we do not know as threat (foe vs. friend) so when working in team created a common bond
F (fairness) – A fair exchange activates the reward circuitry, and an unfair exchange activates a danger response
Brain research explains the brain is looking to minimize danger and maximize reward. So when a threat response is perceived by the mind (sometimes we are aware, and sometimes we are not aware) the amygdala (emotional brain) sends a message, and the limbic system gets triggered into a Flight, Fight, or Freeze mode. The pre-frontal cortex shrinks because the body is now in protection mode and is sending blood away from the brain and to the limbs. Our executive functioning ability lessens, leading to poor decision making (which is a limited resource to begin with). As opposed to when someone makes us feels good (Status), we know the task and what to do (have Certainty). We can then think about the options and make our own choices (Autonomy), feel connected with individuals or a team (Relatedness) and feel treated fairly (Fairness).
Some tools to use when you notice a threat response (i.e. overwhelmed and can’t make a decision, feel threatened, want to ‘escape’ watch TV, have a list but are not working):
1) Label it – say it out loud if appropriate – I am really overwhelmed/stressed/exhausted/feel hurt or demeaned etc
2) Take a few deep breaths and attempt to bring corners of mouth up in a slight smile (even if angry) because a smile sends a signal to the brain that everything will be okay.
3) Reframe the thought or statement or tell your brain even though I am overwhelmed, I am okay (no tiger charging at me – I am safe).
4) Ask yourself, what is one simple thing I can do right now, just one thing and take action.
5) FOCUS and get yourself in action to do that one thing.
6) Tell yourself, this is my brain, not me, and I can manage my ADD/ADHD.
Entrepreneurs – if this resonated with you, I challenge you to make an appointment with yourself once per day for a 30-minute focus session. Pull out your timers, stay focused and you will not believe after a week, how much work you have accomplished on your project.
I would love to get your feedback!
Tabitha Myler is currently enrolled in the Masters of Entrepreneurship Degree Program at Western Carolina University. She has owned multiple businesses and been employed in a variety of industries; finance, marketing & advertising in destination marketing, insurance, and athletics. Webmasters and other article publishers are hereby granted article reproduction permission as long as this article in its entirety, author’s information, and any links remain intact. Copyright 2017 by Tabitha M Myler. Speaking engagements requests and contact information can be found at http://edupreneurships.com
Dr. Ned Hallowell. Success. July 18, 2014. February 17, 2016 (date of access). <http://www.success.com/article/do-all-entrepreneurs-have-adhd >
Neil Patel. Entrepreneur. January 13, 2016. February 17, 2016 (date of access). <https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252231 >
Heather MacMillan. ADD/ADHD Life Coach. email@example.com email address. Resource shared during coaching session; SCARF MODEL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isiSOeMVJQk by Dr. David Rock