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Being Self-Employed With ADHD? I’d Recommend It.

I am nothing if not a procrastinator.

Most projects aren’t interesting when the deadline isn’t hanging directly over my head, and most things that aren’t interesting don’t hold my attention. Ergo, most projects don’t get started until I have a nice shot of last-minute adrenaline to supercharge my productivity.

Based on this trait, if you’d told me a couple years ago that I would soon be working mostly as a self-employed writer, I probably would’ve responded: “oh, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” After all, there’s the undeniable possibility that being an unrepentant procrastinator + being self-employed = total, chaotic disaster.

Being self-employed with ADHDBut things have actually worked out pretty well so far. My theory on why this is has to do with the fact that time takes on a different meaning when you’re self-employed.

When you work for yourself, every second you spend working is a second you’re making money, and every second you spend not working is a second you’re not making money. “I’ll do that later” means “I’ll earn money later.”

Suddenly, the stakes are a lot higher when it comes to productivity. There’s no “I’ll wait and then do what’s necessary to get by at the last minute” because there is no “getting by” – there’s just a succession of moments, each of which is spent either making money or not making money.

Think about that rush you get that helps you kick your brain into gear when you put something off until the last minute. Being self-employed is like having that rush constantly.

That’s what’s so nerve-wracking about freelancing. There are no guarantees, and there’s no one to keep things running except you, which is stressful. For some people, it’s bad stress, and these people tend not to enjoy freelancing.

For those of us with ADHD, however, I’d guess that this is more likely to be good stress because it helps keep our productivity up. It’s like getting the stimulating, productivity-enhancing effect of procrastination without having to actually procrastinate.

Of course, being self-employed doesn’t suddenly give you perfect organizational skills. I often fall behind with tasks like bookkeeping, which sneaks up and bites me when it’s time to do taxes. But in terms of the work itself, being self-employed adds some extra incentive that enhances my productivity.

Now, I’m not saying everyone with ADHD should up and quit their day jobs! However, everyone with ADHD should keep in mind that environment makes a big difference. If you have ADHD, you have a certain profile as far as what keeps you motivated, focused and productive, and some environments will fit this profile much better than others.

Part of this has to do with accepting the way your brain works instead of judging it. There’s no point getting down on yourself for procrastinating all the time because getting down on yourself doesn’t change anything. What does change things is saying “OK, why do I need to put tasks off until the last minute to be able to concentrate on them? What can I learn from this, and how can I use the knowledge that I work this way to optimize my environment?”

The science of ADHD is that if you have ADHD, your brain works in a different way and there’s not much you can do about it besides taking meds. But the art of ADHD is that you can shape your life so there’s a better synergy between how your brain works and how your life works.

What adjustments have you made that help you stay productive? Please share!

Photo: Naberhuis

Being Self-Employed With ADHD? I’d Recommend It.

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). Being Self-Employed With ADHD? I’d Recommend It.. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Mar 2016
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