I’ve written before about how being self-employed checks a lot of the boxes of what I look for in an ADHD-friendly work environment. It gives you flexibility to do things your own way, and the pressure of being your own one-person business can be helpful for firing up the ADHD brain. No wonder, then, that research has suggested people with ADHD are more likely to be their own bosses.
But that’s not to say that being self-employed is easy, or that ADHD doesn’t still cause problems. In fact, with the concentration and organizational difficulties that come with ADHD, you can see how there’s the potential for things to go very wrong. Being self-employed gives you room to plan your work in whatever way works best for you, but that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically know what way that is right off the bat.
Over a couple years now of first doing freelance work part-time, then working up to a full-time schedule, I’ve definitely had a learning curve figuring out how to make the most of being self-employed. Here are some of the things that have helped along the way.
1. Have routines
Being self-employed is liberating because you don’t have a strictly scheduled 9-5 work life. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any routines.
The beauty of routines is that they eliminate a lot of planning and organizational work – things that don’t always come naturally to people with ADHD. You don’t have to create a schedule for yourself if you already have a consistent schedule you follow.
There’s a tricky balance to strike. Having too few routines can unleash chaos and create unnecessary work, but having too many routines can lead to routine *sigh*.
For example, you might find that it’s helpful to do your work at the same point in your schedule everyday. So maybe you eat breakfast and start your work right away. Or you eat breakfast, read the news a little, go to the gym and then start work. But it might be overkill to force yourself to start at exactly the same time every day, or to do the same amount of work every day for that matter.
Or it might not. Find what feels best for you.
Working for yourself doesn’t mean you can’t have some kind of structure in your life to keep things moving efficiently. It means you can keep the routines you like and get rid of the rest.
2. Join a coworking space
Coworking spaces are offices where freelancers, entrepreneurs, people with remote jobs, etc. gather to work. When I started working out of coworking spaces, it changed my attitude to being self-employed.
First, it’s often just more enjoyable to work alongside other people. Coworking spaces let you have a community of coworkers without the restrictions of a 9-5 job.
There’s also something very helpful psychologically about having a dedicated place to do work. Working from home in your pajamas is a nice idea, but for me it’s easy to get distracted when the place I work is also the place I have my downtime. Having a place I go to focus on work helps me get in the mindset of being productive.
Now, it’s worth noting that this is another case of find what works for you. Some people with ADHD might find that working from home gives them more room to create a totally quiet, distraction-free work environment.
Personally, though, while the idea of being able to start my work without even having to brush my teeth might be a little seductive, coworking spaces are a more interesting, stimulating and focused work environment when it comes down to it.
3. Prioritize clients who give you regular (and interesting) work
Once again, this has to do with how much time and effort you have to put into organizational overhead as well as finding more work. This is true for everyone who’s self-employed, but I suspect that minimizing organizational overhead is especially important for people with ADHD!
When you’re self-employed, you only get paid for actual projects you do, not for all the work of finding clients, keeping your business organized, and so on. Therefore, it’s a good idea to prioritize clients who give you regular work, even when they pay a little less (up to a point of course). If you make a little more money from someone who gives you a one-off project or who gives you jobs on an unpredictable schedule, you’re probably going to lose that money anyway in the time spent on extra organizational work!
The same goes for prioritizing jobs that are interesting and actually enjoyable to work on. People with ADHD can have a big gap between their ability to concentrate on activities they find intrinsically rewarding and ones they don’t. Go for the rewarding jobs first, and then take the others if you still have space in your schedule.
4. Remember why you’re self-employed
There are sides to being self-employed that aren’t always fun to deal with, like frequently looking for new work. The key to staying motivated through the less-than-thrilling parts of being your own boss is knowing why you’ve taken the path of being self-employed.
For me, it’s the freedom I love. I can do my work however I want, whenever I want and, because I love traveling, wherever I want. I don’t know if I’ll always feel this way about being self-employed, but at this point in my life, it’s a great fit – all the more so because it helps bring out my strengths and minimize some of my ADHD-related weaknesses.
The freedom is what makes being self-employed great, but it’s also what makes being self-employed an ongoing trial-and-error experiment. For me, it took some time to figure out what routines and ways of organizing my projects worked best, but the more I get a good sense of these things, the more I’m able to enjoy the flexibility of working for myself!