About four years ago, the man I refer to fondly as our fearless leader, David G. Johnson, the co-founder of Grow the Dream, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. As part of his journey through the prognosis and how to best address it, he came into contact with professional ADHD coach Dana Rayburn. Dana was also diagnosed with ADHD later in life and their personal interaction and conversations eventually turned into a podcast, humorously titled, “Kick Some ADHD!”
While this may seem like an odd thing to talk about from the perspective of small business strategic marketing approaches, in reality it’s very much on point. People with ADHD are approximately three times more likely to start small businesses. And the numbers skyrocket when you look closer at serial entrepreneurs. I alluded to this a bit in my article on goal setting for entrepreneurs.
The Yerkes-Dodson study of 1908 found that more stimulation was required to perform difficult tasks. Stress normally escalates to a certain point where optimal functioning occurs, and that’s the best time to do the difficult tasks – unless you have ADHD. While almost all entrepreneurs and small business owners thrive and need more dopamine than “normal people,” persons with ADHD appear to lack even the standard ‘complement’ of dopamine. Which is why instead of amping them up, amphetamines actually help them level out.
I could go into much more detail about how this all works – in theory. People who have never even heard of the Yerkes-Dodson experiment refer to ideas generated by it as gospel, such as the concept that early morning is the most productive time. People whose circadian rhythms classify them as night owls, for example, have struggled to adopt or rebel against those prejudices for generations.
Past is Prologue
As I sit here typing this, with both knees bouncing, I know some of you are still uncertain as to why or how this analysis might be helpful. So I’ll simplify and get to the point. Dana and David both sometimes joke that persons with ADHD are unemployable. Because of the struggle to focus, or the inattentiveness to detail – ADHD symptoms express in a variety of ways – it is sometimes hard for people with ADHD to hold down a “normal” job. And sometimes, even if they could, it doesn’t provide them the stimulation they need.
So persons with ADHD tend to seek out and launch new businesses in larger numbers than neurotypicals. And while we didn’t identify ADHD as a specific parameter for Grow the Dream’s ideal customer profiles, many of the key aspects highlighted do fit within an ADHD diagnosis. Since we strive to do what we teach and target our ideal clients with our content, there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this article, you fit this profile. Now, I’m not saying you’ve got ADHD – and likewise, don’t jump on Google and try to self-diagnose. Just consider it might be a possibility.
All this to say, today’s article will hopefully be a help to you – regardless of whether you have ADHD or not.
Bound for Home
David and Dana were launching the podcast right as everything came to a head last year and various health officials asked us to stay home from work and school in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. David and Dana decided to do an early episode highlighting some of the codes Dana had established in her professional life. The idea was that adopting these codes that keep many people with ADHD on track might be useful for all folks working from home.
Looking back, we had no idea how long that staying home period would last. Or that corporations would find value in shifting to a working from home mode and encourage it to continue, in whole or part, as an aspect of the post-pandemic “new normal.”
If you’re struggling with staying focused, making your home office feel like an office, or wondering if you can ever embrace this new model, here are the standards Dana uses every day to be successful in her professional life.
The Environmental Structure Code
You may not have even noticed how your work structure supports your productivity. I often tell aspiring screenwriters who struggle with writer’s block that one of the best cures is to just sit down. Get at your computer, in the “writing position,” and write. It doesn’t have to be good, or great. You can type random things, or stream of consciousness like you’re journaling. One of my writing mentors, when he first started, would sit down at the typewriter and retype a famous screenplay. Our minds and our focus can often be transformed by actions.
So if your environment doesn’t feel like a work situation, transform it – your body will develop muscle memory that then drives your inspiration and action. If you can get started on a task, sometimes that’s enough. The hardest hurdle is behind you. You’ll be working before you know it.
The Office Hour Code
Just because you don’t have a commute doesn’t mean you don’t have a schedule. It is essential that you define what time you start work, what time you take a lunch break, what time you end work. And stick to it.
It is SO easy to start late or just keep working. And like I referenced back at the beginning of this article – you don’t have to make it an early morning. I am most definitely a night owl. So I do my 8-10 hours – starting at 10am. It used to be later, but I’m subject to peer pressure too. Even though the other folks in my house rarely say anything about it, most of them work earlier, and I feel compelled to not waste the day. And it’s easier to socialize when they return home from work.
But whatever your office hours are – define them and stick to them. It will greatly reduce your stress and increase dopamine to know when you begin, and not feel guilty when you end. Or when you take the weekend off – and you can take the weekend off. Or another day during the week. Not to get all spiritual, but the Sabbath that God decreed for the ancient Hebrews isn’t just a religious thing. Doctors tell us it’s actually good for the body and the soul.
If you don’t have an end time and at least one day off, work will consume all of you. And that’s not a good thing. You need to stop, spend time with your loved ones; you need to relax. And yes, it’s okay if you’re putting out the occasional fire – but it cannot be a constant thing. As the meme says, if you don’t take time for routine maintance, the machinery will take it for you.
The Corral and Control Code
In this case, of course, that machinery is your body, in case that wasn’t obvious.
Never getting distracted is NOT the goal. All that will accomplish for any of us is devolving into a shame and blame cycle. It not only doesn’t help – but it’s its own distraction.
A better goal is to try and catch, as fast as you can, when distractions arise. Don’t criticize or “should” all over yourself, but as soon as you notice you’re getting sidetracked, acknowledge it and shift back to what you need to do.
Notice and redirect.
A helpful tip when you’re getting started – set a timer. You’ll generally want to set it for sometime between 10-30 minutes, repeating. When the timer goes off, you ask yourself two questions, and you take an action.
- What am I doing?
- What did I intend to be doing?
- If the answers aren’t the same – get back on track.
Again, no shame, no guilt – just pivot back to the task you intended to be doing. The more you practice, the easier it will become – just like environment, you’re building muscle memory.
The Chores Code
It’s easy to get diverted with chores while at home. The dishes need to be done. The laundry’s piling up. The floor needs to be vacuumed… and that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure I could organize my pencils, water the plants; organize my tools… Oh! I could walk the dog!
But ask yourself, “Would I do this if I were at the office?”
It seems obvious that the response would be ‘of course not,’ but don’t qualify it because, well, I’m at home, and this stuff wouldn’t be at the office. But do you go into the breakroom and wash everyone’s dishes? Go around emptying the trash? Maybe grab and distribute everyone’s mail? Okay, maybe some of us might – but it’s not our job, and it’s far less likely.
If a task or chore is not one that you would routinely do as part of your work day, then save it intil AFTER your work day is complete.
The same is true if friends and family try to “take advantage” of your being home. My working from home doesn’t mean I can run to the store for you or pick you up at the airport. I have specific tasks I’m supposed to be doing for work each day, and those need to be my priority. Just like they’d be at an office job.
The Dress Code
Uh, oh. You might already see where this is going. And it’s something I fall into too. Unless it’s a special event, you’re not wearing your pajamas to the office or sitting at your desk in your underwear. And really, when was the last time corporate America arranged Toga Day for Spirit Week?
How productive you are correlates to how you are dressed. One of the transitions I had to make early on in the pandemic was making my bed. The apartment I was in at that time was smaller than I had in the past. And if I didn’t straighten the blanket on the bed, I was more likely to lay back down in it, or just putter around without getting anything accomplished. And I’ve worked from home for years.
Get up, get dressed, brush your teeth. Do whatever you would normally do to get ready for work, thank God you don’t have the commute to stress you out, and get to work. Dress like you’re going to a meeting. For me, it’s casual Friday every day, because that’s my dress code. Dress as if you’re still going into the office and you’ll feel more like working. Which leads to…
The Embarrassment Code
Would I be embarrassed if the doorbell rang and I had to go answer the door – looking like I do now, wearing what I’m wearing now?
It sounds like a silly thing to be concerned about. Until I tell you about my pregnant friend who opened the door to the UPS driver with her robe open, exposing herself. And she didn’t realize it until she’d signed for the package, stepped back inside and closed the door – catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was mortified and now worries every time the doorbell rings that it’ll be that UPS driver again.
Needless to say, she’ll never repeat that mistake. And you can learn from her humbling experience.
Coding Your Conduct
So hopefully you’ll find these 6 codes invaluable for your continued working from home journey. Here’s a pro-tip – they work for your kids too! So everyone can stay more on track while working from home. And if you’re a business owner or serial entrepreneur, the codes are a great way to stay on track and build your business faster and more successfully. Think of them as strategy for your mind.
If you want to learn more about dealing with ADHD as a business owner or entrepreneurial professional, check out Dana and David’s weekly podcast here. And if you need any help with your marketing strategy or developing content for your strategic business marketing, please reach out! We’ve built our business helping other small businesses expand and thrive.
Let’s Grow the Dream together!