Succeeding With a Lack of Structure: Tips for Working On Your Own (Part 1)

We’ve all heard that entrepreneurs are more likely than those in traditional fields to have ADHD or similar traits. Several of the most famous entrepreneurs around have said that their ADHD or LD was in some way an asset on their journey to success.

Indeed, many of us seem to gravitate toward work situations where we can operate independently – the sole proprietor, artist or designer, field salesperson, the list goes on. Many of these positions require working in a setting that is the antithesis of the structured corporate environment: the home office. This can be both blessing and curse.

When we work in a corporate or group environment, we can rely on your boss to “compensate” for your unstructured, unorganized, un-prioritized brain, e.g., “I need that report today!” Workplace teammates and assistants, even subordinates, keep you on our toes, e.g., “Hey, aren’t we supposed to be on that conference call in three minutes?!” Coworkers and supervisors help us get to meetings on time, keep us focused on the important stuff, and then motivate us to get that important stuff started and finished. If we didn’t have other people around, we’d surely be further behind than we are. Certainly more overwhelmed. Maybe even unemployed.

It’s no secret that we ADHD’ers lack internal structure. We lack linear, structured thinking – the kind that allows lucid goal setting and crisply rationalized prioritization. We often lack a realistic sense of time, resulting in horrendous time management. All of this comes home to roost big time (literally) for those of us working from home or otherwise independently.

You can work to improve these mental structures to mitigate some of the associated miseries, but the surest way to compensate for lack of internal structure and that afforded by a corporate/group environment is to build your own external structures.

First, let’s look at one of the specific areas where adults with ADHD lack structure, then let’s talk about ways to build your own structures. Even if you’re employed in an environment with a boss who keeps you on your toes and support staff who keep you lookin’ good, these tips will boost your productivity!

Lacking Structure in…Prioritization:

In a corporate or team environment, you can often fall back on others doing the prioritizing FOR you – “Need you to get this done by 4:30 today.” That takes the onus off of you to figure out how to spend the bulk of your day. When you’re working independently, you must identify your priorities for yourself. This is not an ADHD-friendly task, especially if your to-do list – or lists, as is most often the case – is a mangle of indistinguishable “must-do’s.” So let’s take a look at what you can do about it.

Build Your Own Structure:

There are several ways to structure your to-do’s to help you prioritize and focus on one item at a time. The first thing you can do is simply ask yourself:

“If I could only do TWO things today, what would they be?”

This is a good place to start, but even this simple method often defies your overwhelmed mind’s ability to narrow things down to the most relevant priorities. So…

I learned an even better way to identify and plan my priorities from a friend who’s a successful retired entrepreneur:

“3 Minutes. 3 Hours. 3 Days.”

If you write this at the top of your To Do list and always keep it there, you can easily structure your priorities based on what needs your attention now (3 minutes), soon (3 hours), and later (3 days).

You can also build structure around your own personal principles, values or goals.

ADHD coach, Laura Rolands, teaches that if you write your core values at the top of your to-do list, you can structure your priorities around those principles. Similarly, if you identify broader goals for the week, month or year (finish the so-and-so evaluation, get promoted, etc.), you can use these goals as prompts for assigning your priorities.

Even if you’re happily ensconced in a well-structured office environment, this tip (and those that will follow) can help you take your game to a new level. So, start building!

Watch for the next installment of this four-part series!

Alan Brown, creator of the acclaimed ADD Crusher™ videos, was undiagnosed until adulthood and coping with chronic underachievement, substance abuse and worse. Upon diagnosis, he struggled to learn coping strategies from books, so he developed his own strategies. He is also co-author of best-selling 365+1 Ways to Succeed with ADHD.

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