How to Manage Freelance Writing With ADHD: 8 Tips for Success

How to Manage Freelance Writing With ADHD: 8 Tips for Success

As a kid, you couldn’t sit still. In school, you were labeled a lazy, hyperactive, underachiever. Growing up, it was always hard to sit through the requisite classes and force yourself to stick to the task at hand.

As an adult, you’re always putting your foot into your mouth. You get on the boss’ nerves. You’ve been fired for saying what you think. Sometimes you’re organized, and sometimes disorganized. You’ve taken medication, or learned to manage without it.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a diagnosis that follows you everywhere. It shows itself in all areas of your work life and family life. It helps you and hurts you.

Now, you’re freelancing. The freedom might be good for you — but it might not be. How will you force yourself to get stuff done?

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t pretend to. But as a writer with ADHD, I do have some tips for successfully managing your business while dealing with this ever-present challenge.

1. Work with yourself

And don’t try to work against yourself. You’ll be a happier person if you accept yourself.

If it’s hard to sit, then stand. If you have a short attention span, switch back and forth between assignments. Do you work better with music? Go for it!

Consider finding a therapist or coach who can help you. A coach will be able to help you define goals and reach them. A therapist will be able to help you sort through the feelings of frustration, guilt, and failure that may have accompanied you through much of your life.

2. Get up and move

Freelancing means freedom. You’re not tied to a desk with a boss standing over you. Even if you’re earning per hour, those hours don’t have to be contiguous.

When you need to get up and move, do it. If you can’t concentrate, go for a run. Or, take your bike and go grocery shopping.

After you get home, your head will be clearer. You’ll have renewed energy and patience, and will be more productive.

3. Get a friend to help

Friends are always important. But for a freelancer, especially a freelancer with ADHD, friends can be the difference between success and failure.

Working with coworkers, a boss, and managers helps you stick to your tasks. They pressure you to get the job done. Now, you’re on your own. If you don’t motivate yourself, you’ll lose clients. If you lose clients, you won’t have an income.

Ask a friend to help. This friend doesn’t need to be a writer, but should be someone who’s ready and willing to hold you accountable for your progress. Your friend should contact you every few hours, or at the very least, every day — and you’ll need to report on how much you’ve accomplished.

Don’t have a friend willing to commit? Offer to pay someone. For $5-10 a week, someone will probably be willing to boss you around once a day.

4. Make a schedule

Schedules mean structure. For those with ADHD, structure is an indispensable tool that helps us successfully complete tasks. Freelancing means that you no longer have a predetermined, outside schedule.

In order to succeed, you need to create your own schedule. Go to sleep around the same time every night. Get up at the same time every morning. Have someone call your phone, or dump water on your head, so that you can’t ignore your alarm clock.

5. Get dressed and get fed

Part of having a set schedule is getting dressed every morning. As a freelancer, you might be tempted to spend all day in your pajamas. After all, you don’t need to wear work clothes in order to work.

But you do need to get dressed — and then start work on time, and sit in the same place, and do the same things, in the same order — so that you’ll be able to concentrate on your work and meet your deadlines.

You also need to set times to eat, and times to prepare meals. Meal preparation can be done the night before, the weekend before, or during those times you can’t sit long enough to work. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re just not able to concentrate on your work. Advance planning and using your “out-of-it” time for something productive will both help you stay on track.

6. Work [when you’re] ahead

You probably have times when you’re on a roll, and times when you just can’t manage to sit. There’s no magic formula for dealing with this, but doing work in advance can help.

If you need to write two posts each week about fixing cars, you don’t have to stop there — you can write seven when you’re feeling creative and energetic. Save those extra drafts for when you hit a low-energy period. By preparing some work ahead of time, your clients don’t notice fluctuations in your productivity.

7. Break it up

A big project can be overwhelming to the point of leaving you frozen in place from fear. You can work through that fear. Find a hand to hold, and a friend to encourage you.

Then, bit by bit, break that huge task into smaller pieces. You’re not doing this task right away. You’re simply breaking it up. When you’re done with that, go to sleep.

In the morning, look at the list of small, easy, tasks that you have to do. You’ll feel more confident and be more productive.

Challenge yourself to see how many of those items you can check off in one day. Yesterday, you did one thing. Can you do two today? Can you finish this list by the end of the week?

8. Find what works for you

If you’re alive and semi-successful, it means you’ve found strategies to help you cope with your ADHD. They’re your personal, subconscious coping mechanisms.

Sit down and figure out what those strategies are. Once you’re conscious of what helps and what doesn’t, it will be easier to use those tools in your freelancing.

Do you have ADHD? Is it a struggle or an asset? How do you cope? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Filed Under: Freelancing
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10 comments

  • Hello Chana,
    This is really a very lovely post. Indeed, freelance writing is not an easy task neither is it a rocket science.

    I believe that with enough dedication, we will be able to pass through all the challenges that is associated with it. I love all the tips you shared here especially the point about working with yourself.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Blake says:

    Hi Chana,

    Great post that hits me at exactly the right time. You mention putting together a schedule. I need to do this but can you help me understand what that looks like. I mean particularly in planning work.

    Do you sit down first thing each day and make a list of tasks for the day? Create that the night before? Or how else can I tackle this? When on deadline I am tireless. Lacking hard deadlines, I sometimes struggle.

    • The main question is, what format of schedule works best for you?
      My sister plans her schedule (or at least, she used to) down to every minute:
      7:00 wake up
      7: 02 wash hands and face
      7:05 brush teeth
      . . . and so on. She went stir crazy if she was off by 2 minutes. I’m not suggesting you go that far, but a schedule with times is an option.

      Another option is to make a list of what needs to get done each day, and write down the order you’ll do it in. Maybe you want to group tasks together, according to place or type, and then decide which group to tackle first.

      Or maybe you need a school schedule: 8:00 start working; 10:30 recess; 10:45 work more. You can make the first “class” at 8:00 a set activity – social media management, finding leads, writing first drafts, emailing clients. Or you can make the first class on Monday reviewing final drafts and sending them in, and the first class on Tuesday dealing with invoices.

      Is there anyone who can give you an “outside” deadline? Maybe a friend can charge you $2 for every project you procrastinate on?

      • Blake says:

        I really like the school schedule idea. I think I may try and chop up my day that way. Then if I go for a run over lunch I’ll feel like I earned it more.

        And I can take a proactive approach to making sure all “buckets” get hit in a given week. That is very helpful, thank you so much for the advice.

        • A run doesn’t have to be earned! It can help you earn *more*. I’ve seen in a few places that strenuous exercise has the same [positive] effect as Ritalin for about 4 hours. Plus, it doesn’t have side effects. 🙂

          If you really want to have a “school day”, set an alarm on your phone. You can probably find one that sounds like a school bell, too.

          Good luck!

  • Chitra says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m a writer with ADD who’s two weeks away from going back to a full-time freelance schedule, this time with adult bills to pay and a home to run. I’ve recently stopped ignoring and started acknowledging and working around/with my ADD, and this post was so encouraging and motivational. Managing my schedule and getting work done on time has always been a challenge and it is a definite source of worry, and this post is going to be on my bookmarked list for a long time. It also just made me feel very understood, which is always nice! 🙂

  • Sammie says:

    As a newbie blogger who was also fairly recently diagnosed with ADD, I really needed this article. I am fortunate enough to have a best friend that I’ve (ironically) called my accountability partner. I’ve always had trouble with organization, but have been trying to get better. I absolutely HAVE to write everything down or else something else will occupy my mind and I’ll have completely forgotten important tasks. It’s happened to me many times before. I’m not on any sort of medication for my ADD, but instead have opted to take an all natural supplement. It helps, but I still think that writing down every plan, every idea for content, etc. has been the most helpful.
    Also, If I don’t have a clean space to work in (unfortunately this has been a problem for me in my past attempts at, well, anything really.), then I get distracted with everything else around me.