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How ADHD Entrepreneurs Can Make The Most Out Of A Virtual Assistant


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

10 minute read

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Life as a business owner is full of ups and downs. On one hand, you have the freedom to pursue your passions and do things on your terms. But on the other hand, your days can feel like a constant cycle of never-ending to-dos, deadlines, and demands.

As an entrepreneur with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), you’ve likely heard that hiring a virtual assistant (VA) can be immensely beneficial in helping you manage your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. They are significantly more flexible than in-house assistants and can cost up to 90% less, making them a smart choice for any busy entrepreneur.

But just as there are plenty of reasons why entrepreneurs with ADHD can benefit from hiring VAs, there can be just as many reasons that hold them back from using them effectively.

To help you harness the full power of your virtual assistant and boost your success, we’ll be exploring some of these unique challenges, and more importantly, how we can manage them.

Why does ADHD make it hard to delegate?

Delegating is an essential skill for any leader. By delegating tasks, you free up vital time and energy to make a bigger impact in your business and restore balance in your life. But the truth is, delegation is not something that comes naturally to most people. In fact, I often find those who need to delegate the most are the ones who find it the hardest to do.

And unfortunately, ADHD can add a whole new layer of difficulty to something that’s already challenging enough for many business owners.

But why is this?

Executive dysfunction

You may have heard this term floating around a lot with regard to ADHD, but what does it actually mean? Simply put, “executive function” is the collection of cognitive or mental abilities that people need to actively pursue goals. According to ADHD expert Dr. Russell Barkley, it’s what enables us to organize our thoughts, make decisions, prioritize tasks, and manage our time efficiently.

  • Self-awareness
  • Inhibition, or self-restraint
  • Non-verbal working memory — how well you can picture things mentally
  • Verbal working memory – what most people would refer to as their “inner monologue”
  • Emotional self-regulation
  • Self-motivation
  • Planning and problem-solving

According to experts like Dr. Barkley, ADHD is primarily a disorder of these executive functions. And what requires a lot of these skills? You guessed it, delegation!

Psychological barriers

A sad truth for many people with ADHD – particularly those who are undiagnosed or diagnosed late in life – is that their traits often made them the subject of criticism, blame, and shame throughout their lives, both at school and at work.

The decision to start your own business means a chance to pursue your passions and put your skills to use in an environment that suits you, but there can feel like a lot more pressure on your shoulders when you’ve been underestimated for so long, by so many.

ADHD entrepreneurs are often reluctant to delegate because they believe leaving themselves with “less” work to do reflects poorly on their work ethic or their skills and capabilities. All the people that called them lazy, stupid, or useless over the years will be proven right all along. Not only that, years of dealing with the social stigma, a lack of previous support, or “masking” their traits for so long can all make it significantly harder for people with ADHD to seek support when they need it.

“Shiny object syndrome”

Making the decision to hire a virtual assistant (VA) is one thing, but maintaining a consistent working relationship with them often comes with a whole new set of hurdles for ADHD entrepreneurs to overcome. The main culprit? Dopamine – or lack thereof.

Studies suggest that people with ADHD have lower levels of this neurotransmitter responsible for regulating emotions, behavior, motivation, and feelings of pleasure and reward. As a result, people with ADHD are “chemically wired” to always seek more. This often manifests as distractibility (always moving on to whatever is more interesting or pleasurable) and difficulty starting or following through with tasks that are boring, i.e. don’t provide a hit of dopamine.

Entrepreneurs may get off to a great start with their virtual assistant, only for things to fizzle out once the novelty of the new experience wears off.

Instant gratification vs. future success

Experts also believe that the constant quest for dopamine can make it difficult for people with ADHD to visualize and anticipate future rewards, meaning they’re much more likely to “live in the moment”. Given a choice between an immediate reward or a future reward, the immediate reward tends to win out.

The benefits of delegation for business owners are extremely well-documented (not least here in Time etc’s Achievement Institute!). For example, if you delegated just a few regular tasks on a daily or weekly basis over the course of a year, the amount of time you’d save going forward would equate to around 22 full working days. No one would turn that down, right? However, that amount of time saved is only achievable if you commit to delegating tasks on a consistent, long-term basis. When it’s tough to picture exactly how much better off you’d be in the future by regularly delegating, the short-term gratification of doing these tasks yourself and ticking them off your list can be much more appealing in the moment.

How to build an effective delegation habit to make the most out of your virtual assistant

A virtual assistant is an amazing tool for any business owner. But just like any tool, just keeping it in your toolkit isn’t enough to get the job done.

If you want to get the best return on your investment, here are our tried-and-tested tips for maximizing your success with a virtual assistant.

Choose the right tasks

What are the pain points in your to-do list that you need relieving? What would make your life so much easier if you didn’t have to worry about it anymore?

While virtual assistants can be a huge help for entrepreneurs with ADHD and can provide support with a wide variety of tasks, there are limits to bear in mind. VAs are best suited for the executive, administrative, and personal tasks that keep you from doing your most important work in your business. It is highly unlikely your VA will be able to stay one step ahead of your needs or anticipate future tasks unless you set them.

It is also worth bearing in mind that you are the only one who can make sure that your business is moving in the right direction, so some things will always need to be done by you.

A great way to start is by writing down everything you currently do and asking yourself the following questions for each task:

  • Is your expertise specifically required, or could anyone do it with the right instructions?
  • Does it suck away your time without a sufficient return on investment?
  • Is it important but you often put it off because you don’t enjoy doing it?
  • Is it often neglected because it’s a low priority compared to your other tasks?

If a task ticks any of those boxes, you should consider delegating it. Another easy way to determine which of your tasks can be delegated is by using our free to-do list optimizer.

Clear instructions

Once you’ve decided what you would like to delegate, a crucial next step is to make sure your assistant will have everything they need to complete the task. For example, does your assistant need any login information? Do they need to use specific software or programs? Providing clear guides and expectations is an absolute must, but this can be tricky for ADHD entrepreneurs.

Communication issues may not be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of ADHD, but speech and language experts believe there is a link. ADHD minds can be constantly racing, jumping between each new thought and idea at 100mph. As a result, we might not express ourselves as clearly as we might think – or would like. We’re more inclined to rush through things, assuming that others’ minds work at a similar pace, when in reality they may have lost track several sentences back.

So when you are creating your instructions, it’s a good idea to test them out with a colleague who has never done the work before to ensure that they are clear and understandable. Alternatively, you might find it more effective to record your screen while you complete the task yourself. If you choose this option, you should still make sure you include all the other information your VA will need, such as log-in details and deadlines, and that you store them in an easy-to-find and easily accessible place.

Switch up your schedule

To really maximize the benefits of your virtual assistant, delegation shouldn't be just a one-time thing. It’s time to make it part of your regular routine.

Block out time in your calendar each day or week to delegate a new task (if you’ve tasked your assistant with organizing your schedule, they could even do this for you!), or set regular alarms or reminders. These are best set for times when you’re least likely to be engaged in something else, as that’s when we’re most likely to hit “snooze” or “ignore”. Despite our best intentions of coming back to it later, let’s be honest, we’ll either forget or find something more interesting or appealing to do instead.

There is no right or wrong way, what matters is that it works for you. Do it until delegation becomes second nature.

Dopamine rewards

No matter how we feel about a certain task, our ADHD brains will just say “Nope.” If you find you’re frequently putting off delegating or struggling to get started altogether, the good news is there is a simple yet incredibly effective way to overcome this.

Rightly or wrongly, your brain doesn’t associate this task with dopamine, so it drains all your motivation to try and steer you toward something more rewarding. Whether you’ve blocked out time in your calendar or set an alarm, make sure you give yourself an actual reward immediately afterward. The key is to make it something you really do enjoy, as this will provide you with a hit of dopamine that our brains are constantly seeking. By giving yourself the reward that your brain might not have had otherwise, tasks become much easier to start and habits become easier to stick to.

Be honest

The decision of whether or not to disclose your ADHD to others can be a tricky one. On the one hand, you may feel like you need to keep it to yourself in order to avoid being judged. On the other hand, you may feel it's important for people to be aware of your condition in order to better understand and support you.

Of course, the decision is solely yours to make, but in my experience, being open and honest goes a long way in building a successful working relationship. Having an understanding of your needs will help both of you to establish systems and structures that will make your experience as smooth and successful as possible.

What’s The Botton Line?

No matter who you are and no matter where on the ADHD spectrum you fall, the truth is that trying to do everything yourself will only get you so far.

That's why it's vital for business owners to take advantage of the resources and support that are available to them. Needing a few extra pairs of hands on deck isn’t a sign of weakness, laziness, or incompetence. It’s a sign that your business is ready to reach the next level, and you’re giving it what it needs to grow. By delegating the tasks that are holding you back, you can ensure that everything always gets done, without sacrificing your sanity.

Are you ready for a less stressful, more successful life? Are you ready to take back control of your time?

At Time etc, our mission is to help entrepreneurs do more, achieve more, and earn more by matching them with the best virtual assistants for their tasks.

Speak to our expert team to get started, we’ll set you up with a dedicated professional based on the skills and experience you need.

Or try us out for free today!

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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