I lost my keys, again. My wallet is somewhere in the void. And my phone? It’s around here, on both silent mode and less than 1% battery.
It’s no secret that my brain is terribly physical organizer. (Just ask my infinitely patient husband). And yet, I’m not a good copywriter in spite of my ADHD: I’m a great copywriter because of my ADHD.
I’ll be honest, I used to hate the sway ADHD had on my life. But my real progress started to happen when I stopped fighting it, and everything in my life improved, including my writing. As it turns out, ADHD is a deep well of creative gold.
You just have to know how to use it.
Full disclosure here: I’m not a doctor. (I know, surprising). I’m not going to tell you what medications to try, what therapy to seek out, or throw the list of well-meaning-yet-completely-unhelpful-cliches that come out when ADHD is involved. (Have you tried just focusing harder? How about a planner? Eyeroll.)
Instead, I want to offer 5 ADHD hacks for copywriting that can help keep yourself on track. I use these myself, both in and out of my freelancing work, so you can rest assured these are tried, tested, and true.
Create a workspace that you are excited about.
The best part of freelancing copywriting for me was that I could do it from my couch.
The worst part of freelancing copywriting, it turns out, is that I can do it from my couch.
My environment impacts how I’m feeling about my work that day. Sure, I can be cozy and snuggled up with my dog while writing a blog for my client, but that leaves room for a ton of distractions. (Have you seen a pitbull face lately? How can you ignore it?)
I still do occasionally type some stuff out from my couch, but my consistency really started to improve once I focused on making my home office a place I actually wanted to be. I got the L-shaped desk that I always wanted. I surrounded it with bookshelves to make it homey. And as of this month, I finally invested in a pair of noise-canceling Bose headphones. (It still hurts my heart a little to drop that much cash on a pair of headphones, but I have to say, they’ve been worth every penny).
Half the battle is just sitting down and starting to write some days. Making a space you are excited about can help with that. Of course, you don’t want to go too far and make it extra distracting, but if you can craft a space that draws you in and helps you stay there, then that mental hurdle doesn’t seem so bad.
Appeal to your inner toddler.
I am a grown, well-mannered woman. And sometimes, I just don’t wanna.
It happens. I get tired, I get stressed, and when I get stressed, my internal monologue turns a little whiney. Why is this so hard? Why can’t I do this? Why did I let myself take so long to get started? How am I gonna get this done? So on and so forth…
I used to try to force myself to get everything done all at once anyway. But when my drill-sergeant mindset and executive dysfunction butted heads, it was like an unmovable object meeting an unstoppable force. The result? I spent precious time spinning my wheels and beating myself up. That’s a perfect recipe for burnout.
I came across an amazing Facebook post the other day that really encapsulates the changes I have been trying to make in this area. (So of course, now that I’m actually looking for it, I can’t find it anymore. If anyone has seen it, please let me know so I can credit the original source!)
In the meantime, I’ll paraphrase. Toddlers don’t always throw tantrums to be spiteful. Sometimes, they’re just overwhelmed, confused, and feeling a tad helpless. Adults generally don’t “outgrow” these feelings; they’re just forced to handle them a bit differently.
So next time you’re staring at a blank page and on the verge of giving up, don’t punish yourself. (Since when has that ever worked?) Instead, calmly acknowledge the fact you’re stressed. Being frustrated is not a character flaw. You don’t need to let it consume you, but give yourself permission not to be okay at first.
Then, through all the mental (and maybe even physical) tears, gently remind yourself that you don’t have to do it all at once. Pick one thing that you can easily do--open your notebook, pop out one email, check the first thing off of your to-do list--and encourage yourself to do just that.
Offer yourself a reward, even: a 15-minute break, a coffee, ice cream. Whatever motivates the kid in you to try something scary. (Just make sure the task is actually quick and relatively easy, or you’re more likely to just take the reward anyway. I’m speaking from experience here.)
But I’m an adult, you may be saying. I don’t need to treat myself like a baby.
Correct, you don’t. But you should know that this technique is actually therapeutical, as it’s a variation of mindfulness that is shown to help with ADHD symptoms. So no, don’t spoil your inner toddler, but try to treat her kindly anyway.
Find your accountability buddy.
This one was a hard pill for me to swallow, but once I did, it was so much easier to keep myself on track with clients and personal development alike.
Basically, I can’t bully myself into meeting deadlines that have no consequences. I’ve tried. Extensively. That’s why one of my biggest fears is a client saying “Just get it back to me whenever you can”, because my brain just doesn’t register it.
Ever wonder why it’s so much easier to focus on an essay that’s due in thirty minutes? That adrenaline kicks in, which is especially helpful for neurodivergent people. After all, ADHD is a dysregulation of dopamine (the chemical released in a feedback loop when you complete a task). No regular dopamine, no focus. Too much dopamine, hyperfocus.
So yes, I had to get over myself on this one. Willpower only goes so far. I used something I knew would be equally motivating as a poor grade--getting embarrassed in front of my clients--and used that to keep me on track.
That means I need deadlines. There’s no way around it. If I don’t get them from the client, I insist on them. They don’t have to be major--even just scheduling a check-in with my client is enough to keep the chemicals moving in my ADHD brain.
So if you have someone you trust--a fellow copywriter, an established client, or anyone in between--insisting on deadlines can really help with those mental blocks that come up. I still work hard to get work out before my deadlines anyway, but having them there keeps my flaky brain in check.
Get around your “waiting mode” self.
Picture this: you have a doctor’s appointment at 2 pm. Rationally, you know that you don’t need to leave until 1:30. You have 5 and a half hours to get as much done as you like.
And yet, 1 pm comes around, and you haven’t been able to get any meaningful work done. It’s almost like you’re scared that you will miss the appointment entirely if you’re not constantly vigilant. You have to be ready, after all.
So you stress about not being productive, but not being productive makes you stressed. It’s a vicious cycle. So how do you break it?
There are a few medically advised ways to get past the “waiting mode”, but I’m going to give one that I’ve personally done with some success, and that’s making more appointments throughout that same day.
Counterintuitive? Probably. Helpful? I still think so.
It’s honestly similar to the deadlines thing. Instead of spending all days wallowing in executive dysfunction, I kickstart myself into action by giving myself some smaller tasks to do throughout the day. I even put these on my calendar.
They’re not always significant. Things like check email, call the finance company, find the Geeksquad card are all equally viable options. But by breaking my task list down into smaller parts, it doesn’t seem as laborious to just pick one and do it.
Then, I get to check that off my list. That feels good. So I do the next one, and the next one, and soon enough, it’s 1 pm, and I don’t feel like a bum.
Mine your ADHD resources for ideas.
This one has honestly made the biggest difference for me. ADHD can be a really isolating, lonely thing. It feels like you’re not even safe in your brain, because as much as you try to stay focused and productive, it feels like there’s a physical barrier.
Once I got my ADHD diagnosis at age 26, my whole worldview changed. One of the first things I did was search for books by people who have gone through the same thing. I picked up a copy of Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain by Peter Shankman, and immediately, those feelings of helplessness decreased.
When you know what’s happening in your brain, you feel less blindsided. When you know the biological reasons why you feel more tired and less productive than your peers, all that guilt starts to go away. And when you plug into a community of like-minded individuals, you get the laugh at the ironic bits and commiserate at the bitter ones.
I’m part of many Facebook groups revolving around ADHD in adults. In addition to the emotional support, you’ll come across more concrete suggestions that have been personally tested by those members.
Even the cliched answers seemed more impactful once I was diagnosed. I always chafed at the suggestions of a planner, triple-checking my work, exercising more, and so on. It hit me later on that I hadn’t wanted to take those suggestions because I believed accepting them meant I was weak for needing them.
Now? I know why each of those suggestions applies to my diagnosis directly. They’re not a crutch--they’re a tool.
Any that I missed?
These are only a few of the tricks I’ve used to make myself more productive while dealing with my ADHD diagnosis. Are there any that have helped you that aren’t mentioned here? Let me know in the comments below!
And keep an eye out for my next blog, where I fangirl over an unexpected source that transformed my copywriting technique from the ground up.