10 productivity tricks from a CEO with ADHD

With a deadline looming, Peter Shankman bought a $5,000 round-trip business-class ticket to Tokyo, and returned home 30 hours later with a finished draft. But many of his approaches can apply to anyone, whether they have ADHD (and $5,000 to spare) or not.

10 productivity tricks from a CEO with ADHD

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our feature, “Secrets of 13 of the most productive people.” See the complete 2018 list here.


When Peter Shankman was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in his thirties, he finally understood why he’d been going to such extreme lengths to achieve a heightened focus, including skydiving and triathlons. In his popular podcast, Faster Than Normal, he interviews ADHD experts and discusses how he’s learned to use his unique brain wiring to professional advantage as an entrepreneur, angel investor, and author of four books.

Some of his tactics may seem extreme: When Shankman was two weeks from a book deadline in 2014, he bought a $5,000 round-trip business-class ticket to Tokyo, hopped on the flight the next day, and returned home 30 hours later with a finished draft. But many of his approaches can apply to anyone, whether they have ADHD (and $5,000 to spare) or not. Here are Shankman’s tips for boosting your productivity, from his most recent book, Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success With the Secrets of the ADHD Brain.

1. Banish desk chaos

“A clean environment keeps the mind clean and sharp,” Shankman says.


2. Ask for deadlines

If your boss says it’s okay for you to turn in something “when you can,” it may be tempting to accept that leeway. But an open-ended assignment can be harder to prioritize. “Pick a date for everything you want to accomplish and set it in stone,” Shankman recommends.

3. Make a night-before plan

Work backward to map out how you’ll prepare for an event or meeting. That can include getting enough sleep the night before and choosing an outfit. Since Shankman wakes up at 3:45 a.m. to exercise, he simplifies his morning routine by sleeping in his workout clothes.

4. Delegate where you can

Hiring an assistant to manage your calendar isn’t in everyone’s budget. Try a virtual assistant instead, or organize your life with tools like Calendly and Wunderlist. “There’s so much good help out there that doesn’t cost a lot of money,” Shankman says.


5. Compartmentalize tasks

Carve out time for just one thing, and stick to that until you’re done.

6. Make rituals–not resolutions

Most people struggle to keep resolutions, so Shankman suggests making rituals, the holy grail for people with ADHD. “The trick is to constantly focus on both how you feel when you do it and how you feel when you don’t,” he writes. If you want to wake up earlier, zero in on the feeling of having a more productive day.

7. Find your routine

Schedule calls or field emails during the same block of time every day. “Change is great when you’re trying to be creative, but not so much when you need to focus,” Shankman says.


8. Plan for the unexpected

Staying productive during stretches of “deep work” isn’t typically a problem. It’s the 15 minutes between meetings–the “short-burst downtime”–that can throw a wrench into your day. Use that time to text a friend or meditate.

9. Find your people

Surround yourself with folks who can support you and hold you accountable. “I don’t care how you find these people, but make sure that one or more of them are smarter than you, one or more are older, one or more are younger, and one or more are not as smart (so that you can give back),” Shankman says.

10. Remember the finish line

Every time you take on a new task, identify the “essential problem.” Then “break it down into manageable pieces, employ the strategies you’ve learned, and get it done.”

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is a staff writer for Fast Company.