Peter Shankman: lessons from an ADHD superpower


My inner circle is brimming with people who have more time, energy and appetite for risk than I do. People who think nothing of moving to a new city to pursue a promising job or relationship. People who start clever businesses, sometimes in addition to their day job. They are always super-busy, but rarely unavailable. And no matter how regularly we get together, there is always an inexhaustible supply of conversation.

Hello. My name is Katherine, and I am an ADHD magnet.

I don’t mean to generalize or make light of a brain difference (or ‘disorder’, depending on whom you ask) that comes with its share of challenges and frustrations. I’ve simply noticed that my posse of ADHD achievers is disproportionately more likely to attempt and accomplish great things – creatively, in business and in life.

My POV comes as no surprise to Peter Shankman, the 44-year old serial entrepreneur, bestselling author, keynote speaker and skydiver who is the ADHD mind behind Faster Than Normal, a podcast dedicated to unlocking the gifts of an ADHD diagnosis.

When Peter graciously found time in his action-packed schedule to chat (of course he did!), I picked his super-fast brain in the hopes of turbocharging my own creativity and productivity.

The thing about people with ADHD, Peter was quick to point out, is they don’t operate on middle ground: “We are binary. There is Yes and there is No. There is I will do it Now or I won’t do it Now. There is no such thing as Later.”

This helps explain why ADHD achievers apply hyper-focus and urgency to tasks and challenges that interest them. The trick, of course, is not getting sidetracked. Peter does this by minimizing activities that get him into trouble, waste time or bore him.

For starters, he automates as many aspects of his day as possible. “When I’m 50 feet from my house, my door unlocks and my lights turn on. Everything’s connected so there are fewer things to think about or lose,” he says.

Then there’s his closet. The left side is stacked with plain t-shirts and jeans and a sign that says FOR OFFICE. On the right side, button-down shirts and jackets are organized under a sign that says FOR SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS/TV. Peter’s simple dress code reflects a conscious decision to eliminate choice, which, if you think about it, is inherently distracting. “I own so little now, and it’s amazing,” he says.

On a related note, Peter sleeps in his gym clothes to ensure there are fewer moving parts to divert him from his 4am workout. (More of his life hacks here.)

Although Peter’s ability to construct a life that interests him passionately at every turn is inspiring, perhaps his true genius lies in creating the mental and physical whitespace that makes this life possible. ADHD or not, there is untold value in this space. Which is why it’s worth asking: what could I cut or simplify? And what possibilities would open as a result?

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