The other day I read an article entitled How to be a Productivity Unicorn. Just for kicks really, because there’s not much hope of me becoming a Productivity Unicorn any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, the advice in the article was sound, it just wasn’t aimed at people with health problems who need to count spoons and take naps a lot.
But, just because I’m not a Productivity Unicorn doesn’t mean I don’t get stuff done. I move pretty slowly, need to have periods of hibernation between productive times, and occasionally I get overwhelmed and have to stop what I’m doing to curl up in a ball for a while. I’m a Productivity Hedgehog.
|Productivity Hedgehog - getting stuff done.|
Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t let yourself off too easily either
I regularly don’t manage to finish all the tasks on my to-do list for the day, but I realised pretty quickly that beating myself up about this, or feeling guilty, would just leave me feeling defeated and unmotivated. If you don’t manage to get everything done, give yourself a break – with autoimmune disorders, your body is running on overdrive anyway, so you’re doing a lot even if you’re just sitting still.
However, it can be very easy to slip into a pattern of not getting things done or putting things off. A few years ago, poet Glen Colquhoun came to speak to my writing group. One of the things he said that really stuck with me (highly paraphrased!) was that everyone will be on your case if you drop out of medical school, but no-one really cares if you drop out of writing. The only person who does care is you, and therefore you have to be your own cheerleader and motivator. When you’re living with chronic illness, it can be really easy to start “dropping out” of things, and people are likely not to call you on it because they’re worried about being insensitive. The only person who can truly keep you on track is you.
For example, I try to write in the mornings. Some days I wake up and know that I’m in too much pain, too nauseated, or just generally not well enough to do it. On those days, I go back to bed, or do whatever it is I need to keep myself well, and forget about writing for that day. On the contrary, some days I wake up and feel uninspired or unmotivated. It would be easy for me to not write on those days either, and just blame it on my illness, but I know that what I really need to do is employ a bit of “bum-glue,” stick myself to my chair and write my way through whatever’s blocking me. As my old school principal used to say “the best way to get motivated about a task is to start doing it.”
Learning the difference between “I really can’t do this right now, because I’m sick” and “I don’t feel like doing this, but I can if I push myself a bit” can be a huge step towards not only surviving chronic illness but thriving despite it.
This might sound counter-intuitive, but I became much more productive when I stopped trying to multi-task. Trying to do too many things at once left me feeling stressed out, and ultimately meant I stopped trying to do anything. I started out simply by making a rule for myself that if the TV was on, the laptop was off and vice versa (full disclosure, I do have the TV on while I’m writing this but that’s just because I got bored with the film I was watching but couldn’t find the remote!) This simple change meant that I was more present in what I was doing, got tasks done in a shorter space of time meaning less energy expenditure, but also got more quality relaxation time in too.
Add rest, relaxation and fun things to your to-do lists
If you’re someone who feels guilty about taking time for yourself, adding rest and fun things to your to-do lists can be a good way to get over that psychological hurdle – it’s on the list so you have to do it! This is also something that has helped me to build daily routines as, if you’re not working full-time, days can start to stretch out. It’s easy to end up pottering around for hours and not remembering until the end of the day that you’d meant to watch a certain TV programme, bake cookies, or whatever it is that’s a fun thing for you!
Routines can sound like scary things that involve a lot of boring tasks and early wake up times, but building a routine around what you like doing, when you naturally wake up and go to bed, and what you actually have energy for, can have just as good an effect on your productivity and over-all well-being.
Do the simple tasks now
I try to make a point of not letting any small tasks end up on my to-do list. For example, dealing with pieces of mail that require a response, such as bills or surveys, straight after opening them, rather than putting them aside for later, means a much simpler and less-overwhelming to-do list. When I’m tired which, let’s face it, is pretty much all the time, it can be hard to feel motivated to do these kinds of things. But realistically, they usually take less than five minutes, and completing tasks, even small ones, feels pretty good.
Similarly, finding ways to cut down on miscellaneous daily tasks can also help save energy. For example, I eat home-made food nearly every day, but I don’t have the energy to cook every night. Every time I do cook, I make extra portions, so I have a supply of left overs. Not having to spend time in the kitchen every night leaves me more time and energy for other (hedgehog) tasks.
Don’t think too much about tasks before you do them
A few weeks ago, I had several weeks where my diary was absolutely packed. I was going from appointment to appointment, and in between I had to fit in all the everyday stuff. In general, I start to feel a bit panicky if I don’t have at least one or two empty days for rest in my week, but this had gone beyond that into I didn’t even have any days where I had less than two things to do. The more I thought about it, the more stressed I felt, so eventually I stopped thinking about anything beyond the task I was doing, or was about to do, and got through the weeks that way.
Though it’s clichéd, “take things one step at a time” is good advice. Being present in what you’re doing, rather than stressing about what you have to do later, is considerably easier to say than to do but attempting to gently redirect your thoughts every time worries start creeping in is worth trying. I would have been shocked to hear myself say this a few years ago, when I was doing everything I could to get out of doing relaxation/meditation, but it really does get easier.
Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune