Being busy makes me happy. Following a schedule and working slowly towards a goal that I really want to achieve is a very fulfilling activity. Like most things related to being human, being sick is a cyclical process. If there is one aspect of having a long-term illness and disability that gets in the way, it is unreliability. I never know whether next week, tomorrow or an hour from now I will be able to do what I had planned to do. As soon as symptoms increase in severity, it knocks me out. A regular daily schedule never quite fits with these ups and downs, but having no schedule does not work either.
I have five golden rules that help me be productive despite the unreliable ups and downs that are inevitable.
1. Be realistic
The difficult truth is that I have a lot of health issues that take up a lot of my time, saps my energy and renders my incapable of doing much of anything for long periods. There is never enough time for multiple projects. I try to be realistic about how much time I really have to dedicate to a particular venture, how much effort it will take to make it work and if the two do not add up, I get help or scale down. It is better to be brutal and make the tough decisions early on and sometimes that means passing up good opportunities and missing out on positive experience if these are unrelated to the goal I would like to achieve.
2. Be flexible
Match activities to health and ability and not the calendar. On my calendar I have an hour each day that I dedicate to spending time with my daughter. On days where I am very sick, she climbs into bed with me and we play games, watch TV, talk, sing and look at a glow in the dark solar system stuck to the ceiling in her room. On days where I am better we go out for a picnic, a slow walk by the river or we build a den, make things or play in the garden. The point is to spend time together, not to pick or engage in any particular activity.
In order to get anything done, it is important to try and curb the impact illness has on day to day life. It is just not possible to take a sick day every day. Instead, prepare for bad days. Of course really bad days will always be sick days, but if I plan to be flexible it is often possible to still do what I love and achieve the goals that are important to me by shuffling things around to suit my current situation.
If I find myself doing the same thing over and over, I automate it. This is easiest with paperwork, scheduling and organizational tasks. I write standard stock emails and replies, auto-complete phrases and sentences I use a lot, repeat regular tasks on the calendar and to-do lists and I use applications to do standard jobs for me. Automating things usually takes more time than actually doing them, so I make sure to dedicate some extra time to work on creating an automated system for a task instead of just continually writing a quick reply because that takes 2 minutes and automating it will take 10.
There is already a lot going on in life to start with. Symptoms, treatment, symptom management, doctors appointments, support services appointments, bureaucracy, lots of waiting in busy waiting rooms and a large slice of life is eaten up by huge systems that never run on time and does not care about the tiny people caught up in them. Time is wasted, lots of it. I have made peace with that and I try to spend my energy elsewhere. Make life simpler by only focusing on the really important things. Pick as little as you can get away with.
It is easiest and most effective to cut out big sections, like giving up watching TV or playing video games. I regularly sit down and think about the activities that regularly take up my time and see if there is any that I do because it is a habit. I get rid of these first, if there are any. Then I look at the activities that I enjoy and trim out the parts that are time intensive but yield little results. I don’t aim for achievements when I play games and no longer doggedly stick to normal or hard mode even if it means replaying the same part for lengthy periods.
5. Treat time as a rare commodity
It is easy to let others and other things hi-jack your time. The one episode of TV turns into a marathon of watching the whole season, the quick phone call turns into a two hour discussion, doing the dishes turns into cleaning the kitchen, the quick drink after work turns into an evening out. The road to productivity starts by doing little things (almost) every day. Have a schedule and stick to it and don’t let time get away from you without noticing it.
Get as much done as you can by selectively combining synergistic activities. Sometimes one activity can fuel the other. Listening to my favourite podcasts whilst exercising is a good motivator for me. No exercise = no podcasts = no fun. Combining the two makes it more likely that I will fit both into my day. The more things I can combine effectively, the better, however, when one activity suffers because of another, they are not a good fit. Stop combining them.
Getting things done despite being sick every day is a challenge. If I have a crystal clear idea of what it is that I would like to achieve combined with a good solid plan of how to do it that is outlined in a robust schedule, getting things done gets easier.