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Time management and mental health

We’re all super busy… right? I don’t think it’s just me, we feel like there’s a mountain of things to do. Then you try to get through the list and when you look away just for a second, suddenly you have twice the work left. This is particularly troublesome for someone like me who has serious mental health issues (along with physical health issues). I want to do all the things, but my mind and body have other plans for me. Somehow I still manage my deadlines and since I was specifically asked to share, we’ll talk about how I do it.

Sometimes things pile up. Up until recently I was working on four papers simultaneously as the first author. Add to that classes, work, and other projects and I’m juggling so many things the stress alone would be enough to kill me. Over the years I’ve found two things, the first is I need to keep my life simple to function. The second is that nothing will get done if I have to remember it all.

This probably doesn’t apply to you. I’m disabled and deal with severe depression (to say the least), so having a simple routine means I can go into autopilot, do my basic selfcare, and not be totally drained afterwards. Simple means that breakfast and lunch meals are basically fixed. I have my breakfast, which is always the same, and my lunch, which varies, but only slightly. Showers are thrown onto my schedule as is my nightly routine, the basics, things I need to do to stay alive, I have simplified because if they aren’t I will drop the ball. It’s sad, but it’s happened.

Once I lived on primarily applesauce for like a week, at least. That may have been the only thing I ate now that I think about it and it wasn’t much. Like literally a single jar I would, eat (drink from), stick in fridge, repeat as needed. Sometimes depression is like that, having a routine doesn’t exactly force me to take care of myself, but it helps that I have a very simple self care schedule. Being an adult is hard, for some of us it’s harder than others. Therefore I find it best to have simple things ready to throw together for my two main meals. Dinners vary wildly, but it’s easier managing a single meal than trying to figure out three. I’ve found that brain power is a commodity and once I’m out, that’s it for awhile, so I save it for when it’s needed.

As with everything, your mileage may vary because my routine is just that, mine. Yours may look completely different, but if you find yourself struggling, it may not hurt to at least try to simplify your self care and see how you feel. It’s helped me tremendously and I wish someone would’ve suggested it without me having to find my way their blindly.

The second point is more general and I think everyone could use it. Remembering all the things is stressful. Hell, remembering half the things is stressful. Don’t do it, you don’t realize how much anxiety you will have if you try to keep track of everything in your head. Or maybe that part is just me, I didn’t realize how stressful and anxiety inducing it was to keep track of the things I needed to do. My brain was constantly trying to remember stuff, days, times, deadlines, all of it. It’s not healthy, trust me on that.

I’ve crafted a system that works almost perfectly for me. As always your mileage may vary here too because my system was made just for me. Still, it may give you some ideas how to create your own system that works better for you or at least demonstrate some new ways to manage your time. This is also one of those things I wish people taught in school or something so I didn’t have to blindly create my own.

The first layer of my two layer system is my calendar. Any non-regular task is listed on the day and time it will happen. Cell phones are amazing so I can glance and add things to my calendar as needed without too much effort or thought. To make it even simpler, I’ve color coded my events. Work is purple, school is blue, medical/health is red, things like that. One look and I can see over the month what is happening and I know without opening my calendar how it relates to me. Not having to read each entry saves me so much time. I’m an anxious person so I’m constantly checking my calendar trying to see what’s going on, this makes it much easier for me.

The second layer is tick-tick. It’s an app I absolutely love and I’ve used for nearly a decade now (roughly). Recurring tasks are automated for me so I can create them, forget them and let my app remind me of the tasks for the day without fail. I have medicine reminders, reminders to shower, pay bills, eat food, basic adult stuff that I miss enough that I need a reminder. I can set multiple timed reminders so if I have something time sensitive it will let me know. That way I am sure I’m on time, every time.

These two layers work together because my calendar automatically gets imported into the app. It doesn’t create a specific task, but the event is listed there so I can manually create my task for that particular event. Every week I go in and setup the events for the week ahead, I have a reminder in the app to remember to do that as well.

Since there are experiments and things for school/work that happen randomly throughout the week I need to make sure that I have them added in. Once I create the new task, I can remove the calendar entry from the list in the app and that way I know if there’s a calendar entry in my 7-day view I need to add/remove/update my reminders. It sounds complicated as I write this, but it’s super easy for me and it’s helped me a lot. Sometimes mid week we will get an experiment the same week, so it goes into the calendar and I may forget to add it to my app, the app already imported my calendar so even if I don’t get a active reminder, I look at my to-do list for the day enough that I will see it and update as needed.

This system means I remember absolutely nothing. It’s great. You have no idea how much stress a system like that removed for me. I had no idea how much stress relief I would get from a system like that in place. I don’t have to stress out about forgetting things now because I know I won’t forget. I’m always where I need to be when I need to be there. I have deadline reminders days, weeks, and when needed months in advance, I have important school events listed, even the mundane things like a reminder to send an email or ask a question get tossed into the app.

I’m not suggesting the app is the only to-do list app that works, I’m just saying it’s the best one I found for me. Plus it’s free, there are no ads, and while there is a paid subscription service for it, it’s still very functional without it. I have yet to jump into the paid version and it’s been incredibly helpful without it. The app also has a pomodoro technique ability tied into it so if you’re into that sort of thing you can use it. It also keeps a bunch of stats that I find useful so you can see how many tasks you’ve completed for the day, week, month also how many pomo’s you’ve done (again if you’re into that sort of thing).

Because I’m me and I deal a lot with a phenomenon I’ve taken to calling time skips, I use the pomo to keep me present. Even then, it’s a mixed bag and I will suddenly find myself going from afternoon to evening in the blink of an eye and wondering what the hell just happened. Time skips… I’ve never gotten used to it. Sometimes I think it’s because I hyperfocus on a task and get a massive amount done, but mostly I’m not sure what happens when they occur. Having the timer go off every hour and forcing me to reset it keeps me (somewhat) in the moment. It’s drastically reduced the number of skips I have in a week and sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I won’t have any.

My use of the pomo timer (short for pomodoro) as a way to remain present is a great example of finding the best arrangement for you. Maybe you would prefer to use the pomo timer the way it’s designed, or maybe you don’t want to use it at all. That’s the great thing about finding what works best for you, it’s tailored to what you need. That is also why I despise the one-size-fits-all time management tools that people try to sell (because they ARE selling you a product). There is no one-size-fits-all! Time management is a very personal thing.

So this is my long winded explanation of how I managed to survive my BS, MS, and with a little luck, my PhD. I don’t think my exact system will work well for everyone, but I do hope that it gives you some ideas about how to find the best system for yourself. Out of all the medications I’ve been on, this system has done the most for reducing my anxiety. While I’m still on medications and suggest that if you need them, get them, there are also things you can do in your life to augment the effectiveness, this is just one of the ways I’ve changed to make sure I can function.

In short, being an adult is hard and no one ever taught me how to do half the important stuff I needed to know. This is my attempt at helping others realize that there are easier ways to adult!


15 responses

  1. Great advice. Funny but I had been thinking about how I need to establish a routine. Routines are what made me able to complete tasks when I worked and it has been difficult to stay focused. I will try out some of your tips 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    February 21, 2022 at 1:40 pm

  2. You hit it on the head there that time management is a personal thing. The way we go about tackling our tasks are too, and it’s up to us to find our own ways to do so. I myself use pen and paper, lol. Thanks for sharing your methods!

    Liked by 3 people

    February 21, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    • Thank you. Pen and paper?! My handwriting is too horrible to do that reliably, but more power to you! I’m glad you found a method that works well for you.


      February 22, 2022 at 1:43 pm

  3. I actually really like keeping a simple self-maintenance routine, even though I don’t deal with the same challenges, because … I find those kinds of tasks utterly tedious. I don’t have time to cook or clean or make myself look pretty … I’m mortal. It was a game-changer when I found out that I could soak my oatmeal in the fridge overnight and not even have to cook it.

    Back when I was a kid, I had a solid narrative and factual memory, but a pretty poor memory for to-dos and upcoming events. I kinda grew out of it – nowadays, I can usually stay on top of my schedule without even bothering with a calendar. I still have some habits that came out of trying to cope, though. I use a belt bag instead of a purse because it stays attached to me, so I can’t set it down somewhere and forget to pick it up again. When I’m out of the house, I compulsively slap my pockets to make sure my keys are in there (maybe not as much as I used to).

    As a child, I got yelled at and guilt-tripped a fair bit. “If you really cared, you would have remembered.” There was one time when I was ordered to write out “I will remember to do X” over and over, on some impression that this would help. I tried to refuse, because I thought it was tantamount to lying: no matter what I did, I would not be able to ensure I would remember, so “I will remember” was a false statement. Then I got threatened with punishment until I wrote it anyway. The advice I remember getting was stuff like “double-check anything you might have forgotten.” I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to have time for that. The space of “things I might have forgotten” is practically infinite; if I knew what to double-check and when, then I would have remembered it in the first place.

    It’s been reassuring and vindicating to me to find out there are other people who also don’t remember future tasks, even into adulthood, because it’s just harder for them – they don’t get the ping from their subconscious that says “Tomorrow is Bob’s birthday,” or “You’re about to leave and must now recall that you need to pick your purse up.” Again, I seem to have the ability now, but how I do it is somewhat mysterious. Maybe that’s why reminder management is not taught – a lot of people can do it innately, and they don’t even understand how they do it, but they assume everyone else can too.

    Liked by 3 people

    February 21, 2022 at 11:21 pm

    • Ugh I’m sorry that sounds awful. I’m the same way, can remember random facts and even song lyrics just fine, but the second I need to remember a meeting I’m done for. I think part of the issue is you not only need to remember when (day/time), but you also need to keep track of the day and time to make sure you make your meeting. I don’t know how people manage to do it without some sort of reminder.

      I agree with the simple self care, I always get envious of people who dress nicely daily. mostly it’s because I couldn’t even if I wanted to, not so much that I want to. I don’t get how people can be so put together, but I’m like 98% sure if you could see into their life they are probably just as close to falling apart as any of us. Just a guess.

      I never thought about why we’re never taught to make a schedule or find a routine that works for us. I think you’re right, maybe a good portion of people can do it purely by memory and just assume it’s that way for everyone. I learned (this is somewhat embarrassing) recently (last few years) that not everyone can visualize things in their mind and some people don’t have that little voice narrating the stuff you’re doing in your head. Assumptions are weird like that, sometimes you don’t even realize you’re assuming something.

      I’m glad the post has helped you not feel so alone! That’s exactly why I share this stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      February 22, 2022 at 1:51 pm

      • Thank you. It wasn’t pleasant. I have several memories like that, but I don’t get to talk about them very often. They’re one reason I try to be careful how I treat kids. We don’t really know what’s going on with them, and I think a lot of adults aren’t very good at listening.

        I don’t understand how people manage to look all put together either! Even if I lint-roll everything, by the time I get wherever I need to be, I invariably have stray fibers or cat hairs stuck to some part of my outfit. And my nicest pair of pants are also the best at attracting hair, go figure. Maybe it’s just harder to see on other people’s clothes than my own.

        I think I also learned about aphantasia just a few years ago. My introduction to it was an article by someone who can’t visualize, who was equally shocked to learn that a lot of people can.

        Liked by 1 person

        February 22, 2022 at 9:55 pm

      • Ah yes the get treated like crap by adults as a child to respecting children as an adult pipeline, I’m familiar. I’m sorry you had to go through that and I appreciate you sharing.

        My cats are the same way, I think they do it on purpose. Everything is covered in cat hair and nothing I do gets rid of it. I’m pretty sure there’s some in my car somehow because even lint rolling outside doesn’t seem to help.

        That’s probably the ame article I read that introduced me to the idea. For a long time I wondered if that’s why some people didn’t enjoy books, but the one person I met who had the condition said they loved books, so who knows.

        Liked by 1 person

        February 23, 2022 at 11:07 am

  4. Quite inspiring to read your struggles and triumphs when it comes to stress, anxiety and time management. It is a deeply personal system through which we all manage our time, but it all should be structured through basic everyday routine as you showed. Thank you for sharing this 🙂

    I appreciate the kind of difference you are trying to make through such posts, I consider myself of the same nature as well. I have a blog here (https://thoughtsofahuman.home.blog/) where I write articles on our own philosophies, mental well-being, emotions and life in general. I also delve occasionally in thought-provoking short stories which make us think. Do have a look if you can!

    Stay safe and keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    March 29, 2022 at 1:16 am

    • Thank you! I have to say after looking around your blog I like the idea behind your how to series, I think it’s a very interesting approach to mental health topics.

      I hope you stay safe as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      March 29, 2022 at 3:05 pm

  5. The app sounds really cool! I’m going to check that out. I appreciate how you are trying to help others by sharing what you have tried to help yourself. I have some of these same issues too. Keep up the good work, friend!!

    Liked by 1 person

    April 1, 2022 at 7:13 am

    • Thank you and I hope the app really helps. It’s been a lifesaver for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      April 1, 2022 at 10:49 am

  6. Pingback: Time management and mental health - TylerLatvala

  7. I have Bipolar so I know how Depression can really weigh on a person. Self-care can be so hard and time management even harder. But it sounds like you make it through. Love the suggestions and tips! Happy blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 30, 2022 at 10:36 am

    • Thank you for sharing! I did manage to make it work, mostly. It’s still a struggle, but I don’t think that will ever change. Best of luck finding what works best for you!


      April 30, 2022 at 2:57 pm

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