Working Full-Time with Chronic Illness

Working Full-Time with Chronic Illness

As our social media followers may know already, I started a full-time (albeit remote) job this summer. Before this, I worked about 60 hours per week, on average, as a freelancer in addition to blogging, writing, and running my small press. That was even less sustainable than the thought of working full-time with chronic illness! Fortunately, my role allows a lot of flexibility, rather than a strict 9 to 5 workday.

That being said, this isn’t making the process of balancing a full-time job with the unpredictability of disabilities any less of a challenge. On the contrary, it’s been nearly a full quarter since I began this role, yet I’m still struggling with the adjustment! In the past few months, though, I’ve learned a lot about working full-time with chronic pain and other conditions. In particular, I’ve been working my head around how to do so successfully, simultaneously being a successful, reliable employee while managing my health and symptoms. So, of course, this is the sort of thing I can’t help but share here, too.

Take advantage of the good days.

As a freelancer, I found myself in a never-ending cycle of burnout, leading to a severe health crisis this past spring. In particular, Arianna Huffington’s experience hits home, along with the lessons she learnt in the process: change is absolutely necessary. In my case, this means I must make more time for rest and—despite my overly ambitious instincts’ protests—recreation, as well. I’m still learning how to reach this balance, but I’ve quickly learnt that making the most of those days when symptoms are minimal is a crucial aspect.

Fewer hours doesn’t mean less effort.

This may be particular to my situation, but I’m technically working far fewer hours as a full-time employee than freelancing. Nevertheless, I’ve also been struggling over the past few months while I adjust to a 40-hour workweek (or slightly over, in most cases). Much to my surprise, working full-time with chronic illness has led to more exhaustion despite being fewer hours than my freelance efforts previously. I know that starting a full-time job can be exhausting, but I had no idea just how tiring it would be!

Having the right team is key.

Of course, you can’t always change the people you work with. But, when that is something you can control, your supervisors and colleagues must be supportive. I’ve been ridiculously lucky on this front—my supervisor and colleagues might not know the innermost details of my diagnoses, but they know that I’m disabled. They’ve been incredible in understanding the struggle and trying to make this job work for me.

Be upfront about your needs and limitations.

I’m still grappling with this point personally, but I’ve realised that it’s essential to be pretty frank about the accommodations you need and the challenges your diagnosis might present. In my case, this was part of the reason I struggled to find a remote role and even failed to get some freelance clients before this. One particular difficulty, for me, is difficulty making phone or video calls. Fortunately, there’s a lot of technology in the modern days that allow me to manage with text-based platforms, whether it’s online ordering or chat service.

Remind yourself of your strengths.

One part of my new job that I’ve especially struggled with is meeting a weekly quota. On difficult days, that struggle has been enough to leave me questioning my abilities and having this job. I’ve had others tell me that I was a perfect choice for this role, but I can’t help but question it on the hard days. When this happens, I stop and try to remember why I’m here. Then, for a few moments, I’ll look through high scores or positive feedback my previous work has received.

Listen to your body.

Arguably, this is just a crucial tip for life with chronic pain or illness more generally. Flexible hours mean that, when I can’t keep my eyes open one afternoon (thanks to what’s thought to be myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome), I can sign off and take a nap, then return when I’m feeling a bit more functional. Likewise, when I’m feeling better than usual, I can push my limits a little more, leaving space for another day to be shorter when I’m struggling.

Take complete breaks.

Working through a bowl of chips between paragraphs doesn’t count as a lunch break. Ideally, I try to maintain a schedule with a full lunch break and two coffee breaks (morning and afternoon). At the very least, I make myself step away from the screen for a few minutes. This is vital to avoiding more significant flares, like a screen time-induced migraine, and staying productive when working.

Find Productivity Tools that work for you.

As spoonies, we can’t always thrive with conventional productivity methods and tools. However, I’ve found that a few productivity systems and productivity tools, in particular, help me get my work done with less stress. Of course, some days require different methods than others, and plenty of trial and error is involved. What matters most, though, is that you find what works for you and take advantage of your newfound productivity.

Keep notes and a to-do list.

If your chronic illness comes with brain fog, this is crucial. I keep an array of to-do lists between GoodNotes, my favourite task management apps, and my pen-and-paper lists. Not everything that comes to mind throughout the day is a task, though. So instead, I keep notes, too. Sticky notes are ideal, while the iOS Notes app or similar programs offer digital tools that do the same.

Create and utilise a flexible routine.

The benefits of routines are vast, especially when you’re dealing with conditions like autism or ADHD. At the same time, disabilities make that sort of consistency difficult. You never know when a pain flare or other symptoms will throw your routine aside! Tiimo is a great tool, particularly for neurodivergent schedulers, and Google Calendar is another fan favourite. I use these to outline my routine (there’s little chance I’d remember otherwise!), but allow myself to adjust it as needed. Leaving a few “free spaces” in my week ensures there’s room to accommodate those adjustments!

Embrace the unconventional.

I use this tip for productivity more broadly, too. Does having a stim toy or weighted lap pad make the workday easier for you? Never mind what others might think. Do what works for you! So long as your unconventional tool or method isn’t harming you or someone else, there’s no reason not to take advantage of it.

Find workarounds when needed.

Sometimes, your illness just won’t let you do the tasks at hand. For instance, when migraines affect my vision, I’ll struggle to type an article, much less edit and format it. In these cases, I turn to Otter.ai to dictate my assignments. I was surprised by just how accurate their transcriptions are! I’ll just have to make edits and format the text once my eyes are working properly once again. Think of where your symptoms cause a struggle and see if a similar workaround can help you thrive despite your illness.

Adjust your expectations.

Chances are, you’ve long since realised that you can’t accomplish things with the same speed and ease as someone healthy. This is especially true when working full-time with chronic illness. So remind yourself that sometimes good enough is plenty. As much as you want to be a reliable employee and impress your boss, you can’t expect every single task to be done perfectly—at least not if you expect to stay [relatively] healthy.

Know your limits.

Some people can’t work full-time with chronic illness or disability, despite their best efforts. If that’s the case, you might consider part-time or other alternative working hours to work with fewer complications. In some cases, you might not be able to work at all. This is undoubtedly a mental and economic challenge, but it’s essential to do what’s best for you and your health. If you need to decrease your work hours or step away from your career path, it’s worth considering whether these are compromises you can make for the sake of your well-being.

Do you work full-time with chronic illness? What helps make it easier?

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The Best Productivity Tools for Spoonies

The Best Productivity Tools for Spoonies

A few weeks ago, I shared what I’ve learnt (and am still learning) about being productive with chronic illness. It may very well be our most popular new post on the blog to date! Writing about that topic, and while promoting the post, I got to thinking about the various products and services I’ve tried over time. With many productivity tools focusing on healthy, neurotypical users, they won’t all work for disabled folks who want to be more productive. The best productivity tools for spoonies, in my experience, are those that are customisable and either work with your symptoms or aim to relieve them. Each productivity tool listed here is one I’ve used myself or am currently using, which has worked for me despite chronic illness. 

Task Lists & Project Management Tools

Some of the most powerful productivity tools for spoonies help me manage my never-ending to-do lists and constant stream of projects.

Amazing Marvin

I discovered Amazing Marvin only recently, but I am oh-so-glad I did. This customisable task manager is quite possibly one of the best productivity tools to come into my life so far. And, of course, it helps that Marvin himself is absolutely adorable!

There’s so much to try when it comes to this program that I’m sure I haven’t even breached the surface where Marvin’s features and customisations are concerned. Some of my favourite strategies so far? I absolutely adore having both “due dates” and “do dates” for my various tasks and projects. I think the lack thereof has been a significant stumbling block for me in the past! The Task Jar and Random Task options are great for defeating decision paralysis and executive dysfunction. And the abilities to auto-schedule tasks that are due soon and roll over scheduled tasks make it so much simpler to keep up with everything on my lists!

For Spoonies: Amazing Marvin’s customisations mean you can adjust the program to meet your unique needs!

Todoist

Before discovering Marvin, Todoist was the newest task management tool I’d turned to. For me, the basic structure of the app was super intuitive, and it really did get me on track for the first time in ages. After my most recent flare of health issues (both chronic & acute), I fell to the wayside with organising my Todoist. That lack of upkeep definitely shows. 

Once I’ve sat down to reschedule my tasks and projects (and no longer have 100+ tasks overdue at a time), I may very well keep using Todoist & Amazing Marvin together. At the very least, a few projects will undoubtedly stay in Todoist’s free plan! 

For Spoonies: Todoist offers an intuitive user experience and, with a paid subscription, more than enough space to manage each section of your life. 

Trello

I wrote a full review of Trello a while back! While I’ve fallen away from using it regularly myself, I still think it’s one of the best productivity tools for spoonies. If you’re looking for a Kanban or Scrum-style tool, in particular, you’ll have luck with Trello. Or, if you’re like me and thrive on outlining your life with index cards, this one’s a definite winner.

If nothing else, Trello offers quite a few power-ups to help it fit your workflow. Add your tasks to a calendar, sync cards across platforms, or track the time you spend on a particular to-do. 

For Spoonies: For those who process information best visually, Trello’s card format is a great option. 

Reminders

If you’re looking for a task manager that keeps things short and sweet, the iOS Reminders app is pretty perfect. In fact, it’s one of my picks for the best apps for spoonies! You can colour-code your task lists, sync them across Apple devices, and set reminders based on time, location, or other factors. 

In the past, Reminders was rather lacklustre, though convenient. With recent iOS updates, though, it’s genuinely become a powerful task management system. If you’d like a relatively no-frills option with just enough features to keep you organised, Reminders is hard to beat. 

For Spoonies: For iOS users, the convenience of Apple’s built-in Reminders app is incomparable. And, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, few productivity tools for spoonies can beat being completely free!

Bonsai

This one is mainly geared towards freelancers—like me, I’m sure many other spoonies tend to stick to freelance or remote roles for the flexibility of working from home! Billed as the “#1 Freelance Product Suite,” the Bonsai dashboard will have you covered with project timelines, task lists, invoices, contracts, proposals, and more. 

For the sake of this post, Bonsai’s projects, tasks, and time-tracking features are the most geared towards productivity. But there’s so much more to gain from your Bonsai dashboard, like automated accounting (currently expenses-only, but hopefully income as well soon!), client relationship management, and lawyer-reviewed contract templates. Fellow freelancers, this one is a must!

For Spoonies: If, like me, you work from home or offer freelance services for flare-friendly flexibility, Bonsai is a must.

Task Lists and Project Managers

Digital Productivity Tools

There’s a lot to love about digital productivity tools. They’re always with you, they transfer across devices and locations almost seamlessly, and they have less environmental impact than hard-copy tools. Like the project/task managers above, these tools take advantage of the digital realm to keep your life together and let you stay on-task as much as possible. 

I use each of these on my iPad and iPhone (add a Popsocket for an extra accessibility boost!). Still, many are available for other operating systems, too. Or, if not, there’s sure to be a similar alternative!

Goodnotes

When I recently got my first iPad (a long time coming—I’ve wanted one since high school!), one of the first apps I downloaded was GoodNotes. Since starting my bullet journal journey, I stared longingly at the curated digital planners so many bujo-ers utilised. While I love my string of bullet journals (an Artist’s Loft hardcover dot journal is my budget-friendly go-to), I don’t have beautiful handwriting or ruler-straight lines. 

With a bit of a learning curve, my iPad-Apple Pencil-GoodNotes combo has given me a taste of the digital planning game, and I’m really enjoying it. Plus, with the recent addition of Elements (stickers!) in the latter, it comes close to replicating the print bullet journal experience—but with a bit neater of an outcome. 

In terms of spoonie-specific perks, two GoodNotes features stand out: the convenience of an iPad and the digitised text. I would need an entirely separate bag for my bullet journal, penshighlightersstickerswashi, and other tools with my paper bullet journal. I actually repurposed a purse organiser from AliExpress (find a similar one from Amazon here) for the sole task of organising stickers, stencils, and other small items! 

My digital combination is all-in-one (my iPad case includes a space for the Apple pencil!), so there’s no separate tote required. At most, I’ll bring my sleeve with my magic mouse and screen cleaner in a separate pouch. This means less to carry (and less to risk dropping) and less weight to manage.

And, while there’s no streamline feature available on Goodnotes as of this writing, the ability to convert handwriting to text is definitely an upgrade from script directly, at least in my case. Fingers crossed that a similar tool to Procreate’s feature will come soon! Shaky hands and impaired motor skills mean my writing is pretty universally considered to be “chicken scratch.” Even if my digital handwriting isn’t great, I can create a reasonably accurate text version of whatever I’ve written. 

For Spoonies: Digital planning options like GoodNotes allow for convenient, portable productivity with handwriting-to-text capabilities. 

Airtable

I’ve been using Airtable for quite a while now, and it’s genuinely one of my favourite tools. If you’re the sort of person who wishes every project had a spreadsheet (hi, me too!), this is one productivity tool you don’t want to miss. 

I use Airtable to create databases for my various projects, like my favourite recipes (with a low-spoon category for quick reference on bad days) or Pinterest pins for here on the blog. We even use it to manage submissions over at Nightingale & Sparrow!

Like many spoonies, my memory isn’t great. By tracking essential details in various Airtable sheets, I make sure they don’t slip through the cracks just because I’m having a struggle-heavy day. 

For Spoonies: Airtable creates a database extension of your brain, making sure you don’t have to rely on your memory when you’re already struggling.

Grammarly

I’m a professional writer, editor, and publisher (and, of course, blogger!), but brain fog likes to fight against whatever skills I have on that front. Grammarly keeps me in check when my mind doesn’t want to cooperate, or a migraine, joint pain, or other symptom is a little too distracting. 

Grammarly improves your text with proofreading, line editing, and other suggestions like a sort of advanced spell check. Suppose you’re publishing a book or some other intensive project. In that case, it’s no replacement for a professional editor (might I suggest checking out my freelance services?). But, for emails and messages, blog posts, or assignments with a quick turnaround, Grammarly is the perfect tool to take your writing up a notch, no matter how poorly you’re feeling. 

For Spoonies: No matter skilled an editor you are, chances are your brain has days where it doesn’t want to cooperate. When that happens, Grammarly keeps your writing at a high quality. 

Notes

Like Apple’s built-in Reminders app, Notes offers a simple yet effective productivity tool for spoonies. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more convenient digital tool for making a quick note of anything you’ll need to refer to later. 

For Spoonies: Another built-in iOS app, Notes is a convenient, cost-free tool for taking note of whatever you have to reference later on. 

Digital Productivity Tools

Analog Productivity Tools

With smartphones and other devices constantly at hand, it’s no surprise that digital tools are prevalent nowadays. But, even so, good old pen-and-paper is hard to beat!

Bullet Journal

While I’m incorporating GoodNotes into my bullet journal system more and more, I still love my print bullet journal. If nothing else, crafting a creative bujo page is a lovely pastime! 

My must-have bullet journal tools include an Artist’s Loft dot grid journalZebra mildlinersPigma microns, and plenty of washi and stickers

For Spoonies: A print bullet journal is ideal for migraines, screen/light sensitivity, and similar concerns. 

Notebook or notepad

If a paper to-do list and note-taking are more your speed, or you have to minimise screen time to ease your condition, a simple notebook or notepad is ideal. Five Star and Mead offer various high-quality spiral notebooks and other supplies. Or, a legal pad provides even greater convenience—no need to bother opening a cover! For smaller, portable options, I love these notepads or these miniature composition books.

Of course, you’ll need something to write on that paper, right? I turn to Pentel mechanical drafting pencils or Dixon TICONDEROGA and these gorgeous rose gold pens or BIC Atlantis ballpoints. If you struggle to use a typical pen or pencil, check out adaptive writing aids or the thicker options made for kids, which offer an easier hold. 

For Spoonies: A simple notepad and pen or pencil is one of the best possible productivity tools for spoonies. There are plenty of accessible options available for every budget, and it’s easier than screens for many disabled users’ eyes.

Planner

Need an option that’s less involved than a bullet journal but offers more structure than a notepad? Finding the right planner can be a game-changer!

Currently, my personal planner is from the Day Designer for Blue Sky collection. I’m considering a switch to a classic Day Designer next year myself, but I’ve had great luck with other Blue Sky options over the years. For alternatives, AT-A-GLANCEDay-Timer, and Passion Planner all offer some beautiful planners! For a low-cost option or additions to your existing planner, check out the free downloads available through Day Designer and Passion Planner.

For Spoonies: A pre-formatted planner offers a low-spoons alternative to a bullet journal but offers more structure than a simple notebook.

Post-It Notes

No matter what other productivity tools you use, post-it notes can be a fantastic addition. Stick them on your laptop or device of choice, your bathroom mirror, or on your go-to water bottle to remind yourself of whatever you need to recall. 

Scribble out your to-do list for the day or write out an inspiring quote to brighten your morning. Mark the date in your planner or add tabs to your bullet journal. Use eye-catching colours so you can’t miss your post-it, or opt for pastels for an option that’s easier on the eyes. 

For Spoonies: Post-it notes go wherever you are, whether that’s the office or your bed. They’re a versatile option with a wide variety of colours to choose from!

Analog Productivity Tools

Focus & Motivation

Between brain fog and managing other symptoms, focus and motivation are rather hard to come by for those of us with chronic illnesses. If a tool helps you stay focused or gather the inspiration you need to get through the day, it certainly counts as a productivity tool for spoonies. 

Flora

Another item from my best apps for spoonies list, Flora is an excellent tool for avoiding the inevitable distractions of a smartphone. If you’re easily distracted and find yourself scrolling through social media or opening a game when you pick up your phone to check the time, Flora can help motivate you to break that habit. 

Distractions

This unconventional productivity tool isn’t for everyone. For many spoonies, though, a purposeful distraction can actually boost your focus and motivation.

Audio or video

Turn on a longtime favourite show on Hulu (my go-to’s are Bob’s Burgers or A Haunting) or an inspiring Spotify playlist to serve as a backdrop to your work. Invest in a pair of Aftershokz for an earbud that lets you hear anything else (a great benefit if you suffer from anxiety). Or, if you prefer a noise-cancelling option, try a pair like these rose gold Bose wireless headphones.

Fidget toys

Beyond the fidget spinner trend of 2017, stim toys or jewellery benefit those with autism, ADHD, sensory disorders, and other conditions. Stimtastic is my personal favourite source of stim toysfidget jewellery, and even chewellery! My go-to’s are my chewable bat necklaceinfinite rings fidget, and a slow-rise squishy. Of course, I’ve got quite the wish list, too! I hope to get other squishies, their new chewable cat and dog, silicone spoons and straws, a cats in space marble maze, and a mesh marble fidget. Like other productivity tools for spoonies, fidget toys, and other stim supplies will help you stay on top of your tasks despite any symptoms. 

Productivity Tools for Spoonies Focus and Distraction

Environmental Factors

While not a productivity tool in terms of a product, your environment plays a significant role in how productive you can be, especially when dealing with health issues. By making sure you’re as comfortable as possible, you’ll be setting yourself up for success!

Hydration & Nutrition

One of my favourite tools for spoonie life is this interactive self-care guide. It’s no surprise that food and drink (and any necessary medications) are the first few suggestions it makes! 

Stay hydrated by drinking more water. Keep it cold in a BrüMateTervis tumblerHydro Flask, or S’well bottle, or take advantage of some extra insulation from YETI or Camelbak products. Don’t think a water bottle is a productivity tool? Think again! 

If you struggle with drinking plain water, adding a packet of Liquid IV or using a Cirkul cartridge can add some flavour, while a SodaStream system will create custom-made sparkling options. If you’re still struggling, tea can be the next-best drink for staying hydrated

Food-wise, it’s important to fuel yourself with regular meals when possible. But, if you’re stuck in bed or can’t find the energy to cook and be productive, a nutritious snack can help! I’m currently loving Partake cookies, and shops like Thrive Market offer plenty of vegan, gluten-free, and other good-for-you snacks and food items. 

Comfort & Symptom Relief

Life with chronic illness means it’s hard to get comfortable, much less stay comfortable over time. But, as much as it’s possible, staying comfortable can become one of your go-to productivity tools for spoonies! 

If it’s the most you can manage, there’s no shame in working from your pajamas—I have a few pairs like these from Victoria’s Secret, which are both cute and comfy! If you’re more productive in actual clothes but still want to stay comfortable, try a pair of Aerie leggings (their OFFLINE OG line is my favourite cosy option), a lounge set, or a jumpsuit or romper (another personal favourite—you look put-together without the effort of putting on pants!). 

In terms of staying productive, managing your symptoms more directly can help, too. Put together a spoonie survival kit with relief options. This might include medications, an eye mask or sunglasses, muscle rub, tea, stim toys, or other items that ease your worst flares. 

Cleanliness & Organisation

In addition to being comfortable in terms of fuel, clothing, and relief, working in a clean/organised environment can make any spoonie (or, for that matter, anyone) more productive. But, when you live with disabilities or chronic illness, it’s that much harder to stay on top of chores and housework. 

Unf*ck Your Habitat is my go-to tool for making a difference in a brief spurt of time. When I have a few minutes of energy without an immediate task, I’ll turn to Ufyh’s Challenge! feature for a cleaning mission in the room of my choice, for a duration of time I can work with (or, often, randomised). 

Productivity Tools for Spoonies Environment

Simplification

When push comes to shove, all the task management, colour-coded planners, and reminders can only do so much for our productivity. Like it or not, some to-dos are just too hard to accomplish on a bad pain day or without triggering a flare. By simplifying some or all of these must-dos (or cutting out what’s not really necessary or improving your life), you can cut back on the toll they take. 

These are just a few of my favourite areas to simplify, but the options are practically limitless! 

Grocery shopping

You need to eat, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend an afternoon at the supermarket. Tools like Walmart GroceryThrive MarketAmazon Fresh, or Instacart will bring your food and other items to your door, or at least your trunk. They may not be marketed as a technical productivity tool or productivity tools for spoonies in particular, but they’ll undoubtedly increase your productivity. 

Current Events

If you want to stay on top of what’s going on globally, there’s no shortage of reputable news sources. But, whether you have limited spoons or your anxiety spirals when you see the not-so-pleasant headlines, current events can be less than ideal. Newsletters like The NewsetteMorning Brew, or Refinery29’s This AM can give you your daily dose of news without overwhelming updates. 

Automations

In various aspects of your life, automations offer increased productivity, especially for us with chronic illness. The less effort you need to keep up with your systems, the more easily you’ll be able to stay on top of them. That’s why Zapier and IFTTT are two of my favourite productivity tools for spoonies, or anyone, for that matter! Paired with your favourite Alexa skills or other home automation tools, you can slowly bring you closer to the most productivity possible. 

 

What productivity tools do you recommend for spoonies? Let us know in the comments or @anideallifeblog across social media!

 

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Productivity with Chronic Illness

Productivity with Chronic Illness

If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably know that I live with a slew of chronic conditions. With an assortment of physical and mental illnesses both formally diagnosed and suspected, a day rarely goes by without struggling with symptoms of some sort. At the same time, though, I’m chronically busy—I run this blog and all that goes with it, run Nightingale & Sparrow, a small press & literary magazine, publish my own writing, and offer a variety of freelance services to pay the bills. And that’s not counting the basic requirements of adulthood—like managing my budget, cooking, and keeping my space clean & organised—or the less-mandatory-but-not-optional to-dos, like exercising, personal development work, spiritual tasks, social connections, and the occasional bit of relaxation.

With all this on my plate—and, more literally, on my calendar—it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed more often than not. I deal with bouts of burnout far more often than is healthy, creating another nasty cycle on top of my health issues. Ass a result of all of this, I constantly feel as if I’m behind on, frankly, everything.

To some degree, I can only blame myself—I’m ambitious to a fault and have always been one to take on more than I should. On countless occasions, I’ve made the half-joking comment that I genuinely don’t know how to relax. At the same time, though, many of these tasks are unavoidable and, if it’s technically optional, it’s likely something that’s on there because I genuinely want to do it. Without those want-to-dos, how could life be worth living? Nobody, myself included, wants to spend all of their capable hours on non-negotiable, must-do tasks.

Productivity with chronic illness

With all that in mind, I need to figure out how to be productive despite the obstacles. Recently, chronic illness is the roadblock that’s been making my life the most difficult. A few of my conditions have been flaring up on top of some acute issues, leaving me with painfully little time when I feel relatively healthy. Between the pain, fatigue, brain fog, and other concerns, it even took me quite some time to realise how much of an issue it had become!

Once I made that realisation, I quickly set to researching how to be productive with chronic illness. I’ve spent a ridiculous time searching Pinterest, Reddit, Google, and every resource I could get my hands on, seeking out the ways people thrive with conditions like depression, fibromyalgia, anxiety, lupus, PTSD, chronic fatigue, autism, ADHD, migraines, and so on. From that and my own experience, I’ve worked to create this post, a sort of guide to productivity with chronic illness. I hope it will help me better manage life while giving my fellow spoonies the support they need to do the same!

Reset your expectations.

I’d argue that this is a vital first step to being productive with chronic illness—and the one I struggle with most. If you have a disability (or, like me, several), you can’t expect yourself to have the same level of activity as someone whose most significant health issue was a cold they had three years ago. And, if you developed your condition(s) later in life, you can’t expect to accomplish the same amount of tasks in a day you once could have.

I find this especially difficult as a multi-passionate entrepreneur and single head of household (I only rent a room, but it’s still got all those unavoidable adult responsibilities!). Try as I might to purge my Todoist projects, there are some tasks that I need to get done. Plus, they typically have to be done on a deadline, or at least promptly. As a lifelong overachiever, how can I better handle the fact that sometimes it’s genuinely not possible to do everything on my list? More importantly, how do I reframe my expectations to recognise that this is simply a fact of disabled life, not some personal shortcoming?

As of yet, I don’t have a perfect answer for these. But hopefully, with time & effort, I will.

Find the right tools for you.

I love Todoist for keeping track of my never-ending list of projects & responsibilities. I’ve been a subscriber for a few months now and, while I’ve lapsed at times and my projects are terribly in need of a tidy, it’s one of the most effective tools I’ve used so far.

More recently, I signed up for a 30-day trial of Amazing Marvin. I’m still learning the ins and outs of this one, but I love it! The mascot is adorable, and the task jar is something I’ve been searching for for ages. I found Marvin while searching for a tool that would let me mark both due dates and “do” dates—another benefit.

These are just a few of the endlessly growing list of productivity tools I’ve tried, not to mention my bullet journalDay Designer planner, and other systems I’ve tested out. In short, find a tool that works for you—and it’s okay if that changes over time. If you’re looking for suggestions beyond mine, it can be helpful to search some variant of “productivity apps for [insert condition or symptom here].” Whether it’s brain fogADHD, or spoonie life in general, there’s probably a list out there with recommendations that offers a great starting point.

Experiment as much as you can.

I suggest this tip with a warning: if you aren’t careful, trying new productivity tools or chronic illness treatments can become another distraction or overwhelming project. But, if you can focus a reasonable amount, trying new things can be a great way to find the best products and services for you.

For productivity, in particular, search for a new tool when you find you can’t stick to your current system. Or, try a different option for managing the symptoms that frustrate you. Maybe CBD is the key to easing your anxiety (I’ve had luck with Wink’s CBD products!). Trello could be the project management app that finally gets you through that assignment you’re putting off. When the need arises, the more options you test out, the more likely you’ll find the right fit.

Connect with others who struggle.

In-person or online, connecting with others who struggle with productivity and chronic illness is a fantastic way to find advice. If you have friends or acquaintances who suffer from the same conditions as you do or similar symptoms and productivity problems, talk to them about ways you can help each other thrive.

If your IRL friend group is lacking in this department, the internet is ready to help. I’ve found Facebook groups to be particularly helpful (spend some time searching for your condition or symptoms, and Reddit seems to have some excellent chances to connect with others, too.

Rest, and then rest some more.

Another vital step that I overlook all too often! Whatever your condition(s), your body is constantly working to handle chronic illness symptoms. It’s hardly surprising that you face fatigue! Whenever possible, take time to rest when you need it. If you’re exhausted by 8 pm, can your remaining to-dos wait until morning? When you can’t keep your eyes open, can you let yourself take an afternoon nap? Part of why I can’t imagine doing something besides freelancing is the freedom to rest when my body needs it.

Similarly, I’ve found that I can’t sacrifice sleep and remain semi-functional, especially as I get older. Anything less than seven hours—maybe six and a half—and I need a nap by mid-morning! Here, too, I recognise the importance of rest in maintaining productivity with chronic illness.

Reconsider your workload.

Hear me out with this one, using my situation as an example. Overall, I can’t fathom paring much from my to-do list, however long it becomes. I take on a lot, but these are either projects I love or those I need to survive. But, within those projects, I’m learning where to cut back.

Right now, I’m focusing on this with my freelance work in particular. For far too long, I’ve worked ridiculous hours for painfully little income. I’ll raise my rates by Q3 to better reflect costs of living, business expenses, and market averages. From there, I’ll cut down the freelance work I have at one time and earn a survival-ready wage in the process.

If you’re a freelancer like me, be sure to check your rates and other policies regularly. Are you pushing yourself too hard for too little reward? In a more conventional job, this might be a more difficult task. But, even then, consider: how can you adjust your workload, with or without trimming your project list? Then, do the same for projects in your personal life.

Be flexible.

One of the best productivity tools in my arsenal so far is simply maintaining some flexibility. I love the concept of unflappable routines, consistent habits, and practical constraints. But my various disabilities have other ideas.

As much as possible, I try to stick to my routines, keep up my habit streaks, and stop drinking coffee by 5 pm. But, when I can’t get out of bed, a migraine makes Duolingo impossible, or I can hardly stay awake to meet a deadline? Well, as they say, rules were meant to be broken—especially when it comes to being productive with chronic illness.

Bend, Adapt, or break the rules.

The standard “rules” of productivity weren’t exactly made with disabled, neurodiverent, or otherwise chronically ill people in mind. If you can manage your symptoms to work efficiently within those existing standards, that’s great! But, if not, consider adjusting the rules to better work with you.

Know you’ll work better with a stim toy or cuddly friend at your side? Let Teddy become your assistant—Bruce the Beaver is usually sitting with me as I work! If you’re in a more public workspace and anxious about having a toy, stim jewelry offers a more subtle option.

If you can’t overcome executive dysfunction or depression to wipe the dishes before running the dishwasher, run the dishwasher twice. Can’t focus on a task long enough to utilise time blocking? Jump around if it makes you more effective! Struggling to find a tool that works for you? Use Amazing Marvin’s Christina as inspiration and create something all your own! Who says you can’t adjust some norms to better meet you where you are? More often than not, absolutely no one.

How do you stay productive with disabilities?

Despite this rather lengthy post, I’m still learning how to balance productivity with chronic illness. I’ll be sure to report back as I get better at this balancing act and hit a productive sort of stride. And, in the meantime, I’d love to hear your favourite chronic illness-friendly productivity tools and tips! Or, if you test out any of my advice for yourself, be sure to let me know in the comments or @anideallifeblog.
Mini - An Ideal Life

My Mobile Office in a Bag

My Mobile Office in a Bag

As a full-time freelancerbloggerpoetpublisher, I was working from home long before COVID-19. In fact, I’ve done exclusively remote work since graduating college! With my various chronic illnesses, it’s the best way by far to earn a living without harming my health. Along the way, I found that keeping my most important tools in my very own mobile office in a bag is key to being as productive as possible.

I’m fortunate to have a small section of the living room to use as a workspace. But being a small corner of a room that’s used by the rest of the family, it has limited space for supplies. With that in mind, my mobile office in a bag has become all the more critical.

Really, my office in a bag is used in conjunction with that workspace and a bit of storage space dedicated to my various businesses. With the latter, I can swap out supplies as needed to blog from bed or reach out to clients from my “office.” Not only does this system keep me organised, but it also keeps me from trying to carry more than I should.

My Mobile Office in a Bag

I use this colourful Vera Bradley tote I got in a Her Campus survival kit years ago. It’s slowly starting to show its age with some fraying on the straps, but I absolutely adore it still. It’s the perfect size to hold all my essentials without getting too heavy to manage. Plus, the vivid pattern adds such a (literal) bright spot to my workdays!

What’s in my mobile office in a bag?

As I mentioned above, I swap out certain supplies as needed for the day’s projects. But there are a few pieces that stay in the bag consistently—unless, of course, they’re in use at that moment!

Laptop

When it comes to remote work, a computer is priority number one. This caused some problems last year, as the Chromebook my sister had passed on to me met its fate. For the time being, I’m using an HP Stream to work each day. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done! And, just as importantly, it was affordable in my desperately-need-a-working-computer-right-now crisis. I plan to upgrade to a Macbook down the road but, for now, the Stream handles my day-to-day business needs. I’ve added plenty of stickers, too, to let it bring a smile to my face!

Stream - My Mobile Office in a Bag

Computer accessories

In addition to my laptop itself, I keep a variety of accessories in my bag to get the most out of my digital efforts. Right now, the list looks like this:

  • Charger (always important!)
  • MicroSD card – a simple microSD card makes up for the Stream’s lack of storage space and lets me salvage files if another computer crisis arises.
  • Laptop sleeve
  • Bluetooth mouse
  • Headphones – I actually use a few, depending on the context! I’ll use my Beats or these wireless Bluetooth headphones for transcription projects or needing to block out noise for focus. On the rare occasion I have to hop on a Zoom call or the like (I’ve only done one, actually—my disabilities aren’t fond of phone/video calls), I switch to these simple earbuds. Hopefully, I’ll be adding a set of AfterShokz to my arsenal soon, too (use my referral link <- to save $10 on your first purchase!).

Blue Light Headphones - My Mobile Office in a Bag

Blue Light Blocking Glasses

From the minimal research I’ve done, there’s little strong evidence to support the need for blue light glasses. But, placebo or not, I seem to see a difference. I snagged a four-pack of blue light glasses on an Amazon lightning deal and keep the pink pair in my mobile office in a bag (inside a simple plastic case from Dollar Tree). The clear pair lives next to my bed, for nights when I can’t resist scrolling until I start getting sleepy!

Planner

After testing out some of their downloadable pages, I knew I wanted to try a Day Designer planner myself. Mine is a part of the Day Designer x Blue Sky collaboration (this one, to be exact!), but reminds me so much of the higher-end flagship planner. The Blue Sky collab is a bit simpler, but the affordability is perfect for my current plans! I pair my planner with these pens to colour-code to my heart’s content—I even keep a colour key washi taped to the inside cover!

Day Designer - My Mobile Office in a Bag

Bullet Journal

In its current stage, I’m not using my bullet journal as a planner. But I am utilising it for a lot! I keep my bullet journal in my mobile office in a bag, as well as an assortment of Sakura Pigma microns, Zebra mildliners, and my favourite Papermate flair pens.

Bullet Journal - My Mobile Office in a Bag

pens

In addition to the pens I use with my planner and bullet journal, I keep others on hand for various note-taking and similar tasks. Right now, I’m absolutely adoring these minimalistic rose gold pens and a Bic Atlantis pen I got as a free sample with a recent Walmart Grocery order.

Pencils

Sometimes you need something erasable! That’s where a trusty pencil comes in—my go-tos are Dixon Ticonderoga or Pentel mechanical drafting pencils.

Highlighters

Zebra mildliners are popular within the bullet journal community, but I use them for so much more than my bullet journal itself! Lately, my most common use for them is with some printables from The Budget Mom. But, really, hardly a day goes by that I don’t pick up my pouch of mildliners for something! More recently, I’ve added a few Stabilo BOSS highlighters and a pack of Pilot FriXion erasable highlighters to my collection, for when I’m looking for a little less variety or greater flexibility.

Notebooks

I have yet to order an entire case of these 3×5 notepads, but I probably should! I insist on having a few of these notebooks (or these similar notepads) on hand for everything from to-do lists to noting important information. They’re so darn convenient! I also try to keep a basic legal pad or two (whether they’re simple white or pretty colours) and will sometimes add a mini composition book for sudden bursts of creative inspiration.

Beyond the bag

I try to keep as much as possible in my mobile office in a bag, for convenience’s sake. But I can’t always include everything! A few essentials that I use daily but don’t necessarily include in the bag:

  • Cell phone & charger – my iPhone XR has pretty good battery life, but I’m on it so consistently that I still need to recharge at the end of the day!
  • Water bottle – I’ll often keep a few different water bottles throughout the day! Most often, I’ll be sipping from my Brumate winesulator or Cirkul bottle.
  • Coffee – if you’ve been following me a while, you know this is a necessity!

As of this writing, these are the must-have items I keep in my mobile office in a bag. And, as I balance my freelance work, blogging, small press, and writing efforts from this tote, I have to say it’s working!
Mini - An Ideal Life

Mini - An Ideal Life

Do you use a mobile office in a bag? What do you include in yours?

Best Alexa Skills

The Best Alexa Skills

A few Christmases ago, I was lucky enough to get an Echo Dot as a Christmas gift, and I was introduced to Amazon’s Alexa. Technically, she’d already been a feature on my Kindle Fire, but I’d never found that to be particularly intuitive, much less useful. But, that’s a story for another day! I was finishing up my degree at the time, and now running a blog, a small press, and my own writing career, I’ve found my own little personal assistant to be a lifesaver. I’ve compiled some of the best Alexa skills (in my opinion), which I’m sure will come in handy for you, too!

Note that I frequently refer to my “assistant” as Alexa, but the more accurate phrasing would be Echo, or Alexa-enabled device.

Looking for some of my other tech favourites? Check out my picks for the best apps for spoonies, my favourite personal finance apps, or the best healthy lifestyle apps I use everyday!

Sleep Sounds

This is by far the feature of my Alexa that I use most frequently. I don’t sleep well very often, but I’ve found that sleep sounds—especially thunderstorm sounds, my go-to—give me a bit better of a chance of getting a half-decent night’s sleep. This skill also works wonders in setting the scene for writing!

Speaker

This is a pretty basic feature of the Echo Dot (and other Alexa products), but it’s nevertheless one of my favourites. Whenever I want to hear my music (or whatever else I’m listening to on my phone), I can easily connect over Bluetooth to listen right through Alexa! I do occasionally find myself frustrated when my phone’s audio switches just because of the proximity, but it’s a minor inconvenience in the long run.

Spotify

I only recently returned to a Premium Spotify plan (it was actually a joint Christmas present for my entire family!) and integrating it with Alexa was perhaps the feature I was most excited for. Alexa, play [Song] on Spotify. This doesn’t work with free Spotify accounts, but, if you already invest in the Premium option, it’s a great resource. While I haven’t used it myself, you can also connect to Amazon Music, of course!

Smart Home

My parents, though, found a smart plug to be an absolute asset this holiday season—calling Alexa, turn on the Christmas tree to their Echo Show is particularly convenient! I only recently converted to a few smart devices myself, including a smart plug of my own and a set of smart bulbs for my overhead light. It’s been so nice to not trip over Fitz or his toys to turn the light off before bed!

Podcasts

I recently got back into podcasts for the first time in ages (with a post in the queue featuring a few of our favourites!), and I love that I can listen to them through Alexa! I usually use the speaker function to play Apple Podcasts from my phone, but there are plenty of options available.

Conversions

This is a huge benefit when cooking–my mom keeps her Dot in her kitchen and it’s perfect for in-the-moment conversions. Tablespoon in the dishwasher and need the conversion to teaspoons? She’s got your back. And it’s not just recipe-related conversions! Get the right amounts for unit conversions for temperature, currency, and more with just a question.

Meditation

I only recently learned about this feature, but I’m shocked that I hadn’t thought to check for it earlier! I’ve been through an assortment of different meditation programs since I first started meditating, so utilising Alexa’s capabilities to do so is an awesome addition. Right now, I’m checking out this skill, from Stop, Breathe, & Think.

Timers

This one’s pretty self-explanatory … it also comes in handy in the kitchen!

Calculations

I’ve never been particularly stellar with math, and sometimes I just don’t want to do mental arithmetic. But do you know who will? Alexa!

Learn something

There’s a whole array of different Alexa skills to teach you something new–Cat Facts is a personal (albeit goofy) favourite!

Flash Briefing

All too often I forget about this feature, but it’s one of the strongest of this device, in my opinion. Not only can you personalise your very own morning news brief (a “Morning Report,” if you will, Lion King fans), but you can add in some fun, like an “on this day in history” throwback or even a Supernatural exorcism, just in case ridding your apartment of demons is on the agenda.

Control your Calendar

Speaking of your agenda, if you use a digital calendar, such as Google Calendar (my personal favourite as of late), you can add events right through Alexa! Want to check what’s on your schedule for the day? Yep, she can do that, too.

Check your Fitbit stats

Alexa, ask Fitbit how I’m doing today. Use the Fitbit skill to keep an eye on your step count and other goals for the day!

Alarm

Like any good device, you can use it to make sure you wake up on time! Terrified your normal alarm might not go off? I’ve been known to set more than one just in case–set up an alarm clock at 6:00, your phone at 6:15, and your Alexa at 6:30 to make sure you’ll always have something waking you up on time!

Add to your grocery or to-do lists

As you probably know, I love a good list! I keep most of my running to-do lists in my bullet journal, but Alexa is an absolute lifesaver on those rare occasions I don’t have my bujo in hand. Simply tell her to “add X to my to-do list” and it will be there waiting for you! You can even review your lists in the Amazon Alexa app.

The same principle applies to a grocery list. This is especially helpful when you run out of an ingredient as you’re cooking–if I don’t make a note at that moment, I’m bound to forget it!

Put the Law of Attraction to work

Check out the Daily Affirmation skill for some quick motivation to help you improve your mindset (and your life, by extension!).

Play games

I don’t utilise the many games of Alexa frequently, mostly because I don’t often have free time. But, there are so many options. Play trivia games, a virtual escape room, would you rather, and more through just your Alexa device!

Even more

Obviously I can’t touch on any and all possible uses for Alexa in this post–it would be hundreds of thousands of words long and no one would want to read! But, there are plenty more uses for Alexa (including lots that are just for fun, like Box of Cats)…and even more if you integrate IFTTT!

IFTTT is one of my favourite websites (perhaps in need of a post of its own in the future?). By attaching it to various other services, like your social media accounts, Evernote, or, yes, Alexa, you can trigger events to happen when something specific occurs: if this, then that. It’s not an Alexa-related trick, but it’s a lifesaver!

What are some of your favourite skills and uses for Alexa?

Mini - An Ideal Life

Trello Review

Trello Review: The Tool That’s Super-Charged My Productivity

Quite frankly, I haven’t shut up about Trello as of late.  The online task management system is one of many that I’ve tried, but it’s one I’ve not only stuck with but have enjoyed using!  Want to know more? Read on for our Trello review to learn how it’s super-charged my productivity—and how it can do the same for you!

So, firstly:  I love Trello. I didn’t really expect to, though!  If you’ve been on the blog a while, you’ll already know I’m hooked on bullet journaling. After several failed attempts at digital task management systems, I was far from convinced.  But, I’d read so many glowing reviews of Trello that I took a chance and made an account.

The first feature that nearly convinced me? Their adorable mascot, Taco the husky!

If you know me, you know the surest way to my heart is through cute animals.  That applies to animated animals as well!

From there, though, the functionality is what sold me on Trello.  It works so well with my bullet journal, too!

Looking at my own boards, here are some of my favourite features:

Colour coding

The labels, or the coloured marks at the top left of each card (each item on my lists), are the feature I’ve probably found most helpful so far!  I love categorising and organising (surprise, surprise, right?), so the ability to mark my to-do items so that I can identify their relevance at a glance is perfect.

Trello Review Lists

Due dates

If you look at the third column or the “Done” list on my board, you’d see that the completed card’s date is marked in green.  This is because I’ve completed it before the due date!  I love the feeling of checking off an item and getting the little green box.

I don’t use it myself, but you can even add a calendar “power-up” to see all of your due items in calendar format!  

Lists

I’d be remiss to craft a Trello review and not offer an explanation, however brief, of how I utilise the columns, or lists, on each board!  By using a basic “To Do/Done” format, I get to plan what needs to be worked on as well as feel good about what’s already been accomplished.

On other boards, I take it a step further in utilising “To Do Today/This Week/This Month” lists, much like in my bullet journal!  This allows me to keep the “To Do Today” list manageable without letting those long-term items slip from my mind.

Trello Review Checklists

Checklists

Within each card, you can add a description, comments, or other useful bits, but my favourite is the ability to add checklists!  For repetitive tasks (like promoting a post on social media channels, for example), you can even input a checklist from a pre-existing card.  Talk about efficiency!

Card View

This is probably my most frequently used bit of Trello. Once I’ve input my tasks on the proper boards, I’ll go to “Cards” (click on your avatar in the upper right-hand corner, or “Home” in the iOS app) to see them all laid out.  Sorting by due date, I can prioritise what I really need to be working on at that moment.

Trello Review Cards

Have you tried out Trello for yourself? Or has our Trello review convinced you to give it a try?  Let us know in the comments!

 

How I'm Using My Bullet Journal Differently in 2021

How I’m Using My Bullet Journal Differently in 2021

If you followed my previous blog, then you know that my bullet journal is a much-needed extension of my brain. I’ve gone through countless spreads, layouts, and page ideas since I started bullet journalling four years ago. But, this year, I decided to do my bullet journal differently.

Wondering about what else I’m doing differently in 2021? Spend some time with my 2021 goals, words for the year, and 101 in 1,001 list!

My Bullet Journal Supplies

Before getting into the system I’m using this year, I want to give a shoutout to some of my favourite bullet journal supplies!

The most significant difference in my 2021 bullet journal is my categorisation process. Over the past several months, I’ve been structuring my daily, weekly, monthly, and more extended plans based on a categorised five-year plan. For my bullet journal this year, I’ve decided to copy those same categories. Before I took to creating bullet journal spreads, I took the time to count out an equal number of pages for each section. There are even a few extras at the end and room for my Level 10 Life spread at the front.

For each category, I chose a mildliner (I recently completed my 25-colour set with individual markers!) and marked the index. Then, I colour-coded the edges of each section to coordinate. I’m so pleased with how beautifully it turned out!

Bullet Journal Differently - mildliner edges

I won’t go into an in-depth, page-by-page look at my 2021 bullet journal. But a few examples are definitely in order.

A look inside:

My blogging section includes pages for my passwords, affiliate links, schedule. Plus, I’ve included pages for tracking stats on the site and across social media. With the shades of pink strewn across the site, it should come as no surprise that this section is marked by a pink (technically, coral!) mildliner!

Similarly, my freelancing section tracks invoices and remittance payments, pitches, and my wishlist of dream publications. This section is labelled in red to match my calendar. I’ve long since marked deadlines in red to make sure they stand out!

Of course, my 2021 bullet journal isn’t limited to work-related spreads. I have entire sections for health, recreation, and spirituality, to name a few. This means I’ve got spreads for the books I read, TV shows I watch, workouts I complete, events I’ll celebrate, and more! These sections are brown, orange (vermillion), and gold, respectively.

How do you use your bullet journal differently than the typical set-up? Share your most unique ideas in the comments!

Mini - An Ideal Life

Productivity

Productivity

I don’t just run this blog. I’ve written twelve poetry books to date, six of which are published already. I run a small press and literary magazine, Nightingale & Sparrow. I’m a full-time freelance writer, and take on other projects. I take care of my pets, my home, and myself. In short, I’m busy—and productivity is key.

From bullet journaling and to-do lists to Pomodoro and white noise, if there’s a tool or trick to be more productive, I’ve tried it. I mix up my go-to strategies often—and will share my best go-to productivity ideas here!

Working Full-Time with Chronic Illness
As our social media followers may know already, I started a full-time (albeit remote) job this summer. Before this, I
The Best Productivity Tools for Spoonies
With many productivity tools focusing on healthy, neurotypical users, they won’t all work for disabled folks who want to be
Productivity with Chronic Illness
From research and my own experience, I’ve created a sort of guide to productivity with chronic illness, to help me
My Mobile Office in a Bag
As a full-time freelancer-blogger-poet-publisher, keeping my most important tools in my mobile office in a bag is key to being
Best Alexa Skills
I’ve found my little personal assistant to be a lifesaver. I’ve compiled some of the best Alexa skills (in my opinion),
Trello Review
Read my full Trello review to learn how it's super-charged my productivity—and how it can do the same for you!
How I'm Using My Bullet Journal Differently in 2021
I started bullet journalling four years ago. This year, I decided to do my bullet journal differently, with specific colours