Last Updated on May 27, 2021 by Juliette Sebock | An Ideal Life
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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, pens, highlighters, stickers, washi, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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-GLANCE, Day-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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 toys, fidget jewellery, and even chewellery! My go-to’s are my chewable bat necklace, infinite 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.
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 BrüMate, Tervis tumbler, Hydro 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).
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!
You need to eat, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend an afternoon at the supermarket. Tools like Walmart Grocery, Thrive Market, Amazon 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.
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 Newsette, Morning Brew, or Refinery29’s This AM can give you your daily dose of news without overwhelming updates.
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!