Coping with Chronic Migraine

Coping with Chronic Migraine: Tips & Tools I Use to Manage Migraine Pain & Side Effects

For as long as I can remember, I’ve dealt with debilitating migraines. They’ve always been horrible, with pain, nausea, speech difficulties, and sensory sensitivities galore. More recently, they began fighting with my eyes, too, leaving me with blurred sight (at best) for a day or two, too. Coping with chronic migraine is easier said than done, but I’ve accumulated a few tools that make life with migraines a bit more possible.

Obligatory disclaimer: Talk to your doctor before changing your treatment plan. I’m not a medical professional myself, and this post does not constitute medical advice. These tips and tools are simply examples of my own experience with chronic migraines and are not guaranteed to work for everyone. 

It’s worth noting that I try to keep my lifestyle cruelty-free/vegan, not just my diet. However, healthcare & medical needs are the one area where I’m less diligent. If nothing else, how can I make a difference if I’m not well enough to function? We’re shooting for progress here, not perfection.

Cove

Cove Migraine Relief

First and foremost, I have to give a shoutout to one of the newest tools in my migraine crisis kit. A few months back, I signed up for Cove after a short-term trial of an abortive medication through K Health. My Cove physician was able to set me up with that prescription and ondansetron for nausea accompanying both migraines & meds (if you watch shows like Chicago Med, that may be a familiar one!) and a preventive medication I take daily, too. I could even have the prescriptions transferred to my typical pharmacy, which is even cheaper than Cove’s already excellent prices through their partner, Eagle Pharmacy.

If you use our referral link to give Cove a try, you’ll even get 60% off your first month’s prescription!

Migraine Buddy

Migraine Buddy

Migraine Buddy is a lifesaver for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s essential to keep track of migraines. I feel like I have them constantly, so I’m gathering this crucial data even when I’m not logging as perfectly as I’d like to be. However, there’s even more to Migraine Buddy than tracking alone.

The Migraine Buddy app offers plenty of insights, activities, and information to help you understand your migraines. But, just as importantly, it guides you through a few specific screens as you log a migraine. My personal favourite details are two pages, in particular. Firstly, there’s a page that asks which medications (if any) you’ve taken. You can personalize this list so, even in the depths of migraine misery, you’ll know what to use or take. The same is true of the page for non-medication remedies, like resting in a dark room or drinking water. I’m sure I’m not the only migraineur who can never remember what actually helps while in the trenches!

Sign up for Migraine Buddy.

OTC Medications

Migraine OTC

Of course, prescription medications aren’t the end-all, be-all. I still depend on over-the-counter pain relievers and other OTC methods to ease my migraines. Advil is almost always my go-to, whether it’s straight ibuprofen, Advil Dual Action, or Advil Migraine. I also depend on a severe allergy pill (diphenhydramine [Benadryl] with acetaminophen [Tylenol]) for those headaches that seem to be sinus-induced—though it can be hard to distinguish between the two. In terms of supplements, I typically take Deva’s calcium-magnesium combo and recently started trying feverfew capsules, too.

Muscle RubMuscle Rub Migraine

With popular brands like Bengay, Tiger Balm, and Icy Hot, there are plenty of options for pain relief, whatever your preference. Your go-to store may even have a generic brand that’s similar or even better than your brand-name options (I’ve had luck with Walmart’s Equate equivalent to Icy Hot myself). The back of my neck, in particular, tends to be my go-to application spot, though my forehead, temples, cheekbones, and jaw have all had their fair share. If you use any of these topical products on your face, be sure to avoid getting any in your eyes!

CBD

Wink CBD marble

I first tried CBD several years ago, as it was starting to become more popular. A friend of mine was working with an MLM that specialised in CBD oils and offered me a small sample to try. I loved the results (not just for migraine relief but also for easing my chronic joint pain, anxiety, and other symptoms) but avoided the hefty cost until I could make space in my budget more recently.

After a ridiculous amount of research, I came across Wink CBD and gave their cruelty-free GSC (a minty flavour reminiscent of a certain popular seasonal cookie) and Cupcake oils a try. These are some of the most valuable items in my migraine crisis kit, and I can hardly recommend them enough. In fact, I’ve recently added a few new flavours to my collection, which I can hardly wait to taste test. I’m excited to try their other products, too, eventually.

Use code ANIDEALLIFEBLOG for 10% off your first Wink order!

Water

Water Bottle marble

In a lifetime of chronic migraines, I’ve heard many times that dehydration can be a trigger, so a simple glass of water can make a big difference. At the very least, there are few instances where a glass of water will hurt!

Looking to drink more water? We’ve got a post for that! 

Electrolytes

Liquid IV water marble

Like water, I’ve long since heard that electrolytes may benefit migraine symptoms. I only started trying this trick for myself this past year or so, though—and I’m so disappointed I didn’t explore it sooner! I adore Everyday Hydration and LiquidIV for this, but there are other versions, too, of course. Electrolytes aren’t a magic cure-all for migraines, but they help pretty often!

Coca-Cola

McDonalds Coke app

In particular, McDonald’s Coke is some sort of magic—and I’m not alone in this strange migraine remedy! I’ve heard people attribute this to the particular syrup-water-ice ratio the chain uses, but I don’t need to know the details. If it makes coping with chronic migraine easier (and usually offers that relief for just $1), I’ll take it! Now, to get McD’s on board with plant-based food options….

Ginger Candies

Thrive Market Ginger Candies

If your migraines are anything like mine, they come with an awful lot of symptoms aside from pain, including plenty of nausea. I learnt long ago that ginger could take the edge off this nausea—and candied ginger is a tasty way to consume it. Ginger tea is also an excellent choice—lemon ginger is one of my personal favourites! Not a fan of ginger’s flavour? These candies crafted for morning sickness can do wonders for migraine nausea, too.

Looking for these in particular? Sign up for Thrive Market for organic candied ginger and so much more! 

Peppermint Gum

Peppermint Gum marble

In a similar vein as ginger candies, peppermint gum is a must in my migraine survival kit. The flavour and scent help ease the tension, while the chewing motion keeps me from clenching my jaw. Alternatively, Tic Tacs work, too!

Essential Oils

Peppermint Lavender Roll Ons Essential Oils

Similarly to the scent of peppermint gum, peppermint essential oil is one of my top must-haves for coping with chronic migraine. I also have a lavender roll-on that promotes relaxation—a difficult feeling to come by when dealing with a migraine attack.

WeatherX

WeatherX app earplugs

I first saw WeatherX earplugs (previously MigraineX) mentioned in a Facebook group, and I eventually invested in a pair of my own. Since, I’ve added a few to my collection, including a pair of the smaller children’s size, which fit my ears much better. Even without the earplugs themselves, though, the WeatherX app could come in handy by warning you of upcoming pressure fluctuations if you suspect that to be a migraine trigger.

YouTube

YouTube Chronic Pain Migraine Sound

YouTube might not seem like a typical tool for coping with chronic migraine, but it’s one I turn to time and again. In particular, the audio from this video seems to help tremendously! Unfortunately, it seemed to disappear from the site for a short time, and I was devastated. I have no idea just how this works, but it’s a lifesaver!

Insight Timer

Insight Timer AfterShokz marble

I dove into Insight Timer when the YouTube video linked above was unavailable for a time. Of course, this is good for all sorts of meditations, sleep audio, and other moments of self-care. But it’s excellent for coping with chronic migraines, too!

Apple Watch

Apple Watch Screen marble

I hope rather desperately that Migraine Buddy and Bearable (two of my favourite apps for iOS) release Apple Watch editions of their respective apps. For now, though, I find that the heart rate monitor built into my Apple Watch Series 6 is quite beneficial. When you’re struggling with pain like a severe migraine, your heart rate tends to increase. I deal with an abnormally high heart rate typically, so I know that when the pain raises it even higher, it’s time to take a break and implement some of my tools for coping with chronic migraine.

Mouth Guard

Mouthguard

I recently noticed I’ve had a lot of jaw pain with my migraines as of late. I’m not sure whether TMJ is triggering migraines or vice versa, but I know that a mouth guard seems to help!

Cervical Traction Device

Cervical Traction Amazon Listing

When I came across this cervical traction device, I was intrigued by the idea of reducing dowager’s hump and potentially easing migraine pain. Unfortunately, I don’t always take the time to do this daily, but the relief is noticeable when I do.

Massager

Migraine Massagers

This tool is actually in two parts! I get terrible neck and shoulder pain when dealing with a migraine flare, so a massage gun or percussion massager is ideal. As a bonus, it helps with my other forms of chronic pain, too! I also use a heated neck massager, which feels heavenly at the base of my skull, where so much of my pain tends to centralize. I’ve also got a fantastic little TENS unit that helps with migraines and other types of pain, too!

Sunglasses

Quay flatlay

Am I that jerk who wears sunglasses indoors? If I have a migraine, you betcha. Light can be absolutely debilitating mid-flare, but dark shades can take off the edge a bit. I even suffered through a few college classes with them! I have an oversized pair from Miss A (currently unavailable, but they have a wide array of other sunglasses!) that live in my bedside migraine kit (a pouch that’s also from Miss A!). On the go, I turn to my pairs from Quay Australia or Tiffany & Co.

Cool Patches

Cooling Patch

Another Miss A must-have! These cooling patches are specially made for pain, fevers, and similar sorts of discomfort, and they’re lovely additions to my migraine toolkit. They’re also excellent when the summer heat is a little too unbearable!

Warming Eye Mask

Warming Eye Mask

Cool temperatures aren’t offering relief? How about heat? These warming eye masks—yes, another Miss A find—are incredible. Right now, they’re available in rose or lavender scents. I use the lavender for migraine relief since it’s one of the few aromas that doesn’t typically worsen a flare.

Eye Pillow

Cats aromatherapy eye pillow

On a similar note, a friend sent me an aromatherapy eye pillow (covered in cats!) that’s become a staple for coping with chronic migraines. I’ve even added a few more to my collection! PeaceLoveRelaxation is my go-to resource. I may very well have to add to my stock soon, too!

Warmies

Warmies Grey Cat Closeup

I cannot explain just how much I adore these cuddly yet practical critters. While the idea of putting a stuffed animal in the microwave is somewhat disconcerting, the effects are well worth it. Warmies are perfect for comfort during a migraine flare or simply staying warm come winter!

Sleep Mask

Sleep Eye Mask

Sometimes it’s just a bit of darkness you need—more than your favourite shades have to offer. In that case, a handy dandy sleep mask is ideal! I use one most nights anyway, so I have quite the collection around already.

Eye Patch

Eye Patch

This is by far the item my family most judges me for, but it’s a valuable tool nevertheless. Because I deal with chronic migraines, I can’t always retreat into the darkness as I’d like. So when I have to keep being a semi-functional adult, I’ve found that a cheap eye patch (mine’s from Walmart) can save the stabbing pain of light or screens in my eye. I typically have just one affected so severely at a time, so this is perfect for offering a bit of relief.

Rest

iOS Sleep

When it’s possible, sleep is by far the best tool for coping with chronic migraine. However, if the pain’s too much to sleep, even just lying down and resting can make a world of difference!

Regular Breaks

Apple Watch Pomodoro

Similarly to rest, taking regular breaks is crucial to coping with chronic migraines. I work on the computer (well, iPad, LATELY) and know that too much screen time will inevitably trigger a flare. By taking regular screen-free breaks, I can usually mitigate these effects! A Pomodoro timer is perfect for this. 

Even with this lengthy list of tools and tips, coping with chronic migraine is easier said than done. Still, even a little bit of relief is better than none at all!

Do you have a fantastic migraine-fighting tool I didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments or on social media @anideallifeblog!

Mini - An Ideal Life
Mini - An Ideal Life
Mini - An Ideal Life
Mini - An Ideal Life

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?

Mini - An Ideal Life

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!

 

Mini - An Ideal Life Mini - An Ideal Life
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