I just can’t do the things I know that I need to do…
It’s something I hear time and time again. Something I’ve repeated myself regularly. Executive dysfunction hits those of us who live with anxiety and depression, and it hits us hard.
First off, we all know I’m not a medical professional. You know that right? Not a doctor.
That said, I’ve lived with this shit for years, and a lot of them were years when I’d no clue what was going on. No idea that what was happening to me every day wasn’t normal. Wasn’t my fault.
Coz that is a big thing. We’ll come back to that one.
Executive dysfunction is a term for the range of cognitive, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Executive functioning is an umbrella term for many abilities including:
Depression and anxiety have been found to be associated with dysfunction in these executive processes, and an inability “to generate or implement adequate performance strategies has been postulated in depressed participants”.
Insomnia is a common symptom for both depression and anxiety, and sleep deprivation makes executive dysfunction even worse.
I know, you’re sick of hearing about it. But in all honesty, my Bullet Journal (what’s a Bullet Journal?) has been the absolute saving of me with regard to coping with executive dysfunction in my own life.
If you’re dealing with this recognised medical difficulty or disorder, please understand that it is not your fault.
Please don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do the simplest of things. The things you know you “should be doing”. Or “should be able to do”.
Stop that. Try this.
Here are some tips based on those from the U.S. National Center for Learning Disabilities:
To improve time management:
In short, I manage my executive dysfunction by writing everything down. And I mean – EVERYTHING. I store and organise all that written stuff mostly in my Bullet Journal, which is a useful system for doing that. But any analogue planner that you like will work just as well. I just love the complete flexibility of the Bullet Journal.
I also have huge wall calendars, digital calendars with notifications set to give me plenty of time to work in stuff I’ve forgotten, and a series of phone alarm reminders that tell me things like “Take a Walk”, “Eat Lunch”, “Tech Off at 10pm”, and “Take Your Meds”.
My best advice though, is to start where you are, right now, and take a tiny step forward. You don’t have to get all this figured out right now. Go easy on yourself?!
Pick just one thing that you know will improve your life if you’re doing it every day, and pick a sensible time at which to do it. Transition times are a good idea – see this post for more on developing good habits.
Now, do it for 2 minutes. Seriously. Just 2 minutes – but do it every day. For a week. For 2 weeks. Just for 2 minutes, every single day.
If you miss a day? That’s ok. Just start again the next day, and rebuild your streak. Mark it on a calendar. Tick a box in your Bullet Journal. Cross it off a daily to do list. Whatever works for you to show your progress.
Because every single time you do that small 2 minute thing, you’re telling yourself that this is something you can do. You’re rewiring your brain to understand that this is something that you do. Every day.
Don’t worry about not seeing progress by only doing the thing for 2 minutes. You’re moving in the right direction. You’re 2 minutes better off than you were yesterday.
You are the type of person who can do this thing.
Take THAT, executive dysfunction.
Quarterly Goal Setting works in 3 month blocks, and is useful for when you’re just beginning to get a handle on either business or personal goals – working with a whole year can be a little overwhelming. Or, for when you have been doing this Goal Setting thing for a while, but you just want to grab a little tighter focus and work through your plans in a smart, step by step kinda way.
As I write this, we’re moving from February to March, which is the end of the first quarter of this year. Personally, I plan in Long Term (5 years, currently), Medium Term (1 year), and Short Term (Quarterly) goal setting blocks.
You can begin this way if you already have long or medium term plans, or spend some time and sketch them out. This is useful for being able to sort of work backwards, and break things down into what needs happen in the short term to achieve them. This can also help to get it in your brain that this stuff is achievable, as the leap from here to there can seem HUGE, at times.
If you just want to do something today though, you can just begin now with setting some quarterly goal setting. All my goals are broken down into categories that make sense for my life, and I encourage you to do the same. For reference, my categories are:
When it gets to your quarterly goal setting within each category that makes sense for you, make sure each goal is as actionable and specific as possible. Ideally, you will define the specific steps to take, who is responsible (eg, any collaborations etc.), what tools are needed or available to be used, and a very particular deadline.
Within these time blocks, the process works in cycles.
Begin with a Review – what has been working for you so far? What hasn’t? Is it worth figuring out how to make those things work better, or is it time to focus on and develop the things you know to be effective? What has been holding you back? Do you have tools or resources available that you’re not making use of?
The answers to these questions can be written in Your Bullet Journal, or just thought about. But we all know which will be more useful… spoiler alert, it’s the one where you physically write things down and have them on file for future reference.
Next you can Dream – what do you really want? Which category/categories do your dreams fit into? What would you pursue if you had unlimited time and money? What does your ideal day look like? If someone was watching the film (movie) of your life, what actions would they be thinking were the most obvious, and willing you to take?
Now you make a Plan – write out some goals, and don’t forget to make them Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely – SMART. This will give you a clearer sense at the end of the quarter of whether or not you’ve hit them, or not.
Congratulations! You now have a Plan based off your quarterly goal setting. Each week, you can look at these goals to see where you are, where you want or need to be, and what the next obvious step to take is. It also helps to pick out the top 3 goals you want to progress this week, and then work them down into daily action steps.
End with a Review too. As you near the end of a Quarterly goal setting period, you get to look back and see what’s working and what’s not. Some useful things to consider include any habits you want to start/remove, milestones, obstacles, ways to overcome obstacles (plan to succeed), and a reward for hitting your goals!
I’m trying to practice my daily gratitude.
It’s been part of my evening routine for a while now, but I’ve let it slip with everything that’s been going on.
And I really need this.
This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences.
Hailey Bartholomew found the secret to happiness. After struggling to enjoy and appreciate all of the great things in her life she set our on a year long photography project to find gratitude everyday. In this funny and moving talk see what lessons we can all learn from her experience.
Hailey can lay claim to the titles of photographer, author, director, social commentator and artist. The owner and creative director of her own business, she has clients than span the globe as a photographer and as a director. She has published two books so far in her career, and directed television commercials and visual presentations for major national brands and charities.
But within this eclectic, and brilliant appetite for creative realization, Hailey’s favored passion is documentary film making.
Hailey has a beautiful visual style and sensitivity with her subjects, perfect for allowing a story to evolve and flourish on film and in photographs. Hailey will be joining TEDxQUT to share her experiences with the transformative power of gratitude and the 365 grateful project.
Try the 10 day exercise suggested in this video.
Every evening, take out your bullet journal, or open a new file on your phone or computer, and scan through your day.
Figure out what you’re grateful for, and write about it. A line, a paragraph, a page.
Record your daily gratitude.
You really do find what you are looking for.
I’ve been asked for this quite a few times and I finally got round to doing it, a class for getting your bullet journal set up, and working for you from the beginning.
This class covers:
Usual Price – €17
Current Price just €7! (valid until 31st August)
It’s 6.30pm and I have NONE of today’s work done yet.
Well, I’ve a good bit done, and I guess it counts as work, but not the kind of work I can list out in my bullet journal and tick off. Not the kind of work I can get paid for.
My youngest is starting secondary school in September. End of this month actually, with the way the calendar is falling.
So this morning was errands and chores for the family. First, the doctor for a repeat prescription order for me (see me adulting?!) and a tetanus injection for Jon. He stood on a rusty nail in a world war II bunker on saturday night. Yeah, it was that kind of weekend away.
The young man needed a haircut, we had some food shopping to do, then we got his specialty crested uniform jumper and a good pair of school shoes. He hasn’t had proper shoes since he was about 7… couldn’t get him out of his runners.
Then we had to go into town and grab the necessary grey trousers and white shirt combo, which my sister had convinced him to try on before buying, with a cautionary tale of my nephew’s clown pants debacle after he’d went on his phone in the changing room and just chosen a pair at random when she called him out.
Nobody wants to start a new school in clown pants.
By that point everyone was worn out and hungry, so we had a late lunch/early dinner before getting home around 4pm.
I sat straight down to work, with my To Do list from yesterday sitting undone as I took care of this week’s lesson in my Irish Magic 14 Week Course. I’d actually forgotten that was due today until I sat down and saw my weekly agenda, and realised it was Wednesday and I hadn’t done this week’s lesson yet (usually I set them up on Mondays, but I took Monday off!)
That’s just gone out now though, so all is well with that deadline… but I have nothing else done. I’m feeling quite overwhelmed looking at the list, so I took the path of least resistance.
Hence, writing this post.
Ye are helping my head too, you know?
In this situation, my usual response is to put the head down and work til midnight, trying to get it all done.
But maybe I don’t do a very good job on things that way? Maybe I end up with half arsed work today and even more half arsed work tomorrow. Maybe there’s another way?
So, I just took some time and chatted it over with Jon too. I’ve a couple of emails to send so I can schedule some client and student time that’s due, and I’m going to close the bullet journal and shut down the computer after that. I can figure the rest out with a good early start tomorrow, fully back on schedule.
I’m finding another way to do things. I am giving myself permission to rest and recharge. My work will be better because of it.
This is new. I’ll let you know how it goes ok?
A quick one today, I thought.
I’ve been sharing images from my first bullet journal, so as to illustrate the basics of getting started.
I thought – I’ll just shoot a wee video, a flip through of my very first bullet journal (October November 2016) that I’ve been talking about, to illustrate the previous days’ bujo posts.
18 minutes later…
Anyway. I hope it’s useful.
All the best,
I was going to talk about insomnia because I woke at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep… but we’ll go with something practical today instead of me moaning again, I think.
Where did we leave off with the bullet journal basics? Monthlies?
*goes back to check*
Nah, task lists. Ok. Well let’s look at what happens with Bullet Journal weeklies.
These aren’t in the original bullet journal system – Ryder Carroll just goes from a basic monthly list onto his dailies. We’ll get to them soon enough don’t worry.
Personally, I like to keep a simple weekly plan.
Again, there’s a little repetition from the monthly → weekly → daily system, but I actually LIKE that. It helps bed things into my brain, sets the week up really clearly, and the process of writing a simple plan calms and reassures me that I’m not forgetting anything.
If you don’t have to deal with an anxiety condition, feel free to skip the weeklies and hop directly from monthly to daily lists and notes, if you’d prefer that.
If you do… maybe just give it a try. With a little time, it really does build that trust and allow your anxiety brain to let go a little of ALL THE THINGS we usually feel we have to hold on to and keep track of.
One way to do a simple weekly spread in the bullet journal (bujo) is to split a page in half vertically (down the middle), and then divide it into 7 sections for the days of the week horizontally (across the page).
On a standard A5 lined notebook page, there’ll be about 26-28 ruled lines. Leave a line or two for a title and page number, draw a line across, then drop 3 lines and draw another line across, that’s your Monday. Do it again for Tuesday, Wednesday and so on through to Sunday, and you’ll be at about line 22 or 23.
That leaves you a little space at the end of the week, which we’ll get to.
Draw that line down the middle if you want to (it’s not necessary, but helps with clarity) and split it to events on the left side and tasks on the right, or vice versa. You do you.
Write in the days of the week, and the date, in each box. On top – don’t forget the page number, and add the title ‘Week of Xth to Xth’ or whatever so it’s easy to get what’s on the page at a quick glance.
There you go. Weekly spread in your journal.
Check back to your monthly, and pull in whatever events or reminders are current to this week.
Check back to your master task list, and pull in whatever you want to pop on to a specific day of the week, or anything that has a deadline for this week.
In that leftover space at the bottom, you can put in anything you want to track. I think I said I don’t do well with big monthly trackers, though they might work for you.
They sorta overwhelm me, and when I inevitably forget or get off track and there’s gaps, they glare at me and make me feel like shit for the whole month. I always end up abandoning the tracker.
But a weekly tracker is usually ok (fucked up this week? Never mind! Next week = fresh start!).
So yeah, on these pages (dedicated pages are often called a ‘spread’ coz the topic might stretch over 2 or more pages) I track things I want to do a certain amount of times per week, eg.
It can be left at that there, or you can put stuff pertaining to that week on the facing page – goals, a brain dump, meal plan, or general organisational notes. Whatever. Make a space for whatever you think you might need or might be useful.
If you don’t use it, fuck it. No harm. Fill the space with stickers or decorative (washi) tape, print an inspiration quote and stick it in… or just leave it blank. Nobody minds!
The point is to have the system there for whatever you need to put into it, or use it for. You’ll only find that out by experimenting and figuring out what’s going to work for you, as you go.
There’s a place to put things, and nothing gets left behind or forgotten.
And, cue, Brain building trust and relaxing a bit in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.
All the best,
As I’m writing this… it’s the weekend!
What do we do on the weekends?
Ok, so it’s an ongoing mission for me to try and take Sundays off, and to finish work around 6 but definitely before 7pm every evening.
I have varying levels of success with this mission, hence the ‘ongoing’ part. Like, I do know the importance of this. If I don’t take regular breaks and rest times the quality of my work definitely takes a dive… and yeah, there’s all that health stuff too.
There’s an article that says some trauma survivors cope by overworking – basically that hypervigilance and an inability to relax without guilt may lead some people to blunt their emotions through work. You can read the article here.
Yup. That sounds like me.
I was left with a whole pile of ‘not good enough’ bullshit that at first led to severe depression and apathy (I still suffer from cope with food and self-care apathy particularly, and huge reams of executive dysfunction, which is basically an overwhelming ‘freeze’ response in the ‘fight flight freeze’ behaviour pattern).
But when I was a single mammy and had to provide for my babies and their entire future, something kicked in (I think my deity but definitely my spirituality at least, had a foot in the kicking) and I started to WORK.
At first I was working for other folk and the community; I got a taste for it and learned loads. Then I began to work for myself and my family, as described yesterday with the heritage centre management job. Now, I work for myself and my family, AS WELL as taking care of other folk and my community through the work I do. This is the best.
I am however, a little addicted.
There’s so many things I want to get done! So many new ideas, inspirations from books and podcasts I read or listen to, and solutions to problems I can see, popping into my head every single day.
How do I handle all this? Why, my trusty Bujo of course!
Everything gets written down. Everything.
And once it’s in there, I have a process where I review all my notes at the end of each month and figure out what ideas I’ve had are viable, and which ones I want to prioritise, or put on the long finger. When I start a new bullet journal, one of the things I transfer is a ‘long finger list’ of viable ideas I’ve had so they stay current and accessible month by month.
We talking about getting started with a bullet journal, and we got as far as the future log, and setting up the monthly page, right?
A little more info on each month so. We looked at keeping track of all your events last time, let’s start to look at tasks now.
I find it helpful to keep a ‘master task list’ for the months’ work – all the regular shit I absolutely have to get done every single month. Those are the things I slot into my specific month’s calendar and my weekly task lists first, so that I can spread them out evenly and not bust myself open all in one week, and so that any space I have left can be filled with the stuff that comes up on the fly, or is lingering/looming from old to do lists.
Keeping one massive to do list is NEVER going to work. Honestly it just overwhelms you.
If it’s something on the monthly master list that has to happen every week or a set number of times per month, then I’ll either write ‘4x Task Name’, or put little boxes beside the task to the amount of times it has to happen. Eg: Task Name __ __ __ __
You basically have 2 options when you’re tracking tasks, and they’re both worthwhile, or you can use a combination.
Option 1: A ‘To Do’ List
It’s as described really. Write down all the shit you have to do, then tick/X it off, or fill in the check box, when you’ve done it.
Option 2: A ‘Done’ List
This is where you track everything you’ve done, as you finish it. This can be really helpful for those ‘not good enough’ type feelings – reviewing what you’ve actually accomplished. Or it can help give you an honest look at how you’re spending your time, and where you could make some changes to get your work done more efficiently.
Personally, I’m a combo kinda person, and it changes up depending on what I need in that time.
So I have my monthly master task list (I write this out – and do any necessary revision – at the start of each new Journal), then my monthly calendar page gets used to plan/track events, appointments, bills due and such, with some space for that month’s goals, and any tasks that are specific to that month.
From there I keep a weekly page which is where I put any upcoming events from the future log or the monthly spread, and also things I’d like to do on each day. I sometimes make a plan for what I’m going to do to relax that evening, to try and encourage myself to look forward to the recreation stuff and to make sure my brain is getting the message that this is just as important as the work stuff. We’ll look more in depth at weeklies as we go.
Then in my daily pages, I might do a time plan for the day and then track what I actually do in each time slot, to see where I’m having blips or getting distracted. Or if I’m feeling overwhelmed or down on myself, I just keep a straight up ‘things I’ve done’ list as I go through the day.
But look, speaking of overwhelm… I know this sounds like a lot.
Basically for now, just make sure your future log has been updated, and your monthly calendar page is running right.
You could try writing down a thing you did each day that you’re proud of, or really enjoyed.
Now, turn to a fresh new page, and begin to write out your monthly master task list. First, just jot down EVERYTHING you can think of. Take a brain dump. Then take a break, and come back to it and add more.
You can do it for work or personal stuff, or a combination of both. You make the rules here, and remember, it’s supposed to suit you and work for you.
Then, go through the brain dump task list, and list out just the recurring or regular monthly things. And there you go – master task list.
Now you can pull from that and slot some tasks into your monthly calendar. But go easy on yourself, and be realistic about what you have the time and space to get done.
If there’s too many tasks and not enough time… don’t worry. You’ll get on top of it better next month. You’re getting a system going which can handle all of this much better.
For now, just prioritise, and do the best you can with the time you have.
And I’ll talk to you again soon.
What is a bullet journal… and why did I start one?
I believe it was my good friend Cait who first introduced me to the concept, or a version thereof, as we sat over lunch in a hotel in Carlow one of the days.
She had a plain black covered notebook that had some sort of system going on, seeming to involve categories and shading the page edges so you could easily flick back to the section you needed.
Given my 20-notebooks-for-different-things-on-the-go-at-the-same-time habit up to that point, which even I knew was vastly unmanageable and wasting time and energy, not to mention paper, I was intrigued by the key concept.
In which to keep ALL THE THINGS.
And organised so you could find the things when you needed the things.
However, at that point I wasn’t ready for learning a new system. So I muddled on.
I honestly don’t remember where or how I came across the bullet journal specifically after that. But by the time I’d seen it around a few places, and figured the Bujo (that’s what we call it dahling, because shortening it to BJ just wasn’t working out for anybody) was in a boom… I was ready to see what all the fuss was about.
PRO TIP: Don’t go on YouTube or Instagram and search for Bullet Journal to get yourself started. Overwhelm central. They’re all so… complicated. And artistic. And so many stickers and washi tape. Do you know what washi tape is? Oh, you will!
My first Bujo began in October 2016, with a notebook and pen. That’s literally all you need, I promise.
Any notebook, any pen.
From the official website at www.BulletJournal.com:
“Bullet Journal® (or BuJo® for short) was created by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer living in Brooklyn, NY. Through many years of trial and error, the system has evolved into the ideas presented here [on his website]. He sees this as an evolving, adaptable practice meant to be self curated as you determine what works best for you.”
At its most basic, it’s a blank journal in which you keep a combo of foundational elements – you’ll hear terms like index, monthlies, weeklies, dailies, collections, future log, and more. Some of which are self explanatory, and some of which we’ll dive into in future posts.
To me, the really important things about a bullet journal are:
An example of a real quick set up would be to get a notebook and pen, leave a few pages for an index, then divide the next 2 pages into 6 sections, 3 per page. Write the names of the next 6 months at the top of each of these (1 per section, in case that’s not clear), and note in any upcoming events, plans, or big picture things to track for those months. Come back to it whenever you think of anything – you have a safe place to put stuff you need to remember now. And BOOM, there’s your future log.
Number your pages, then turn back to the index and write in: FUTURE LOG – PAGE 6 & 7, or whatever pages it’s on.
Now go to the next page, and title it with the month we’re in now. Don’t wait for a new month, or a new week – just do it from today. Stick a few boxes in to draw a calendar on the page, or simply just write the date number and day down in a list vertically along the side of the page. So:
Or start with whatever day you’re on right now, and keep going all the way down to the end of the month. This is your monthly record. In here, I bring the stuff from my future log that I need to plan for, and any regular stuff I have to do, eg my Meditation Class I run each Monday, with the time and location if you need that. I’ll also put deadlines in here, and bills that are due, and other stuff like that I need to know is happening.
It may seem repetitive right now to transfer the date from your future log you just wrote in… but as things start spreading out you’ll need both. Or not, maybe monthlies will do grand for you, but I like the future log for far reaching stuff and to see my months laid out together with the big ticket items right there – mostly so I don’t over commit.
Repetition is ok too though, the act of writing things down helps us remember and store them, and it’s building the trust loop with your brain that reassures it that things are definitely secure and in an actionable system.
I’m going to leave it there for today, as there’s a lot to cover in the bullet journal and all that goes with that, because it’s so bloody useful.
Get started with that much sure, for now, and we’ll chat more next time.