By Stacie Prada
Everyone I know feels overwhelmed at times. They forget things, and they accomplish less than they’d like sometimes. I’m comforted when I have an organized life and am not worried that I’m forgetting something. I like to create systems that support me in being organized, simplify my life, and make life easier so that I can exert energy on the good stuff.
To reduce my stress level, frequently I put effort into reducing the number of decisions I need to make and the quantity of things I need to remember. If I don’t have a method for remembering it, I’ll get in a thought loop reminding myself to do it later. After a while, it can be crazy. It’s wasted energy that could be put to better use.
Streamlining things I do repeatedly makes them easier, less stressful, and more likely to get done. Making decisions takes energy. The more decisions I make in a day, the more energy it takes to get through the day. Decision fatigue is real, and when MS fatigue already affects a person’s health it can really lower their quality of life. Given that I want to be productive and maximize what I can accomplish, reducing the number or decisions I need to consider and decide repeatedly frees up energy and time for other things.
Simple ways I reduce the number of decisions daily life requires and ways I make decisions when I’m not in a time crunch are as follows:
- Lay out my clothes the night before so that I don’t need to figure it out in the morning when I have a time limit for getting ready. I include my underwear and socks so everything is ready for me to get dressed and there are NO decisions to be made. My shoes and coat are ready by the front door, and so are my keys.
- Create a packing list for things I do or places I go repeatedly. I refer to lists frequently before I go on a bike ride, take a long walk or hike, or go to the pool.
- When making meals, make extra. Leftovers are easily one of the most time saving and decision reducing methods for reducing stress. Think about how often you ask yourself what to make for dinner or your next meal.
- Automate bill payment when possible. For things like electrical or phone bills, set up bill pay so that they automatically get paid with a credit card. I can pay multiple bills in one sitting when I pay my credit card bill. I also don’t need to worry about forgetting to make a payment.
Lots of times it’s not about being unable to do something I want done, it’s about not remembering to do it. It’s easy to forget things if I’m out and about or get distracted at home. Creating memory triggers helps. Check out these easy ways to stay focused:
- Make reusable flashcards. I use 3” x 5” index cards for recurring tasks or habits I want to create. When I remember I need to do a recurring task and can’t do it immediately, I’ll pull that card out or make a new one. I’ll place it somewhere I look frequently. For me it’s the kitchen counter or dining table. It’s a time saver and memory jogger. These reminders are especially great when you share your home. Family members will realize that laundry needs to be done and may help without you asking. They’ll also appreciate that you’re doing things that contribute to the home when otherwise they may not have noticed.
- Set a timer: When cooking or doing things where I may not hear the buzzer, I’ll set a kitchen timer or phone alarm. This is great for things like laundry, cooking that requires pre-heating, or pulling something off the stove. It’s not a failure to need to use these tools. I know people with perfect cognition that get distracted and nearly burn the house down by putting something on the stove and forgetting. The timer is a necessity for reminding me I turned on the oven or put a load of laundry in the wash. I don’t necessarily need to have a reminder card for that (even though it doesn’t hurt), but there are instances when the timer goes off and it takes me a moment to remember what it’s for.
- Leave myself a note: When needing to do something later, I’ll put a note in a hot spot I see frequently. It may be a post=it left in the car, at home or on my computer monitor at work.
- Put appointments and reminders on the calendar in a mobile phone with an alert.
- Create lists for what I need to bring for things I do repeatedly. I have lists for going for a walk, bike ride, leaving town, and getting back from out of town. I also have a pretty standard list of grocery items that I frequently eat. The point is to ease up on the number of times I need to figure out the same thing.
Often the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling like things are doable is one task or obligation. If you’re stressed out and having a hard time getting things done, be brutal. Remove things that don’t absolutely need to be done the way you’re used to doing them or would prefer to have them done. What’s the minimum necessary to get it done, and when is the deadline? What can be delayed until tomorrow, next week, or next month? What doesn’t need to be done by you or at all?
Get over the feeling that it’s embarrassing or not okay that you need reminders. I once had a family member laugh at me because she saw my reminder on the counter to “pack” for a trip. She thought it was absurd that I was reminding myself to do something that was obvious. Yes, it was needed and obvious, but my simple reminder kept me focused and less stressed.
I’ve learned that a single tracking or organization tool isn’t going to work for everything I want to remember or do. Just like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, email and texting have different strengths and times where they’re appropriate, organization is a compilation of lots of little methods. Think about what works and why it works for you. Then build on that. Where do you need to remember things and where do you frequently look? Make a system that works for you. It’ll be unique to you, your life, and your priorities.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/