My neurodivergence is an alphabet soup of acronyms, but I will spare you the minutiae. In addition to the alphabet soup of my mental health, I also have EDS, genetic condition affecting connective tissues in the body. These “invisible disabilities” affect my day-to-day life in many debilitating ways. Some days, productivity is simply not in the cards. But on the days where I have the energy to do so, I use the following seven methods.
*One caveat to these tips, there is no one size fits all fix for ND/Disabled creativity blocks, or productivity tips that will work for everyone. These are merely tips I have used that help me on my bad days.
**Second caveat: Never push yourself beyond your ability. The tips listed below are tips that can be changed to fit your ability level.
What is it?
“A time management system that encourages people to work with the time they have—rather than against it.”
Pomodoro timers are specifically 25 minutes of productivity, 5 minute breaks in groups of four, with the final break being 20-30 minutes long. These timers break up the monotony of the task and make the productive time seem more productive as we are rewarding ourselves at each cycle with a brain break.
As with any of these methods, there is not a right way to pomodoro. You can do ten minutes of productivity with a 2 minute break, or any block of time you wish. This method is merely a tool that you can modify for what works best for you. I do Pomodoro for my housework. Setting a 15 minute timer for productivity because that is how long my body can handle house chores at a time, with an hour break in between productive times. I do this on my non-writing days so that my days off feel relaxing and productive at the same time.
“You can do anything for 15 minutes”
This quote is from one of my favorite housekeeping productivity coaches. Fly Lady. While I do not know if it is her quote or something she always uses, the term has always stuck with me. As I mentioned before, even on my days off I work on housework and other tasks. I am never truly doing nothing. While I do not follow Fly Lady to a tee, I have modified it for my own life and my own set of strengths and weaknesses.
What does this mean for productivity? Simple, even on my worst days, I can muster up 15 minutes to check my email, write a quick blog post or even post on social media. If at the end of 15 minutes I still feel like I can’t complete the task, I give myself a pass and call the workday done. Nine times out of ten, I get to working on a project and those 15 minutes motivate me to keep going.
Remember, no two bodies are the same, and no two disabilities are the same. If this method doesn’t fit into your life, toss it.
Planning is not new, your typical planner, no matter your brand preference, is going to have basic similarities in functionality. I could draft an entire book on planners and how they differ, but we do not have the space for that here, so I will give you a synopsis.
Get planner recommendations from friends, family, and other creative types. Here at MGB, we both use different planners and different mediums for planning. I use Passion planner #pashfam! Both digitally and physically. I use a daily and a weekly layout, as that works the best for me. While Missy is 100% digital and uses HappyDownloads and a system of stickers and special layouts to track medical and mental metrics. You can read more about that in her post on Dungeons & Disabilities.
Decide if you want to go digital, or paper. (Or hybrid like me because I’m a rebel like that)
Download free printables from the creators of the planners you are considering.
Watch videos of other creators using the planners and see if anything sparks interest
Use planning time as self-care that prepares you for your day, instead of dreading it.
I could write about planning and methods for days. I will share a blog post on it in the future, so stay tuned. ALSO, you can subscribe to our twitch channel, where we will do live planning sessions from time to time.
I learned about this method from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. To put it simply, habit stacking is creating habits and erasing bad ones around routines you already do each day that do not change. I had been using habit stacking and didn’t even know it until my therapist told me. My example is the morning bathroom trip. It’s inevitable for me. Each morning, the moment I wake up my body sends those wonderful signals to my brain that it is time to visit the washroom. Once I am in there, I know there are several things I need to do, shower, brush my teeth, swish and wipe the toilet and counter, floss, dress, deodorant and makeup.
I could do my business and go back to bed forgoing all those tasks for a later improbable time, OR I can quickly do them all while I am in there and build healthy habits rooted in actions I already take each day. It is in this way we stack habits around our natural rhythm. Each morning, after I have done my business, I “stack” the above habits while I am there. All of this takes me about 15 minutes, and it makes my master bathroom practically clean itself, as well as it makes self-care a natural part of my day, not something that I have to give up something else for.
How can we apply habit stacking to our creative process and not our bathroom habits? Simple, identify habits that put you in the creative space in your mind.
- Take a walk
- Listen to music
- Practice believable affirmations.
- Affirmations only work if you believe what you are saying
- Simple Mantras like “I am a writer,” “I am an artist,”
- Mindful movement
- Square breathing
- People watching
Make your environment work for you.
Take methods from several sources and make them your own. Merge, add, tweak, and form your environment to best suit you and your mind. For me, that looks like always having important papers on my desk, having my personal files mingled in my workspace, but it also means I keep the things that bring me joy in my visual purview as I am working. The handprint flower petal my daughter made for me in preschool, the card of the editor that told me while she didn’t want my novel and it didn’t fit for her house, she wanted a copy the second I published it. I also have toys from my favorite games, tv shows and movies, and figurines from my favorite artist. All the things that make this space mine. It is neat, organized and flows well, but I also designed it to keep things that are important in the forefront of my mind.
Do not give 100%
Most ND and disabled adults feel as though they must make up for their imposition on a Neuro-typical able bodied society. We do so by giving too much of ourselves to our co-workers, loved ones, and bosses. We go all in on a project and we give everything we have to that project. At the end, we are left devoid of drive, desire and dopamine, the job once instilled in us. We burn out, used up like a candle at the end of its wick.
The same can be said for our hobbies, interests, and creative endeavors. When we give too much of our time, focus, and energy to one thing, i.e. hyper focus, we take away the dopamine hit of that activity. Desire to engage in the activity dwindles, and we find ourself feeling uninspired or unmotivated to devote time to that activity.
This is a perfect segue to our last tip.
We hear boundaries being tossed around in therapy a lot, but never in conjunction with our daily tasks and habits. But it is a true with mental health as it is with creativity, and even work. Boundaries are like our safe word for life. When we set boundaries for ourselves, we are creating a barrier between productivity and burnout.
Boundaries help us maintain a forward momentum while still respecting our need for balance. Balance that keeps us interested in our creative endeavors to supply that much needed hit of dopamine the creative process gives us.
How do you set boundaries? Set daily goals. Small achievable goals for each day. Whether that is a word count goal or a time-based goal, goal setting is a form of a boundary. Make those hard stops too. Once you hit 1000 words for the day, you are done no more writing. Focus on other aspects of writing, learning the craft, editing a piece from the previous week, social media marketing, branding, engaging with your audience, and so many other things that go into our writing career. Create a list of writing adjacent tasks that are not putting words on paper to go to when you reach the daily limit.