Episode 18 of my podcast, Run Like Hell Toward Happy, is all about balancing illness with business and productivity.
I didn’t set out to have this particular niche, but it turns out that when you’re a disabled, queer, neurodivergent coach, you attract similar kinds of people.
My coaching doesn’t have a toxic positive “no excuses” mindset, because I have ADHD, depression, and fibromyalgia. Sometimes there are excuses, y’all. And they don’t deserve guilt and shame.
That’s why Abi and I get along so well.
Abi is a long-time friend, blogger at Skye Simply, tax and business office co-owner, and has been my client for almost a year. I invited her onto the show to talk to my listeners about how she’s worked to overcome internalized ableism and self-shame about her productivity. As a disabled, neurodivergent single mom, there’s a lot of brain drama around how much she gets done.
After we recorded, she realized she had a lot more to say, so I invited her to share more in this blog post.
Be sure to subscribe to the podcast and give this episode a listen to get even more great ideas and affirmation about productivity as a disabled or neurodivergent person. (Plus, you can win free coaching if you leave a review)!
When Caitlin first approached me about being on Run Like Hell Toward Happy, I was initially thrilled. I’d been following and listening to their podcast since its debut and loved it. Every episode gave me a new perspective or reassured me in just the right way that I was enough even on my struggle days.
When Caitlin told me the focus of said podcast episode, however, I was slightly less thrilled.
As someone who has struggled with chronic illness and being neurodivergent their whole life, being “productive” is a rather sticky subject for me. It is a topic I frequently catch myself wrestling with, and that has taken quite a toll on my mental health at times.
Which I suppose is exactly why Caitlin chose me for this particular topic. They’re brilliant like that.
So here, in no super concise order, are my thoughts and personal revelations on productivity while chronically ill.
Pick Your Battles
I’ve had to learn to pick my battles, pick less battles, pick ONE battle at a time, DAMMIT.
And by battles, I mean projects. My brain loves projects, and shiny new ideas, and exciting new things to try (oh, hello there, ADHD). It also really loves jumping from task to task, at the pace of a hyper rabbit on six espressos.
Which is to say that my “let’s keep all of our idea irons in the fire, all at once, all the time” strategy didn’t really ever work for me, not even way back before chronic illness entered the chat full time. Now, it’s even less of a functional approach.
One of the very first things Caitlin worked with me on during our coaching sessions was prioritizing my ideas, projects, and even daily tasks.
Now, instead of ONE master to do list that I can’t possibly accomplish in a month, let alone a day, I keep three running lists. Work must do, Life must do, and a third, “idea list” that’s a catch-all for the “fun stuff.”
I then keep the items on the work and life “must do” lists ranked by priority. That way, if I only have the energy for one task that day, and even if my brain is too foggy to prioritize in that moment, I can look at my neat little list, pick the highest priority thing I feel like I am able to accomplish at that time, and bam – productivity, spoonie style.
No anxiety for not finishing everything on the list, because the list is ongoing.
No executive dysfunction paralysis of “I don’t know what to do first,” because that’s already been managed too.
If there’s a task that I know I’m going to struggle with in terms of steps, I’ll break it down during a time when my brain is able to, or I’ll ask for help breaking down the task into steps.
Which brings me to my next tip…
Ask For Help
As a person with limited physical and mental energy, learning to ask for help was literally a matter of survival for me. Whether it’s been reaching out to someone I admire to coach me on how to do things I want to do, asking my roommate for help with household tasks, or crowd sourcing support in finishing a passion project or goal, I’ve had to accept that it’s vital, necessary, and morally neutral to reach out for help.
We are not meant to exist as universes unto ourselves, and especially from the point of view of someone who is both a single parent and physically disabled, trying to do everything all by myself is a quick one way trip to burnout. Which benefits no one.
Know When to Quit
The next super useful skill I’ve had to learn was to QUIT.
That’s not to say give up immediately and become a hermit as soon as you struggle.
But sometimes, quitting is the most productive thing you can do. Whether it’s a relationship, job, class, or habit, quitting can quite literally save your life. And is yet another entirely morally neutral choice to make.
Learn to quit.
Perfection is a Scam
As a recovering perfectionist, this next tip is both a work in progress for me, and my most favorite concept.
Perfection is a scam. Done is better than perfect, and ONE thing done or accomplished is better than NOTHING even started. Wash one dish. Pick up one thing. Write one sentence.
This is the hardest thing to grasp for me.
As often as needed, I remind myself that I am not defined by my productivity, nor is my worth as a human being dependent on my productivity.
While being productive and “useful” is hugely satisfying and brings a sense of accomplishment, gone are the days where I hang all of my self-worth upon the unattainable (for both me, and many others) goals of “hustle culture.”
As Caitlin says, “We don’t hustle in this family.”
Some days, being productive is rest. Far more rest than a typical, able-bodied person might deem appropriate even, and yet, for me, this rest is non-negotiable.
Many days, being productive looks like conserving my limited supply of energy to be able to give my children and our household the best of my energy and attention.
Slowly, as I have learned to honor this undeniable reality of my self, I have found my ability to actually “BE PRODUCTIVE” in the ways that society measures, slowly returning.
And so I have been able to take on projects, both creative and professional, and rediscovered my ability to “produce.” A blog post here, a few digital art designs there, more work for my company as I’m able.
But here’s the real deal: Everybody’s story is different, everybody’s brain is different, and everybody’s productivity is different. And that’s okay.
Remember that you can ask for help when you need it, let go of projects that are causing you more harm than good, and work toward unlearning the hustle culture and internalized ableism that our society runs on.
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