Monday, August 13, 2012

How I Get Stuff Done

My friends are often awed by the rate I accomplish things. Nearly everyone I know has commented on how motivated I am to achieve my goals. That’s often before they know I’m chronically ill and basic things like getting dressed and cooking meals are extremely difficult for me.

Case in point: due to pain-disorientation and balance issues, I broke my foot while getting dressed recently. This is not an usual occurrence. In the three weeks since then I’ve managed to re-break it four times, doing basic things like walking through doors and down steps.

Getting anything done with my degree of disability is extremely hard. I know a few chronically ill people who are medically on-par with me, who consider it a fantastic day if they get dressed, cook a single meal and get the mail from the mailbox. Those three things are spectacular accomplishments for me too, so how do I also manage to write blog posts, go to uni and write several novels a year?

Firstly, it’s really goddamn hard.

If you think there is some magic self-hypnosis to make you productive, you’re going to keep failing. Productivity takes effort, and if you think it will be easy you’ll always give up because it isn’t.

Secondly, there has to be method in the madness.

You can’t just say: “Today I’m going to be productive. Where’s my nail gun?” You need to know three things:

1. What you want in the long term.
2. What you want in the short term.
3. What you need to do to obtain those goals.

My long term goals revolve around owning a house and having a successful publishing career. I have defined ‘success’ and written it down in a letter to myself. I’m not sharing it here, because it’s personal. However I will say: Dream big. Aim beyond what you think is reasonable.

My short term goals usually involve the novel I am working on at the time. Writing it, editing it and submitting it. I usually have some kind of deadline—either self imposed or contractually. It’s good to have a self imposed deadline a month or more before your contracted one.

Working out what I need to do to obtain goals is pretty easy for me. I have a good mind for it. An example would be:

If the goal is to finish a 50, 000 word novel, edit it and submit it in three months, and I want a whole month for editing, I know I have to do 833 words a day for the two months prior. However being chronically ill, I’ll probably be too sick to work some days. So I will do at least 1500 words a day.

This next part is the KEY ASPECT to my everyday success. It is critical to me and to a large portion my life revolves around it. Unhealthy? Probably, but I am productive and you are not.


Every day I write down the things I have to do that day, in a day planner, in order of priority.

When choosing a day planner, every day needs its own full page and the diary needs to be of a sensible size. Not pocket sized, as there is not enough space on the page. And not A4 sized, as it is too big to carry with you comfortably.

My primary project is at the top of the page—usually a novel title. When I am done, I will write down the words written or pages edited. EG: ‘The Hungry People – 2500 words.’

Next are jobs that HAVE to be done every day. EG: Feeding the cat & taking my meds.

Next are the jobs that should be done most days to maintain order and sanity in the house. Things like cleaning the dishes and answering emails.

Following that are one-off jobs. Things like mailing birthday cards to friends, paying bills, buying unusual items or making phone calls.

I write everything in with black pen and when I’ve done it, I cross it off with red pen.

Worst case scenario:

There are days when I don’t know what year it is. I am dizzy and in pain and all I want to do is lie down and pray for death. However, I’m still going to be sick tomorrow and next month and next year, so I might as well be productive.

This ‘being productive’ when I am at my worst is what separates me from 99.9% of people and allows me to achieve so much. It’s awful, but it’s going to be awful regardless and at least this way I have something to show for it.

However, without the day planner, I would not have the mental capacity to keep track of what I had done. I could change the cat water, get myself a drink and be unable to remember if I had done the cat water yet. I also find my ability to make decisions is severely compromised, so I use the list to decide what to do next.

On the days where you can barely put one foot in front of the other, you can just do the first thing on the list, then the next and keep going until its bedtime or until everything is crossed off for the day.

Please note though, you can only do ONE thing at a time. No stopping half way through to switch jobs. Otherwise, you end up with everything half done and nothing finished.

Obviously most of you will not constantly be in pain. In fact, most of you who are not achieving your goals either:

1. Don’t have defined goals.
2. Or are just lazy.

It doesn’t matter if you’re chronically ill or lazy, you can still force yourself to act and achieve all the things you need to, everyday. It’s just a matter of pushing through and taking it one step


  1. My first thought: I'm in the #2 camp.

    My second thought: Well, actually, #1 describes me too.

    When goal-setting, I tend to shoot for the moon so that I can be all "I told you so, why did you bother" when I don't land there.

    1. I’ve read its best to have a potentially unrealistic ten year goal (EG: Be worth five million) and have realistic short term goals (EG: Write 1000 words, five days a week).

      So you can still have your unrealistic goals, as long as on a day to day basis you’ve got sensible plans.

      Works well for me!

  2. :D Thanks for sharing! I've always sort of wondered how you got shit done that needed to be done. Your very methodical method is very wise.

    I am... definitely in the #2 camp, but it's "lazy" spawned from fear. Which doesn't make it BETTER, but it does give me something to attack to make myself less lazy.

    Also, hullo! :D I haven't said 'Hi' in forever! I'm so happy for all your success.

    1. Fear is a valid reason for a lot of things.

      People in my position who don’t act are afraid of the pain and discomfort pushing themselves will cause. I am too and often start a big day with a sickening sense of anticipation, knowing it will result in a pounding headache.

      Some days, that fear wins out and I spend the day playing Civ 5 and eating cheese.

      As long as you have your goals and push through the fear most days, you’re still coming out on top.

      Having goals written down on paper really helps me because I feel like I don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s as if someone else has made the decision for you and has told you what to do.

      No more: ‘What if I’m not good enough?’. Day Planner God tells you to write, you write.