Bite-size goals

I didn’t want most of this blog to be about mental health, but I don’t mind that that’s how it seems to be turning out; after all, the mental health effects of lupus are often neglected by most people. Of course any chronic illness can cause depression in itself, and lupus can directly affect the brain, or, as is my case, it can make existing mental illness worse.

Making goals for myself has always been something I aim to do (I aim to make aims, haha) to boost my productivity, which has taken a dive since I graduated and have been back living with my parents in a small town instead of the city. As my health has gotten worse and my stamina has decreased, it makes things even harder to keep up. I know I’m the type of person who likes lists and being able to tick things off them, and I enjoy being able to see progress in numerical goals, such as how many books I’ve read this year and watching the percentage increase. Last year I had set up spreadsheets with goals in it for each month such as how many words I wrote for my novel, how many poems I wrote, how much I earned on Freerice, how many quizzes I write on FunTrivia, and so on and so forth. It helped if I was sitting about thinking I want to do something productive with my brain, then I could look at the list, and think “Oh, I didn’t do much translation this month”, and then work on that.

But eventually, the maintenance of the spreadsheet became a task on its own, and I started to neglect it to the point where I haven’t updated it for about six months. Similarly, I downloaded a To-Do list program on my computer, but setting it up with all my goals became a mammoth task in itself!

My psychologist suggested I keep a journal with my sister where on a set day each week we write down problems or things we want to sort out, such as ideas for careers. She said to write down the next small steps in each goal, or any problems we’re having in general, and then next week come back to the book and note down any progress we made. My occupational therapist keeps getting on at me for walking in and saying “I need to sort out my WHOLE LIFE.” She emphasized that I need to cut my goals down to smaller chunks: instead of “I must catch up on the entire backlog of laundry, I should sort out and wash one bag of clothes this week.” But I would write down goals when I was with her on a sheet of paper and then not really look at it until the next appointment where I would confess to having done virtually nothing!

Recently, as the weather improves, my sister and I are really getting going on spring cleaning and pushing ourselves toward productivity again. I’ve been talking with a few friends fairly recently as well about setting small goals instead of large ones that we’re less likely to embark upon never mind complete very soon. It is so difficult balancing physical and mental health, and there’s just no point in me getting geared up in a session with my therapists and saying “Yes, I want to sort everything out, I’ll make a massive list of goals and actually do them”, and then find in the coming days that my body’s not having it like that!

I believe that actually more can get done with many small goals than if you wait until the mood or right conditions take you for a larger goal. To use tidying the room as an example, I find that it takes a long time until I can even face a session of a big tidy up, and if I spend a few hours on that, I’m going to be paying for it for a long time, and so I can’t keep it up as regularly; usually by the next time I manage to go for a long session again, the room has recovered most of the mess from last time, so no progress is made! More can get done if I say to myself that I will tidy for 10-15 minutes a day, for example, or set a specific goal such as “Sort out the bookshelf” and only do that even if I feel up to more. This means that I will be a lot more likely to do another task the next day. So it seems kind of paradoxical, but I think this method works for me, and more gets done with smaller tasks than large ones.

So, for some inspiration, I thought I would start committing to small goals on this blog. I find that I’m more likely to carry things out if there’s someone I have to come to and say “No, I didn’t actually bother with that this week”! I’ve decided to simply set five goals each Sunday (happily I was busy yesterday categorizing my 300 DVDs into alphabetical order to write this post yesterday; they’re now filed away in the cupboard instead of my desk so I have a semblance of a working space!), with no numerical component: it won’t be “Write ____ words for my novel” this week, but simply “Work on the novel”, even if this is only 100 words, or Hell, even one! It won’t be “Complete the crochet project this week” but “Work on it”.

This is a nice combination of both therapists’ suggestions, I think, and I believe it will help boost my productivity long-term more than the things I’ve tried previously (which often work great in the short-term but it’s hard to keep up). I think as well, even though some of the goals will end up things I would have done in the week anyway, marking it up as “completing a goal” will boost my self-esteem and feeling that I’m getting things done! I’m not going to keep track of how many I complete and how many I fail; I want each week to be a clean slate. I am quite a meticulous person with perfectionist tendencies (see above with the DVDs; I have spreadsheets of my novel’s word counts, a four-page one for my books, haha) and wanting to tick off goals each week will hopefully spur me into things. We’ll see!

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