I wouldn’t say being an aspie means it’s always difficult to focus and achieve things. In fact, when there’s not too much else going on and the job in hand is full of attractive challenges and potential rewards, then I’m very focussed and very hardworking indeed. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it!
It’s when there’s a lot of general stuff to do and most of it seems fairly important and I’m not sure where to start that the problems begin. I can even lose sight of the fact that having a shower and getting dressed and putting my contact lenses in is the best place to start!
And with a home and a family, it’s really important that I try to keep things ticking along in a safe and hygienic and practical way for everyone.
So I list. I list like there are two of me: One that knows what needs doing and one that is simply going to follow orders.
My friend and Part-time, Accidental, Occasional Therapist of Sorts With No Strings Attached Who I Try Not to Bother Too Much But Who Has Lots of Experience and Whose Instincts I Trust (aka Elli), suggested different lists. I realised I was already using more than one list at a time but I had thought I was disorganised for doing that. Now I know that’s actually a good thing to do, I’m doing it professionally.
She suggested a simple list of 3 for days when you don’t know where to start and you need to get things done.
List the three most important things you need to/should do now, then do those 3 things and only those 3 things, then get back to your list, cross them off and write another 3 things. It works!
I find there are some days I have to do that with really simple things like remembering to eat and shower and dress (not that I have forgotten, per se, just that I’m not actually doing them because I’m letting myself get distracted and losing time). Other days I need to focus because of anxiety and what I need to do to cope with other people, and remind myself of the important things before someone arrives at the house, for example. That would usually be to make sure the loo is clean and the dog is walked, and the kitchen doesn’t stink. But I’ll feel overwhelmed and wander off and the anxiousness about a visitor will make me want to lie down and do nothing – which I can’t do so I’ll just walk around and around in circles seeing chaos instead and get distracted by irrelevant things. This is when I make myself make a list of 3 and look and it and then I can think ‘So what? That’s doable!’
There are general things bothering me all the time. These things keep me awake at night. So I have a diary-style planner with lots of columns for writing down What’s Bothering Me Lists. These are longer-term goals that I can achieve over time and cross off the following day, week or month, and look back and see that I am achieving; I am getting things done. And I have daily lists that are all things I’d like to or have to get done that day. This will include work I have to do for the shop, like paying bills, wages, emailing people, etc., washing school uniform, and jobs in the veg plot. I often re-write lists once I’ve got everything down so that I make sure to do things in order of importance. That list of 7 things in the photo is all a bit much for me to take in, I’m already finding the need to re-order it starting with the 3 most important things.
Often I will use a separate notebook for a separate subject, i.e. I will use one just for gardening. If I’m having a particularly difficult day when everything bothering me has combined into a great ball of confusion, I separate things out and compartmentalise them.
It must seem so time-consuming (it is!) and boring to people who don’t suffer with prioritising, and many people will have done most of the stuff on my list before I’ve finished writing it. But it does work and it does remind me that I am succeeding and helps me feel that I am coping. A sense of achievement is important when it feels like everyone but me in humanity fits the clocks and routines and modern habits of society, yet I’m floundering without a purpose in my own timeless haze.
When a perfectionist gets things done (as far as I’ve noticed so far, all aspies are perfectionists), he or she can reward themselves with things they wouldn’t reward themselves with normally: sitting down with a cup of tea, reading, going for a walk – whatever pleasure they might have been denying themselves because of the pressures of trying to work out priorities and getting things done.
I’ve not listed much this week and I’ve noticed a bit of a downward spiral in my behaviour and achievement. The jobs have piled up and I can see how that’s impacted on my husband. So I wanted to write this down and share with others how important and helpful it has been to me to write lists, in case anyone else suffers from the same anxieties.
The physical thing of drawing a line through finished tasks and seeing them gone is a really therapeutic thing to do if you suffer from prioritisation anxiety and confusion.