Working while dealing with chronic pain is another task on the To-Do List (or so I keep trying to tell myself).
I used to crank out work at such a high level, and now I feel so much slower, like I’m trudging uphill through molasses in January. What used to be a machine is now rusted, rickety, with nuts and bolts rattling and clinking down upon the floor.
But things still need to get done. Jobs and projects require my attention, divided though my attention may be. How do I focus and get through my docket when my pain tries to pull me in so many directions?
Here’s what’s on my docket these days (WARNING: COLLUSION!):
- day job with Enjuris,
- editing/writing side gigs,
- legal side gigs (gotta love this “Gig Economy“),
- writing a book with my father about his work,
- volunteering for the MetroWest Opera as a board member (and I need to do the annual taxes),
- volunteering for the Pain News Network as a columnist and a board member (gotta do some writing),
- and on top of all that, I want to write an eBook on productivity and chronic pain,
- and I want to work on my own short stories.
And I work from home, so distractions abound. Like Fattie Ding Dongs here.
With all of these distractions (I use “all of” when referring to my cat or all of the other things in my house), how do I stay focused? How do I get work done while also battling the daily chronic pain?
Three Important Tasks
Productivity experts focus on the Most Important Tasks. I chose Three Important Tasks, because I’m immature with acronyms and also because I have learned that, realistically, I generally can’t accomplish more than three in one day. (I don’t count responding to emails or phone calls in this, because I count that as busywork.) Sometimes I can’t do more than one, but I feel like I need more than one in a day. I rank them in order of importance, so if I only get the top item done, well, then at least I’ve made one productivity expert happy.
Find More Time
Alzheimer’s patients are known to “sundown.” Chronic pain and illness patients have their own strange version of this in which suddenly, without warning, we lose all energy and are done for the day. It frustrates me to no end that my work day ends prematurely when I still have so much to accomplish. Then I wondered if lengthening the day on the other end would affect how long I could last.
I have started waking up at 6ish in the morning if I can, 7 at the latest. My goal is 5 am. Why? Because I function best in the morning. As the day progresses, I become less and less functional, which makes sense because I’ve been sitting for long periods of time. This means I have to get my work done first thing. This also means I have to eat the frog.
Also, figure out what your peak times are. Mine are 6 am and 10 am. Something about that magical silence when nobody else is awake does wonders for my work at 6, and then the second cup of coffee helps my groove at 10. Keep notes to find out what yours are.
Eat the Frog
I do the biggest, most important work first, even if it’s something I desperately don’t want to do. Think of it like an inverted pyramid; that’s how newswriters write their stories. The most imperative piece of information goes at the top, because that’s what people read. As the story progresses, the information becomes less and less important because the likelihood of the person finishing the story diminishes. (Sad, but true.)
So, start the day with what you are avoiding. Eat the frog. I’ve found that is generally the most pressing bit of work to do.
Stretch Every 15-30 Minutes
This goes without saying, but I know that I need a timer to remind me to get up and move around. Also, for those of you who are also working from home, remember to get outside. It’s easy to become a hermit and stay inside for days at a time. It even becomes comforting to remain in this little bubble, not talking to people, going for ages without actual human contact. Talking to people online isn’t quite the same.
Self-pace your workload and listen to your body. Don’t try to keep up with everyone else or do what you used to do. I keep trying to do that and every time I do, I end up in bed with a flare. You’ve got a new body now. Listen to it.
Listen to the Same Music Every Day
This might sound weird, but I’ve listened to the same video game soundtrack every day since I started working from home. I’ve never actually played the game (Ori and the Blind Forest), but my sister sent me the music one day last year and I fell in love with it.
Listening to the same music on repeat is like white noise, but better. Somehow I don’t get bored. There are familiar rhythms that I lean into, spikes I use for creativity. The rest of it melts into the background. Research has found that familiarity is best for focus, and I know that when I don’t know what song is coming up next, I don’t work — I listen to the music. So, I find it best to know the music. A Pandora station you’re familiar with would achieve the same thing.
Did you finish an assignment? Three-minute dance party. Did you publish a blog post? Fist pump. Did you get an article accepted by a publication? You get to scream as loud as you want for the next ten minutes.
My kneeling chair saves my life at work. I also have an Edge desk that I will be using more, and I also spend my afternoons in a recliner with my laptop. Find what works for you and what lets you get your assignments done in the most comfortable manner possible. If you need to speak with your employer about accommodations, many of them cost less than $500 and can be made out of stuff already in your house.
Routines are imperative when you have a chronic condition. This is why traveling is so hard for us. Find out what works for you and stick to it.
Lists and Sticky Notes
The one thing that has driven me up the wall since I’ve developed my chronic condition is that my memory is now shot. Between the stress and my medications, I can’t even remember if my therapist has bangs when I see her every week. I’m constantly struggling for words and phrases, going “Um, uh, um,” and drawing blanks.
Sticky notes are my savior. I have every different size and color, and they have everything from personal mantras to what I need to mention to my boss that day. My desk and monitor are wallpapered with them. The only downside? I need to remember to throw away the outdated ones.
And there you have it. That’s how I keep myself in line during my workdays. It might not sound revolutionary, but it’s my method, and so far it’s worked for me.