This diagnosis starts to open doors to better treatments and helps explain why I'm in pain all the time, although... I'm still in pain all the time.
I'm most grateful that I am as in to productivity, internal processes, and workflows as I am, because I am on constant need of budgeting physical energy and cognitive capability, all while trying to keep myself motivated. Without that kind of thinking, I don't even know what I'd be doing.
I tweeted recently and asked what topics about productivity would be interesting when thinking about dealing with chronic illness or disease, and the clear response (thanks to everyone who got in touch) was that there are two areas of interest:
Energy management and optimization/conservation
Measurements of success
I really appreciated how clear everyone was about this, and these topics seem the most right for me to think and write about.
I'm keen to start blogging more regularly again, but I thought it would be good to set up with this context about what I'll probably talk most about (energy and measures) and why that is. Same tools still all apply here, but that's the lens through which I'm looking at life.
For now, I'm polishing a few new/updated Shortcuts that I'll be excited to share, and will get back to the grind.
“You’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything good to do.” – Ferris Bueller
I’ll not exhaust the story too much, but a couple of months ago, the right side of my body went numb. This was scary, but thankfully, I was diagnosed with migraines (they don’t have to be pain headaches, I’ve learned), and prescribed meds to manage.
Since, symptoms have escalated, and that has led to MRI and more MRI and further testing. Who knows what is happening to me (we’ll figure it out in time), but I do know this:
My productivity has been galvanized like never before.
As I combat wild levels of fatigue, energy is now a very special resource. This means I ask, of all things I do, is this important enough to risk not being able to do the rest of my day?
Peeking behind the scenes a bit more, I’m on vacation from work, which was mostly planned ahead of time and fortuitous in timing since I can’t keep up, so I am lucky to not have to worry about that, but all else I do is done with incredible deliberateness.
“Time management” is the term that I hear most often, but it’s really “action management” (that which consumes time), which is really “choice management” (that which inspires action), which is really “values management” (that which drives choice). Never before have I been so clearly able to see a line so directly connecting my core values to what I am doing in every moment.
That’s probably exhausting too, but it makes me happy to live through.
I don’t know what the takeaway here is, except to say that, where possible, really identifying and then leaning in to core values to drive how one spends the time one has agency over is incredibly rewarding. And hopefully, you don’t have to have your whole body go numb to signal this.
Update: The links for the Get To It and Dashboard widgets have been updated with fixes (addressed an error if no matching OF tasks in Get To It and changed iconography alignment for calendar events in Dashboard). Enjoy!
Home Screen fever calmed down a bit as iOS 14 wove its way in to my every day. I had settled in to my routines and was living my best widget life.
After playing with the colours of Charty and placing it in the middle of my Home Screen, I thought, "Huh. That screen looks like part of an app." So I opened up WidgetPack and worked more on creating a header widget to lead my screen with, and a revamped widget with OmniFocus actions.
I figured if I can visualize and list my actions, what else could I do? I needed ways to not just see things, but an interface to do things. That led me to adding buttons to the header widget, and then more buttons to run the Shortcuts to refresh the data of these widgets.
Saddened that I couldn't have a calendar widget that suited my needs and aesthetic, I started imagining a second screen that would show upcoming events, as well as counts of and access to more things.
I'm really happy with the result, both in form and in function.
To break it all down, the rest of this post will go widget by widget, sharing just how each is built and what all each does, and giving you the tools to do this, too. Hopefully, this can help you either customize a similar experience, or just plain implement what I've made. Enjoy!
This was pretty purpose built for me, so substitutions and edits of what I share here may/will be needed. The apps I use to make the widgets are:
I'll also note that my intent, like I said, was for this screen to feel like an app. As such, I employed a black wallpaper and designed the widgets as white on black. A white Home Screen, even with the intent to feel app-like just felt like too much.
Obviously, this WidgetPack widget shares the day and date, which I had originally pegged WidgetSmith to do, but I wanted to add functions, which is what those four circles are:
Add new item to OmniFocus
Start new draft in Drafts
Refresh the OmniFocus Get To It widget below
Refresh the Charty chart
To make sure it's current, the Shortcut has an automation to run every day at 00:00, which I highly recommend.
I use a Toolbox Pro action here to return home at the end of the flow (this is true for each of these Shortcuts, actually), just so that if I run it, I end up back at it, but this is optional (though you should still support Toolbox Pro for many reasons).
Charty Omni Rings Widget
This is the crown jewel of the design, and creates three rings with Charty to show progress based on tasks in OmniFocus:
[tasks completed today with a due date before 11:59pm] / ([available tasks today with a due date before 11:59pm] + [tasks completed today with a due date before 11:59pm])
This is a great visual of my day and its state. One gotcha, though, is that this is a beta, and so doesn't handle zero values elegantly yet. For example, if you have zero flagged tasks, it substitues 100 for the denominator and reports 0/100 complete. I think I'd like to see a closed ring for 0/0 done, but we'll see how this develops.
The Shortcut does require a particular colour scheme, and I've linked to it below.
For the widget, I chose to set the left background to 000000 for both light and dark, and the right to 0F0F10. I turn off the title and legend, and the chart takes care of the rest.
To keep the chart current, one might want an automation set to run the Shortcut on particular intervals or events. I tried doing it each time OmniFocus is closed, but I trigger many Shortcuts from OmniFocus tasks (as URL schemes), and found that exiting OF to run one Shortcut but automation trying to run another produced less desirable effects.
Like the Charty widget above it, this grabs available actions that are either due, flagged, or forecast-tagged, but then colours the checkbox indicator for each accordingly to match the Charty colour scheme.
Each action in the widget links to its OmniFocus task, and if there are more tasks that can be shown, the "and x more" line links to a particular perspective.
Unlike other iterations, I specifically designed this widget in these colours, or responding to light/dark mode. I have an aesthetic I wanted, and so that's baked in, but it would be possible to edit this otherwise.
Run the Dashboard Shortcut (to refresh the widget's contents)
Run the Charty Omni Week Widget (to refresh the chart below)
Lastly, I struggled with the best way to see calendar events. I don't like the design of the stock Calendar widget, and it can't be forced in to dark mode to match the rest, so what the heck, I made my own.
Events are shown for the calendar day the Shortcut is run on, but only ones that have not yet occurred/started. As with OmniFocus tasks, each event in the widget links to its event in Calendar (by way of a separate Shortcut, since the Calendar doesn't have a lovely URL scheme of its own). If no events remain, the widget will say so (with a moon, because moons are relaxing).
I've shared this before, but I wanted to have this on my screen as a clear visual of my accomplishments. This Charty-based widget shows the count of OmniFocus tasks completed today and on the six days prior to today, giving me a sense of my wins.
I generally prefer to write shorter form, but I’ve failed at that here. Maybe fix a sandwich or grab something to drink for this one.
I have been blessed with Inattentive Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). What this means for me, is that where it might be most appropriate to cast a line of thinking, I cast a web. If the most expected means of following a neural process is to start at A, then go to B, then C, then D, I might start at A, check in at each of Q, then 2, then π, then go to B and C simultaneously before entirely disregarding D because it’s of limited interest.
It’s neuro-atypical, as they say, but it’s my typical.
This is advantageous to me in a lot of ways, because it means I can connect ideas in different ways, see hidden or obscure patterns, and flow rapidly with change. I can quickly juggle a myriad of different kinds of work, adapt to and work with new ideas, and be ready to shift strategy or objectives at any time.
What’s challenging, though, is that this means I have an all or nothing input system; I have to work really hard to focus on one thing. It can be difficult to have a conversation in a pub, for instance, because my brain wants to hear every conversation. It also makes deep work challenging, because I struggle to work on the same thing for longer periods of time. The biggest challenge, though, is that I am mentally exhausted every day. I take in a lot of input, and so need to deliberately find ways to empty my mental tank, lest it overflow or burst.
Two weeks before Christmas, I sat down to my work in my typical way. I sat down at my typical workspace, set my typical coffee down on the typical side of my computer, and started to go about my typical tasks. I then started breathing heavily, unable to catch my breath, ran upstairs, cried for an hour, and then experienced a total system shutdown, where I was unable to remain awake for more than about five to ten minutes. That lasted a little over twenty-four hours.
I have struggled with mental well-being throughout my life, with depression and thoughts of self-harm starting as early as the fourth grade. I have worked hard to develop mental models for myself to manage my thought patterns, separating the healthy from the unhealthy, and the factual from the false, but what had been like an an omnipresent background hum of anxiety was now a screaming chorus.
Meeting with my psychologist was amazing. Working together, we were able to determine that my ADHD self-management tactics had hit a ceiling of scalability, and I needed more tools to keep my thoughts in order.
What I thought was an anxiety issue was really a secondary (and not unreasonable) reaction to my mental capacity and inventory. Too much stuff, and I start to get anxious or frustrated with all the bits I can no longer manage. Picture an overfull shopping cart having things topple out of it as you push it up and down the aisles of a grocery store. As my kids mature, need more complex support, and as my life generally grows, I just can’t hold all the things.
Fast forward a few short months, and here comes COVID-19. Talk about more input.
I am so grateful, though, that I have been equipped with some key strategies for managing myself that apply so well to living through times of isolation with a full house, and so I wanted to share them here.
Structure: What decisions can we make and what guidelines can we establish to create consistency and remove questions later? Examples might include defining workspaces for everyone in the house, meal planning, chore charts, and sorting out roles/responsibilities.
Routine: How might activities be executed in predictable patterns to guide expectations and build upon structure? Consider aspects like timing of meals, scheduling when recreational time is allowed compared to when it's time for work, and sustaining pre-COVID self-care routines like bathing, putting on work clothes, etc.
Activity: What ways can I be active to help my body support my mind? If there is a yard, consider how it can be used, or ensure going for walks is part of the structure and routine to help the body support the mind. Fresh air and movement are huge keys to keeping my mental tank at an appropriate level.
Reflection: A very specific routine that adds to structure is a look back at every day to think about (and even journal) what was great, what wasn't so great, and what I want to remember or learn from. This helps every day become instructive about how I can consciously improve my life and psychological well-being.
This is all work, and work I need to be conscious of. The payoff is huge, though, since it all amounts it keeping me on the rails and coping with really trying times.
As it turns out, then, my love of GTD, doing the Nested Folders podcast, and writing what I learn here aren’t just proclivities or preferences; they’re survival strategies.
Exercising my mental health is very necessarily part of my typical structure and routines - is it part of yours, too? What does your typical look like?