Neuroatypical productivity
January 11, 2019 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find ideas on to do lists, project management, etc by and for neuroatypical folks? I'm bipolar, and it's just been extra stressful to try a lot of systems that simply weren't meant for the way I think.

I have a lot of writing and art projects underway, too many, and I'd like to finish some of them. I'd also like to find a way to make a to-do list that doesn't break my brain. Prioritizing is especially really hard. I also have a lot of goal-directed behavior where I come up with lavish projects and really believe I should be able to do them all, only to get exhausted when something doesn't go right.

I am open to resources (books, websites, forums referrals to people) that can help me with this. I am also open to ideas directly from those of you who have experienced the same challenge.

I'm only looking for ideas from people who are either neuroatypical themselves or have a lot of experience with bipolar people. However well-meaning, "just sit down and make a list" is not an option for me.

I have brought this up in therapy and asked a couple people I know, but I don't have any answers yet.
posted by mermaidcafe to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I have a moleskine that functions as a work diary.

Every day when I come in, I make a box in the top margin of the moleskine about an inch wide and a centimeter or so tall, and I divide this box into four roughly equal squares, and then I draw a line through the middle, so I end up with eight squares total, four on top, and four on the bottom. I write the date above the box. Each bottomlevel square is for a walk. I supposedly take four walks each day. That's not what happens, but that's what I supposedly do. When I actually complete a walk, I make crosshatches in that square with a red pencil. The top squares are for water. If I drink a glass or a cup of tea or can of seltzer or something, I make crosshatches with red pencil. If I have a real red-letter day and actually walk four times and drink four glasses of water, I end up with two red diamonds at the top of my moleskine page! Triumph! Lots of times I end up with eight empty squares and I don't care about that. It's just fun to make the cross hatches and try for the diamonds; no worries if I don't actually do it. (The water is not so I feel all virtuous and hydrated, it's to make me get out of my chair to get the stuff and to make me have to go to the bathroom, because that also gets me out of my chair. My overwhelming tendency is to sit motionless for hooooours.)

Under the top margin, I write the date again and draw two red lines above and below it so that it stands out, and so that there's more red. I like red.

I write down things to do as I think of them and draw a line to the left of each task. I try to make it a mix of things that I do sitting at my desk and little sojourns away from my desk. For instance, Lucky's had a deal on apples, which I don't normally eat, but there was a deal, so now I'm taking an apple to work every day. One of my "tasks" is "wash apple." That's mixed in with all the work-ish blear. I make checks on the lines next to the tasks as I finish them. I usually don't finish the ones I don't like very quickly. Sometimes I'll have a two-week period where the same task keeps showing up totally unchanged. Sometimes it'll morph as I peck away at it. I'm not really telling myself what to do in this list so much as speculating about what might happen during the day and then recording it as it happens. Some days I write nothing down and there's just a row of eight pristine boxes. But other days there are lots of checks and cross hatches.

Usually about three days fit on a page. But some weeks Trump goes crazy or I'm just in a downswing, and I can end up with an entire week plus on a page. Some days are packed and fill up a whole page. I'm not trying for one or the other. I just write down what happens.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:32 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

I am unfamiliar with the specifics of being Bipolar, so apologies if you've heard this before, but Bullet Journaling might help you.

It's a system that is adaptable to your individual needs. Some people evangelise it, but it's not a 'one true system' and it's also not a cure all for all organisational problems, but it is a place to try and see what works for you and what doesn't. - Link - is a good simple place to start if you want some striped down information. - Link - is a breakdown of the system from the creator.

Despite what lots of sites will tell you you don't need any kind of special paper, notebook, nor pen. You just need a paper notebook small enough to carry with you and a pen / pencil to keep with that notepad.

Finally - this site is aimed at people with ADHD - but their articles on organisation might help: - Link -

Good luck
posted by Faintdreams at 7:33 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

In this area, the main challenge for my neuroatypical familiars is the same thing you've identified for yourself: the follow-through. The best system is one that you'll actually adopt, follow, and stick to. You want something that works with, not against, your attention levels and other natural inclinations.

For example: If you tend to keep track of things on paper, and / or are more likely to follow through on things if you can see them all of the time, you could make a simple Kanban board on your wall with sticky notes and painters tape. Once set up, this has the advantage of being VERY quick and easy to continue using. Plus, if you're like me, seeing a bunch of sticky notes on your wall will stress you out just enough that you're motivated to finish things so you'll move them along.

But if seeing all those notes in your physical space will paralyze you, or if you're just more likely to engage with things in a digital space, you could try Trello or KanbanFlow for a similar experience in a browser or app.

Or if you're not into the Kanban structure and are a Google user, you could use Google Keep or Google Tasks to make simple lists with reminders that pop up.

There are lots of mechanisms out there, but again, a system is only good if it works with your natural behavior. I would start by reflecting on what has helped you get things done in the past, and what you've tried that hasn't worked. From there, you can help us tune recommendations to your particular inclinations!
posted by D.Billy at 8:19 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Bullet journalling works for me. What really helps is the fact that you carry unfinised actions over to the next day -- nothing falls between the cracks. Ultimately this has helped me be more realistic about what I can actually hope to get done.

Absolutely core, though, is starting small. Forget all those fancy bullet journals with extravagant pages and Design that you'll see on Pinterest. Just do a future log, a monthly log and a daily log. Maybe a monthly habit tracker if that's useful for you (it helped me stop biting my nails after, oh, a lifetime).

Most importantly, accept that your format won't be perfect in the first month. Forgive yourself for inconsistencies in style and scope. Just make it better next day / month/ whatever.

Good luck!
posted by Ted Maul at 8:44 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I'm also bipolar, and Trello is saving me now that I'm back in school and have a handful of personal projects. This might be hard to visualize if you haven't used Trello, but I set it up so that there are three columns (Future To Do, Current To Do, and Waiting on Others). Then each columns have a series of cards. I create two for each calendar week for the next quarter: one for home/personal stuff and one for school stuff. Each card gets its own due date. Then on each card, I create a checklist with the things I need to finish that week. When that week comes, I move the cards from "Future To Do" to "Current to Do" and only focus on getting stuff on those two cards done.

I do have two other cards: one for things that don't have due dates (getting my pants hemmed, putting a new sticker on my car, ideas for projects I'd like to tackle in the future), and one for books I'm currently reading, in order of their library due date (because I read a lot). When one of those projects becomes something I'm actually working on, I set arbitrary due dates for the parts of it and add those as checklist items to the appropriate week's cards.

It took me a lot of trial and error to get to this system; I've found that the most important thing for my brain is to give myself permission to keep changing tactics until I find something that feels right - and that if/when it stops working, it's OK to change it up again.
posted by okayokayigive at 9:28 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]

Maybe a referral to an occupational therapist could help with developing a personalized system. My OT has had a lot of ideas and supportive feedback that I have found invaluable as I recover from brain surgery, and she has also helped me find additional community resources.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:49 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]

Greetings, cousin! Last I heard, I have bipolar-not-otherwise-specified, because nobody will let me add Bipolar I and Bipolar II and Cyclothymic disorder and Mixed Features and Rapid Cycling (all of which I have some symptoms of) and come up with Bipolar VI. I generally live on the manicer side of life, because my psychiatrist and I have chosen to medicate me this way. Because when depression hits, it's brutal, and I'll spend every single minute of every single day laying in bed, staring at nothing. There's no "little bit depressed" for me. So my life's probably more chaotic than you'd prefer yours to be (I hope!).

I'm self-employed, and was considering asking pretty much exactly the same question you just did. So thank you!

What I'm currently using is going to sound insane, and it is, but it's what's currently (kinda sorta) working for me.

I set OKRs for the year. My OKRs are in a Google Sheet. Everything's broken down do the initiatives level, with target achievement levels spreading across the sheet, for "good," "great," and "best" levels of accomplishment. (For example, for one of my writing clients, it's a good month if I write 1 thing for her, a great month if I write 2, and best if I write 4.)

Then there's Trello, where just about every thought that passes through my head winds up. (I have the functional memory of a kumquat, so if I don't "write it down," it never happened.) I've currently got about 15 boards going with business and personal stuff, but I'm also working on consolidating some of them so it's a little less crazy in there.

I put big honking goals and daily to-do items on Habitica. It's a gamification system for to-do lists. I'm a level 54 Healer right now, and my party and I are about to start a quest to free ourselves of the Dragon's influence. (Recent quests have included overcoming the Tackle Tree and achieving three treeling eggs, and escaping the Cave Creatures, gaining three rock eggs in the process.) Daily to-do items left undone cause damage not only to you, but to your party, as well. So I've gotten a LOT more consistent with drinking enough water, eating at least twice a day, and writing 500 words a day, because I can't justify the risk of killing my questmates because I didn't want to drink, eat, or write enough.

Then there's the notebooks. I've got five notebooks on five clipboards for one of my OKRs, because it involves a lot of introspection, journaling, meditation, etc., and I want to capture those experiences on paper instead of digitally. (It also forces me to get up and move around, as difficult as that is for me - I can't walk more than a few feet without falling over - especially since I have a tendency like Don Pepino of sitting in the same position, without even stretching, for hours and hours and hours.)

And I put stuff on Google Calendar, and set it up like this on my second screen - which is above the one I normally work in - so I can see what time it is, what my focus is for the day, and exactly what tasks I want to get done today. You probably can't read it, but today I had three tasks. One in pink at 10am, one in green at 12, and one in green at 1. I didn't actually accomplish any of them, so they're getting moved over to tomorrow when I hit my daily 8pm planning time.

As if that isn't enough, I've also got a paper planner, which I'm using for social media planning. I use SmarterQueue, but need to know what I'm going to be putting there and how it fits into the bigger plan. I use Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, plus do Facebook Lives, plus write blog posts, plus write emails to my (fledgling) list, and paper just works best for me to keep that all straight.

And I put stuff in Google Keep if it's convenientest. Or throw things into a Google Doc. I mostly manage my Gmail with a ton of folders and a Followupthen account so I can deal with emails later without having to keep them hanging around in my inbox.

Ok, looking at all that, it sounds even crazier than insane. But it's what I got. And since we're cousins and all, I wanted to just throw it all out there and see if any bit of it at all might help you.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 4:18 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

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