Experiment 17 and18 Jul 12 (Days 3 and 4)

Weight:  174.2 lbs (So a bit of real weight loss. To see if it continues)
Drugs: None today. 1 regular coffee at 8.30 am and another at 11.30 am. A glass of wine with parents at 10.30 pm.
Productivity: High all day. Slightly unfocused after about 7 pm, but still got big things done.
Moods: Felt good in the morning. Started getting the ‘oh my god’ mild mania from about 6 pm.
Slept night of the 17th from 12:45 am to 4:45 am.
[Info for 17 Jul 12. Notice how this list is getting longer. ]

Right, today I’m not going to write up the whole day schedule like I did before. I’ll just be repeating myself. But there are some issues, good and bad, that are immediately starting to show themselves.

First off, the 2 hour concept seems to be working. Knowing that I will have to finish the current task in a short while tends to keep me focused on what I am doing. Two hours is long enough to get real work done without getting pulled in too deep. Of course it’s handy to get lots of small tasks done too.

There are tasks that take longer than two hours. I’d recommend that you break it up such tasks into multiple 2 hour pieces and take at least a half hour break between them, or spread the task over days. Remember, if you are coming out of depression, whatever you are trying to get done wasn’t done for a long time – taking an extra 2 days or week to complete it won’t change the overall picture.

I will do a post specifically on time management and how to try to coordinate a schedule when you feel overloaded and overwhelmed and when your moods are dragging you to do things in ways that make life more difficult for you later on.

The second thing is that I set up what I thought was a decent schedule for yesterday (17th). Here’s what it looked like after walking dogs and getting changed for the day:
8:30 – 10:30 Work at home
11:00 – 1:00 Office
2:00 – 5:00 Visit aunt who was ill
5:00 – 7:00 Walk and feed dogs
Then go for an hour at the pub, come home and write blog etc., and then go to bed by about 11 pm or so.

Here’s what happened
8:30 – 10:30 Work at home
11:00 – 1:30 Office
2:00 – 6:15 Visit aunt who was ill
6:15 – 8:00 Walk and feed dogs
My schedule for dealing with the dogs became rushed and finished later then expected. I visited my parents as promised sometime during the day, but when I got home later I had a headache, so I didn’t get a chance to finish my blog post for the day, and I still had all the paperwork and tasks to follow up on from the day before.

Now it wasn’t a bad day. I’m happy I visited my aunt and I’m glad I spent more time than I planned with her, and the day had been productive. In fact right up until 6.15 pm, it was a really good day.

However, I had to rush to walk the dogs before the sun went down, and that started to trigger the sort of manic “oh my god, I’m not doing everything I need to do” sensation.

Basically what I found out yesterday was that us bipolar persons have to be careful when we start rushing to get things done. Rushing affects our mood swings badly. It doesn’t trigger mania or depression – it’s not that critical. But the rushing sends us into the mindset of “things are going wrong, I need to fix…!!!”, and if we keep with that mindset, we will start to do the kinds of things that will trigger a mood swing episode.

It’s like the rushing is the first step on a hillside that could cause us to tumble down the rest of the slope.

Luckily, we can take a step back. What to do? It’s ridiculous to say not to rush at all – after all, I did need to walk the dogs before sunset yesterday. There will always be cases and times when we do need to rush.

What we can do is to be aware of how the rushing is affecting our moods. If you start feeling as if  (a) you don’t have enough time to do everything, or (b) you have too many things to do and no time to do it, or (c) too many things feel as if they are coming at you all at once, then you are in the mindset for your moods to start going wrong.

The answer is not to feverishly try to get more done. That doesn’t work!  The more you rush, the worse you make things!

The answer is to start dropping tasks now! Here’s what – not everything will  get done today or tomorrow or this week. Live with it.

“But….”, you might start to say.
And I shall interrupt Yoda fashion with “Drop! There is no ‘but’.”

Yeah, there’s lots to do. And you might think it needs to get done because it is important. But before you start down that line, remember that when you were last depressed, none of the tasks that you now think are so important got done. So…most of the things can wait another day or two. Or a week. Stop trying to make unreasonable demands on yourself and stop trying to put yourself in a situation that will trigger mood swings.

You might think “But I’ve been doing so well in the last few days, let me do stuff while I can. Especially to clear the backlog of undone things.”  Well…..not a good way to think.

Unfortunately, trying madly to catch up is not a bad way to think either, especially if in the past you have used mania to catch up with undone stuff. I’m suggesting not to do this because you will set yourself up such that when the next depression episode happens, you will not be prepared for it. The goal here is not to do as much as quickly as possible, but to not get depressed for as long as possible. Dropping tasks now to do them later allows you the time and space to relax – and more importantly to plan how the next few days will go, including slowing to think about how you are feeling now and what you plan to do to head off the next depression episode.

Bottom line – if you get caught up focusing on getting the daily tasks done, you’ll forget to focus on keeping from getting depressed. So if your schedule starts to become overloaded because unexpected stuff happens, look at your list of tasks and start marking the ones you will do on another day. It is perfectly reasonable to call people and tell them you can’t do something. Very very few things are so critical that they must be done today. It’s ok to put off stuff to keep your today schedule at a reasonable non-rushed pace.

The third thing is that I designed my schedule for my typical day. However, my days are not yet typical – I only got out of depression 4 days ago, and I’ve got tons of little things to sort out. It’s only after those things are sorted out that I will have a typical day. As a result, although there is nothing theoretically wrong with my schedule design, I can’t use it as designed yet.

Or rather, I can use the structure, but I cannot assume that two hour time periods will be used for what I had written. For example, the slots this week labelled “exercising” can’t be used for exercise. I have to use that time period for trying to find the top of my desk under all the paper on it, or to reconcile the backlog of bank statements. Or to visit people I have to reconnect with. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to exercise, it just means that it will happen next week or the week after. I need those time slots now.

When your life comes back into order in the next 3-4 weeks (or in this case for me, I’m projecting 3 months), you can use the schedule as you designed it.

The same applies when unexpected things happen, like yesterday when I stayed longer at my aunt than I planned. What it means is that some activity later in that day will need to be dropped – I didn’t go out with friends yesterday evening as planned. I didn’t like dropping that, but it had to be done to allow me to do the stuff in the other time slots that I wanted to do more.

You will need to keep aware of how your schedule is actually shaping up compared to how you planned it, and adjust accordingly. It is perfectly fine to drop activities or planned time slots if it will stop you having to rush to get everything done.

The fourth thing is related to the third thing. I completely forgot that every time you do a task, you generate follow-up activities such as recording what happened, filing, planning the next tasks related to the one you just finished, and so on. The problem is that I have far more than the average number of tasks to do at the moment (remember – coming out of depression). As a result I have way more follow-up activities than usual. So much, in fact, that I’ve had to grab all the time slots I planned for restarting office work, and instead use those time slots to organise and do all these follow-up activities.

So although I started doing a bit of office work on Mon and Tue, I’m going to have to drop it again until next week Wed or Thur, by which time I should have caught up on the follow-up activities. I don’t like dropping the office work for a week or more, but I comfort myself by thinking that I did expect that getting my schedule back in order would take about three months and I’m still only on week one. So I’m not out of line with my plans yet. And the office work wasn’t done for the last 4-5 weeks – so it can wait another week.

Ok. I am a bit guilty. But I’ve decided that I’ll just say ‘meh’.

The fifth thing is that under my current schedule, I’m to spend more time each day with the dogs than doing office work. Somehow, I don’t think that’s right.

Well, I am going to have to change the schedule a bit. But the good thing is I don’t need to do it today or tomorrow. Or even sometime until next week. By giving myself enough time, measured in weeks, to recover from the depression episode, I can correct scheduling issues gradually instead of having to make sudden changes. Besides, the dogs like all the attention.

Related to this is that my schedule simply cannot accommodate the assignment of a time slot to each of the six areas of my life each day [(a) Dogs, (b) Exercise / Health, (c) Social / People, (d) Office Work, (e) Website, (f) House / Garden]. There aren’t enough time slots daily, and it doesn’t make sense to do everything everyday.

It does mean that instead having a schedule that repeats daily or even every two days, the schedule pattern is likely to repeat every two weeks. That’s a complicated schedule to design. So although I currently have a good schedule that has me being productive and not getting depressed, it’s not a completed schedule. Over the course of the next 4-6 weeks I will have to add in stuff that I am not currently doing, and tweak and tweak until it is all comfortable. And I probably will make mistakes and have to fix them.

But all of that is ok. I know I’ve just come out of depression. Everything will not magically become better – I will have to painstakingly rebuild my schedules and habits. But I feel like having a depression episode is a bit like breaking a leg – just as there is a recovery period after the incident for healing the broken leg, so too I need a recovery period for healing the mess the depression episode caused. In this case I figure it’s going to be about three months before I can tell people I am healed (well, until the next depression episode), and I bloody well expect them to cut me some slack. People don’t tell people wearing a cast to go play football.

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(note: the next post on the blog will be Sunday and it will be about time management / scheduling. But I need to take a day or two to answer e-mail)

3 thoughts on “Experiment 17 and18 Jul 12 (Days 3 and 4)

  1. Have you ever read “Get things done” (from David Allen)? You don’t have to follow exactly what the book says but it has good advice about organizing all that “stuff” you need to get done. It has been useful for me, except when I am very depressed because at that point I just don’t care, or at least I don’t have energy enough to organize anything.

    • Daniela,
      Although I know somewhat about the GTD system, I have never read it in full or followed it. I think you are right though – using systems like GTD are a good thing. I often say, not quite in jest, while time management for everybody is a good thing, for bipolar people it is critical.

      That said, you’ve also hit your head up on my problem – if I’m depressed, it doesn’t matter what time management system I use because nothing is going to happen.

      My priority these days is trying to make sure I don’t get depressed at all. I’m waiting to see if I can get a scheduling system that can work even with our crazy mood swings.

      Meanwhile, any other ideas are so much appreciated.

      And here’s a quick link I found when I googled “gtd and bipolar”
      http://www.bipolarcentral.com/articles/articles-208-1-Getting-Things-Done-when-You-are-Depressed.html

      Thanks
      jinnah

      • Such a good article/column! Thank you.
        Getting things done is a BIG issue for me so if I have any ideas I will tell you 🙂

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