Practical Tips for Productivity While Fighting Chronic Illness

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Illness is the enemy of productivity. Chronic conditions make setting and achieving goals feel nearly impossible on bad days. On good days, overdue wordcounts and dropped ideas make finishing your WIP seem impossible. I suffer from both mental and physical chronic illnesses that make my day shorter, work more painful, and rewards less exciting. But I still write, because I love it. While there are no easy solutions for these problems, getting clever with minor lifestyle shifts and tricks give me an edge in every battle.

Have Multiple Workspaces

Physical pain can and will derail even the best-laid plans. On the other hand, a comfy seat may be an invitation to distraction when you can and want to focus. The solution? Adaptable workspaces.

I have a proper desk with a yoga ball chair for the good work hours. I have an old easy chair and a tv tray for the bad work hours. A lap desk turns bedrest days and weeks recovering from surgery into opportunities. Expand your definition of what a workspace looks like, and you open more hours and physical situations to productivity.

Find Mini-Windows of Work Time

Mental illness erodes focus and control. Fortunately, a book is written just one word at a time, and so long as you keep adding a line or two, your WIP will someday be a completed novel. Lower your expectations to boost productivity.

Write just five minutes at a time.

When you feel up to longer writing times, you won’t be starting with a blank page. You won’t spend the first two hours figuring out what you were doing after a long break, either.

Avoid Sensory Overload by Priming Your Environment

Stress turns the world hostile. I smell rank odors that may or may not really be there. Sunlight stabs my brain, and the kids playing next door sound like a small army mid-invasion. Planning ahead keeps stress low so your thoughts stay with the story instead of spinning out of control.

I keep products like Febreeze on hand to deal with phantom smells, or I bury them under the pleasant smog of a scented candle. Blinds and curtains go down, even in the middle of the day, and I use headphones to listen to rain, thunder, and wind on asoftmurmur.com. Find what irritates, distracts, and pains you. Then kick it out of your writing space.

Keep Goals Small

Goals are either exciting or demoralizing. When you repeatedly miss word count goals, they become a burden instead of a joy. Cut them back. Soon, you’ll have 2000 more words in your work doc, but it doesn’t have to be today. Set your aim low and celebrate small victories. You can always exceed your own expectations if you’re having a good day, but don’t penalize yourself when things go wrong.

Ask for Help

You need people in your life, and since I hope writing is going to be part of your day-to-day for years to come, those people need access to this corner of your world, too. When you run out of spoons and have to choose between taking the dog for a walk or writing 200 words, ask your significant other for an assist. Would it help if you dropped the kids off at school instead of picking them up? Maybe you need an open ear and cup of tea while you push back depression’s urging to throw your whole book in the trash. Be open, be honest, and accept the help you need.

Everyone’s experience with chronic illness is different. What tools and habits do you use to combat health challenges as you write? How has mental illness affected your writing?

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