Keeping track: how to manage everything when your mind is no help

For me, the biggest issue that fibromyalgia brings is the brain fog and forgetfulness. I’ve always had a great memory pre-diagnosis, so not being able to remember names, dates, appointments, or other sorts of information is incredibly frustrating.

Right now I am in the process of data collection for my dissertation, which means interviewing people. That means even more tracking and planning things, on top of balancing my social life and work. There are a lot of moving parts. Here are the things I use to help keep me organized.

1.Google Calendar

A very simple tool and yet oh-so-powerful! My boyfriend Marc has a great habit of always looking at his calendar before agreeing to plans, and that is a habit I try to have as well. The key to this one is to add an event to it the moment you agree to it. If you forget to do it as soon as you agree to it, there’s a 50/50 chance you will forget all about it, and then get irate emails.

2. Paper to-do lists

I do this as part of my bullet journaling, which is a “bare bones” approach and not the artsy stuff you find if you just Google “bullet journal.” I basically write down things I need to do as soon as they occur to me, and if I don’t get to them on that day I move them over to my list the next day. This works for me because I don’t really get anxiety from having unchecked items on my to-do list, AND I also really like checking things off from said list. Handwriting everything also helps it stick in my brain, so I find I don’t have to refer to the list as often.

3. Trello Boards

I use this online planning tool mainly for papers or projects that have a group component. It does have a multiuser functionality but I have only ever used it individually. It helps me to have an outline of all the tasks needed to get a project from start to finish. It was especially valuable during my research assistantship (which in the summer 2019), where I was the first author on a paper with many co-authors, each with specific tasks and deadlines.

4. Medisafe

Not directly task-related, but as a fibromyalgia sufferer I have a lot of pills to take everyday – some are prescription drugs and others are simply supplement. This app helps me keep track of which medication I should take and when. It reminds me to take them, too, and has saved me many times when I was so absorbed in a reading or other task that I would have completely forgotten otherwise. I don’t use all of its functionalities (because I don’t have the patience to set it all up) but this is very powerful for me.

5. Learning to say no

Alright, this is a bit of a cop-out on this list, but it is a good tool to have. It is a lot easier to keep track of everything if you haven’t over-committed yourself and bitten off more than you can chew. Good work-life balance is critical in grad school anyway, but with a chronic illness it is vital. In the long run, having enough time to recover from work consistently will mean being much better at dealing with the workload. Better work consistently every day than push yourself hard for a few days and then burn out.

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