Can You Have A Chronic Illness And A “To Do” List?

How many times have you written a “To Do List” this week?

How many times have you looked at this list and felt like it’s an impossible dream?

How many times have you felt useless because you’ve only ticked off a few items?

How many times have you looked at the list and felt like it’s been taunting you and trying to coax you into doing more than you’re physically able?

How many times has the list been thrown in the rubbish in disgust and despair?

Ok, Enough Questions…Let’s Deal With This “To Do List” Issue

Firstly, I do need to ask one more question. Sorry about that!

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

We all know when we live with chronic illness, pacing should be our greatest priority. It’s one of our key chronic illness/pain management tools.

As soon as we add item after item to a “to do list”, we start placing undue pressure on ourselves. We can so easily set ourselves up for failure.

I Love A List – Always Have

I’m a bit of a “professional” list maker. I always have been since I was a primary school student. My Management career did nothing to break my list making passion. In fact it was one of the keys to my success and my list making behaviour was endorsed.

Imagine the difficulty I faced, of suddenly finding myself in a situation of being diagnosed with a rare disease. A disease that was to become as unpredictable as the weather. Even more unpredictable than that really (if possible!)

I can’t tell from one day to the next if I’ll be able to sit up for 2 hours straight, let alone achieve a list with 3 items on it.

Something I love to do and is considered a good life discipline, is now something that can so quickly become my undoing.

So, Should I Even Think About Writing A List?

Despite the risk of failure, I still think lists serve an important purpose for those of us with chronic illness.

A list helps you keep tasks on track and is a good organisational tool.

There is a big “however” coming now.

We need to be realistic about our capabilities. We need to ensure that we don’t do anything that will further compromise our health.

This is actually where a “to do list” has advantages for us if we use it correctly.

So here’s a few of my tips for making a list work with your chronic illness, rather than against it:

  • It doesn’t have to be huge. It can have only one item on it per day. Make it something you really want to achieve. If at the end of the day you can cross off that one item you will get a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.
  • Use Your Phone Calendar. My “To Do List” is on the agenda display in my phone calendar. It makes it easy to juggle tasks around and I can quickly see each morning what I want to achieve and what I need to achieve.
  • Needs versus Wants. I like to itemise the things I really need to do (eg; appointments, cleaning tasks, online food shop, rest time) versus what I want to do (write blog, sort out wardrobe). This way I can ensure I’m prioritising my pacing for the important tasks. If I find I’m having a better health day, I can go ahead and do a “want” task.

Note: I included rest time as a “need to do”. This is so important to physically add to your “to do list” daily. Self care is essential if you want to have a hope of achieving anything else.

  • “Want To Do List Days” are so important. It can’t all be about what you have to do. Some days just need to be about fun. Doing things you love. For me that’s writing, going for a drive with my husband, getting out to a cafe on a good day, colouring my hair. Sometimes I’ll schedule these activities in my diary otherwise they won’t happen. Even these fun items need careful planning and pacing so I can only attempt one “fun” item per day. Or, I’ll just have a “free day” with no agenda. Complete freedom to do whatever I feel like doing on those days, which is a treat in itself.

You’re The “To Do List” Author

At the end of the day, this is your personal list. You can add and delete items as you like.

You are the author. No one else can add to it, apart from maybe your medical team who often dictate appointment times.

If you decide to change the story for the day because the “plot” needs a re-think , go right ahead. Don’t feel guilty about it either. Listen to your body. Be guided by it.

We need to make life as pleasant and as easy as possible for ourselves. Let’s face it, most days are a physical battle with pain and fatigue and a myriad of other symptoms. Why on earth would we choose to make it any harder with impossible lists.

Make a list, make it short, make it fun and take great glee in ticking off an item.

Remember to celebrate each time you strike an item off a list. Even if the list only had one item, you should still throw a little party.

You did it! What an achievement.

Lists can have a positive role to play in our chronic illness lives.

Just remember, it’s your list, your rules, you’re the author!

Take care

Sam xx

If you’re looking for genuine support, care, understanding and friendship, you are so welcome to join my closed Facebook support forum, Medical Musings with Friends . It’s a safe place to connect with others living with chronic and complex diseases, who truly understand the daily challenges. A warm welcome awaits.

I’m also a Contributor at “The Mighty”. You can check out my published articles at My Author Page

I also write @ Blogs by Christian Women

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9 thoughts on “Can You Have A Chronic Illness And A “To Do” List?

  1. Love it Sam, I, too have always made lists for everything and my diary and calendar also had lists on them. We have a shopping list now for our next trip down the range to Cairns. But I do give myself leeway now to do or not to do as the Shadow allows. Thanks for another great read. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I make lists , also to keep track of what needs doing , ( between brain fog and menopausal memory loss what hope would I have other wise ?) its often a long list but to be able to tick one or two things off is a good feeling

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a to do list. I call her Sheryl. She has an extensive list. It is better than a telephone app however. Because she stops if I stop and even sometimes when i dont.

    See everyone needs a Sheryl. Not this one she is taken. But one like her. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I couldn’t help but laugh at this post – I feel I’m forever writing to do lists and feeling it’s never enough, I never get enough done and I’m always falling behind. I’m trying to earn a few pennies at home as I don’t have any other source of income or benefits, and I’ve worn myself far too thin and I’ve been making myself even more poorly through stressing and trying to do too much (and the amount earned? Not even enough for groceries, so it’s rather pointless). There’s something to be said for taking a step back and asking why we do this to ourselves, as you so rightly point out. Fab post! xx


    1. Oh Caz, I so relate. I’ve taken on way too much “at home” work too over the past month. Some is voluntary but I accepted a paid writing assignment too. That on top of blogging and my forum and just surviving one health crisis after another……well, let’s say it’s probably a little crazy!!
      Lists help but I do need to re evaluate and decide what I need to step back from too. ❤❤


  5. My life has been ruled by lists and even though I have gone digital I still have the things to do pad, though don’t put pressure on myself as much as I used to, but with my lack of cognitive abilities I find I need one now more than ever


  6. I love lists too. Writing things out helps keep me sane from the million and one things I feel like I need to do. I do get a little discouraged when I dont accomplish everything on my list. However I always make sure “rest” is on my to-do.

    Liked by 1 person

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