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 the 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. 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, causing my list making behaviour to be endorsed and encouraged.

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 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

My book “My Medical Musings”, is published by Imaginewe Publishers and available now to purchase as a paperback or e-book on Amazon.

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

  1. I have two such lists every day. First, my wife gives me the most important list. It is the do not do list. It is always prefaced with when I come home this had not been done

    Getting that done usually takes all of my time so I never get to the to-do list. So yes I write to-do lists but they dwarf in comparison to my do not do list. Wow, I would like to get to my to-do list someday. But first I have a bunch of stuff to not do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I massively struggle with this as someone who likes to write lists and has a lot of general “life” stuff to do but isn’t well enough to even make a dent. Then you feel worse for it, you feel useless, you get further behind and get frustrated. Cue the resentment at your self-care going out the window and forget the idea of doing anything you’d actually like to do.

    I love the idea of a Want-To-Do list. I think that would be brilliant! It’s a hard balance to strike with productivity when chronically ill, but sadly a lot is ingrained into the feelings we have from being ill, losing work, feeling like we need to do more because it affects how others see us and how we see ourselves. There are deeper issues beneath the list, and I definitely think it’s an important topic to cover otherwise some of us will spend the rest of our lives forever fighting the list and losing.

    Fab post as always, Sam! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Completely agree with your insights Caz. It’s taken me a long time to work out a short list, even with one item per day, is more than enough….and worth celebrating when achieved.
      I keep my list in my phone calendar so I can easily move items to the next day or week. That way they are not forgotten and I allow myself to feel a sense of hope they will be achieved xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t often write a to-do list, but when I do, it feels like I have really achieved something when I’m able to tick things off. The times when I do write one is when I have something important to do. I tend to break things down into small chunks, then list each individual part but I set that to-do list over a few days. That way, as I check of each part of the task, I get a great sense of achievement and know that I’m a step closer to completing the goal.

    And I agree that it’s important to include rest time and ‘want to do’ things on the list too.

    Great post, Sam.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Elizabeth. It’s definitely a juggling act to get the list length right. Mine is currently a little too long so I will be spending some time culling it 🙃 🥰


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