This is inspired by Executive Function Strategies by Musings of an Aspie, where Cynthia outlines her strategies for managing her everyday life (neatly… a very useful post).
It is a rework of my comment on Cynthia’s post, and outlines my current executive function strategies.
I have written about how I use Todoist before and that is still my key everyday life management tool. My setup has grown and evolved a bit over time, but it is essentially the same as when I initially wrote about it, so in regard to Todoist, this post may be considered an update. It is more than that though; I aim to outline all my main everyday order strategies.
So, my overall “big picture” management tool is still Todoist. Every task I need to do is scheduled in Todoist; big and small; recurring (mostly), one-off tasks, single tasks and complex tasks that require a sequence of sub-tasks to be done. I use the premium version of Todoist, which enables me to use more and nicer colours, tags*, comments, templates and boolean operators … all of which I use extensively. I use Todoist on my computer and android tablet.
I use folders and colour coding to give the visual overview over the major aspects of operation in my life: Work, Home, Creative and Social (and currently an additional folder related to the processing of my dad’s estate).
Here the Home folder is shown as example. Some** of its sub-folders are shown below. Housework is a major subfolder that includes all practical indoor and outdoor chores.
Here is some of the content of the Kitchen sub-sub-subfolder, as an example:
Apart from the housework subfolder, Home also has subfolders for admin tasks, personal care (adls), pet care and appointments.
I use tags to call up quick lists of specific types of tasks, for example bills that need to be paid.
Here is called up a list of tasks tagged with @cleaning and @floors (using boolean operators), so that is obviously a list of floors to be cleaned:
The list shows the tasks in the order they are due.
I use the comment function to put as much information as necessary on each task; e.g. I paste in whole emails, web addresses, phone numbers and addresses, and reference telephone conversations. That is to have all the info ready to do the task, but also as later reference after the task is done.
For recurring bills, I always write what I paid, when and how, in the comments so when a bill shows up as due on my agenda I always have the full overview over what has been paid before and when, how etc. If relevant, I also write the BPay/account number and similar details.
For complex sequences of tasks such as work assignments, I use saved templates. I just import the template for each assignment and adjust the dates. Each assignment involves about 30 distinct tasks from the start, of which most are interviews (a bit simplified, but the assignments all have the same structure and procedure from the start).
I can’t show a work assignment template for confidentiality reasons, but here is a simple template for writing book reviews:
The templates are just simple .txt files fabricated by selecting the “export as template” option from a drop-down menu. The exports do of course keep their hierarchy, tags, importance levels and scheduling. The .txt files are stored locally on my computer:
Overall, I use Todoist to remember to do things and get a visual overview over what I need to do every day and within each area, but also to reward myself and mark that tasks have been achieved when I cross them off the list. Accomplished tasks show up on the Karma trend line:
The colours in the karma trend lines are the folder colours, so the trend lines reflect the kind of tasks that have been done. E.g. the black lines are work tasks, green housework, blue social activities, yellow creative projects, lila adls. The short pink line is my daily jog.
I even sometimes add a task I have already done just to cross it out, if it was not in the system for some reason (yes, I know that is childish)… to keep the system consistent and keep myself motivated.
Todoist has also evolved, and now offers collaboration features, which I’m using to work with my little brother, but so far I haven’t used that feature within my own household. However, my husband and I have some ideas in that direction, so perhaps that will come on in the future.
I use a physical calendar I have in my bag to manage appointments, especially work (interview) appointments, and use a colour system there too to give a visual overview over the assignments, so that I never get surprised or miss a deadline. That’s of course a double entry system so it gives a bit of extra work, but it also acts as a safeguard and helps me to prepare mentally for what is ahead – the overview moves into my head that way.
Plus, electronics can never be trusted 100%.
Documents and filing
For physical documents, such as unpaid bills, I have a folder with colourful dividers where I loosely put the bills in until they are paid/taken care of. It is in a fixed place so I never need to go around and search for a document (after all, Google Search can’t find physical documents;-). I hate to look for things, so every thing in the house has a right place where it ought to be at all times except when in use.
I file documents that are “done” in manila folders: one for household bills and docs, one for personal docs and letters, one for docs and news letters from my employer, etc. From there they are supposed to be put in their respective folders, but that rarely happens. That is OK, as long as they are loosely well organised and out of sight.
Not pretty, but it works
My days are framed by routines. They are essential; both the overall structure of combined routines, and the individual elements; albeit the individual elements are not all of equal importance.
I start the morning with a short yoga-like exercise sequence, then have coffee, then we walk the dogs, then I run, then we each eat breakfast, then there’s the bath/shower, and then the “content” part of the day can start. The in-between adls such as remembering to eat lunch, are all scheduled in Todoist. Evenings are wrapped up with reading aloud for my husband from a book. That marks the end of the day.
The exercise elements strengthen the mind-body integration and help keep me mentally and physically healthy. The daily run is an important anti-depressive, and the morning exercise routine is how I calibrate myself to the new day. Skipping that is not an option; that would make the whole day off its feet so that every challenge just piled on top of the initial wrongness. Exercise doesn’t completely safeguard me against feeling off and unready to face the day, but it helps a lot.
The daily dog walkie and read-aloud session in the evenings, are bonding relationship activities that help keep our marriage in good shape and socially integrated. Also, reading aloud is a bit like singing, it is a physically integrating activity that is calming, connecting and enjoyable.
Hand written diary
I write a personal diary to process my thoughts and feelings and express them in words (for my own eyes only; but it helps me develop my vocabulary I think). Lori gave the excellent advice long ago to keep a mood diary to watch out for signs of depression. She didn’t specify how to do it, and I integrated it into my diary, which now looks something along these lines:
Every day I draw a quick horizontal graph that represents the day. The numbers under the bottom line shows the time of day: 6 am, 9 am, 12 pm, 3 pm… et.c. The flat lines on top represent the main activities in those periods of the day (roughly). Just like in todoist, each colour represents a type of activity.
(The graph is ugly because it is important that it is easy and quick to draw, and that it doesn’t evolve into a beauty pageant, because it is meant to be a hands-on, scruffy, practical drafting tool that just works)
The blue curve inside the graph is the mood curve: that’s the mood diary part. The green curve is energy level, and the orange represents stress or anxiety in response to situations.
The curves are of course oversimplified approximations: none of these forces are really binary elements that can be expressed accurately on a high VS low rating scale. Each element can imply a variety of feelings which can also be hard to define accurately, so the curves should be taken with a big grain of salt; they are not accurate. However, all caveats considered, I find the system psychologically helpful.
Drawing and looking at the mood curve often helps me to define how I’m feeling and think about what the source may be, and what tends to help. In periods where I’m in a low mood most of the time (such as for the time being), it provides evidence that not everything is bad… there are (usually) some good moments and resourceful elements even in the darkest days, and it helps me remember them and factor them in in my ongoing evaluation of myself.
It also helps to make the days feel more coherent. I’m prone to experiencing aspects of life as separate realities, which can make the world seem like a rather confusing, disconnected place. The graph helps me to sense that even if the aspects of a day were so disconnected they felt like separate parallel universes, they were in fact all aspects of the same day.
The diary text that I write relates to points in the graph via the numbers in the circles. Each corresponds to a specific activity or mood or time period in the day (or something else shown in the graph) specified via the number.
This diary format makes it much easier to keep a regular diary routine than it was beforehand. Since each diary entry starts out as a comment relating to a specific point in the day’s graph, it is easier to start, and the words flow freer because I don’t need to worry about beginning, structure or end. There is no need for symmetry, introductions, justifications or conclusions – a comment can be 3 words, a drawing, a graph, or a multipages in-depth analysis, it can be anything it wants to be. Arrows can be drawn that link points and sections together.
All this means I now write (and draw) the diary very fast and fluently. It is calming to draw the graph and coloured lines and curves going through the same sequence every day, and the tactile-visual hands-on processing gives a sense of becoming familiar with the day, of touching it in a symbolic way. The text flows out on the paper in response to aspects of the graph – thoughts about what happened and why are triggered by drawing the colour lines.
The format also gives a good overview when I want to find something I have written earlier to e.g. clarify some details or remember an initial impression. Overall my diary has become much more visual, map-like and big picture-like through the last few months, and I really like that.
That is all… There are of course many minor tasks where I always do things in a particular order or have some other way of sequencing tasks so I can get through them effectively and don’t get overwhelmed / lost on the way, but the strategies outlined above are my major, overall executive function strategies.
I hope some of all this can inspire & help others as well. I found Cynthia’s post very inspiring and before that, have found inspiration in several other personal posts about executive function strategies, mainly for housework. I would love to learn about a variety of executive function coping strategies that work for different people. The capacity to plan and implement tasks (duties and dreams alike!) is such an empowering skill.
- Executive Function Strategies by Musings of an Aspie / Cynthia Kim (and also her other posts about executive function).
- This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult by Hyperbole and a Half
- Let’s get Carried Away by Nattily
- A Healthy Mind in a Tidy House by Autisticook
- How Do I Adult – series by Andraya
- Executive function and managing email by Letters from Aspergia
* Supposedly you can’t use tags in the free version, but in reality you can. The whole system is sleek & simple and .txt-like, so you can just write @yourtag in the task description, that will put the tag on your task. You can then create lists of tasks with that tag by clicking on the tag.
** I have removed work tasks from the agenda for confidentiality reasons