Chronic Pain Toolkit: Using a To-Do List App to Improve Organization

Getting organized with chronic pain is no small task. But it is necessary on so many levels. One of the major secrets, the dirty untalked about secrets of the chronically ill, is how hard it can be to stay on top of even basic daily tasks no matter if you’re having a good pain day or a lousy one. Being disorganized can make it hard to take spontaneous advantage of the good moments, because we often feel overwhelmed and out of control all the time. Reducing mental clutter is the antidote, or at least part of it. Since I didn’t exactly start out organized, it’s been an uphill battle, one I probably wouldn’t have been prepared for if I hadn’t been fending off chronic pain and illness for years.

I have always had some pretty wicked ADHD that I hid throughout childhood with a high IQ and a love of books. I could still focus, sometimes really, really well, but only on things I deemed interesting and not too intimidating. As a kid that wasn’t such a big deal, it just meant I never progressed beyond my fifth grade abilities in math, and that I almost never turned my homework in. Somehow I still managed to be a merit scholar in high school and get mostly good grades. At the time, I used my then-resourceful brain to figure out how to navigate around the many daily challenges brought about by a complete lack of focus. I did so by setting up reminders for myself, making tons of lists, setting alarms on my phone, sticky notes on the walls, writing on the back of my hand long after it was considered socially acceptable, and generally learning how to fake that I had my shit together.

Unfortunately, my ADHD and forgetfulness have only been getting worse as I age. And then, lucky me, chronic pain and brain fog got added to the mix just over three years ago. Even worse, the IQ that I used to rely on seems to belong to some other person I barely recognize now; my brain feels walled off from me by layer after layer of cotton. Every now and again I get a glimpse of the old me, the smarter me, but it happens less and less.

Eventually, it got to a point where I couldn’t stand by, watching my brain wither in front of me. For the longest time, I was finding myself frustrated to the point of tears, often multiple times a day. Not from pain usually or even frustration about how long I had been in pain, but instead from how hard it was to remember even basic things. It was an adventure, a frustrating one, trying to keep a thought in my head long enough that I could find a pen and notebook and jot it down. I love lists, but all of them summed up, spanning several different notebooks, often scattered about the house and used by other people… it was all starting to drive me insane, not to mention take up too much space and time. I was losing very important information like appointment times, phone numbers I needed, receipts, everything was getting lost!

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, so I decided to stop crying about my frustration and start trying to make changes. I downloaded about a dozen different To-Do List apps, all free, all promising me increased productivity and less mayhem. The first few I tried just made me angry. No way to reorganize the list, clunky slow programs, things that worked on the tablet but not the PC and the other way around, no way to keep crossed off items visible, no way to make different lists or different subheadings within each list. I was just wasting more time, and getting more frustrated. Keeping digital lists seemed like it was not going to work for me. Then I started using ToDoist, and for the first time I had some hope for an organized brain, and a few more glimmers of the old me!

Oh so many notebooks have been saved from my scribbling and constant list-making by this app! I downloaded it specifically to keep track of each online earnings website I am a member of. It has made the whole experience of making money online manageable instead of the complete mess it would otherwise be. Under the website names, I list each task I do that gives me a confirmation number to keep track of, and I keep my earnings up to date on each website. I also keep track of how many times I have cashed out on each website, what referral programs they each offer, what requirements there are such as cut-offs for cashing in, and the date of pay out if they only do so once a month, as well as due dates for canceling trial memberships.

With my newly downloaded app in hand, I started transferring my piles of written notes and ideas into organized sets of lists with subheadings and due dates where appropriate. It took a while, but I finally got all of the most important info about my life into the app and I am so proud of myself! I use it multiple times a day because it syncs across my tablet, phone, and laptop. It saves itself every time you enter a new line. A major bonus to me is that you can share projects with friends or invite them to help you finish a list, which is perfect for the at-home business I’m starting with a good friend in the beginning of 2015. Consistency is usually a problem with me, especially with the ADHD, but once I see a benefit, it’s hard to go back to a less efficient way of doing things. Right now I’m using the ToDoist app constantly on all my devices while I brainstorm, when I think of needed groceries, and to keep an organized, up-to-date list of medical information, in addition to a current list of my online earning activities.

I really have been striving this month more than ever before to be as organized as possible, and ToDoist helps me because it makes keeping track of my whole life so automatic and easy. Using ToDoist to record everything has allowed me to let go of the nagging thoughts that were occupying my brain so I have more room for the bigger stuff that really matters. Sold!

example of ToDoist in use

Someone’s example of the ToDoist due date feature in use, found on Google.

In general, I feel much more in control now that I am using ToDoist instead of keeping four or more different notebooks with me all the time and still not being able to find that one thing I need. Plus there are keyboard shortcuts to help improve productivity with the app even more. Love!!! I am still going through all my really old paper lists, like pages of handwritten records of what seeds I have saved for my veggie garden, and pulling information I need out of them to put into the app. This whole process has been the second best thing to replacing my broken, useless brain with a new, improved, cleaner, less anxious one. Going back through those old lists I can see all the things that I have accomplished in the last year, despite all the brain fog and frustration, and I am not feeling as hard on myself as I was before I saw all of that progress on paper.

Another nice feature of ToDoist that keeps me organized is that I can add due dates to each thing, and then I can easily see what out of all my various projects is due today, this week, and later on this month. Once I cross something off, it stays on the list, just in a lighter shade, until I delete it purposefully. That is perfect for me, sometimes I need to see all the steps I have taken previously in order to figure out a project. Having due dates for posts I’m writing, like this one, has helped me focus first on what needs to get done each day instead of floundering for hours, wondering what I should be doing. I’m considering that alone a huge victory because my brain fog often will not let me remember something long enough to even find a pen to write it down. Sometimes I used to spend hours looking for something I completely forgot to write down in the first place. This is much, much, much better!

Plus it’s free!

Here’s the official website:

ToDoist Download

And the Google Play store link:

ToDoist on Google Play

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About Jessi Finds Out Fibro

Hi, and thank you for finding your way to my corner of the web! I'm on a journey to empower myself and hopefully others through shared courage and compassion. I write Finding Out Fibro, a chronic illness and chronic pain awareness blog that is not just about fibromyalgia, as well as a new project making jewelry under the Etsy name Hopeful Spoon. Please check out the shop and share if you can! Thank you for your support! My other hobbies include defeating ableism anywhere I find it, upcycling old junk into funky awesomeness, raising my voice to erase stigma against invisible illness and mental illness, baking, collecting vintage kitchen ware, sharing body-positive messages, playing around in photoshop, abstract painting (especially in neons and metallics!), advocating for those living with chronic illnesses and mental health challenges, seeking safety and upholding visibility for LGBTQIA individuals living with physical and mental disabilities, researching and testing plant-based remedies for chronic pain, and spending all my spare spoons in my veggie garden. This is my opportunity to do more than just survive with chronic illness. This is me learning how to live well, even though there is no cure for the war my body is waging on me.

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