Being a relentless perfectionist (I have severe OCD), I often struggle to embark on a big task.  This is quite a common problem in academia, with many an essay being composed in the 48 hours before a deadline.  However, I see a mountain to climb where others see a grassy hill with lambs skipping and rainbows overhead.  When this happens, two immediate thoughts spring to mind:

  1. I could do this task with my eyes shut, and I’ll do an amazing job!
  2. If I don’t do it all in one go, and perfectly, it’s a failure.

This is not a good mindset for actually getting stuff done.  It’s like procrastination on crack – I ruminate about the task, feel rooted by the inertia, worry that I haven’t done anything, find it impossible to make a start, feel it’s pointless to try, then panic and repeat.

Sometimes the things that “normal” people take for granted are much tougher for those with a mental illness. I’m still the same person that I was before I got ill, and I’m still just as intelligent and capable, but my illness is like a big weight dragging my mind down, and imposing conditions that I cannot meet. A friend gave me some advice (which my psychiatrist thought was sensible), to forget (ok, that bit’s impossible) about crossing items off my to-do list, but to consider it an achievement if I can do something towards a task.

I know that realistically it is untrue that leaving a task unfinished is a Bad Thing. But I need to convince my brain of this. My strategy is to say that even if I can’t find a way of breaking a task down into smaller packages, I’ll just do 30 minutes of it and then take a break. This is the principle of the Pomodoro Technique, a thing I learnt about at Uni, and that one of my work buddies also uses. It’s also important to look back over what I have achieved and reflect on the fact that I did actually do something with my day.

One way of doing this is by composing a Gratitude Diary, although I have modified the concept slightly.  At bedtime, I take a moment to write down what I have achieved in the day (because I’m grateful that I was able to function) but I also use the next page to plan out my tasks for the following day.  It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list (in fact, it shouldn’t be, because if I tried to note every single thing that needed doing, I’d overstretch myself and defeat the point of making a daily list).

And writing this post was one of my bitesize tasks.  Twenty minutes of doing something I love but struggle to begin.  And now it’s finished and I feel pretty good.  This one’s going in the diary.


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