I was a bit torn on which topic to move to in my ever growing list of tips to improve/maintain mental health, especially for my first official post on our clinic website. It seems that karma had other plans for me. Last week I woke up with a set list to accomplish before bed that night. I was pumped! This was going to be a productive day! Well somewhere along the way I became distracted and the list was not even touched. This morning arrived with dishes still covering the counter, laundry patiently waiting to be put away and my bike alone, waiting for a rider.

This brings me to the tip for the day: Scheduling and lists. Some people need structure to survive the day, others run from it. The scientific truth is that structure, schedules and lists are beneficial. They help us organize our brains and increase commitment through writing things down. The also help to visually structure time, which can be overwhelming when other things are already piling up.

Here are some tips:

  1. Write down appointments, commitments etc on a calendar first. Things that are set for a specific time and date need to be recorded before things that can be flexible (for example, medical appointments before movie dates). I use my google calendar because it syncs with my phone and email. But I also like writing things down on my desk calendar at work and a wall calendar at home for visual appeal.
  2. Make “to do” lists. Break things down as needed. “clean house” is overwhelming. However, “laundry, fold clothes, put clothes away, do dishes, change kitty litter” is much more manageable. You can see how much time you may need to put aside for each task and check it off when it is complete. You can also jump around in the list, perhaps the dishes can be done while waiting for a load of laundry to be complete.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Life happens. If you make a list, schedule an appointment or write down your planned workout activities on a calendar and something comes up (for example, dinner with your very cute nieces and nephew or you are feeling ill and unable to hit the gym) and you don’t get home at the time you had planned, there is always room to reschedule, shrug it off and repeat “I would have liked to have it completed, but it’s not the end of the world!” (note: please let me know if your world ever ended from putting off cleaning the kitchen)

Be patient and try task lists and scheduling for 2-3 weeks. Humans need to do things over and over to form habits. Research has shown it takes 21-30 days of doing something before we start to do it out of habit. So why give up after trying twice?

Amber Sperling MSW RSW