4 Stress Busters for Writers with a Chronic Illness

There are distinct benefits to working for yourself and even more benefits to having an office in your home. The commute is ideal, the dress code very relaxed, and you can set your own hours. This is fantastic when you have a chronic illness. There are also drawbacks. Recently, I’ve been forced to reevaluate how I work and manage stress (or rather, don’t manage stress) and I may have gotten a bit of perspective.

First, I wrote down the factors that contribute to my stress levels being unreasonable:

Multiple projects and roles. When you have 8 part-time jobs/roles/hats, some for pay, some not, it adds to a lot of balls to juggle.
No space for writing and thinking. The hats require so much energy and time that there isn’t room for things I want to do. Such as write my next book. Or having quiet time to think (also required for writing).

Multitasking. Lots of competing deadlines and massive influx of email. This doesn’t actually get more done. Instead, I flit from task to task and hat to hat, desperately trying to keep up. It keeps me from focusing and lend a looming sense of having missed something somewhere to every day.

Social media. This is part of my work, but managing multiple accounts over several platforms feels a lot like disorganized flitting. 

Not enough hours in the day. Because of my Mandatory Rest Period, I work in two shifts: during the day and a bit after dinner. That’s the plan, anyway. Often, the after dinner shift drags on and I’m still at the computer way too late. Often, I end the day exhausted and in a lot of pain.

I looked at that for a while. Then I started figuring out ways to deal with it.

Inbox Folders, Rules and Notifications
I wear a lot of hats. That means a lot of email which create an avalanche, under which individual emails are buried and often remain unaddressed. I’ve now created folders related to each individual hat I wear, as well as a Level 1 and a Level 2 folder, into which I will sort incoming emails not related to a particular hat based on urgency. Next I set up rules to funnel emails from individuals with whom I work under each hat directly into the appropriate folder. 

This helps my primary inbox to remain uncluttered (mostly). It will make it easier to focus on what I need to do for one particular job/task/hat, while emails related to other roles are elsewhere and not distracting me. Instead of flitting from task to task, I can now concentrated on one area at a time. 
And one more thing will help cut down on distraction. It’s one thing to get the ping to notify me of incoming email, it’s quite another to see a link to it hovering over the article I’m writing. I simply don’t have the restraint to ignore it. So I turned off desktop notification.

Do 6 Things
About a year ago, I talked about ways to give 80% at work, leaving 20% for things like writing a book or say, having a personal life. I also wrote about Mary Kay’s Six Things approach as a way to get there. Mary Kay built her empire by doing six things every day. She'd start out the morning with a list of six things and worked her way through them. If one didn’t get done, it would become Thing #1 the following day. I don’t know what she’d do if she finished her list at 3 o’clock, but in my variation of her approach, that means I can goof off for the rest of the day. Or write.

I did use this approach for quite a while and it had a wonderfully relaxing impact. I got a lot more done than I thought would be possible, had time for myself, the people I care about, and writing. And best of all, significantly less stress. Somewhere along the line, I started adding one or two more things to the list and lost control. It’s time to incorporate the Six Things approach into my life again and this time, be vigilant about not adding more to the list.

Automate Whenever Possible
This one deals especially with the social media black hole. Leigh Mitchell’s presentation at the Living ARTHfully event included information about how to automate social media to make using it more effective. I’ve already started using Hootsuite and aside from the new toy joy, these really are amazing tools.

Set Boundaries. Stick to Them.
This relates back to the 80% I talked about above. Sending email at 10 PM on a regular basis is just not healthy. So, I’m going to be setting boundaries that will create work-free zones in every day:

Take a one hour lunch break. As long as the weather is nice, leave the house! Head to the lake whenever possible. Come winter, read a book, write a chatty email to someone I like, or call a friend.

No working after 9 PM. That includes email, writing, and phone calls in which work of any kind is discussed. Time off isn’t just about not doing work, it’s also about not thinking or talking about work.

Have no-meeting days. Designate one day to be free of meetings and appointments.

Say no. Remember that other people’s priorities don’t have to become mine. Repeat this mantra to myself daily.

Call in sick. Working for yourself means no sick days and working in your home means you can work no matter how you feel. This is nuts.

Respect myself, my priorities, and my work. They come first. All of the above are great tips, but they only work if I let them. Making sure I follow my rules is an indication that I respect myself and the reasons I created them. I have a feeling this may be the most important.

And lastly, one more rule. Which is that the rules can be set aside when it’s important. The trick is to make sure that that happens only in situations that warrant it — crises, massive deadline, etc. However, if I do follow my guidelines, there should be enough energy to rise to such occasions.

Do you have a good tip to add to the list?


froggy.mom said…
I have found that I get A LOT done when i stay true to my MANY breaks throughout the day. I'm not as structured as you sound. I dropped the notion that my day had to resemble those that work outside the home (like my husband). I do work during some unconventional times, but also rest during some unconventional times. I MAKE SURE my down time coincides with my family time.
J.G. Chayko said…
These are really good tips, and some of them I do try to follow...however, sometimes the muse wants to work after 9:00 pm. I deal with this by having a notebook (or recording device, or any means to record an idea) beside my bed, or by my side if I am just relaxing...when the muse strikes, and it often does without warning, I can write it down before I lose it...yes, sometimes this happens at 2:00 am, but I sleep better if I can catch it.
Diane said…
Good tips and I'm really going to try to work them into my schedule.

Here's one that recently showed up on Facebook: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys. Repeat (usually to yourself) as needed.
Sunday said…
Time management is more important to control stress. It is caused by pressure, so we need to keep a tight schedule and achievable targets to get things done before deadlines.