Ability, Essays

Productivity Without Perfection: Finding the Balance Between Anxious and Functional

Let’s admit it, being a functional, productive adult is hard. Doing so while also trying to manage an anxiety disorder adds a fun dash of horrific stress to the whole thing!

On my best days, pulling together a to-do list does help me focus and stay organized. It even helps me see that I’m making progress, which pushes back against that wave of, “Oh god, I can’t do this, I’m a failure, a can of unproductive trash,” that is a constant hum in the back of my head. Those days, I’m living the dream.

Most of the time, not so much. Organization is not my natural strong suit, and attempts to make a system and really keep track of my life just seems so overwhelming and utterly beyond me. Laying out everything that I have going on, all the work projects that need juggling and managing, it just makes the mountain of work seem more impossible to manage instead of less. It’s as though that when I notice how many balls I’m juggling at once, that’s when I’ll start to drop them.

Spongebob Squarepants Organization Meme

I know what the articles say. If I just invest the time and energy up front to create an effective organization system, then it’ll pay off down the line and make my life easier once I get used to things. Believe me, I’ve tried. The problem is that maintaining the organization machine requires steady energy and keeping up with the process; if I develop a way to keep track of files or organize work projects, I need to keep doing that all the time lest one thing get misplaced and then the whole system goes out of whack! Then when I can’t find that one thing because it isn’t where it should be, I panic. That awful sick anxious feeling ramps up to eleven, and even if I find what I’m looking for, the feeling lingers. I just spiral into catastrophes of, “Oh god, it’s gone forever, I did this, the problem is my fault, I’m the worst, etc., etc., etc.”

For me, it’s better to have a rough organizational system, knowing things are imperfect and will require searching, then try to set up an inevitably imperfect system and deal with the day-ruining panic of looking for something then not finding it right away. Is that irrational? Yup! Usually, I can tell it’s the anxiety talking when my brain starts to convince itself I’m-the-worst-human-to-ever-walk-this-earth, because I forgot to respond to an email. But I can’t just make those feelings stop. So, I have to find ways to manage them as best I can.

I’m so much better than I was before. For a while there, the unholy trinity of depression, anxiety, and law school conspired to make my life unbearable. The only way I could get anything done was through sheer self-loathing masking itself as encouragement, which you know is not a great long-term life strategy. Now I’ve got a job that I like with responsibilities and tasks that I can more or less manage. I have something of a social life!

Still, my life feels like I’m standing atop of a house of cards, struggling to keep my balance and that if I push too hard everything will just collapse around me. There are days when I’m utterly exhausted by the battle going on inside my own head and achieving even the barest level of productivity is a battle. Those are the days when my organization will go by the wayside. Rather than kick myself for being too weak to stay focused and keeping everything neat, I’m just trying to stay organized enough to function while appreciating that I’ll never reach perfection, and that’s okay.

The one thing that I manage to keep up with is my calendar, where every meeting and deadline goes as soon as I get it or else I’ll forget about it later. Missing meetings means inconveniencing others; missing deadlines means a negative impact on the people relying on me. Appointments for doctors or other things go on there too, because that means cancellation fees, and I hate having to pay those because something slipped my mind. Taking care of my responsibilities that must be done, and if that’s all that I manage to do in a day, well, that’s still a pretty good day.

The anxiety isn’t going to go away, and there’s a happy medium between letting it control my life and pretending it doesn’t exist until it overpowers me. I’ve come to accept that there are limited tokens in my organization and productivity bank, and I need to choose wisely where I spend them: focus on the what impacts others, do the important things first, and if I get that done then I can forgive having a messy office or a half-completed to-do list.