Creating a weekly timetable was a task in a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course online. It’s useful against depression and a lack of motivation, but my main problem at the time was agoraphobia. Keeping a timetable is not likely to make a difference to that.
Timetables don’t work for me, as I’m more likely to do things if nobody expects me to do them just yet. If I write on my timetable that I should iron on Tuesday afternoon, I’ll probably do it on Monday morning when I’m meant to be tidying the loft. The one thing I tell myself to do right now is the one thing I don’t want to do just yet.
This is one reason the CBT course annoyed me… I wanted to do it properly but realized right away it was likely to fail. It’s not that drawing up a schedule is a bad idea — it just won’t work for me because I’m a flawed human being! Proving that depressing fact to myself put me in a bad mood, especially since I was so determined to do my best.
Recently I decided to set up another timetable for myself, but this time divided it into ‘morning’, ‘afternoon’ and ‘evening’ rather than hourly slots. A couple of days are marked ‘free’ because other people control the agenda on those days. I added five activities to the rest of the week, leaving plenty of blank space. I’m not free to do *nothing* in the blank space… it’s more that I’ll do plenty of ‘whatever’ throughout the week whenever it seems right, and the five activities are just suggestions to give the week a little structure. I don’t have to do them, or so I told myself.
I was happy that I had my timetable drawn up, and for a while was full of energy and buzz. I’m fairly well organized, see people from time to time, and the house is clean and tidy, so I felt pleased with myself. Yet, when I thought about it, I realized I haven’t followed the timetable at all. For instance, I suggested to myself that I write a blog post every Saturday evening, but today I’m writing it and it’s early Tuesday morning. Art was down for Saturday morning, but so far I’ve done nothing remotely creative.
I fondly imagined myself writing a blog post about how my crafty new timetable was working well and how it had turned my life around so that I was doing more of the things I wanted to do, but I can’t do that, because it’s not working the way it’s supposed to.
Well, the house is clean and things are going to plan (more or less) and I’m in quite a good mood and haven’t panicked recently, so is there a problem? Yes, I think so. I want to write more and do more creative things, but quite often I can’t tear myself away from where I am. Setting up a timetable with those things added doesn’t mean I will actually have the time or energy to do them.
I took a break just here from this blog post because my mood was getting dark and scratchy while I brooded over my intransigence. I thought it might help if I searched online for articles about timetables and their role in (fighting) depression.
The Big Picture
Here’s one from the good old NHS. They talk about the importance of dealing with the big picture first. Who do you want to be? What do you want to achieve in life? It’s possible you might have issues with a timetable if the things on it are not things you really want or need to do. Perhaps you no longer see the point of things you used to enjoy. For instance, your special skill could be tapestry — you’re really good at the various stitches and using the right colours and textures, and have even learned to make your own designs and have collected all the right materials, equipment and software. But then what do you do? Keep the tapestries around the house? Sell them? Give them to friends or charity shops?
I don’t do tapestry, so that’s just an example. The NHS tapped into something with their article… ‘the big picture’ has become a problem for me, even where leisure is concerned. There’s plenty of reason to cook, clean and reorganize, but when it comes to creative hobbies, not so much. I should consider changing to the kind of hobbies that are pure experience rather than creative. Gardening might be good — it’s creative but it’s also work around the home, and you don’t have to worry so much about storage or future-proofing. If you can’t afford to buy plants, you can concentrate on tending what’s already there while weeding and mowing.
Ha ha. I could start small, I guess. Moving on…
As related in Britt’s Story, focusing on morning routine might work well for some. I can understand kicking off the day with something that motivates you to get up and doing, or at least doesn’t put you off. You never want to get out of bed when all the things you start with are dull, unpleasant or hard work. For myself, mornings always begin with picking up bills from the floor, followed by cleaning out cat trays and emptying undigested lumps from cat dishes. Then there’s emptying the dishwasher and restocking it with anything that’s been waiting overnight. Often there’s something to put in the washing machine, which you do early so it has all day to dry and gives you time to wash more things, preferably before Mum gets to it with her blouses, vests and hairy cat bedding.
When you’re getting up, it’s usually a good idea not to think too much about what lies just ahead. I don’t have breakfast, but a mug of black coffee is a good start. Some days, playing a few short iPad games before getting out of bed helps me sit up and clear my head of anything negative. I do this even before checking my mail, because who knows what might be in my mail folder?? My mail always has to wait till I’ve sorted out the cats and got myself some coffee. At least then if I get angry or in a panic over anything, the main things will already have been done.
One of the things that attracted me to Britt’s article is mention of being able to do three hours of work after a solid-sounding morning routine, so… hmm. Would I be able to have my morning routine then do some digital painting? Or is that just me indulging in magical thinking again? I’ve never been a morning person and am more inclined to get going around tea time.
Overcoming Low Motivation
Another thing I found online is this 35-page ‘depression’ worksheet. At first I skimmed lightly through, thinking it seemed like more work than it was worth, then stopped at a section near the end — ‘Dealing with Low Motivation’. Previously there was a list of possible leisure activities… I was already considering changing to something new and different, so that could be useful for inspiration. Then there was talk about the difficulties of using a timetable when you have depression. Earlier I was grumbling about not feeling like doing any of the things on my timetable. The worksheet says well, no, of course you don’t feel like doing them, but the whole point of the timetable is to give you a reason to at least start. It’s not till you begin something that your appetite for doing it increases. You think “hey, this is more fun than I thought,” or “I like talking to these new people,” or “I like the way there’s more space around here now.” You feel the challenge… “can I do the same thing better or quicker?” If you’re feeling depressed and can’t motivate yourself to even start, you will not get around to feeling motivated based on nothing.
I know from experience this is true. Sometimes you’ve been putting something off, then start doing it, and after a while you realize that you’re enjoying it and have stopped dwelling on whatever else was bothering you. The more you get on with doing something or talking to someone you like, the less relevant the bad stuff becomes. It’s amazing how rapidly I can shift from “things are terrible!” to “not true — or if it is, I don’t actually care.”
I saw something on TV recently that’s relevant here. I’ve no idea what Mum was watching, but they were talking about Papillon, Devil’s Island and solitary confinement. Somebody said that one reason solitary confinement has such a bad effect on people is that it’s just you, lost inside your own mind, going over and over things with no information, distraction or perspective from outside. Perhaps you are mistaken about something, but even if you’re right about there being a problem, it becomes completely distorted and blown out of proportion.
Distortions. Yes, I understand that. I wonder if most people do, or is it only people who’ve experienced isolation or depression? That could be most of us! We have to beware of these distortions and must set ourselves free from the prisons of our own minds. For some, a timetable might help to spring the trap.
For myself, I’m glad all of today is blank on my timetable. It would be annoying if I was supposed to be cleaning the bathroom, because I don’t want to stop writing now that I’ve got back into it!
Well, finding that section in the worksheet made me happy all of a sudden. “Maybe I was wrong and could do this after all. There are tips to make it work.” Things like ‘start small’, break things down, be kind to yourself and don’t give up. When it comes to art, I could pick up a cheap sketchpad and doodle… I can do that in any room in the house. One of the problems with digital painting is that I’d have to go upstairs and turn the computer on. Dark, shady room. No company. Sometimes quite cold up there. There are psychological reasons against taking myself away from where I am. If you do go, in no time at all — after you’ve cleared the decks and not actually started painting yet — you find it’s already time for tea or to make supper, and you have to return downstairs to peel the potatoes.
Take Your Time Over Things
A statement I saw somewhere online was ‘quality, not quantity — take your time.’ That reminds me of ‘a job worth doing is worth doing well’. I used to know both those expressions but forgot them. Lately I’ve been too rushed to take my time over anything, and that includes writing blog posts. Possibly I have doubts about whether things are important enough to be worth more than 15 minutes, if that. But whether things are important or not, I still have to live my life and enjoy it.
Your Future Self
Someone I follow on Facebook is Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Recently she linked to this article on Man Repeller: ‘What’s Your Favorite Thing to Do for Future You?’
One of the things people do is clean the kitchen and fill the dishwasher at bedtime so it’s nice and neat when your future self gets up in the morning. You don’t have to plunge yourself straight away into kitchen chores! Sometimes I do that, but not always. Like with sisters, there’s a balance between my Future Self and my Now Self. Sometimes Now Self has to take precedence, probably because she’s ill, over-worked, or amazingly sleepy. Anyway, I saw a connection between morning routine, the article Gretchen linked to and the topic of self-motivation that I’ve been exploring for this post. Consideration for Future Self can be a powerful motivator, to the extent that it supports or overrides any timetable, but you can’t always bank on your future Now Self having enough time or energy to save the day for future Future Self.
The morning I was writing this (a few weeks ago now), I was unsettled when I turned on my iPad and the following notification popped up from The Telegraph: “How to become a morning person: The Swedish lifestyle trend that could transform your life.” Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall, so I can’t read it. Right after that I checked my mail, and Amazon said: “Brave New Girl: Seven Steps to Confidence… new book for you!” There were other books advertised in the same email, all dealing with anxiety.
Have these companies been reading my as yet unposted words…? Then I realized Amazon wouldn’t need to; it was because I was searching online and visiting sites about depression and motivation. The advert only appeared after I did that. The Telegraph (or Apple News) will have noticed I’ve visited articles on similar topics in the past. No great mystery.
For me, timetables are still an experiment in progress, and I’m hoping mine will bring a little creativity back into my life. Meanwhile, for those who like comic strips and cartoons, here is the realization of one character who struggles with lack of motivation: The Purposeless Driven Life.
Here’s a cheerful song to play while you start drawing up your own timetable: Nana Banana — I Do What I Wanna Do! One of the comments explains that ‘Nana Banana’ means “I don’t care.”