Redefining Productivity for People with Parkinson’s

Older workers

Every Person With Parkinson’s (PWP) has been there; waking up to a self-imposed to-do list for the day, just to get none of it done. We end up getting down on ourselves, even feeling useless, for lying in bed or in front of the TV all day. The afternoon flies by and suddenly it’s bedtime. How can we get anything done?

Rather than feel like life is moving too fast, or that we’re moving too slowly and getting nothing done, it’s a better idea to redefine what productivity means for a PWP.

Whether you’re still working full time or just doing chores around the house, you have one boss that matters more than any other: your body. Your body’s well-being is your number one priority, and it will dictate how much you can get done. Whether you subscribe to the idea of spoon theory, or any other way of measuring your body’s limits, learn your own limitations and adhere to them.

Spread It Out

When building your to-do list, make a list of things to do over a certain period of time like a week, not just for one day. This will take some planning, but it ensures that you won’t feel bad about not getting things done when you’re not feeling well. It also gives you a chance to fit in some extra activities on a day you’re feeling especially well. For example, my list contains “go to market” twice a week. If I’m not feeling well on Tuesday, I can always go on Wednesday or Thursday. I plan ahead by keeping a few frozen entrees in the freezer for those days I should have shopped but wasn’t feeling up for it. I also always keep at least a week’s worth of dry goods and canned veggies on hand so I can always whip up an easy pasta dish without having to go out. I’ve also embraced grocery and restaurant home delivery services.

Change Expectations

Consider changing your expectations of yourself, especially if you’re constantly behind on your to-do list. You don’t have the same energy or stamina you had before your diagnosis, so plan accordingly. Give yourself permission to do less. Whenever I’m about to add an item to my to-do list, I ask myself “do I really need to do this?” Sometimes I just want to stay busy, but it’s worth spending more time on one or two things than spreading myself thin doing too much. It’s been very useful for me to eliminate distractions and busy work to do just a couple of things well. We’re not as independent as we used to be, and that can be the most difficult pill to swallow for most of us. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask for help. You’d be surprised to find out how many people are willing to help — from asking a loved one to help on something at home, to asking a stranger to grab an item off of the shelf at a supermarket, people are willing to help.

Keep Your Thoughts Organized

My to-do list used to contain everything that needed to get done around the house and every errand I needed to run, not to mention everything I needed to do for work. Just opening that list overwhelmed me. I solved this by breaking up the tasks into separate categories so I could focus on whatever I felt like doing at that moment. I also removed activities like “think about what type of bike to buy” or “go to the cafe for a macchiato” (I’m not kidding). I realized I needed a journal to keep my thoughts organized and to make notes about everyday life. This has helped me immensely with focus, helping me concentrate on what’s really important.

Listen To Your Body

Understand that listening to your body IS being productive. Your number one item on your to-do list should be “manage my health.” That means that if your body asks for sleep, you’re being productive by sleeping. If you absolutely must decide between washing dishes or going for a walk, choose the walk. It can be disappointing to have two or three things planned for your day and only end up doing one. This is our life now — embrace the change. Now I know that if I have something planned for the evening, I will take it easy during the day. Listening to my body has really improved my quality of life and has made me cherish the things I do accomplish.

Ultimately, you will want to slow down in your everyday life. There are a lot of things to do in life — work, play, spend time with family and friends — but like it or not we have limitations we need to consider. By re-framing how we look at the idea of productivity and re-prioritizing what’s important, we can make the changes needed to lead a fuller and happier life.

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Nick Pernisco is the Parkinson’s Warrior, a person with Parkinson’s who has dedicated his life to helping others with Parkinson’s. Get the Parkinson’s Warrior book here. Join the discussion on Facebook.