Depression is kind of like a bad boss. You have no control over when it shows up. It only focuses on your weaknesses. And it attempts to control everything you do. One of the things that depression takes control of is your time. It makes it hard to be productive and accomplish anything. But that doesn't mean that it's not possible.
In a TEDx talk called How to Get Stuff Done When You're Depressed, my friend Jessica Gimeno shares, "It's time to go beyond getting a diagnosis [and] into getting people actual coping mechanisms. Because without coping mechanisms we're trapped in a downward spiral. Being depressed leads to falling behind and falling behind leads to more depression." I couldn't agree with her more. Not only is it important for people to understand what mental health is, but also how to continue living once you've received a diagnosis.
Depression might make you want to stay in bed all day or mindlessly watch Netflix instead of doing the work you know you should be doing. But when you develop the right habits and systems in your life, you can manage your time effectively, even if it might look a little different than when you aren't depressed. And I'm speaking from personal experience as a person who has struggled with depression throughout my life.
Here are some simple and actionable strategies you can use to improve your time management with depression.
1. Learn to Say No
This is hard for a lot of people to do, but it's an important lesson to learn. When you are fighting with depression, you have to learn to prioritize your time. That means you can't take on everything that comes your way. If you are struggling to get everyday tasks completed, then it's not the right time to agree to make 200 cupcakes for your daughter's school bake sale. You have to limit what you choose to spend time on, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Before agreeing to do anything or attend anything, take time to really think through if it's a good idea for how you are feeling. One trick you can use is delaying agreeing to anything by saying something like, "I'll have to check my schedule and get back to you." This allows you a little time to process it and helps stop you from making quick commitments that you'll later regret.
2. Be Proactive
It's important to learn how to identify your symptoms of depression. Once you do this, you can start to take action as soon as you feel it creeping up. Schedule an appointment with a therapist, focus on self-care like eating right and exercising, and practice breathing exercises. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
3. Create a Routine
Routines help you to accomplish the things that you need to do regardless of how you're feeling. When something becomes a routine, it makes it easier to accomplish. If you struggle with getting out of bed in the morning when you're feeling depressed, set a morning routine in place that you follow. Instead of hitting snooze and lying in bed longer, put your feet on the floor when your alarm goes off and immediately make your bed. Then hit the shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast. Your routine doesn't need to look like this, just make sure you have one.
4. Set Deadlines
Jessica also shares in her talk the importance of setting deadlines and prioritizing tasks according to their level of urgency. She uses a system where she has a to-do list and every task is labeled with one to four stars. If something has four stars, it's due today. If it has three stars, it's due tomorrow. Two stars mean it's due this week, and one star means it's due next week. By doing this she can easily see what the tasks are that actually need her immediate attention and which ones can wait.
5. Start Small
Another thing that Jessica recommends is starting with small tasks. She labels all of her tasks with a one, two, or three. The easiest tasks are ones and they work up from there. Easy tasks might be things like taking a shower or eating breakfast. When you are struggling with depression, focus on the tasks labeled with ones first. As you accomplish these and cross them off your list, it helps you see your success and build confidence to move up to the harder tasks. This is not the time to take on the world. Focus on the small tasks and make sure you count them as victories–because they are.
Remember, It's not a One-and-done Type of Thing
Managing depression and managing your time when you struggle with depression is not a one-and-done kind of thing. You have to work at it. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed at this moment, just choose one of the things above to try. When you have that down then you can add in another. It takes practice, and that's okay. Do not for one second beat yourself up or allow yourself to feel shame because you are struggling.
I'd like to leave you with one last thing that Jessica shares, "Yes, depression is real. But hope is real. Courage is real. Resilience is real."