A lot has happened since my last post. Not a lot has changed for me personally but… gosh. GOSH.
I don’t know if “habits” the way people talk about them really exist. Because people also say things like “… like brushing your teeth!” about habits and I don’t think they mean “something you remember you were supposed to do after you’re already in bed”.
So I don’t think your STUFF list is a thing that will “build” over time. The momentum that builds from having a novel system and a completed list is very fleeting. Then it’s just another list which will be as boring and ugly and scary as any other of the thousands of lists you’ve made.
And you know what? That’s okay. Because I want you to make a list that you can keep using even when that happens. That’s one of the times that you need to change gears.
Now there are two things you can do. You can change gears and/or you can change gears. Is that confusing? Probably. But when you do one it’s a good time to think about doing the other as well so it really doesn’t matter that they’re called the same thing.
You move from Usual to Treading Water. Or from Treading Water to Survival. Or the other way around. Something comes up. You need to work from home? Things are hard but you need to keep the lights on. So you look at your gears and you change your expectations of yourself.
But how long ago did you put this list together? Before the global pandemic? Maybe it’s not… exactly right. What does your ‘Survival’ gear look like now that… you might have to live there for a while? What changes in your ‘Treading Water’ gear if … *gestures defeatedly*… yeah.
Whenever you change gears you need to take the opportunity to change gears. If you need to! And if you’re going to be here a while… that’s your Treading Water. Because that’s what treading water is for. And if this is your new normal? Well… that’s your usual gear.
Maybe you thought you were changing gears from Usual to Survival. But… maybe you’re actually changing your Survival gear into your Usual gear.
What’s “usual” for you now? It’s okay if that used to be your Survival or Treading Water.
If you’re not meeting your expectations of yourself it’s okay to lower them. I promise. If it’s all too hard and you’re not facing your obligations let alone meeting them? If what you think you should be doing is making you feel bad and you’re still not doing it? You don’t get points for that. That doesn’t make you better than the version of yourself that expects almost nothing – but actually does something.
So right now in this time of foreboding and social isolation… what are you actually able to do? What’s realistic for you? What’s realistic in an ongoing way?
Change your gears. Create a new page in your bullet journal for your new STUFF list. Or re-tag your tasks in whatever app you like best for managing your day-to-day routines and habits.
Make a version of your list that you’ll actually look at – and one that won’t make you feel bad about yourself when you do.
In December last year I got into a discussion on twitter about labels and specifically about whether labelling oneself as neurodivergent, (or as autistic, ADHD etc) was positive or negative.
In summary, and I apologise if I’ve misunderstood the point of view, labels made this person uncomfortable as to them they were pathologising the individual instead of the environment.
If a bunch of flowers in your garden bed withered and died, would you wonder what is wrong with the flowers? Or would you wonder if maybe they are not suitable for their growing conditions? Or maybe the soil itself is unhealthy?
I responded in a tweet thread that you can read here if you like but you don’t need to because I’m going to write it in long-form here.
I think that discovering that you’re neurodivergent can be like finding out that your garden is in a completely different climate than other people you know.
Everyone’s garden is different. Even within the same neighbourhood you might have different soil and drainage conditions. And you can’t just follow textbook watering advice and planting schedules because everything needs to be adapted to your personal conditions…
But the climate that you’re gardening in can make some advice and recommendations completely irrelevant. Some advice and recommendations you’ll need to ignore rather than adapt. Knowing your climate helps you to find relevant help when something goes wrong.
For people with trauma backgrounds we might never have had a flourishing garden. Our parents didn’t teach us how to weed or prune our brain-plants. So we can be very very reliant on teachers, friends and therapists to help us care for our minds and our brains.
So maybe people keep telling you “you need to plant your seeds inside two weeks before the last frost date and then harden your seedlings before transplanting into their final position!”
But nobody can explain what “frost” is. And when you ask people when the last frost date is likely to be some people say February or March. Or April. They encourage you to work that out for yourself because it varies from person to person! Because it depends on exactly who you are and exactly what you want to plant…
But if you live in, say, Brisbane… there is no frost. January and February are the hottest months of the year. You need a completely different set of instructions for what to plant and when.
In my real life gardening adventures I need to convert farenheit temperatures to celcius. I need to know that southern hemisphere seasons are reversed compared with the northern hemisphere and I need to know that it’s hot and humid here.
ADHD and Autism aren’t withered plants. They’re not failing gardens. They’re different climates and soil types. Following neurotypical planting dates and watering schedules is going to lead to a failing garden: because we need to follow different advice to help our gardens thrive.
And by classifying those differences we can articulate them and find relevant help when our gardens aren’t doing well. Because sometimes different problems sound similar. Sometimes different plants have the same name in different areas.
Knowing your climate is important because maybe when you mention your watering schedule other people are horrified. And you’re filled with self-doubt. Are you doing it completely wrong?
But being able to know or say “oh! well it almost never rains here at this time of year and it’s very hot so I actually do need to water my cucumber plants twice a day or they start to wilt” is a huge relief. Or to be able to say “well I mostly plant succulents and cactus so they don’t need frequent water!”.
Because it’s all very well for someone to tell you “just find what works for you and keep doing it!!” but when what you’re doing isn’t working you need to be able to find advice that might be helpful and not harmful. And if you say “the leaves of my plants are all droopy and floppy” people will ask “when did you last water them?” and you will say “um… like a week ago but…” and people will say “you need to water them more often!!”. But if it’s the wet season and it’s been raining every day for a week maybe your plants have root-rot and need drying out. “just water your plants!” is the wrong advice for you even though your problem looks similar to one that could be solved that way.
And when you have a label for your climate – when you have a way to say “it’s raining literally ALL THE TIME right now” you can take that into account when talking about how much to water your garden.
If you don’t know how much climates can differ you’re stuck doing trial and error against and onslaught of advice, recommendations and “common sense” that somehow just keeps making everything worse.
And you have some simple words to add to your search terms which gives you information that’s more easily adaptable to your unique garden which isn’t exactly like anyone else’s garden… but is different from typicalgardens – and similar to some other people’s gardens – in some very specific ways.
Okay you’ve read my STUFF introduction and you think “this is exactly what I need!!”. So what’s next? Where do I start? No… WHERE specifically. What app do I open? What notebook do I buy? Are you giving me an excuse to go to officeworks to buy new pens or what??
STUFF is app neutral. You don’t need a new app (although I have IDEAS for how my ideal app would work!!) or to buy a certain kind of journal. I know you’ve tried a thousand of those already and I can’t offer you anything that any other app can’t give you and you’d stop using mine for exactly the same reasons you stopped using all of those others.
So stick with the apps you’ve used the longest. Or sound the most interesting. Or seem the most fun. Or have the most features! Or gamify the way that excites your brain. Or a journal that feels nice when you touch it or fits in your bag or has nice paper or… you get what I mean. The best tool is one that you keep using.
I use Habitica for my daily STUFF. I have done for years. It’s not for everyone and it doesn’t streamline STUFF in any super elegant way. But I started using it in 2013 and… haven’t stopped yet. And I still find it kind of neat and kind of fun. So that’s what makes it the best one for me.
In Habitica I use tags to keep track of my STUFF gears. I use a tag manager tool to bulk switch tasks on or off if there are too many for me to just find and switch on and off one-by-one. I’ve seen screenshots of an app called Fabulous and someone creating Fabulous routines for each gear. You could use tags or categories in Todoist. Whatever you will keep using. Whatever is going to give you a way to view your lower gears without feeling guilty or overwhelmed by your higher gears. The first step is to use your STUFF tracker. The second step is to use it even when it’s no longer fun and exciting.
Tip #1: Good fences
For this reason I recommend that you keep it well partitioned away from any lists that feel burdensome or are likely to provoke any guilt or bad feelings. You might think “if I have everything all in the one place then I will HAVE to keep up with it all!!”. But friend… I have such faith in your ability to ignore important things. I know you can do it!! Don’t put your STUFF tracker in your calendar or your to-do list. Because you’ll want to avoid those things at some point: and I don’t want you to ignore your STUFF at the same time.
Tip #2: Minimal Minimum
Some days you might want to spend 10 or more minutes reflecting on your day. That is so amazing. But most days I just feel annoyed at any obligation that I HAVE to do. So I make tracking my STUFF as simple as possible. My end of day checkin is… so fast. It takes less than one minute for me to open Habitica and tick off the things I did. I have it set up in a Siri Shortcuts routine which opens my calendar and my todoist to-do list (which I ignore) and then opens Habitica. If I feel like Habitica is “too much” then I know it’s time to change gears and make it so simple that even I can’t resent having to do it. (But also sometimes I still avoid it but one of the features of Habitica is that when you open it in the morning it asks if you need to check anything off from the day before)
So that’s where you start. Wherever you’re likely to go back to day after day, week after week. And if you get bored of one app and it’s no longer exciting you can start using some other newfangled app with social or gamification features which sound fun. You can keep switching apps every month if that works to keep you keeping on with stuff… and STUFF.
I always love to see screenshots of how you’re using STUFF so if you’ve got it set up in Things 3 or TikTik or Daylio or you’ve got a Bullet Journal or whatever I’d absolutely love to see how you’re doing it!
(and if you make apps and want to hear about how my PERFECT STUFF TRACKING APP would work I’d love to hear from you too…)
This post was originally written back in September 2018 for my patreon page. It’s slightly out of date with respect to my priorities and specific tasks but that’s not really important so I’m posting it as-is.
Like many people I often use the beginning of the calendar year to start new stuff. Like far fewer (but still a lot) of people my birthday is in mid January.
Habitica is the first thing I’ve ever taken up at the start of the year and still been doing every day by my birthday, two weeks later. That was in 2015.
Habitica tells me that I’ve checked in 627 times. Sure, that’s not every day – I generally check myself into the “inn” when I’m on holidays or unwell. But it’s a lot! And the fact that I still keep going back to it speaks to how well it works for me and the way my brain works and what keeps me motivated to keep doing a thing.
And because I am motivated to keep doing the Habitica thing that’s helping me do all the things that Habitica reminds me to do!
In Habitica you have three types of tasks.
Habits – are things you can do multiple times per day and can be positive or negative
Dailies – things you can do once per day on a daily or regular basis (every monday, or every 2 days, or every 4 weeks).
Todos – things you do once
Habitica is a real life Role Playing Game (it used to be called HabitRPG!) and you have a little avatar that gains gold and xp when you complete your positive habits, dailies and todos. You lose health by completing negative habits and missing due dailies. (A todo will never cause you to lose health but if you’ve been procrastinating on it for a long time it will give you extra gold and xp for completing it).
By gaining XP you can gain levels which allow you to add stats to your character increasing its strength (helps you do more damage to tasks), intelligence (gains you more mana which you can use for spells), constitution (makes you tougher so your missed dailies don’t hurt so much) and perception (helps you find more gold and random drops when completing tasks).
You can spend your gold on in-game rewards like equipment to equip and dress up your character or you can create custom rewards to reward yourself with real-life stuff.
How I use it
I use Habitica as my “hub” and I have daily tasks on Habitica that remind me to check up on my tasks that I’ve set up in other apps.
I also use Habitica for tasks that I want to do every single day such as Meditating, Making the Bed, Doing Laundry and Engaging in Leisure (Reading, Gaming or Watching a Movie or TV). As I’ve been using it for 3 years now my character has maxed out in levels and I’ve collected all of the pets and mounts several times. But I still use custom rewards to motivate myself to keep doing my tasks. If I cash in a certain amount of in-game gold I allow myself to purchase an expansion pack for the sims.
initially I had stuff like “playing video games” as a reward itself but I found that having fun stuff as a reward made me feel like I should avoid doing it so that I could save up for something better. And I also felt like when I wasn’t doing so well and wasn’t completing my daily tasks I couldn’t “afford” to have any fun at all. So for that reason I have my rewards as things I purchase for myself and have basic-fun-stuff-I-do-just-for-fun as a daily task instead.
Although a Habit can have both a positive and a negative aspect to it (so you can set up a habit to be positive for drinking a glass of water and negative for drinking fizzy drink) I find it works better for me to have them separated into stand-alone positive and negative habits.
My character is a healer which means my tasks don’t damage me very much and I have healing spells. I chose this task because I found that the “stick” aspect of Habitica was not very motivating for me and made me feel like I didn’t want to keep using it. The “carrot” of getting in game rewards and goals works very well on its own.
Because of this I don’t always push myself to complete absolutely every task every day. Giving myself permission to leave some things helps me better assess how much I actually can do because I don’t get stuck in the “well I can’t do all of it I might as well not even open the app!” mindset.
I don’t use the “ToDo”s on Habitica for tasks. Instead I use them for goals I want to reach. Right now my ToDos are about the goals I want to reach with my finances but I lot of the time I leave this area blank.
Things Habitica Does Well
The main thing that makes me keep coming back to Habitica over other gamified task managers I’ve tried is that a daily won’t show you how many days overdue it is. It’s just a thing you need to do today and if you haven’t done it for 2 days or 10 days or whatever it doesn’t show you that. I always found seeing exactly how overdue a task is to feel really demoralising. Instead Habitica colour codes your tasks based on how regularly you do them. Something you do really frequently will be blue – it won’t give you so much of a reward when you complete it, but if you miss a day it won’t hurt as much. Something you find really hard will start to go orange and then red – it does greater damage if you keep missing it but it gives you bigger rewards for completing it since you obviously are finding it hard.
I will often look more closely at my remaining tasks and if I feel like I can only do one or more things for the day I will look at the tasks that are the most red and maybe leave a couple of blue tasks undone instead. If I’ve flossed my teeth every day for a month it’s probably fine to miss a day, you know?
There is also a social aspect to Habitica – you can join a Party and go on quests with your real-life friends (a quest boss will damage the whole party if you miss your dailies so trying to keep your friends safe from harm can be motivating!) and you can also join Guilds where you can’t do quests but you can do challenges where all the people participating in a challenge will try and do the same set of tasks.
Things Habitica Doesn’t Do Well
So if you love Habitica so much why do you use Todoist as well?
In my opinion Habitica fails at one very important thing – tasks that need to be done at certain intervals but you’re not disciplined enough to actually do them every x days exactly.
While you can set up a task on Habitica to repeat every x days (or weeks, months or even years) it will always become due exactly on those intervals even if you completed it late or early. So if it’s due on every 3rd day and you complete it on the 2nd day it will still be due on the 3rd. You can work around this somewhat by making a note or adding a checklist item when you complete it and then only checking the daily off on the day it’s “due” on Habitica but this really doesn’t work well for me. If I would like to change the bedsheets every 2 weeks then if I leave it for 3 weeks or 4 weeks (or longer! It happens!) I want it to be due 2 weeks after I actually did it.
Todoist (which I’ll go into in another profile) in contrast to Habitica does these sorts of repeating tasks really really well. So I have a lot of repeating housework and social tasks in Todoist instead of Habitica and my Habitica tasks are about whether or not I’ve completed my Todoist tasks in certain projects.
Add Ons and Customisation
If you use Habitica in a browser there are a LOT of extensions and customisations which can customise the experience for you. There are addons that remove the Gamified aspects of the game entirely, or hide all the creepy animals (spiders and skeletons and such), there are ones that change the colours scheme to relaxing purples instead of the intimidating red and orange tasks. I use a browser addon to automatically feed my pets and another add-on to bulk sell my extra items. If you’ve used Habitica and it was perfect just apart from this one thing there might be an addon that fixes that or maybe you could make one if you’re into that kind of thing.
So that’s a little bit about Habitica and how it works for me. If you use Habitica please feel free to comment about what you like (or don’t like!) about it.
If you’ve got a Habitica account or you want to sign up for one my $2 patronage level will grant you an invitation to the STUFF up! your life Habitica Guild. I’ll be putting together some challenges on Habitica to help you try and get the most out of Habitica and keep using it. There is still time to change your pledge before the beginning of the month if you’d like an invitation!
This post was originally written back in September 2018 and no longer reflects exactly the apps or tasks I prioritise right now. But that’s not important!
I have one master list that contains everything. I mean it doesn’t actually contain everything but it references everything. For me this is Habitica (and I’ll go into detail about how Habitica works in a later post if you’re unfamiliar with it). But I have tasks in Habitica that reference the other tools that I use.
Check and Update Calendar
Reach x-steps on Fitbit
Reach Karma Goal on Todoist
So I don’t have a bunch of different things I’m mentally trying to remind myself to update every evening. I have ONE list. And some of the things on that list tell me to check lists in other apps.
So why not just use one app? Well I haven’t ever found an app that does everything the way I want. I need a calendar and Google Calendar works really well… but if I add absolutely everything to my calendar as reminders it’s too much and too overwhelming. The tasks on Google are… not good enough (or weren’t last time I used them) especially for repeating or daily tasks. If I have all my daily tasks in a task list with my other todo stuff the list is too big and I can’t look at it.
By breaking stuff up in this way I seem to be able to mentally cope better than looking at once enormous list of stuff.
So if you’ve struggled to keep up with a calendar or a todo-list or a habit tracker because it didn’t do EVERYTHING or it quickly became too overwhelming to even open because ARGH… Try “The Hub”. Maybe you make a paper bullet journal as your hub. Or todoist. Or trello. Or something else! I don’t think it matters. Something you’ll enjoy using and use regularly and can keep your list small and manageable.
What do you think? Do you do something similar already? What’s your “Hub”?
You need a new routine. You need a new system. One that will actually work. Because if you do it right – if you build the right habits and the right routines in the right way then they’ll stick. Then you can add on to them. Then you can build up your routines and eventually get to the point where you can live your life. Am I right?
You know what you need to do. You know that you just need to eat better and sleep more and take more time for yourself and meditate and be present and keep on top of the housework so it doesn’t build up and and and and…
So why don’t you? You don’t have the right journal. The right app. The right planner. The right tracker. Why can’t you just do it?
Because… It’s hard.
It’s not the routine. It’s not the system. It’s… the stuff. It’s hard.
It feels easy sometimes. So you start a new routine. You start a new system. It’s so easy! To begin with. And having a streak is motivating for a while. But then suddenly it’s hard again and now you’re too ashamed to look at it. And now you’re not coping.
STUFF isn’t a new routine. It’s not a system. It’s a strategy for managing your routines and your systems. A framework for dismantling your routines and putting them back together. Because you can’t keep waiting for things to get better. You can’t keep forwarding your problems to Future You.
Your Helpful Aunt tells you to think positive! Maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow and be motivated! But… maybe you won’t? Because Future You is just you… but older.
Your life won’t begin once you get through this. Once you get on top of things. Once you do it right.
This, right now, is your life.
When things are good it feels like they’ll keep getting better. But sometimes they don’t. And the expectations that you set when things are easy will crush you when things get hard. STUFF helps you manage the gap between what you can actually do and what you think you should be able to do… and helps you adjust as that gap changes over time.
Sometimes when you’re riding a bike you change gears. You change gears so that you can keep riding up a hill… or down. There’s no “best” gear to be in: it depends. With STUFF you can “change gears” when things get hard. By deciding in advance which expectations you’ll lower (or drop) you’ll have a plan to manage yourself when you need it – and a plan to work back to where you were if and when that’s realistic for you.
Back in November 2018 I released Should – a twine thing, on itch.io.
It’s free to play and isn’t a game so much as a thought exercise on avoidance. Writing it actually really helped me do some things and I still think through it when I am avoiding things although I don’t play through it very often any more.
You may or may not know but I used to make websites for a living. So is it surprising that it’s taken me so long to get a website for myself up and running? Of course not! After 10 years of it being my job it’s pretty hard to feel motivated to do all that for free.
But here it is! It’s not much right now (and a WHOLE BUNCH OF DEFAULTS). But It’s a thing! Something is better than nothing?
I spent a lot of time a while back coding some cog shapes in css without using any images. Probably I will… not use that.