Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme highs and lows in both mood and energy. It is common for people with bipolar disorder to be depressed more often than they are manic. As a result, procrastination and bipolar disorder go hand in hand for a lot of people.
Get Clear on What is in Your Control – No More Excuses
If you have bipolar disorder, you’re probably familiar with that feeling that your whole life is out of your control. You can’t seem to control your mood, your energy, or even your will to live at times. While it’s true that we struggle with these things more than “regular” people, there is still a lot that IS in our control.
Depression can be utterly paralyzing. I have experienced deep depressions where I was literally bed ridden, though in decent physical shape. Any level of depression, even if it’s just a grumpy mood has the potential to cause us to procrastinate and put things off. A severely depressed person may even procrastinate simple things like personal hygiene.
Sometimes we use our depression as an excuse. We blame it for our lack of drive, and since we are low on energy, we say it’s the reason we can’t get anything done. “Depression is the cause of my procrastination!” We think…
And it’s true, but it’s only half of the truth. If you stop there, you have given up your personal power to make decisions and improve the quality of your life. To progress, we have to ask, “To what extent does my procrastination trigger my depression (and anxiety).”
Procrastination and Bipolar Disorder Depression (Which came first)?
We find ourselves in a classic “Chicken and the Egg” scenario. Which came first? The depression or the procrastination? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you recognize the cycle. What’s even more important is what you decide to do about it.
Since bipolar depression is mostly the result of a chemical imbalance, many of us use that as a crutch for why things are out of our control. But to some extent, we can influence our brain chemistry by making healthy choices. Proper nutrition and regular exercise may not “cure” bipolar disorder, but it can help lighten a depression, especially once all those endorphins start flowing.
Another way to positively indirectly alter our brain chemistry is by goal setting and being productive. Setting goals and accomplishing them, even if they are small, releases dopamine and other “feel good” chemicals in the brain.
But what can you do? If you can’t be productive because you’re too depressed, you’ll never get that dopamine, right? Wrong. You can do it, and I’m going to share some of my favorite productivity tips to help you beat procrastination so you can get that dopamine.
5 Productivity Tips to Beat Procrastination and Get Your Dopamine Fix
1. Start small, get the snowball rolling. If you’ve been severely stuck for a while, you probably have a lot of things piling up. Don’t get overwhelmed; just do something simple, ANYTHING. Pick something that you can accomplish in 5 minutes or less. Clip your toenails, brush your teeth, take out the trash, chug a tall glass of water.
It doesn’t sound like much, but these things ARE accomplishments. It’s enough to pick up some momentum and get you excited about doing more. The trick to making this work is to give yourself permission to only do the simple task you chose. If you start putting pressure on yourself to have to clean the whole house, you may shut down and never even make it to the shower.
To-do lists are great; the problem is that if they get too long, then we get overwhelmed and never start. Whenever I feel really stuck, I make a to-do list with one item. No matter how easy it is. I’ll grab a piece of paper and write: “Sweep the kitchen floor.” Then I after I do it I cross it off and write something else to do. I don’t know why, but this helps me get more done. Maybe it’s because I am focused on a single task and not worrying about what needs to be done next until I get there.
2. Visualize yourself doing it. There’s a lot of hokey pokey around visualization, but I don’t want to get into that. I want to talk about practical visualization. Professional athletes practice visualization to improve their game. A golfer, for example, will imagine that he executes a perfect swing and then steps up to the ball and actually does it. If you watch basketball players step up to the free throw line, a lot of them close their eyes before they shoot. That’s because they are visualizing themselves shooting with good form and making the shot.
We can do this too, and it works well with the first tip of starting small. Let’s say you’re stuck on the couch, but you know you should go for a run. Turn off the TV and imagine yourself putting on your running shoes. Then go do it immediately.
The trick with visualization is to not spend too much time doing it. You just want to get the mental picture. Once you are clear on what you want to do, act it out right away.
The problem with depression is that we get stuck in our heads. So if you spend too much time on the visualization, you might use it to avoid getting the job done. Put a time limit of 30 seconds or less on the visualization part, then get to work.
3. Break it down into smaller parts. If a task takes more than 20 minutes to complete, break it down into 3 to 6 steps. The most important thing about this strategy is that the first step is very simple and takes less than 5 minutes to complete. I hope you see a pattern here. It’s all about making things so simple that starting is no longer intimidating.
Just like with step 1, you should give yourself permission to only complete the first step of the task. While you can stop if you feel like it, it’s more likely that you will be energized and want to complete the rest of the steps.
4. Use a timer. I am a big fan of the Pomodoro method. It’s a very simple but also a very powerful method. Set the timer for 25 minutes and focus 100% on a single task. When the 25 minutes is up, set the timer for 5 minutes and take a break. I usually do some pushups, stretch, walk around, get a drink of water or do some breathing exercises.
You may find that you’ve enjoyed being so focused and productive for 25 straight minutes that you want to continue working through the 5-minute break. Don’t do that. You need the break. During that 5-minute break, your brain gets to recharge so you can be at your best. Once the 5-minute break is over, set the timer for another 25 minutes and repeat the cycle. After four cycles or two hours, take a 30-minute break.
Using the Pomodoro method is SO much better than how most people usually work. What most people do is try to push through and work two or four hours at a time with no break. Or they try to take a break when they feel like they need it. What ends up happening is they don’t focus on a single task and find themselves “multitasking” and the quality of their work suffers. Or they get burnt out so while they were working rather efficiently the first hour, they didn’t really get much done the second, third, or fourth hour. Take scheduled breaks; your brain will thank you.
5. Hit the reset button. Hitting the reset button basically means that you clean up after yourself. Take the example of washing dishes. When is the best time to do it? Before you eat? Or after you eat? Obviously, after you eat, but a lot of people don’t wash the dishes after they eat, so they end up having a sink full of dishes the next day. Imagine you are hungry, you want to cook some food, you go into the kitchen and see all the dirty dishes you didn’t wash the night before. What do you do? Maybe you wash the dishes and get to cooking and then finally eat an hour later. But you might just throw your hands up and go out to eat, wasting money and eating unhealthy.
This is one of the reasons people break their diets. They don’t hit the reset button. When dirty dishes become an obstacle to cooking, you find yourself in this negative cycle where you’re constantly behind and undernourished. This is a pretty dangerous cycle if you have bipolar disorder.
Now imagine you are hungry again and want to try a new recipe, but this time when you go into the kitchen, and you see that all the dishes are clean because you washed them the night before. It’s a lot easier to start cooking, there is so much less resistance because you hit the reset button the night before. Hitting reset makes it so much simpler to eat healthy consistently. Food has a significant impact on your mood, so hit that reset button!
You might find this helpful in your job as well. Before going to lunch and before going home for the day, spend a minute or two cleaning up your work area. That way, when you come back to work, you have a clear space which will help you get in a productive state of mind. There’s nothing to kill a productive mood like a stack of unfiled papers or a mess of tools in your work area.
Productivity Improves Your Mood
Being more productive improves your mood, confidence, and self-esteem. Setting goals and taking the proper steps to achieve them can lift you out of depression. If you follow these steps, you’ll get more things done and you will feel better about yourself.
Click here to check out an awesome goal setting tool to help you stay and track.