"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
September 12, 2014
Improving Time Management and Concentration
by Sarah Hancock

From a very young age I had problems with two things: time management and concentration. If you think about it, they are intertwined. If a person is unable to concentrate, his ability to complete tasks in a timely manner is severely compromised. Yes folks, severely damaged. Consequently, a person often seems like a procrastinator, but isn’t one because he didn’t purposefully wait for the last minute to get the task done.

As a kid and a teenager, I really had a difficulty knowing how to begin cleaning my disaster of a room. I’d sit on my bed with tears streaming down my young face, not knowing where on earth to begin. I could get so distracted trying to figure out what needed to be done that I didn’t even know where to start.

Gratefully I had my beloved brother. He would come and talk to me while I cleaned my room. For some reason, when we talked, my thoughts settled into conversation and my mind automatically saw what needed to be done. Weird.

My beloved brother probably never knew (until he reads this) how vital those conversations were in helping me sort out my thoughts. He didn’t even have to lift a finger to physically help me put things away. Simply involving my brain in a conversation did the trick.

My dear dad was a Franklin Planner teacher a long, long time ago. He has to be one of the most organized, efficient men that I know. He makes the list and methodically checks things off. It’s admirable, really. He taught me a thing or two about the Franklin planning methods. They seem pretty solid, when I use them. It’s pretty simple. Make a to-do list. Go through the list and prioritize them by putting A's next to the vital "must get done" list, B's next to the important "must get done" things and C's next to the things you'd like to get done, but don't have to get done right away. 

Go to your list of A's and number them according to the most vital with A1 being the thing that you must must get done. A2 being the one that you must get done and A3 what you have to get done. (Then go through the B and C tasks to number them, too.) For dear Dad, this makes perfect sense; his brain is balanced. For me it made sense logically, but realistically, my imbalanced brain just couldn’t seem to grasp it.

You don’t have to have an imbalanced brain to detest to-do lists; they can incite animosity in even the most demure people. I just happen to fit both the unbalanced brain category and the to-do list detester categories, so if I can get over it, so can you.

Staring at the A,B,C to-do list overwhelmed, stressed and panicked me. To make matters worse, I frequently felt like a failure when — after a lot of hard work — I couldn't scratch anything off my list. As the list grew longer, my ability to scratch off tasks grew weaker. Instead I beat myself up, feeling guilty for being such a lazy clod.

It didn’t help that others reminded me of how lazy I was. But I wasn’t lazy. I had an imbalanced, disorganized mind.

Several years into living with mental illness, I gave up on making lists. I didn’t want to disappoint myself more than I already had. For years I didn’t make to-do lists in a determined effort to not disappoint myself further. One thing was consistent; I didn’t get anything done until one day when I felt like a complete worthless loser, I was finally fed up with not getting anything done.

How in the heck could I get over my fear of failure? How could I get over my inability to complete anything? How could I break the commandment: Thou shalt not make to-do lists! And then it happened.

July 1, 2009, was a whimsical day. I moved out of the abusive group home into a rented room at the Angel of Mercy’s home — against “my treatment plan. I did so during the hour I was supposed to comply with “my” treatment plan by having an electro-convulsive therapy treatment.

I quit against medical advice (I have to insert here that I am not offering medical advice to anyone. I am merely saying that I followed “my” treatment plan, (created by my providers) for more than a year without success in moving my recovery forward. I finally decided to throw it out and make my own.)

Having always followed my doctor’s advice, I suddenly felt like a rebel. There I was free from the abusive group home, trying to organize my new room and determined to make my new life a success. Staring at my bags I further perpetuated the rebellion by breaking my personal long-standing rule to never make to-do lists.

Had I made my new to-do list as I had in the past, it would have only had one singular item — unpack. Instead, overjoyed to be starting my life afresh on my own terms, I began making a to-do list of a different kind.

I broke down “unpack” even further. I broke it down with: make bed; clean out left side of suitcase; clean off dresser top, pick up shoes, and so on. That way even if my new room didn't get completely clean, I could still scratch off my list to acknowledge the hard work I’d done. I even made it fun with things like “pick up everything blue,” and “Pick up everything green.” There’s something therapeutic about crossing things off on a to-do list.

When I finally began graduate school, I did the same kind of thing for homework. Instead of saying "study for test," I wrote things like: read pages 56-59, Read pages 60-64. When I finished A1, I’d stand up and stretch, maybe do a couple of jumping jacks, get a glass of water. And then go back and do number A2.

If I looked at my list and everything seemed like an "A" item, I’d then go back and critically think about what really needed to get done and by when.

With a pile of homework where everything needed to be turned in tomorrow, I thought about when it had to be turned in. For example if I had a paper due first period, I’d do the paper first. If I had an extremely long chapter to read for Theory, I made that the priority because I can crank out writing.

Sometimes I changed it up a little bit by reading five pages of the theory, doing an outline of the paper and then going back to read five more pages of theory. The classwork was manageable and not overwhelming — unless it was finals, but that’s another story for next time. Some people (like yours truly) have a hard time switching tasks back a forth when symptomatic, so tailor your list to you.

When I began working, I started each shift in a conversation with my supervisor to get an idea of what needed to be my priority for the day. Recently I was hired at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Initially I was a Representative Payee and started my shift in the middle of the day.

It took me a while to get focused, so I ended every shift by leaving myself a “to-do” list to help me focus when I arrived in the office. When I transferred to a new position, without my asking, my new supervisor provided me with a prioritized “to-do” list for the month.

Can I just say how awesome that is? I don’t get derailed with emails, phone calls or other necessities. Every day when I arrive at work, I have a place to begin. I don’t have to try and remember where I left off the day before and struggle to figure out what I should be doing. It’s all right there in front of me. My supervisor isn’t located at my office, but because I have that prioritized list, I just plug along as though she’s there to prompt me.

I’m a to-do list convert. When I look at what I’ve accomplished in the past five years, I know that it all started with a to-do list. The items on my list were simply things I’d dreamed of doing. I finally figured out how to make those “grandiose dreams” (Dr. In’s observation, not mine) into reality by breaking them down into little pieces of glitter what made sense to me.

Just like the old prospector who wisely collected all the teeny flecks into a pouch heavy with gold, you don’t have to be dissatisfied when the golden nuggets aren’t there. There will always be flecks (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEfg-Z-TOc8).  

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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnít just possible ó itís probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying ó not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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