All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for January 2003

Disability and time management

January 02, 2003
Debbie Jordan
Arizona City Independent

Last week Amanda began applying a revolutionary new time-management system to her schedule, the same day she started a new diet. Monday was her most productive day in months. She loaded breakfast dishes into the dishwasher and put homemade low-cal, low-fat bean soup into the Crockpot before leaving for work, cleaned all the files off her desk by noon, picked up her daughter from day care on time, and went home to clean two closets and three drawers; and she lost a quarter of a pound.

Tuesday she did all her weekly grocery shopping, ate salad at lunch and chicken and broccoli for dinner, and was down half a pound by Wednesday. But her energy was flagging by mid-week, so she left work before finishing everything she'd planned. She did stay on her diet, though, and had lost almost a pound by Thursday.

Friday morning she arrived to work late and wasn't fully prepared for an important meeting with a new client. She was so flustered, she couldn't catch up to her schedule for the rest of the day. Friday evening she baked chocolate-chip cookies for her daughter and husband, then plopped down in front of the TV to watch videotapes of her favorite soap opera and devour half the cookies by herself.

Why did Amanda's diet last longer than her new schedule? Because most time-management programs are designed for people who don't need them: "A types" who are so instinctively organized they'd accomplish great things even without day planners. In such company, calendars are mere security blankets for the terminally organized.

"Real" people need a more realistic way to accomplish what they want to do.

In every lecture, article or book on the subject of time management, you will find this statement: "Everyone has the same amount of time to accomplish what they want to do," a smug efficiency expert will proclaim, "24 hours in every day. What you do with that time is up to you."

That statement is a bald-faced lie. It is the single greatest reason most time-management systems don't work.

Amanda got the time-schedule plan, along with the low-calorie, low-fat diet, from her neighbor Susan. Susan is thin enough to pass for anorexic, goes at top speed 20 hours a day, has low blood pressure, and has been divorced for five years from her third husband.

Fact is, no one has 24 hours in any day in which they can actually accomplish something. Approximately one-third of that time, more or less, must be taken up with one of our most vital daily activities: sleep. People who only need to sleep a few hours in every 24-like Susan or Bill Clinton, for instance-have a lot more time to accomplish things than people whose bodies require 8, 10, or even more hours of sleep in order to function well. So, right out of bed, for many of us, the playing field is pocked with gaps of time we've "wasted" doing something we cannot escape from doing.

Amanda tried to "smooth" her field a bit by setting her alarm an hour earlier every morning, but she didn't make up that lost hour of sleep by going to bed an hour earlier each night. By Friday her "sleep bank" was down five hours, nearly a night's worth of rest. In just over a week, she'd have a sleep deficit of one full 24-hour cycle.

Sleep deprivation causes more physical and emotional problems than eschewing fattening foods. Keeping people awake is a primary tool for masters of the art of torture and brain washing. After a couple of days of wakefulness, even a "normal" person can't concentrate or make decisions, and exhaustion enhances the effects of many disabilities.

Another mound on Amanda's playing field is her handicap. With a perceptual disorder, she needs more time than most people to read the paperwork that is a necessary part of her job. Even in the best of circumstances, her spelling and math often must be checked and corrected by others before it can be considered finished.

Amanda's real talent is dealing with people, but with mounting exhaustion interfering with her ability to perform the mundane tasks, she became frustrated doing what she usually does well. Problems swirled around her, a vicious circle, and her head began to swim, until she felt persecuted and helpless. Friday evening marked her retreat to the safety of soap operas and chocolate-chip cookies.

Amanda's time-management problems aren't as bad as they are for some people. She's healthy, and her support team at work catch and correct her mistakes, so she can keep doing what she does best, dealing with clients. Many people aren't so lucky.

Health problems keep people with certain types of disability from accomplishing things that "normal" people take for granted, and many don't have the support staff they need to be productive. In fact, most people don't understand that disabled people need and deserve a chance to be productive, contributing members of society, within the scope of their individual limitations.

People with traumatic spinal or head injury, for instance, need more time to wash and dress themselves, if they can perform these functions at all. Those with such chronic illnesses as multiple sclerosis or lupus often don't have the strength to get out of bed, so they must be flexible in order to accomplish even the simplest things on a given day. But like everyone, they want more out of life than merely to manage to take care of their personal needs.

Amanda got into trouble by comparing herself to Susan. Unlike Amanda, Susan doesn't have the responsibilities of a spouse or child. Susan doesn't even have a pet to feed or a plant to water. With no emotional attachments, she can go anywhere she pleases, anytime she wants, and spend time on any proj-ect she chooses. Amanda, on the other hand, rightly feels the need to dedicate a portion of her time to her husband and daughter.

Amanda envies Susan her freedom, a freedom she's never had. As a child growing up on a farm, Amanda spent hours each morning and evening doing chores instead of being involved in extracurricular activities. She married young and spent years juggling a baby, college classes, and a part-time job. In fact, she and Susan met in college, which Susan attended at her parents' expense while she enjoyed the wild life of a rich single coed. Amanda has always envied Susan, and her inability to emulate Susan's schedule and diet plans never helped her mood.

So, what is poor Amanda to do? What can anyone do to accomplish what they want when responsibilities, and even disabilities, limit their time and energy?

As the daughter of an industrial engineer-which is a glorified name for an efficiency expert-I know a thing or two about time-and-motion study. And because I always had family responsibilities even as I suffered from increasingly severe bouts of illness since my teen years, I've had to arrange my life around several roadblocks in order to accomplish anything for myself.

The technique is not as complicated as you might think, and it doesn't have to involve a day planner, but it does mean looking at your life with a clear eye and making some tough choices. In my next column, I'll share some of the tricks that have worked for me, and some I'm still trying to develop.

Meanwhile, forget about everything that the Susans in your life are doing and start thinking about what you can accomplish yourself-as soon as you've found the time.

© Casa Grande Valley Newspaper 2003