Brain fog is a frustrating thing that almost anyone with a chronic illness will have to deal with. Most of all because it impacts your ability to stay organised and keep your sh*t together – sound familiar?
If you have repeatedly let your bath water overflow, burnt dinner, left your car unlocked, or even walked into a room and then immediately forgotten why you needed to be there – I know how you feel.
But I also know that this is something you can work through and I’m going to show you how.
If you want to stay organised with brain fog you need to look at how to optimise your lifestyle for better mental agility. Then use a combination of pre-emptive planning and clutter-clearing to keep your productivity steady.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for brain fog nor is there a concrete understanding of how it works. But it does not mean we can afford to give in to it – we just need to work around it.
I’m going to share my favourite tips on how to stay organised using this method.
Keep a Task Book
I know things get more and more digitised by the day – but this is something that needs to be done the old-school pen-and-paper way. So grab yourself a notebook and get writing.
The reason why it’s important to write down your to-do list manually is that it’s proven to help you synthesise & remember information more easily.
So when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or lost because of everything you need to do:
Start by writing it all down as it comes to you.
Look over your notes and number them according to importance.
Turn to a new page and breath again.
Write your to-do list down in order now and set yourself realistic timeframes to get them all done.
Tip: Repeat your list of tasks out loud as you write them down. Some studies show that it helps improve your chances of remembering what you need to do!
Use Sticky-Notes as Reminders
If you’ve got a home-office or even some space in your bedroom by a mirror – this should become a sticky-note designated area.
Once you’ve put your to-do list together, you can take the opportunity to write down each task on its own sticky note and then put them all up on the wall.
I like to do this in the evening so that I can revisit my to-do list in the morning and then take down the ones I completed when I finish off for the day.
And you can slowly get yourself into a routine of adjusting your sticky notes in the evening (taking down completed tasks and putting up new ones) and revisiting them in the morning as an extra reminder.
Set a Routine For Yourself
Regardless of organising your thoughts you still need to delegate your time properly for two reasons:
Brain fog sets you onto a trail of open-ended and unplanned events for the day – meaning you don’t get important stuff done.
To ensure that you’re using your time most efficiently when your mental clarity is at its sharpest.
So now that you’ve got your task book and sticky notes – we’re going to take things up one more notch and set it all into a routine. All you need is 20 minutes on a Sunday evening to plan your week ahead.
I’m not saying you need to document your bathroom breaks or exact meal times. The objective is to consider your responsibilities and weigh out the amount of time needed to fulfil them.
Firstly, allocate the amount of time you need to your daily responsibilities. For example:
6 hours, 5 times a week
1 hour, once a week
Self-care (i.e. yoga)
30 minutes every day
1 hour, 3 times a week
1 hour every day
1 hour every day
The second thing to consider is when you feel like your brainpower is at its strongest and when it’s at is weakest. Then, to the best of your ability, work the time slots for your responsibilities around that.
If you are self-employed, for example, something you should really take into account is when you are most productive and then dedicate that time to the most intensive work.
If you feel at your worst first thing in the morning (like me) then try to use that time to do low brain-power tasks like cleaning, walking the dog or doing some exercise.
Ensure Everything Has a Home
When things don’t have a home, they pile up and cause clutter quickly. But if you designate a space for all the items that you need, it stops you from hoarding whatever you don’t need.
It’s one of the best ways to keep your space clean and to declutter your mind. Something super important if you have brain fog and easily forget items or misplace them.
Pro Tip: When you finish using something important – put it back. For example, when you finish using your card for an online purchase – put it back in your bag or you’ll forget it the next time you do a grocery run.
If you need some help with cleaning up – I know how you feel. Cleaning when you have a chronic illness is exhausting. But I have a few tips to share with you that may help here:
Clear the Clutter
I’ve mentioned how designating a home to everything you own is a great way to keep clutter levels low (in your house and in your head). But there’s also a theory around clutter-clearing you should try embrace.
Marie Kondo is an internationally recognised organiser who patented her theory – The KonMarie™ Method. It’s built off the premise that you only keep the things in your life, and home, that you love.
Since your environment can play such an integral role in your mood, energy and mental clarity – it’s worth trying.
If you’re embarking on this journey – just remember to be patient with yourself and set small, easily attainable goals. Building a home you love needs to be considered an ever-evolving work-in-progress.
Make Items Too Obvious to Forget
I’ve always loved travelling and after I was diagnosed with CRPS my brain fog made it much harder. But one incident, in particular, changed everything…
I was at the airport alone and almost forgot my passport and cell phone at security. I was delirious from shock. But I also wasn’t going to let brain fog get the better of me again in such a serious situation.
I knew I had to find a reliable way to draw my attention back to the important items I needed to remember. So I walked into duty-free and bought the brightest and most garish passport holder I could find.
Since then I started to add bright or kitsch accessories to all my important objects – like keys or wallets. Trust me, I’ve rarely forgotten anything important behind since then.
Minimise Your Distractions
If you have brain fog then distractions need to be kept to a minimum when you’re trying to get stuff done. This is particularly important if you want to stick to your schedule and work on mental productivity.
So turn off the TV, close any tabs on your computer that aren’t specific to the work you’re doing, keep your phone on silent and if necessary – put a sign up on your office door that says, “Do Not Disturb!”.
Something you can also do is invest in a pair of noise-cancelling earphones and putting on some brain-powering isochronic sounds in the background.
I find that getting rid of surrounding noise makes it so much easier to stay focused on a train of thought.
Automate Your Routine Purchases
You probably have routine payments that you need to make at the same time every month. For example medication, pet food, cleaning supplies or a gardening service.
You can get rid of the monthly reminder to make these payments by automating the majority. Besides giving one less mental concern to juggle – it’s a pleasure to know things are taken care of when just need to rest.
Something like pet food, for example, can be ordered from your local online pet store. You just need to schedule monthly deliveries and the payments are taken care of without much effort at all.
Do Things Slowly and Methodically
Part of staying organised with brain fog is acknowledging the fact that you have to pace yourself.
If you break down your tasks slowly and methodically, you’ll be a bit more diligent and careful in your execution.
So avoid rushing or taking on too much to limit the amount of mental confusion you experience. Not only can it make you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, but it increases your risk of making mistakes too.
And when you get a little tired while you work – that’s okay! Try taking short breaks to stretch and drink a glass of water every hour. You’ll feel a little more refreshed and ready to get back into it.
Get Help With Complex Tasks
Just like it’s best to avoid doing too much, too fast – there’s also nothing wrong with putting your hand up and asking for help when you start to feel overwhelmed by complex tasks.
Your friends and family love you and want to help in any way they can – this could be a great way to let them into your life.
If you’re not the most organised person by nature – I’m sure you have a friend who is! And if they’re anything like me, they love creating structure and order in whatever they do – no matter who it’s for.
When you hit a mental blank and have no idea how to resolve a specific problem – chat to someone else about it. Another voice is always refreshing and can help you gain a different perspective on the matter and alleviate disappointment.
Another thing to consider is the use of technology to help you. There are apps out there to help people with chronic illnesses manage the difficulties of everyday life.
I’ve reviewed some of my favourite ones here: Top 13 Apps for People with a Chronic Illness in 2020
Find a Balance Between Pushing and Being Kind to Yourself
There are times when I feel great and then get hit with a wave of mental numbness. Brain fog used to shake my confidence to its core because it always made me feel like I couldn’t keep up or would just screw up.
It made me feel incompetent at the best of times.
And I still feel bad for the fact that I don’t remember much that happened between 2010 – 2012. My chronic pain was at its absolute worst during those years and my brain fog matched it.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that my chronic illness wasn't my fault.
The symptoms you experience are a sign that your body needs help – they do not mean that you are no longer competent or capable.
To get over this hurdle you need to learn to care for yourself. Look after your brain, keep it healthy and encourage a routine that presents small and consistent rewards.
As you build some confidence and learn to accept your short-comings – it'll be a lot easier to encourage (or push) yourself in a constructive way.
This is because you will have more respect for what you have already achieved and a better understanding of your boundaries as well.
And if you're looking for practical ways to build a better relationship with yourself then I have the perfect article and printables for you: 100 Affirmations For Chronic Illness That Really Work (With Printables)
If you have any awesome suggestions on how to stay organised with brain fog – I would love to hear them. Otherwise, I really hope you find the suggestions I've shared as useful as each one has been to me.
Have a productive week and chat soon!