Tracking my progress, step by step

I’ve had some questions from folks about how to use the log pages I created. Here’s how I do it, with some sample info filled in the way I fill it in. I created four different forms, filled out with sample details, like I do. You’re welcome to use these as templates for your own self-therapy/rehab.

Again, the way you do this — if you do it at all — is totally up to you. But this is how I do it:

  1. I start out the day, recording how much sleep I got, and listing the things I want to get done, as well as when I want to do them — as shown in the attached Morning Log Sample. A lot of times, I’ll list out things I plan to do, the night before — e.g., when I intend to get up and go through my morning routine, etc. I tend to write down even the smallest activities, if they are significant. I list things like the steps of my morning routine and standard-issue activities which are the bread-and-butter of my daily ritual, no matter how “basic” get included, if they are important for me.
  2. As my day progresses, I keep track of what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it. Like in the attached Noontime Log Sample. It might seem like a lot of work, but really, when you’re actively managing your time and you must keep to a schedule, it’s not optional. And when you incorporate it into your daily life, it’s really not that much effort.
  3. Later in the day, I’ll fill in more information, like in the attached Afternoon Log Sample. Keep in mind that this day’s info is a Sunday — a light day for me. If it were a weekday, I would have a lot more detail and a lot more stuff listed to do.
  4. At the end of the day, I’ll fill in my daily journal, like in the attached Evening Log Sample. I use a highlighter to mark the things I’ve gotten right, and the things I messed up. It’s important for me to distinguish between the things that turned out differently because I messed up (shown in red) and the things that turned out differently just because priorities changed or I did things a little differently (shown in orange). I also do my “360 feedback” journaling. I don’t write a whole lot, but I do spend some time examining my day and thinking about what went right and what went wrong. I really try to focus on what I did right, since there are days when those experiences are rare, and I need as much positive reinforcement as I can get. But I also really think about the things that went wrong, keeping in mind what I will do differently next time.

Again, it might seem like a lot of work, but when you incorporate this practice into your daily routine, it becomes a way of life.

“An unexamined life is not worth living,” someone once said.

That sounds depressing, so I prefer to say, “An unexamined life leads to much more difficult living.”

Truly, the price of taking the time to examine my activities and follow up on them is well worth the value I receive in return. It’s when I don’t do my daily tracking and logging and self-assessments, that I get into trouble.

Oh, one last thing — if I have a long series of unfinished tasks and things I messed up, over and over and over again over the course of days and weeks, I pay special attention to that and make a priority of learning about it. Over the extended term, I look at my log pages and I watch for patterns. If I see that I am failing regularly to get certain things done, I explore that and then do research on it. And if I look long and hard enough and am focused enough on it, I can often find info that helps me deal with the issues, and overcome them.

For example, I have a fairly long list of action items I am responsible for following through with at work, but I haven’t been able to start a number of them, for lack of motivation (and difficulty with initiation).  So, I did some research on motivation and initiation problems, and I learned that I may have issues with my cingulate gyrus, so I’m paying more attention to my initiatory abilities and doing some exercises to improve how that part of my brain is engaged.

It can be a bit daunting to do this every single day — and the stack of papers I’ve got showing what all I’ve tracked is a little overwhelming. But unless I track myself and take a look at what I’m doing on a regular basis, I don’t have the chance to do a course correction, and can I end up stuck in a bad groove that just drags me down.

So, I track myself. And it helps.

It might just help you, too.

Daily planning tools to keep on track

It’s no secret I’m really into regularly tracking my activities and progress. I find that the more I track my progress, and the closer tabs I keep on how I’m messing up (and what I can do about it), the better I function and the better I feel about myself.  You can read how I use the system at this post.

I’ve made a new version of the form I fill out each day, for others to use. You can download it here for free: Daily Planning and Results Log Book Blank (Word document format).

Log Book View

Log Book Page 1

Log Book Page 3

Log Book Page 4

This log lets you record what you have planned to do each day at a certain time, as well as what you actually did (I tend to “wander off” and not get things done, so I need to track what I actually did instead, so I can see what motivates me to take action throughout my day). It also has a few pages for “360 feedback” notes, which are all about what you did right during the day and why… as well as what you could have done better, why that was, and what you can do different next time.

It’s based in part on the Give Back materials, which include daily planners as well as head injured moment assessments. But it’s also modified based on what I’ve learned works well for me. Give Back tends to limit the number and kinds of explanations for why things turned out like they did. Their reason lists are also a bit of a jumble with not much organization. Plus, I find that having a whole big form to fill out to explain why I screwed up, causes me to spend more time thinking about stuff, than actually doing it — with me, it leads to “analysis paralysis” — but it might not be that way for everyone. Some people, I’m sure, really benefit from extended examination of their issues.

But I tend to get so busy during my days, that I just don’t have the time for extensive analysis of my head injured moments (even though I tend to have more than a few in the course of each day). I find it most effective to keep things simple and flexible, and focus on how I get through my day… and how I can do  better the next time, if I need to refine my approaches.

I’m also creating a version of this log that is book-length and spiral bound. It’s very simple and straightforward — just a bound copy of about a month’s worth of forms, to make it easier to keep organized. I’m presently creating it on Lulu.com and it will be available shortly for folks who want to buy a copy of the book that collects everything in one place.

I tend to keep all my forms clipped together in a stack, which isn’t the neatest way to do things. But that’s just me. I will probably order my own spiral bound copy, in any case, because the printing is going to be nicer than my own printer, and it won’t smear when I mark it all up with my highlighters. Also, having it all in one place — what a concept!

Just so you know, there the book-length workbook will cost money to buy. But there’s no obligation to purchase anything. Honestly, we pay enough as head injury survivors, in terms of daily difficulties. Why add to the burden? The  book-length version is just a neater and more orderly print alternative to the 4-page version (which is a free download).

For the download, you can grab the Word document and then print it out and fill it in by hand or you can put it on your computer and type in the information. Either way — whatever works best for you. I tend to handwrite all my notes, because I’m not always at a computer, and I don’t want my recovery to be dependent on technology. Plus, I like to color-code my info, so it’s easier to decipher later (that’s sometimes a challenge).

Oh, if you don’t have Microsoft Word on your computer, you can download a copy of OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org) for free — it has all the applications you find in MS Office — word, powerpoint, spreadsheet, even database. But it’s Free. As in — costs you no money at all.

Me? I’m big into free. So, if you want to use this log, and you need a word processing program that rocks, check out Open Office.

Well, must run – the day is waiting.

A good sturdy kick in the behind

Every now and then, I need a good strong boot in the butt. Not a gentle reminder, not a tender prompt, but a real impact that stings at the start, but ultimately turns out to be the lesson I needed — a lesson that I either “get” and live my life better in the aftermath… or if I don’t get it, I sink like a rock.

I have fortunately had the good sense to go back to reading the Give Back Orlando materials on Self-Therapy for Head Injury – Teaching Yourself to Prevent Head-Injured Moments. I had told my diagnostic neuropsych about the materials, and they said they thought it’s “good science” and is consistent with what both of us believe — that just because you’ve had a head injury does not mean you have to settle for a marginal life limited by your issues. There are things you can do to offset or compensate for or heal the issues you’ve got. A head injury does not have to be the end of the story.

And after I told my neuropsych about the material, it reminded me that I have not gone back to it lately, and I have not in fact read the whole way through the material. It was embarrassing to admit it, but I’m going to put that embarrassment to good use, and remedy the situation.

I have not been nearly enough focused on my recovery, of late. I have not made it a priority. And, in fact, after reading the section on priorities: CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: SETTING MY PRIORITIES in the Advanced Section, I realized that I need to do something about this. I’ve still got a long way to go to make this somewhat leaky boat of my life seaworthy again. I have made tremendous progress, over the past years — especially since my fall in 2004 — and especially in the past 6-8 months. But I still have a long way to go, to keep the screwed-up automatic responses of my “alternative” brain from messing up my life.

I have a lifetime of bad habits that came out of injuries to address. I may not fix them all, and I may never even discover them all, but by God, I’m going to at least take a shot at doing the best I can to overcome them, turn my thinking around, and live the life I know I’m meant to live.

There is a lot at stake with me. Personally and professionally. I’ve started a new job, which is a gateway to better paying work that suits me better than the production-type work I’ve done for the past 20 years. I’ve become very good at following instructions from other people, and I excel at doing what I’m told. That’s come from a lifetime of hard work and deliberate refinement. My ability to follow explicit directions has been a reliable meal-ticket. It’s bought me a house and two cars and made me far more functional that someone with my history of head injury “should” be.

But now I need to bump it up a notch and see where else my abilities can take me. I have considerable capabilities, in addition to my limitations. I have a raft of strengths that are just sitting around waiting to be used, while my relative weaknesses play havoc with my daily life. I spend so much time managing the cognitive-behavioral challenges I have, that I rarely get/take the time to focus on building my strengths.

And I have languished.  For over 40 years, I’ve settled for less than I was capable of having/doing/being, because of the corrosive effects of those invisible challenges. What a shame and a waste. I have let my talents and abilities sit on the back burner, while I’ve put out fires flashing up all around me. I have not focused fully on developing my strong suits, because the weakling aspects of my person have monopolized my attention to the point of distraction, dissipation, and inertia.

Good grief.

But I really can’t spend any more time, right now, bemoaning that. The time I spent worrying about what’s gone before, is time I don’t have to spend on thinking about what’s yet to come. And I need to think about the future. I have issues, I know that. I have had difficulties in the past. I know that, all too well.

I have spent the past year and a half examining the parts of my life that have gotten totally hosed — specifically by TBI. The whole point of doing this, is not to feel bad about it, to beat myself up, and back away from life. The point of doing this, has been to identify the things that need to be fixed, and then come up with a way of fixing them.

Or compensating for them.

Or avoiding the stuff that just can’t be fixed.

Now I have tools and support to address the issues I know I have. And that’s what I’ll do.

So, what needs fixing? This morning, I’m focused on my long-time bad habit of not following through on what I promise to do. For a lot of different reasons, I tend to commit to things, and then I don’t complete the things I say I’ll do. I get sidetracked. Distracted. Confused. And I back away from the job, going off to do something else, instead of buckling down and doing what I said I would.

It’s one thing, if I do this with myself — I’ve done it all my life, with countless personal projects planned and started and then never completed. But I’ve also done it with people beyond the confines of my head. Ever since I was a kid, failure to complete was a huge issue with me. And it’s dogged me into my adulthood.

And now that pattern needs to change.

So, I’m changing it. Deliberately. Intentionally. With real resolve and commitment.

One of the things I’ve been looking at, is why I lose the fire. Why do I start things so enthusiastically, and then lose my enthusiasm? There are a number of reasons, but the main one seems to be that in the midst of all the details, I lose sight of the Big Picture. I lose track of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I forget the whole purpose behind it. I forget the reasons I got excited to begin with. I lose track of where the details fit in terms of the overall project. And I get lost.

Then I walk away. I lose sight of my Priorities, which inform the Big Picture of my life.

From the GBO Material:

Summary: Good decisions are made in accord with your personal priorities.

The decisions you regret making are the ones that conflict with your priorities.

The head injury makes it easy to overlook them. By bringing your priority list up to date and using it actively to guide your decisions, you can take better control of your life and make sure that the decisions are guided by your needs.

The Issue: Planning depends on having a clear sense of what’s important to you. You can’t make decisions about what you are going to do, or how you are going to spend your money, or which opportunities you are going to take and which you are going to let go, unless you know what your priorities are. Knowing priorities is something an adult normally does automatically, but it doesn’t work automatically after a head injury. After a head injury, too many decisions are impulsive. They are made to pursue something that is interesting at the time, but without thinking about how the higher priorities will be impacted. For example, survivors get mad at the boss and blow him off, losing the job. Only later do they realize how important the job was to them. If they had only thought about their priorities at the time, they might still have that job.

Yes, too many of my decisions are impulsive. I don’t hold myself firmly enough to a set plan of action. I make my notes and plan my activities, but then I get pulled off in all sorts of different directions by distractions and entertaining sidelines. I start out researching something necessary, then I get intrigued by an experiment I want to try, and I get sucked into that for hours. Eventually, I resurface and realize I’m so far behind, I’ll never get the important things done that needed to be done that day.

And I get down on myself, feel bad, beat myself up, tell myself, “You did it again…” and that takes a toll on what little self-confidence I started with. Slowly but surely, one small failure after another has chipped away at my self-confidence, undermining my belief that I can get things done. Bit by bit, I’ve allowed this to erode my sense of capability… it’s a wonder I ever start anything.

But I do start. I start again. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I start again. I take another shot. I don’t give up. For whatever reason. There is still a part of me that hopes, still a part of me that’s willing to try. I’m not sure why or how, but that’s not for me to question.

The missing piece is not the starting of things. It’s the continuing. It’s the completing. Tying up loose ends is the temperamental problem-child of my productivity repertoire.

Now, I’ve started again — this time with a new job. And this time I really don’t want to make the same mistakes I’ve made in other places. This time, I need to complete. I need to continue until I complete. I need to clearly and succinctly identify what needs to be done, and I need to do it. This is not optional. This is essential. It’s not up for discussion. I absolutely positively need to make sure I follow up on what I say I’m going to do it, and come hell or high water, by God, I have to get the job done.

That means controlling my impulses. That means mastering my distractions. That means keeping the Big Picture in mind and not losing sight of my promises. That means re-prioritizing my life — clarifying my priorities, to begin with. It means reminding myself daily of what I want, what I need, and what I have to do to get where I’m going.

I am by nature a very disciplined person. I have principles, and I have good intentions, and all I really want to do with my life is help others and reduce the quotient of human suffering in the world. The problem is not with me and my character. The problem is with how my brain works, and how it works against me.

That being said, I’m putting together my toolbox for dealing with all this … complexity

Again, from GBO:

The whole process of thinking about priorities has to be different after a head injury. Before, you probably automatically threw out unrealistic goals. Now you automatically accept unrealistic goals, and you can be realistic only by carefully looking at each goal and judging whether it will work or not. For example, a patient who was highly successful in going to college, getting top grades, and planning a career, was totally unsuccessful in setting goals for romantic relationships. He wanted a really hot, young woman, while he was now middle-aged, physically disabled, and relatively poor. He had gone without a date for 12 years because the women he met who matched up with his priorities would not date him, and the ones who would date him did not match his priorities.

If your priorities are unrealistic (especially if they are based on what your old self could do), then your life will be an exercise in frustration and failure. The only way to lead a successful life is to make sure that you ask yourself to do only those things you are really capable of doing. I cannot begin to properly explain how hard this is to do. It takes even the best recovered people years to reset their priorities so that they are truly realistic. To get there, you need to think about it often, and work on it regularly. But the reward for getting your priorities straight is sweet: Your life begins to make sense again.

Even after you have adjusted your priorities, it doesn’t guarantee that you will use them. Every time you make an important decision, your priorities control your decision process only after you make yourself stop and think about them.  . . .

I need to develop realistic goals. The type of goals that take into consideration not only the abilities I have, but how much time in the day I have. I need to let go of unrealistic expectations and goals and focus on the ones that make sense for me.

That means doing things like jettisoning a lot of the little projects I have sitting around in the wings. If they don’t immediately serve my Overall Goal of paying my mortgage and all my other bills, they have to go away. If they don’t serve my Important Goal of keeping my job and doing well professionally, then they have to go away. If they just serve to distract me from my discomfort, like a recreational drug of some kind, then I have to live my life without them. I don’t drink and smoke. Why would I dissipate my energies and wear myself out on little projects that serve no purpose other than to pass the time and get my mind off my troubles?

Focus… Focus in… That’s what I’m about, now. It’s what I have to be about. I can’t afford to screw around anymore. I’ve found work I love to do, that I can excel at, and now I need to make doing it a top priority. I realize more and more, each day, that my neurology mucks up my life in countless little ways that add up to big problems. And I need to make my ongoing recovery an even bigger priority. First things first. Figure out what matters. Ditch the rest. Be honest, be brutal, be effective, and in the process get my life back to a state that actually makes sense to me.

Onward.

Yesterday was a wash

… Just about.

I had carefully made up a list of all the things I needed to get done — I’m on deadline at work, and it’s vital that I get the things done that I started, and that I do them on time. But I never checked my list until about 3:30 p.m., and then it was too late to do a lot of it.

I was just exhausted from the weekend — lots of activity and staying out too late. It was fun at the time, but it took its toll. And the people I’m working with are not pleased.

I’ve just got to let it go. I can’t start out today feeling bad about yesterday. It’s a new day. And I also have to remember that I’m not the only one in my group who’s struggling with work, right now. We all are, pretty much. We’re a challenged bunch of people with divided attention, conflicting interests, and way too much going on in our lives, overall. We’re also getting used to working together in new ways. There’s old bad blood that keeps people stuck, and there’s new opportunity to move forward. Main thing is, keep moving forward. But yesterday that didn’t happen nearly as much or as well as it should have.

I have to do something about this. I have to get out in front of my tasks. I know better than to do this. But the part of me that was playing all weekend wanted to keep playing, so I ended up messing up some stuff — and feeling badly about it.

More than anything, what takes the biggest toll is the emotional stuff. Feeling badly about myself. Feeling badly about how I’m doing. Feeling incapable and incompetent. And then, even if I’m doing okay by most people’s standards, my performance is thrown off even more. Because I’m feeling badly about myself and my abilities.

But it’s a waste of time to feel badly. My brain is just different now, than it was before my fall in 2004. It just has different needs and inclinations, which I have to factor in and accommodate/adjust to, if I’m going to have the level of ability that I desire. If I’m going to accomplish what I set out to, I need to use my tools — my planner, my notebook, my to-do list.

And I need to have just enough things on my list to keep me moving, without overwhelming me.

The thing about lists, though, is that I have to keep all the items I have on my plate (short- and long-term) in front of me in some way. I have to keep all my priority items in plain view, or I just forget about them. Other people look at my list, and they get all freaked out.  They tell me “It’s too much!” But for me, it works. I don’t mind all that stuff in front of me. I’d rather have it there, than forget about it — which is what I’ve done in the past … only to remember that I’d forgotten things I seriously needed to remember.

Until I find a way to remember everything — or hire a secretary/executive assistant to do the remembering for me — the stuff I need to do eventually is going to stay on the list.

But back to yesterday. What did I do which didn’t work, that I can do differently today?

  1. I didn’t check my list, first thing in the a.m. — I’ve checked my list for today already, so I’m good with that.
  2. I got down on myself for falling behind — I’m not going to do that today… get down on myself. I’m going to try the best I can, and leave the rest to fate.
  3. I thought the whole problem was me — I know I’m not the only one having issues. It’s just that the other folks I work with are really good at covering up their shortcomings and problems, and so of course (since I’m very open about the areas where I am lagging), I end up looking like the one who’s bringing everyone down. Matter of fact, I’m not — in fact, one of the reasons I’m behind on my tasks is that the folks I’m working with made a total friggin’ mess of it before, and nobody bothered to sort it out, till I came along and said, “This will never do!”
  4. I didn’t take time to plan my day and catch myself up — Today I am taking the train to work, so I can read and prepare.
  5. I let myself lollygag around in the afternoon, when I was tired –– Today, I need to pace myself and do at least something in the p.m, when I hit my low point (as I always do). If I plan for my lull, and I do something like walk around the office or take a break away from my desk when I’m tapering off, I may have better luck. There is a common work area I can go to that’s far away from my desk — I’ll try going there today and see if the change of scenery helps.

These are just a few of the things I can do differently today. I already feel better.