Organizing with Brain Injury

I used to be that student who started an assignment at 12AM the night before it was due, finished it at some wee hour of dawn, and submitted it to more or less make an A. Once my brain was snipped at and poked around a bit, that part of me was no more.

I think many Brain Injury Survivors can agree that organization and memory issues are very large roadblocks to leading a coherent life after brain injury. I have decided to share some of my favorite organization strategies and tools that I have chosen and kept using for the past two years as I learned to accommodate my short term memory issues and organization crises caused by Executive Function Disorder. Being disorganized spikes my Anxiety Disorder and puts me in a mental panic, so I have to make sure that I always know what I am doing, and when. It has also helped to restore order as I embarked in my first attempt to live completely away from my home and parents, 4 states away.

Given that I am no longer a student, and have different needs than ones I had last year, I have created a list of strategies and tools that have helped me become a more productive employee, and to keep myself organized (thus keep my anxiety down and mentality productive).

High Tech Accommodations (For Work)

  • Google Calendar: Fairly popular web client all around; a calendar that syncs to your Gmail account, allowing you to take it wherever you go. I need my most up-to-date calendar where ever I go, because I cannot trust myself to remember all of the events happening this week in order to schedule in another one. Having it on my phone and computer allows me to edit my calendar even at work, and know exactly what I need to be doing right after work on Thursday, even if I scheduled it 5 weeks ago (which I will naturally not remember).
  • Business Calendar (Pro): Android application which Syncs with Google Calendar. I took quite a long time to test out many different calendar applications for Android, finally ending up with BC. It has different visual options for visualizing your month/week/days (boxes or event names), which matched my visualization needs, and simple enough with no unnecessary frills, which suites my aesthetic needs. I use BC synced up to my Google Calendar to have all of my events and appointments in one place, as well as my Significant Other’s calendars so that I know which days he is busy, and where he might be after I get off work.
  • Evernote: You can hand write notes on your phone/tablet, set reminders, scrap book photos, and write notes to upload even when offline using the cellphone application. On the computer, there are even more variety of things you can do with it, like snip and save websites to read later, and make more design changes. I use this when I need to be able to access something I wrote on multiple platforms, or when I need a clean, distraction free writing space (distraction is a big issue, which WordPress is even providing accommodations for these days). Best part is that I can write even without internet/wifi, which means I can write on the subway or in a random building.
  • WorkFlowy: Bullet-Making web-application, which allows you to make lists and nestled lists, and hidden lists, and expanded/contracted lists… Just… Lists! Great for brain storming ideas and nailing out sections of projects/papers. I have used this for presentation brain storming, outlining research papers and term projects, and to collect sources and quotations to use in papers.

Low Tech Accommodations

  • Passion Planner: They have the physical planners for sale (which I also have), but I personally love the PDF versions of the planner they provide for FREE. It allows me to organize my workday in half hour slots, and given my tendency to become overwhelmed when there are too many “tasks” jumbled around, it gives me the ability to prioritize and list out everything that needs to be done, and help to untangle the anxiety by knowing exactly when something is due or a meeting will be held during the day. The print outs make it easy to just have that week’s worth out at a time, and file away the past and future weekly calendars. (I initially used the print outs, and then switched to the version they sell.)
  • Bullet Journal: I use a normal journal as a variation of the “Bullet Journal,” and keep a running record of “to-do” lists and events, for the Month, Week, and Day. I also paste in relevant pieces of paper to keep for memory’s sake, such as ticket stubs, receipts, and Goal Webs. The actual “Bullet Journal” website has become a lot more complicated than it used to be a year or so ago when I first discovered it. To be honest, I don’t do most of the things it recommends; I use it as a template, because overwhelming myself with so many different symbols and keys is not going to help me become more organized (too many things to remember is the reason I’m using so many notebooks to plan out in the first place!)
  • Daily/Weekly/Monthly Recurring Task Lists/Charts: I create my own task charts, lists, and tables, knowing full well my ability to completely forget something very important at the most inconvenient of times. By having my recurring tasks printed out and accessible means that I have a visual reminder of everything I need to do, and if necessary, to check off every time I complete something (I do so love checking tasks off…). I make one for everything, ranging from large-scale or long-term projects to simple daily to-do lists. I keep track of rental tech devices at work, so for that, I have created rental charts with sticky notes so that everyone, not only I, will know exactly who has what rented out for how long at a glance.

Other Useful Tools

  • Mint: I recommend this application to anyone who has even the slightest issue with money management or keeping up with all of the bank/credit card/debit card/debt accounts. It is completely free, with both mobile and web app, and allows you to not only keep track of your incomes and expenses, but also to create goals and budgets that you can follow visually, any time you want. I have a monthly budget for every aspect of my life, which shows up on the application, color coordinated to show me exactly how close I am to spending too much for that month. I can also make savings goals, which gets updated with every deposit, telling me whether I’m behind by a week, on schedule, or ahead by a month. Money management is often a very difficult task for us, so this allows me to make sure I am always on track with my spending, and that I am not being reckless with my income.
  • Remember the Milk: Grocery shopping… Another one of my vices! When I go grocery shopping without a concrete list and purpose, I end up buying $70 worth of things I didn’t need (or I already had…five boxes of!), but nothing of what I needed AND overspend. This allows me to create separate lists for every aspect (apartment furnishings, grocery shopping, etc.), and if necessary, send the list to someone via text or e-mail to do the shopping for me. Grocery stores are disorienting as it is. I really need a concrete list that I can update on a whim (add/delete stuff very easy, as well as “check” the items off as I find them) and use.
  • Lunch for Work: I try to cook a big batch of something over the weekend so that I can take small portions of it to lunch every day. This saves money and time, as I do not have to go out to buy lunch, and I can also just take a portion and pack it into a lunchbox the night before. Packing lunch the night before saves my precious disoriented 10-minutes-before-I-need-to-run-out-the-door-but-I-just-got-out-of-bed time. Many people do it for money saving methods, but I do it more for the fact that I do not have to worry about what I am eating for lunch at night, when I am already exhausted after work. Sometimes, I even have things I can eat for dinner so that I don’t even have to cook that… But guilty admission: I turn to noodles way more often than I should.

That was my list of tools to help me function on a day to day basis, as I maneuver this city both as a first-time fulltime worker and a first-time-out-of-the-nest young adult after brain injury.

Do you have any tools or strategies you swear by? I’d love to know! Leave me a comment and let us all know!

Hiroko Nishimura
AWS Community Hero. Special Education teacher turned IT Engineer turned Technical Writer. Author "AWS for Non-Engineers" (Manning Publications). Technical Instructor "Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers" (LinkedIn Learning).

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