I'm not quite sure what has come over me, but today I finally gathered myself to find direction after a very long time of feeling like I was spiraling into the abyss without a plan. After more than a year of floundering through numerous crises, both real and existential, I found myself staring at a journal page I had meticulously designed, only to have all 12 big "Future" month boxes blankly staring back at me, screaming, "What am I going to do with myself for a whole year?!"
On Survival and Grief
Living in survival mode for as long as I did after losing my apartment in 2022, I lost track of what it felt like to be able to dream or have actual goals. My sole objective for about a year was simple: don't die. So when my brother, and then my cat, both passed away amidst all of this, I collapsed.
It has now been almost six whole months since I lost my brother, and I finally had a moment to sit back and realize I was completely depleted, just spinning my wheels, trying to find meaning in life again. I have also recently discovered that I am on the Autism spectrum, along with my recent diagnosis of ADHD at the age of 35. All of this has led to the most overwhelming moment I've ever experienced.
Over the past year, I have had a few ideas about what I wanted to accomplish in my life and hopefully get back to thriving, rather than just worrying about my basic needs. However, every time I would write down my list of ideas, dreams, or passion projects, that was exactly when I would get stuck. Boom. End of the page. So I started to stress more and more about time passing, my bank account slowly emptying again for the month, and still having no idea about the meaning of any career or life path anymore.
And then, a memory struck me from a time when I really felt like I had my act together. Back in 2016, when my business was growing faster than I could handle, I discovered The Best Self Journal. Suddenly, I remembered that this was probably one of the only planners throughout my entire career that truly helped my brain break everything down into bite-sized pieces so I could actually accomplish more!
Managing the ADHD Brain
I have the classic ADHD issue where, instead of writing down small steps—which, of course, seems impossible and overwhelming to do—I end up putting something vague on my to-do list, like "oracle deck," which means working on that specific project. Okay, great. Um... how long am I going to work on it today? At what time? Which part of the project? And then the dreaded thoughts start to creep in: "How long will this whole project take, anyway?" and ultimately, "Oh my god, am I going to see the exact same phrase on my to-do list every single day for months?" Hello, boredom, my old friend! And if ADHDers have a nemesis, boredom is definitely enemy number one! So, inevitably, the task quietly gets moved over to tomorrow's list... forever...
You see, the problem with a vague and broad item on a list like this is that it's too big. I've always heard the term S.M.A.R.T. goals—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound—but even this is a bit too broad of a concept to wrap my brain around. ADHD brains need these tiny tasks spelled out, or else the whole thing seems too overwhelming, and we end up abandoning it altogether.
(And this is why when people ask me how on earth I had the patience to paint this—)
….I can respond that I broke this down into so many teeny-tiny little sections that my brain was getting a dopamine hit with every single leaf! My brain was in heaven! (Anyway...)
The Tool That Helped the Most
This is where The Best Self Journal comes to the rescue! 🎉 There are several aspects to this amazing journal/planner that effectively address and fix this annoying habit of avoiding a lot about life with this type of brain.
It isn't a yearly planner—it only has 13 weeks at a time. Their whole theory is that if you break down your time into more manageable chunks, you'll probably get more done over time, and you'll experience way less decision fatigue now that you only have about three months to accomplish whatever goals you're working towards.
Limited space to plan/dream—The other great part about this system is that you're only allowed a certain amount of space for essentially ONE main goal for those three months. Yes, we all want to do more than one thing every quarter, but hear me out on how they break this down.
Break it down—That one main overarching goal is then broken down into three tangible goals that would lead you to that desired result. So, for me right now, for instance, my main goal was essentially to have more confidence and stability. Okay... now, how do I break that into three main parts to achieve that result?
I ended up narrowing it down to: improving finances, losing some weight and getting in shape, and working on my favorite idea I've had for months (and my oracle deck won that spot).
Final steps laid out as a plan—Now, here's where the magic happens—and this is typically where a major mental block would halt me in my tracks. You then break down each of those three goals into three actions for each sub-goal.
I won't go into the whole thing here, or what else it offers in terms of pep talks, motivational habits, and even further ways to break down your milestones, tasks, and goals, but you get the point. Big, seemingly unattainable goals become more manageable by reducing them down to your day-to-day habits.
Big Picture Thinking vs. Details
Another great aspect I love about this planner is the fact that it forces you to limit your vision temporarily. I recently read that an existential crisis is technically caused by zooming way too far out when looking at life. Grief can do this to a person. I, for one, suddenly looked at the bigger picture, realizing I am just an insignificant speck on a floating rock. Not the best thought to constantly swirl around in your head for half a year! It has been nearly impossible for me to find meaning in the day-to-day details and focus on what actually matters amidst all there is to think about in the universe. Thankfully, this planner zooms you back in. It shouts in your face: just look at what's directly in front of you and GO! Stop overthinking so much!
Step by Step
This blog post wouldn't even have happened tonight if I hadn't finally sat down to start figuring out how to break down what it is I want to accomplish. And little by little, one step at a time, I now see that I might actually be able to grow the things I want in this world by focusing on each teeny-tiny action. The sum of the parts will eventually equal the whole. I'm extremely hopeful after this exercise, and if you're feeling directionless or stuck in analysis paralysis, I highly suggest checking out this planner! You can get one here: BestSelf Co. Self Journal.
(Throughout this article, you may come across certain links that lead to external websites. Some of these links are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and make a purchase or take any other specified action, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can read more about this here.)