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Basic Occupational Therapy: Smaller Tasks

Basic Occupational Therapy: Smaller Tasks

With time your multiple sclerosis (MS) may start to cause tasks that were once done with ease to become quite difficult. MS may also affect just how much you can handle doing before burning out. Both these factors tend to determine your level of productivity so MS commonly causes people to feel like they just can’t get anything done! But you have to right? Other people with MS get stuff done right? But how? How do people with a chronic disease like MS maintain their lives when they sometimes may feel like the idea of simply getting out of bed seems like too huge an endeavor? When I realized that I was asking myself this on a daily basis I thought back to all the work I have done in occupational therapy and the number one rule my occupational therapist (OT) talked about; energy conservation. Finding ways to make tasks easier so they don’t cause so much fatigue that you can not complete them.

Energy conservation

This involves finding an easier way to complete a task so that it does not overwhelm you with fatigue. A lot of the time this will involve how you physically do something. Maybe you find it difficult or impossible to stand long enough to do the dishes or prepare a meal? The task of operating in the kitchen can be made easier by using a chair/stool to allow you to sit rather than stand. They sell adjustable stools with back support and arm rests specifically for this purpose and they cost just a little more than a shower chair! An OT can help you find many similar solutions to many different tasks but what I find especially helpful is the concept of taking a large (or sometimes even small) task and breaking it down into several smaller tasks. I often find myself avoiding doing something that really needs to get done because just the idea of it overwhelms me so I will end up just avoiding it all together.

Tackling smaller tasks and resting in between

I’ll use the cleaning of my desk area as an example; after a while I will be sitting at my desk and realize that there is just a lot of clutter, a fine layer of dust has settled over everything, my stack of unopened mail is spilling onto the floor, the trash needs to be emptied. As a whole it just looks like too huge of a mess to try to tackle right now so “maybe I will get it done tomorrow because maybe tomorrow I will be feeling better?” But surprise! Those MS symptoms that were bugging me are still there! Once I remember that this is typically just how I feel most the time and that if I put off getting something done until I feel perfect I will never get it done, I try to look at the task the way I learned to look at it in occupational therapy; as several smaller tasks. This helps me feel less overwhelmed because instead of seeing this as a huge disaster in need of a professional cleanup crew I can now see it as multiple smaller “projects” that I can complete at my own pace with rest breaks in between. Even if I don’t get them all done in one day I can still cross them off the list which means I am that much closer to a clean work environment than I was yesterday. Now I no longer feel overwhelmed because I am just thinking about one task at a time; take out the trash; dust; open all the mail; throw the envelopes away; shred what is trash; file what I need to keep. It’s a lot easier to tackle a task like this when you don’t look at the mess as a whole but instead focus on “open each envelope” and nothing else.

Divide and conquer.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • chalknpens
    2 years ago

    I have never been good at housekeeping. I was the third of six daughters (with three brothers) and we all had chores while growing up. The reward for doing something well and quickly was being given another chore to do, so clearly the motivation was not there for me. I preferred to tag along after my dad in the cellar, ‘puttering’ while we stayed out of the housecleaning blizzard upstairs. So now, in my late sixties, with MS, my dining room table looks like the description of your desk, Matt. It is overwhelmingly hopeless. I wish I could have a house elf, but when my friends offer to come in and help, that, too, is overwhelming, as I would have to tell them where to put things, and frankly, the cognitive impairment side of MS limits my ability to make decisions and organize things. Embarrassing, frustrating, humbling, and depressing. I have a friend who comes in every other week for two hours to wash the kitchen and bathroom floors. That’s all I can afford, financially. What do others do? I don’t qualify for any financial aid, as I worked as a teacher for thirty years until I couldn’t organize and remember anymore, so there is my pension which pays the bills but has little left over for luxuries like a home health aide.

  • Matt Allen G author
    2 years ago

    When you break a task down don’t make that new task a HUGE task by looking at even more detail. They should be smaller and easier tasks so it feels like you are crossing them off the list quickly.

  • Matt Allen G author
    2 years ago

    That DOES sound overwhelming… The only advice I could offer would be to try to break those tasks into smaller and smaller tasks that collectively equal the overall task you are trying to accomplish. You are already getting SOME help which is more than I am doing myself but even still, I understand how difficult it still can be.

  • chalknpens
    2 years ago

    Oh, and truth be told, breaking such a task as clearing my dining room table by breaking it down into smaller sections just sounds more defeating … stretching what ought to be a simple task into things that could take days and never be completed … futility.I really need help, but don’t know how to ask for it.

  • AJoy
    3 years ago

    Here in NH, my OT was only someone I saw when my carpal tunnel syndrome was bad. They do not do all those things that I had always associated with OT. I do, however, get to see my PT regularly, thanks to expanded Medicaid. Breaking house cleaning, like sweeping, is the only way it ever gets done. Unfortunately, my mind wasn’t trained that way initially, and even though I have been disabled for about 5 years, I still haven’t retrained myself to do it this way. Lol.

  • Matt Allen G author
    3 years ago

    Not only have I seen many different OTs but my mother is an OT and what I have learned is they are like any other medical professional; some are great and some suck. I learned a lot from some OTs where I learned NOTHING from others and my mother always talks about how some of the OTs she has worked with just don’t really want to work. So it might just be a matter of trying new ones until you find someone you like; just like a neurologist!

  • Mariella
    3 years ago

    Thank you Matt!!! Awesomely explained! Just the way it is. Thank you with the “Divide and Conquer” words. Without knowing it that’s the way my life moves, with daily agenda. If I heard my husband asking me for something not planned, sorry but I can’t I tell him yes. It’d have to be for another day I can schedule. 🙂

  • Matt Allen G author
    3 years ago

    A lot of the time I LITERALLY have to plan my day one step at a time on paper; wake up, brush teeth, open all the windows, make breakfast, have coffee and watch the news, etc, etc

  • Mariella
    3 years ago

    I can’t tell him yes, I meant.

  • Monk
    3 years ago

    Thanks for this reminder to break things down into smaller tasks. I remember watching this documentary about a woman mountain climber who climbed in the Himalayas. She said if she thought about how to climb the whole mountain at once she would think she just couldn’t do it. But if she broke it down and thought about how to get to the next camp for the night than it seemed manageable. Even the super strong have to break the tasks down into smaller bits!

  • Matt Allen G author
    2 years ago

    That is a good way to look at it, whether you are climbing a mountain or climbing the stairs the strategy works the same!

  • cw
    3 years ago

    Understand the concept but a lot of us don’t have access or resources to see Occupational Therapists. So we rely on articles like these.But some of us still don’t have access to home computers. I personally struggle to keep my internet on (financially). I go without a lot of things – no cable tv, no smart phone, no netflix or any other modern convenience, no going out to dinner, not much of anything. Even buying an adjustable chair is way out of my realm. It’s a reality for a lot of us on a fixed income.
    Thanks for providing a lot of good little tips but for some its not reality.

  • Matt Allen G author
    2 years ago

    This is why it is important that those of us who CAN get online and read about this stuff? SHARE that info with those who can’t!

  • Applehead
    2 years ago

    CW Sorry to hear about your financial restrictions. I have been on LTD for 22 years which has not been indexed to cost of living with my nurses union. This impacts my retirement next year. I have PPMS. It sucks. I am poor.

  • Erin Rush moderator
    3 years ago

    Thank you for sharing, cw. I know many in our community live on a fixed income and aren’t always able to implement the suggestions and tips offered. I am sorry that this is the reality for you and others here. We appreciate the feedback and please, know you are not alone! Many internet providers do offer reduced rate internet for low income households. It’s something you may want to look into, if you haven’t already. While I generally don’t provide random links, I thought you might find this one from the Huffington Post on low cost interent helpful — http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-t-miller/how-to-get-cheap-or-free-_b_4368774.html. Thank you again for sharing and for being a part of the MultipleSclerosis.net community! Best, Erin, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member.

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