A woman looking around at her thoughts confused and disorganized

Scatter Brains and Organizational Disarray

Last updated: December 2020

Not long ago, Rob and I were sitting on our front porch listening to the birds sing and watching squirrels scurry around the yard. It was restful and we were having a nice conversation while drinking our coffee.

One particular squirrel was funny to watch. It seemed like he just couldn’t decide which spot would be the best spot for that nut he was carrying in his mouth. He really was going in circles. “Just pick a spot. It’ll be fine,” I wanted to say.

Back and forth between tasks

Unfortunately, I began to see myself in that squirrel. Sometimes I find myself flitting back and forth between tasks and getting distracted way too many times to count. “Wait, what was I doing?” I ask.

This morning I began with checking emails, trying to find the ‘important’ emails that need action. But it’s often easier to get rid of the junk emails first so that I can better see the good ones.

So much junk email. It looks like I need to go through the junk and begin another massive ‘unsubscribe’ purge. If I haven’t opened the last 4 or 5 emails from an organization or vendor during recent weeks or months, I probably don’t need to be receiving those emails. But it’s so hard to purge! What if there is something I want or need later? Electronic purging is almost as difficult as physical purging and downsizing in the house.

Distractions - even helpful ones - can be disruptive

Rob stops by the living room. “Would you like some coffee?” he asks. Yes, please. A few minutes later. “Coffee’s ready for you in the kitchen.”

Rob continues, “What time do you want to schedule that meeting with John?”

At this point, my laptop that houses my calendar is closed and leaning up against the side of the couch. I’m now busy going through a big pile of older mail looking for unpaid bills. I know there is at least one in the bunch that I remember as I was going through my email. Strewn across the floor are the paper recycling discards of empty envelopes and junk mail.

“Please give me a few minutes to finish this or I might miss something,” I say. “Here’s some recycling you can take away if you’d like.” Rob hates clutter and is the one who swoops up the recycling to place in the outside bin on a regular basis.

A change in memory with chronic illness

Before chronic illness, I used to be able to keep everything straight in my head. I hardly needed an actual calendar. I could remember everything that was going on now and coming up in the future. My calendar was kept just as confirmation of what I already knew to be on my schedule.

Keeping a calendar is imperative

Now I live a life of — if it’s not on the calendar, I don’t know about it. New doctor appointment? Wait a moment while I type it into my phone app while standing at the receptionist’s desk at the doctor’s office. Repairman coming to the house? Let me put it on the calendar on my computer.

When Rob asked about scheduling the appointment, I really needed to look at my calendar first although we were just talking about next week. Not far into the future, but far enough that I didn’t want to tell him the wrong thing before he emailed a response to John.

Self-management trip-ups

One thing that I try to do regarding bills is to arrange automatic withdrawals from the bank account. But there are a few accounts where that isn’t possible and/or the bills only come once a year. To counter the lack of automation, I will frequently set aside the important bills in a most important place.

You know what is said about ‘important places’ don’t you? They are the black holes of households. At least that’s true for mine.

So instead, I try to act upon things immediately. But like the email inbox, it becomes easier to pass by the important stuff and handle all the junk first. Then another distraction comes up and the important pile gets set aside for a time when distractions will be minimal.

Circling back around to a task

“The coffee is still ready for you in the kitchen,” Rob reminds me.

At least another 30 minutes have passed, I’m still buried in paper, and Rob wants to just pick a time for John’s meeting. “Wait, I’m almost done here,” I plead.

Instead, I straighten up the pile of papers in my lap and set it all aside to pick up my computer, open the calendar app, and begin to compare John’s suggested openings for a meeting with my available time next week.

Wait, let me pull up weather information for next week. Maybe there will be better days than others to work in a bike ride on the days that my calendar isn’t booked. I want to avoid scheduling a conference call on one of those days just in case my body feels good and I want to go out. I finally narrow down the choices and suggest a day/time.

Now, I’ll go get that cold coffee. Rob emails John. Oops, the time is already taken by another client. Would 4 pm that same day work? Yes! Take it.

Taking care of myself first

So now, I have a mug of coffee, a pile of paper some of which is ready to be filed and some that just needs to be dealt with, and an email inbox that has grown by another 20+ messages.

When I take a peek, one of those messages is basically an "I called yesterday and left you a message and am just checking today to ask you about..." type message. I’m tempted to stop what I’m doing to answer that email, but I know that it’s not the most pressing matter I have on my plate at the moment. Turns out that the most pressing matter I have is taking a moment to close the computer, drink my coffee, and have a conversation with my husband that has nothing to do with all the things I need to get done.

There are still things that I need to do

I still have 1300+ unopened emails in my inbox that date back to I don’t know when. I still have different piles of paper spread around the living room that need to be dealt with. And I still need to go take the shower I skipped before I began my day with emails this morning several hours ago.

Part of this disarray could be blamed on disorganization. Part might be blamed on anxiety. Part might even be blamed on typical cog fog. No matter the cause, nothing is going to get completed unless I step away and take care of myself first.

What do you find it hard to keep up with on a daily basis? Please share your stories in the comments. It’s wonderful to know we aren’t alone in this.

Be well,

Read my other articles on RheumatoidArthritis.net.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.


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

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?