Mandy Hanson’s approach to productivity offers ideas even for those of us who don’t live with chronic pain like she does.
Staying productive even with chronic pain
Amanda (Mandy) Hanson spent 10 years as a journeyman electrician working in the Alaska oil fields, working long hours 6-7 days a week. When she sought help for the pain that had started to interfere with her work and impair her quality of life, she learned that she had a crushed vertebra and bilateral hip dysplasia. Her life changed drastically as a result. She left that lucrative career and went about learning to make the most of a life that includes chronic pain. Mandy is a wife, a mother of a seven-year-old daughter, and is building her own small business that was born out of her own experience with chronic pain.
A typical day
Mandy says she is a creature of habit and loves routine. She’s a morning person who likes to start her day in silence with prayer before sneaking downstairs before her husband and daughter wake up. There she’ll drink some apple cider or lemon water while reflecting on a daily meditation or affirmation type of book. She then does some deep breathing. This morning routine helps her get herself grounded for the day. She then does a brain dump, writing down everything that’s on her mind. From that list she pulls the important tasks to create her to-do list for the day. Once she has that ready, she wakes her daughter and spends time on their morning routine together, getting her daughter ready for school.
Once her daughter is off to school, Mandy turns her focus to her business and home tasks. Some days she goes to her office to work one-on-one with her clients. Other days she stays home and works on creating content for her vlog. In between work projects she does home tasks such as cleaning, chores, and errands.
After mid-day, she picks up her daughter from school. Afternoons and evenings are family time. They enjoy getting outside when the Alaska weather permits, perhaps riding bikes together. Late evening they spend time on their bedtime routine, setting themselves up for a good night’s rest.
As part of the management of her chronic pain, Mandy is diligent about incorporating self-care into her daily routine. That includes lying down for 30-45 minutes around lunchtime and again after dinner. This is necessary to allow her body regenerate, as she doesn’t feel pain when she is lying down. She’s learned that this time makes all the difference in her ability to be productive each day; skipping the self-care and pushing too hard ultimately results in a crash that costs her time and productivity.
An identity crisis, and valuable lessons learned
When Mandy underwent her first surgery a few years ago, she went from a life of long, busy, active days to a year during which she could only be vertical for four hours each day. It was a huge adjustment on many fronts, and she had to learn to let go of her belief that part of her value was in all the things she could do. It called for a lot of soul-searching. Since she could no longer be a high-earning, super-strong oil field electrician, then who was she? One of the things she learned from her year on the sidelines is “that life is going to go on without me. All of these things I had to do — they weren’t have-tos, they were choices.”
It was a pivotal moment. Mandy realized she had to make some choices about how to live her life with this new reality of chronic pain. Rather than trying to push through, she chose to stop everything and take some time to learn how to take care of herself. She decided to live with less and bring more quality into her life. She decided to use this as an opportunity to build a career as a wellness coach and work one-on-one with people who deal with chronic pain.
Mandy is surprisingly grateful for the experience because of how she grew through it. “I learned to build a beautiful life around my circumstances.” She has a lot of joy in her life now that her career plays to her natural abilities and gifts, and it has the added bonus of allowing her to be more present and available for her husband and daughter than she could be when she was working long hours in the oil fields.
One of Mandy’s biggest productivity challenges is still wanting to do a hundred things in a time slot that allows for ten. She’s learning how to “pump the brakes” — to slow down and focus on what’s really important — and she’s learning how to streamline and just do a few things well instead of doing a hundred things in a mediocre way.
Her health presents another challenge for Mandy in staying productive. When she has a flare-up of pain it can cause a brain fog for her, which makes it hard to do the things she needs and wants to do. She’s learned that she has to focus on eating right, exercising, staying positive, and saying no to other people. This was hard for her the first few years because she wasn’t used to having unpredictable flare-ups, and she felt bad disappointing others when she couldn’t make it to events. The chronic pain affects her mind, body, and spirit, and learning how to overcome each one of those, and to stay productive, and still be present is a big challenge for Amanda.
When asked about how she stays productive while living with chronic pain, Mandy says, “Taking care of my health comes first. Creating harmony and balance with my schedule is essential, so I can be well enough to participate in my life. I used to put my self-care last. That just is not an option with chronic pain. If I want to be a great wife, mother, friend and coach I have to take care of myself.”
She’s also adamant, though, about not letting her pain define who she is. “It is a part of my story, but I am so many other things. I have to put my focus on what brings me joy, look for the times when I don’t hurt, be willing to try alternative options when it comes to pain because I do not take pain medication. That is a personal decision and not one I put on my clients. I am dedicated to living a beautiful, productive, meaningful life, where I can be present and work with others (that includes my family), and mind-altering chemicals block me from doing that. I have no desire to live 4-hour increments, and that’s what medication requires me to do.”
Mandy likes to keep things simple. She has a command center in her home with a whiteboard, corkboard, and a calendar, which allows everyone in her family to write down their events, add to the grocery list, etc. This center allows her to keep everyone’s lives connected, but everyone has some personal responsibility.
Mandy uses her iPhone for her business and calendars. She uses the default iPhone calendar.Using pen and paper to make a portable to-do list is helpful for Mandy, but she has also experimented with OmniFocus to help her with larger projects.
One of the tricks she uses with her calendar is to color coordinate her top two or three priorities in life. Every appointment goes on one of those categories, and it helps her be aware of it visually, so she can know where she is putting in too much time or perhaps not enough time. It keeps her very balanced in the things that matter most to her.
She also loves audiobooks and podcasts for their efficiency, because they give her something she can do while she is taking care of mundane tasks around the home. She listens to a mix of fiction and nonfiction.
One book Mandy recently read is called The Body Keeps the Score, about how trauma and PTSD are trapped in a body.
What happens on a day you feel gets away from you?
Mandy has learned to embrace those days, reassure herself it will pass, and then try to clear her calendar and get out and serve someone else. She is naturally a “get out and get stuff done kind of gal,” and it is easy for her to put her life in fast forward, but she has realized that when she hits a dead end, then it’s time for her to do a selfless service. Just showing up and helping someone else get stuff done is a great reset button for her.
What’s on the horizon for Mandy?
Mandy is excited about continuing to work one-on-one with people who are ready to change their lives. In August, she will start an online course about wellness for a mastermind group. She wants to offer a support system to people dealing with chronic pain so they don’t have to feel isolated and can change their health from home.
Mandy also has a goal to raise a beautiful daughter, and that’s where much of her focus is right now.
Last words on making a life that matters
Mandy urges us to think positively about who we are and what we’ve experienced in life. She says, “You are not broken, but beautifully mended together.” There are tools and ways to adapt and build something beautiful no matter what you are up against.
Connect with Mandy:
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