Book Review: Get It Done When You’re Depressed

September 5, 2009 at 5:47 am | Posted in Book Reviews, Dealing with Depression | Leave a comment

There are a lot of books floating around out there about procrastination, productivity, and time management. In fact, there are whole cults devoted to particular systems, such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done (or GTD to his many devotees). With the exception of David Burns’ work, which I reviewed here, I haven’t found any that address a major reason for poor productivity and putting things off: depression. Julie Fast and John D Preston’s Get It Done When You’re Depressed attacks this problem head-on, and offers some great strategies for, yes, remaining productive when you’re having a hard time brushing your teeth.

I’ll address the the many positives first. There are 50 strategies here, and while a few are repetitive, Fast has come up with an impressive variety of ideas for getting yourself moving. Some of them are basic time management — knowing that work fuels enthusiasm rather than vice versa and blocking out distractions, for example — but many are depression-specific. She addresses such problems as the itchy restlessness that can come over you, making it difficult to sit still (“Expect to Be Physically Uncomfortable”), and cleverly suggests writing yourself a letter when you’re feeling well enumerating the reasons to work when you’re down. She also deals with more general positive life changes like sleep hygiene and exercise. I had read some of these ideas before, but she applies them specifically to depression, which helps them to seem more relevant and doable.

She’s also refreshingly realistic about how difficult it is to work when you’re depressed. Fast is bipolar, and she understands the grief that bipolar people feel over wasted time and squandered potential. She acknowledges how difficult it is to create during extreme depression, but never fails to emphasize that action is a powerful form of therapy, and that concrete accomplishments can give sufferers a true mood boost. I’ve read many, many books about procrastination and productivity, and I can’t think of one that acknowledges that depression contributes to many people’s inability to get things done. It’s a real relief to read a book that addresses depressive procrastination head-on.

Moving to the negatives, or in this case, a neutral: the book is a bit repetitive in that one of her main devices is positive self-talk, and she gives many, many examples. This may not be such a bad idea, since she looks at speaking to oneself in different tones and in different situations. There’s a section on “Talk[ing] Back to Depression,” one on “Be[ing] Your Own Drill Sergeant,” and numerous other examples of positive self-talk throughout. I find prayer more helpful, but I can see how for some people self-encouragement might be a excellent way of increasing productivity.

Less compelling is the rigid format in which she presents her ideas. Each of the 50 sections consists of an explanation of a strategy, two real-life examples (one from Fast herself and another collected by the authors), a brief question and answer with Dr. Preston, and a summary. A more flexible structure that omitted some of these occasionally might make more sense. For instance, the exercises are not uniformly helpful; at times it seemed like she simply felt obliged to include one. Least interesting are the “Ask Dr. Preston” bits. Many of his remarks are obvious, and few contribute any practical wisdom. Since this is the second time I read the book, I began skipping his sections about halfway through, and I don’t think I missed much.

Overall, though, I’d definitely recommend investing in a copy. It’s a relatively quick read, and if it works for you, you will turn to it again and again. Perhaps the best recommendation is this: During the week or so when I was dipping into it, my productivity at work and at home increased measurably.

Fast does keep a blog, Bipolar Happens, and an official website. The blog is wide-ranging — she recently has covered everything from mania and spirituality to the antics of Big Pharma. John D. Preston has written several other books which look potentially valuable. (Though I do hate books called “The Complete Idiot’s Guide” to anything at all.) I couldn’t find a blog for him — if anyone out there knows of one, please post it to the comments.

It’s been awhile since I’ve said it: Love to all, as always

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