Getting Organized After Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog

The Challenge of Getting Organized After Brain Injury

by Janelle Breese Biagioni

Getting organized and being able to complete multiple tasks is often a real challenge for a person who has sustained a brain injury. It is extremely disheartening when they previously could juggle a dozen things at once to not being able to complete one task, let alone two.

The people that I have worked with over the years often express this frustration in a disappointment of themselves. They are operating from the belief …. I did it before so I should be able to do it now. Sometimes this is feedback they are getting from family and friends too… You are not trying hard enough or you are just being lazy. I am sure as you read these statements the absurdity of them leap off the page.

Our ability to organize and plan comes from the frontal lobes. The left frontal lobe helps us with language and the right frontal lobe helps us visually. So in carrying out daily activities, where both our use of language and our ability to visualize are important, sustaining a frontal lobe injury is problematic. This can also be problematic for those who sustained a contra-coup injury, where the brain is shaken back and forth.

A common problem expressed by my clients is their inability to cook several dishes at once for their main meal. For example, one gentleman told me that rice is a main staple for his dinner. He used to be able to cook rice perfectly and prepare a salad and meat dish too. Now he often gets distracted by a telephone call or something on television and forgets all about the rice. The end result is burnt rice AND deflated self-esteem. I suggested he purchase a rice cooker. They are inexpensive and simple to use. You put in the rice, water and a bit of butter or oil and turn it on. It shuts itself off in approximately 30 minutes or when the rice is perfectly cooked. Using this simple device prevents him burning the rice should a distraction come up and it also acts as a timer. He knows he has about half an hour to prepare one or two more items for his meal.

Here are some other tips to help you get organized:

  • Start simple and without pressure… do one thing at a time and don’t wait until you are in a time crunch to get started.
  • Minimize distractions… turn off the television and radio and don’t answer the phone. You can return the call later. If you have someone else in the room, explain to them that it is best for you to not talk while dealing with the task at hand so you can maintain focus.
  • Don’t try and do other tasks at the same time (i.e., folding laundry while cooking meat).
  • Incorporate list-making as part of your daily activities. I know people are resistant to this but I assure you that even the most accomplished person uses a day planner and in it they have a multitude of lists. I wish you could see mine. Each week I make a list of things that I need to do and I list them in categories of work, writing, family, and other. Then every night I review the list and rewrite the ones that I can do the next day under the column for that day in the order that I can get them done. Then I check them off on both lists as I complete them. Anything left undone is added to my list for the next week.
  • At night make a list of things you need to do the next day. If need be, write everything down randomly and then rewrite it or number the things you need to do in the order that works the best. For example, if you are getting groceries in the morning and you need to mail a letter and there is a post office in the grocery store, then write ‘mail the letter’ before ‘purchase groceries’. If not, you may have mail the letter at the bottom of the list and get home only to find out that you didn’t get it done.
  • Outside the day planner, you could add a project board in your house. Get an inexpensive ‘white board’ with dry erase markers and hang it in your home office, kitchen, or other prominent place so that you see it daily. List your projects for the week on them and as you complete them, erase them. Don’t put too many projects on there as that will only frustrate you. Look at your list and choose your top two or three. It’s a good way to deal with the projects that MUST be done!
  • Be true to yourself! Really get to know who you are now… do you fatigue later in the day… if so, plan to get your chores/tasks done earlier in the day.
  • At the end of the day, review what you have completed and pat yourself on the back. Remember, recovery is a process and it is going to take time so take small steps and build on them every day. You will be amazed at what you are able to do!

September 5, 2011

5 responses to “Getting Organized After Brain Injury”

  1. Carie Sexton says:

    Could you please recommend a daily planner? It’s time to reorder. But, I am hoping to find one that incorporates a monthly/daily planner (like David Byrd’s), formatted more for those with brain injuries. I have a daily task list to help me remember to basic things every day, plus I want to rotate chores within the week/month. Ideally, I would like one that I can tweak on the computer and print for a hard copy, so I don’t have to keep re-writing the mundane things down every day. I would be able to enter them in the template and delete or change them when they no longer apply. I am a mess and getting worse (it’s degenerative now), and I really need to find something like this. If there isn’t one available, there certainly is a marker for it.
    I would appreciate any help or recommendations form you.
    Thank you and have a Merry Christmas.

  2. I had a great experience with this company and want to spread the word! Hope they help you the way they helped me.

  3. Marie G. Cooney says:


    Thanks for posting these wonderful suggestions, some of which I learned while attending Courage Center as part of my rehab in MN. It is nice to know there are people like you who truly understand how difficult getting organized after a TBI can be and how much a little understanding and support can help.

    Marie G. Cooney
    TBI Survivor

  4. Marilyn Lash says:

    These tips can make all the difference in accomplishing a task and getting it done correctly and completely the first time!

  5. Nanette Stearns says:

    These are very helpful ideas, thanks for putting them together in a simple and clear list!

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