How a web app made me go bald

“You’ll be fine, she’s really good!” That’s what the owner of the hair salon told me about the new hairdresser they’d got to replace Daisy.

I loved Daisy. Daisy was awesome. She was the only hairdresser I’d ever met who knew how to cut fine hair, and make me look chic, rather than the sort of woman who demands to speak to the manager.

But I took the salon owner’s word for it about Daisy’s replacement, and gleefully turned up for my appointment.

Snip, snip, snip.

“Shorter please.”

Snip, snip, snip.

“It needs to be more layered at the front.”

Snip, snip, snip.

By this time I was thinking sod this, I’ve been here forever and I need to pick the kids up. So in that typically British way I said “Yeah, it’s fine” when she finished, secretly itching to take a pair of scissors and finish the job off myself (the haircut, not stabbing her with them, although that did cross my mind).

But I didn’t, of course. I let it grow out a bit until it looked worse, until one day I saw an ad on the telly for Macmillan’s “Brave the Shave” campaign.

Macmillan is a well-known cancer charity in the UK. They provide support to people with cancer – anything from useful leaflets in the doctor’s office, to helping people with money, to specialist cancer nurses who will look after people in their own homes at the end of their lives. These nurses are brilliant, apparently, but then most nurses are.

Of course, none of this comes cheap, and that’s why Macmillan regularly have national fundraisers. The coffee morning is one, some people run marathons and some people “Brave the Shave” – getting people to sponsor them to have their head shaved.

When I saw the ad, I realised it was an interesting, if rather dramatic, way to deal with my unfortunate haircut, as well as to raise money for a very worthy cause. Also, I have ADHD so I need constant stimulation, and shaving one’s head is cheaper and healthier than a drug, gambling or fine cheese habit.

But it was just one of those things I added to my enormous and ever-growing “to do” list, along with the important stuff like running my business, starting a new business, writing a book, building an extension to my house, making sure the children don’t turn feral, and battling existential dread.

Most people use their “to do” lists as a way of actually, y’know, doing stuff, but I kind of used mine to avoid it. If I wrote something down, it felt like I’d dealt with it, even when I hadn’t. I normally lost my “to do” lists eventually anyway. So when I wrote “Brave the Shave” on my “to do” list, at the back of my mind, I thought it would never really happen.

But I hadn’t reckoned with Focusmate.

Focusmate is a simple and effective web app that pairs you with an accountability partner. The partner is a real person – someone who, like you, needs the presence of an extra person in order to get stuff done. You check in at the beginning (yes, you’re on camera, that’s really important), tell each other what you’re planning to do, then check back in at the end to see if you really did do it. Then you close the session and spend the next ten minutes wondering why you look so terrible on a webcam. Simple, and highly effective.

I read about the concept of accountability on one of the ADHD sites. I had noticed that I actually did what I said I would when I had an appointment with someone – usually a call with a client – and I figured that using an accountability partner could work well for me. And I was right!

There’s something weird about having an accountability partner. It kind of makes you accountable to yourself. There’s nothing to stop you from disappearing down a Pinterest hole for the entire session, or telling your partner you’re going to sort out a boring database but then writing a much more fun blog post.

But the honour system is very powerful – as is the commitment to someone else. If you’re late or you don’t turn up, you’re messing up the session for your partner. Some people don’t give a crap, but for most people, that’s an incredibly powerful motivator. Especially for people with ADHD who have rejection-sensitive dysphoria. RSD is a common symptom of ADHD – if you can’t be bothered to look it up, it basically means you can’t bear to let anyone down. Which is one reason having an accountability partner is so powerful.

Anyway, back to me and my hair. By the time I’d seen the “Brave the Shave” ad, I’d already used Focusmate sessions to sort out not only my “to do” lists but also my schedule, meaning all the stuff on my lists got put onto my schedule so I’d actually get to it at an assigned day and time. I was actually getting through my mammoth list of tasks!

So one day, I signed up. Didn’t take long. I didn’t do anything else for a couple of weeks until another Focusmate session during which I scheduled my shave, set up my fundraising page properly, and told everyone I knew. So I couldn’t back out!

Come the day of the shave, I washed my hair, put on a ton of make-up, grabbed my family and walked to my local barber shop – Kevin the barber had offered to do it for free. I think he was quite excited about it actually! I live streamed the whole thing on Facebook, including the kids’ total lack of interest, and I was done.

Now I look like Sinead O’Connor – not the young, pretty version unfortunately, but the middle-aged crazy one. Weirdly though, I have never received so many compliments. This is what friends and family have said about me and my bald head:

“Beautiful.”

“Amazing.”

“Fantastic.”

“It really suits you.”

“You are an inspiration.”

“Mummy, you look like a potato.”

Out of the mouths of babes, eh?

Anyway, I quite like my new look, and I raised over £1,000 for a very worthwhile cause – more than doubling my original target of £500. I’m saving a ton of time every morning by not having to wash my hair, and I’m looking forward to trying lots of fun new styles as it grows back. Possibly not a 90s-style undercut though.

So there you go, that’s how Focusmate made me lose all my hair. I highly recommend you try Focusmate as it’s free, it’s very effective for a lot of people, and it’s a wonderful community. And it (probably) won’t make you go bald.

5 tips for managing your home when you feel like you can’t do anything

Managing your home when you’re busy, tired, mentally ill or have a disorder, can be difficult.

But it’s not impossible!

I use all kinds of systems, tools and techniques to keep my home clean(ish), looking nice, organised – and most important of all, comfortable.

I used to think some of the ways I managed my home were silly.

But then I discovered a saying in the military: “If it’s stupid, but it works, it’s not stupid.”

Try some of these tips below and see how you get on. Yes, some are “silly” but they work for me and other people, so they might work for you too!

Have large boxes of assorted toys

This goes against most Pinterest organising tips, which tell you to organise toys by type.

If you can show me a kid who is both willing and capable of putting their toys away and correctly categorising them, I will give you 100 bacon cupcakes.

It takes too long and it’s a challenge to get most kids to just put anything away, let alone put them in the right boxes. Having a large box of “misc” toys (I can’t spell miscellaneous either) means you can just chuck everything in one box at tidy up time, and go and do something else.

The exception to this rule is if you have something like Lego or a train set, or another toy where all the bits fit together.

Make your bed

This is the quickest, easiest and one of the most satisfying of all household chores.

As I tell my son, if you make your bed every morning, no matter what happens in the day, at least one thing has gone right. One thing is organised. One thing is tidy. And one thing is done for your “future self” – you have a nice bed to get in at the end of the day.

How you make your bed is up to you, but all I do is straighten the pillows and fold back the duvet. It’s quick, it looks nice, and it airs the bed.

Spray furniture polish in the air

Not near the kids, obvs.

It doesn’t do anything apart from make your house smell clean, and while you are very clever, there are parts of your brain that are not, and the clean smell will fool at least part of it into thinking that your house actually is clean.

This is more of a psychological thing obviously, but it might be enough to motivate you into doing something else.

Master the one-pot meal

You still need to eat, but washing up can take almost as long as cooking – and sometimes even longer.

Master the art of cooking in one saucepan, frying pan or oven tray, and you will spend a lot less time washing up. You probably won’t want to cook every meal like you’re doing it in a pot over an open fire, but for those times when you really can’t be bothered, it’s a lifesaver – and will save you from an unhealthy and expensive takeaway.

My favourite one pot meals are mostly rice-based – you can chuck anything in rice and it tastes nice.

Outsource

No-one said you had to do anything. And if they did, they’re wrong. Even if that person was you. Especially if that person was you!

Even very young children are capable of helping you tidy up, fetching and carrying, and taking their plate to the kitchen. Older children can help load the dishwasher, sweep up, put the laundry on, and so on. Grown-ups can do their share (yes, even if they’re visitors – if you’ve got a newborn baby or a health condition, the usual hosting rules don’t apply).

And if you’ve got the money, hiring someone to help you out can be a lifesaver. The most common home help is a cleaner, but gardeners, handymen, mother’s help, au pairs etc can also take some of the weight off your shoulders. I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but if you’ve got the money, it’s worth doing to keep your sanity.

How do you manage your home when you feel like you can’t do anything? Tell me.

Exploiting your powers

If you have any kind of condition or disability, you will have probably got the message that you are defective in some way.

I’m here to tell you that that’s not really true.

Yes, it is true that you can’t do some things that other people can. Or you can do them but you find it really difficult, and don’t do them very well.

However, if you have a condition like autism, ADHD, depression, a learning difficulty or something else, you also have special powers. You are different, but that doesn’t mean worse.

I hate the terms “special” or “differently abled” because they’re patronising – and because everyone is special, and everyone is different. But in your case, you are extra special!

Here are some powers a person like you might have:

  • An autistic who’s really good at maths
  • A person with ADHD who can hyperfocus
  • Someone with OCD who is a fantastic animator
  • A person who is depressed and very funny
  • Someone with Down’s syndrome who has great social skills
  • A tired new parent who is loving and sympathetic
  • A stressed person with excellent decision-making skills

You get the idea.

Now it’s time to work out what your powers are and how you can use and exploit them. “Exploit” isn’t necessarily a bad word, it just means to use something as much as you can.

The easiest way to find out where your powers lie is to take this character strengths test from the VIA institute. I’ve done it, it was a real eye-opener!

When you’ve got an idea of what you’re good at, you can start to use your powers in you work and every day life, and hopefully, finally start to feel a bit more powerful.

In some upcoming blog posts, I’ll show you what you can do with your strengths list, and how you can incorporate it into your toolkit.

If you need more help, please contact me.

In praise of doing less

I hate the phrase “having it all”.

It’s used to describe an ideal, usually for women, to show you can have a family, a career, a nice house, a car that’s full of crumbs and the faint smell of vomit, and so on.

But whenever I hear that phrase, I think: “I don’t want it all. I want less.”

I have a family and my own business and I’m very grateful for them, but each time I add something to my life, something else has to give.

When my business was getting started, it was money. I put every spare penny I had into it (apart from the money I needed to live on) so I didn’t have extra money to socialise the way I used to, or go travelling.

When I had my first child, I insisted on breastfeeding which limited the places I could go, the things I could do, and the amount of energy I had in the day (as I was the only one doing night feeds, obvs). I know you can take a baby lots of places, but the theatre ain’t one.

Now my kids are small, I hardly ever go on proper walks any more. My walks are slow, punctuated by many shouts of “come on”, “this way” and “put that down, you don’t know where it’s been.”

I see other people, mainly mums, who seem to have it all. They have their exotic holidays, they have proper jobs, they have time to take hundreds of photos, edit them and upload them to Instagram. They can train for a 10K run, they get their eyebrows done and they go out with their kids, without their kids, with someone else’s kids, and all kinds of stuff.

It looks great, I must say, but I don’t understand how people have the time or energy to have it all.  It looks exhausting!

I do try to do as much as I can, both in my job and for my family, but there is a lot of value in doing less.

In having less money, I am more frugal.

In having less time, I am more careful about who I spend it with.

In having less in my house, I have more time to tidy.

I have so far found no benefit in having less energy, but I have discovered that I can manage when I’m tired, even if I don’t like it. And the kids – well, it’s not as enriching as a trip to the museum or a walk in the hills, but sometimes they seem to like a day off, just playing with toys, eating cheese in front of the telly, and generally doing nothing much.

And I do too.