Happy Saturday! I’m sitting here looking out at the beautiful noreaster snowfall, trying to focus on preparing for my committee meeting in a couple weeks. I currently am trying to plot data from a 5-dimensional array and debugging is a pain! Though I’ve learned a lot over the years about good coding practices, I still find myself in situations like this and it feels daunting to untangle all the data in a legible way.
I’ve been better about coping with stress; after a series of panic attacks and a crippling week of depression in early December I’ve started prioritizing and straightening out my life so as to avoid getting so overwhelmed again. So I started utilizing a tool that I think has helped me immensely in managing my life and my mental health: the bullet journal.
Here’s how i’ve been organizing my life:
- Google Calendar for events and appointments (nothing beats a digital calendar)
- Google Docs for lists: books I’ve read, travel stuff, anything I want to be archived and searchable
- Clue to track my period
That’s it. I’ve tried all those apps to track water or other habits. The iPhone’s step counter is not my favorite (compared to the ease of use of the LG G4’s step counter), so until I find a better way of digitally tracking steps it’s not a primary logging tool for me. I also sporadically use MyFitnessPal, but well I don’t want to obsess over calories and logging what I eat is enough detail for me, so I don’t stick with it anymore.
- A to-do list on a legal pad that I have next to me when I work on my laptop. Simple, detailed, and is the ONLY way I can get nebulous/tedious tasks done. I’ve done this since my lab tech days and it’s great. I try to have one to-do list a day: so each day I turn a new sheet and start listing again.
- A bullet journal. This has become a wonderful open-ended way for me to:
- Keep a to-do list to manage other life tasks
- Log my thoughts/feelings
- Log food, exercise, money
- Track habits I’m trying to break
I’m sure you’ve heard of it: a journal that has a monthly, weekly, and daily entry section, and that lets you jot things down quickly and in an organized fashion. Customizable to your needs.
I’ve gone back and forth on wondering if it’s a fad or not. I’ve tried so many productivity hacks that don’t work for my life, and there are segments of the bullet journal community dedicated to worshipping moleskine, leuchtturm, and sakura pigma micron pens. (I’m using mine to log finances; how can I start off a good year with a $50 purchase of materials? If you must ask, I’m using a Black n Red 5″x8″ spiral bound notebook–which I like for the hard cover but I do wish it had a dot grid… and may switch to a composition notebook once this gets used up–along with a Zebra G301 pen. I would also recommend the zebra sarasa as another budget choice. Less than $15 for materials is a good start.)
Why does it work for me? Well firstly because I don’t follow it to a tee. The original method calls for an index, which I didn’t find helpful. Instead I use flags on pages with frequented notes. Second, because I don’t feel like journaling in prose. I blog for that (less often now of course but still) but for myself, lengthy prose never appealed to me. I didn’t realize it was a THING to have a journal in bullet form! And then I love that I can experiment with design elements (for me, it’s for the sake of clarity rather than artistry… but I do like an aesthetically pleasing layout) that I can adjust each day. Unlike apps, where the layout is more or less static and designed by someone else, an analog bullet journal is just a way to write down data in an unconstrained way. (Second best I would say is Google Docs for listmaking/note-taking. Portable, always accessible, and again, customizable.) It’s great if you love data.
Why did I start?
After a year of such chaos that I got literally nothing done for months, it feels good to get a handle on things and figure out exactly what’s important to me. In this order, the things that are important to me are:
- Develop a satisfying career path, make connections, follow up with contacts more quickly. Start by developing confidence in my work. Start that by recognizing my accomplishments and simply putting in more time; once the momentum gets going I generally feel at ease with my abilities.
- Develop better health habits, physical and mental. This has been a super important factor for me, but it’s taken years for me to even feel WORTHY of better habits, if that makes sense.
- Establish deeper connections with those around me by reducing violence (through dishonesty, passive-aggression, lack of empathy) in my speech and actions, by emphasizing honest communication, and by reaching out when I need help.
- A better handle over finances. This year I’m finally going to budget properly: logging what I spend on, staying within my means, building up savings. I spent money on stupid things in the past, so letting go of those things and forgiving myself was an important step. As is learning to feed myself with actual food (and not whatever-is-in-reach/eating out all the time).
Those are a few steps in the right direction. I’ll update as this experiment goes along. I don’t have everything figured out yet, so don’t let this fool ya; I’m still working on getting a better handle on life. But at least I hope this keeps me out of crisis, and gives me a way to better integrate, rather than compartmentalize, my life, and to become more mindful of the choices I make.
Have you used one? Do you hate them? Do you love them?