I guess you could see this as a follow-up to my last post. It’s 2019, and last year was, indeed, a messy bench. Also, if you haven’t watched The Good Place yet, why haven’t you? Related to my whole mid-career reflection (I guess I could have had a mid-life crisis, but I don’t happen to think anything in my life requires me to flip into crisis mode – yet), I’ve been thinking about things that I’ve either changed or maintained that have worked well, and what I’d like to focus on this next year.
Closing Loops Before Opening New Ones
I’ve gotten better about this over the past year, largely because I started using a stripped-down form of my own very haphazard combo of a bullet journal, pomodoro timers, and whatever else works at the time. My system is ugly as hell, but it’s functional (mostly) and most importantly, I’ve found it more useful than any other form of “getting things done” I’ve tried.
Bullet Journaling – What Works (For Me)
There are oodles of bullet journal explanations and tutorials out there, including the site created by the dude who came up with the idea, so I’m not going to go into detail about “what it is,” I’ll just show you what I do. The gist is, you take a blank, bound, codex-y thing with whatever layout makes the most sense to you (I prefer lined, some people prefer blank, or a grid – really, whatever you like) and you brain dump and then track whatever you need to brain dump or track, either using the originator’s system, or whatever works for you. Some people make (to me) crazy-elaborate, beautiful illustrated calendars, habit trackers, etc. – all of which you can find with a search of the hashtag #bulletjournal (or #bujo), none of which I use, and which I believe largely exist as a form of organizational one-upsman-ship, because some people are the worst. Or, those people are talented artists and I am a petty, jealous bench – probably the latter. Point being, mine is ugly and functional, but it works.
As you can see in the above page of daily logs from August, (i.e. daily brain dumps), it’s mostly lists of to-dos. I’ve found I’m very motivated by being able to cross out, fill in, x-off (whatever) task lists, and for whatever reason, it’s most effective if they’re on paper. As you can probably also see, my task lists are a mix of stuff – personal (non-work) to-dos, work to-dos, volunteer/service to-dos, etc. The Bullet Journal site recommends doing a monthly to-do list, as well as a yearly calendar, but I found that once things get beyond a daily to-do list that I sort of move along or cross off as needed, it really needs to go into my Outlook calendar, which I use for more long-term stuff.
Another feature I’ve found helpful – and again, which many other bullet journalers you’ll see turn into insanely elaborate illustrations (yes, jealous messy bench, hi) is habit tracking. I wrote about this a lot more in September 2017 about what’s included and not, some of which has changed a little bit, but most of it’s about the same. As I also wrote about last September, I have diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder and – maybe related – am not good at remembering to take care of myself/my body/my abode. The Habit Tracker gave me a way to incentivize myself to do things that support my overall health and well being. I’ve found that, while there was a lot of anxiety involved in setting up the tracking process (something that’s fairly common for me when I begin something new when I might – oh god – FAIL AT IT), it’s been incredibly helpful for making sure I remember to do things that support my health and well being.
The other component I’ve found useful for actually starting and completing any and all kinds of things is timers. This is the same principle as Unf*ck Your Habitat, basically – set a timer, and do things. I usually set a Pomodoro Timer (based on kitchen timers, which are 25 minutes and have a number of browser extensions or apps you can download – or you can just use your phone’s or another timer). The premise is simple and it has worked wonders for me – I can do just about anything without interruption for 25 minutes. I’m not so great about sticking to proscribed breaks – 5 minutes often turns into 10, 20, or even 25 – but I still get far more done than I would otherwise.
I’ve said I managed to do enough to get through the promotion process largely due to timers, and I mean it. They’re like magic.
Bullet Journaling – What Doesn’t Work (For Me)
One thing that didn’t work – taking anything other than very basic meeting-type notes (usually to-dos/tasks coming out of meetings with minimal context) in the journal. I tried to do research notes, having been prompted to do so after following the terrifyingly well-organized Raul Pacheco-Vega‘s advice to start an “Everything Notebook.” If you have a) great handwriting, b) are detail-oriented by nature, and c) love office supplies, you may love it! I a) have terrible handwriting, b) am prone more to squirrel trail-type anxious thinking – and, related, catastrophizing and feeling mentally/emotionally “flooded” if I try to operate within anything other than a very simple, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, task-oriented system and c) highlighters and tabs and anything that adds complexity just stresses me out and shuts me down. Bless him and anyone else whose brain works that way – I wish mine did – but it doesn’t.
As you can see from my brief attempt at a research log, I found that when I wanted to go back, I couldn’t read a lot of my handwriting, I couldn’t write anywhere near as fast as I could compose in word processing software (I can type ~ 100 WPM), and so my hand and brain kept cramping up. When I’m writing/composing, I tend toward brain dumps and then edits/synthesis later once I see patterns – and this doesn’t lend itself to that way of working.
I’m not saying my current process now is great – I’d love to improve it – but this approach ain’t it.
What I’d Like to Work On
- E-Mail/calendar management. Inbox Zero seems like an impossible goal, but I’d like to at least try.
- Doing less.
- Committing to less.
- Committing whole-heartedly to the things I say “Yes” to.
- Getting better at knowing when to reverse course and shut shit down/transition.
Celebrating Love, Success, and Progress
My anxious brain’s tendency toward catastrophizing has some other not-so-fun effects, namely – when successes happen, milestones are reached (see, I’m writing in passive voice, because even if I had a hand in them, I can’t possibly take credit) – I don’t celebrate, pause, reflect, or breathe. I set my eyes on the next milestone, and then the next, and the next. It’s made for a very productive life in a lot of ways, but it’s also meant that I don’t properly reflect on what is good, great, and beautiful in my life – I don’t live in the now, I live in the next milestone.
I tend to think by ‘chunking things out,’ – but I also am pretty good at stepping back and seeing connections between goals and activities, which makes me pretty decent at prioritizing within my work life what to focus on. I’d like to take this and some of the other strengths I’ve brought to work more into my personal life. If you look at my Habit Tracker, it’s mostly “to-dos” – which makes sense generally, but given how well it’s worked for my work life and self-care, I’m hopeful I can find some way to make it work for more of my personal goals as well.
I could write up a “here’s what I did that I’m proud of in 2018” professionally and personally but since I need to actually do a variation of that for the professional stuff for work eval purposes because – shocker, I didn’t talk myself up enough – I’m going to hold off until I get a chance to go through my calendar/notebook more thoroughly.
Taking More Risks, Showing Up
This is the only “more” of things, and a lot of this goal goes back to recognizing that my anxious/depressed brain is lying to me, or at minimum, not working in my favor a lot of the time. I see risky things on the horizon – dating prospects, professional prospects, ways I might be required to show up and be present and vulnerable, opportunities to learn and maybe fail at – and my brain tells me to run the other direction. I don’t like to think of myself as a self-helpy person, but I have read damn near everything Brené Brown has ever written, and I loved Shonda Rhimes’ “Year of Yes,” – same idea.
I’ve grown a lot in this respect this year in ways I’m not going to talk about in detail – largely because I haven’t asked the organizations or people I’ve spent time with, and so I won’t name them. Suffice it to say, I did ok. I need and want to do better.
So – here’s to doing less, doing it better, following through on promises, and growth.
The messy bench part of me is sticking around, though.