“You can only organize the parts of yourself that you know”
I forget where I heard that quote, but it makes me realize just how important self-organization is when practiced in tandem with self-awareness.
I’m a huge fan of the bullet journal and have been organizing myself according to that system for a couple years now. But I’ve started to scale it back. Here are five things I’ve learned by trial and error that I wish someone would have told me before I started.
1. If I spend too much time on it, I organize things that shouldn’t be organized.
There are some things that just shouldn’t be in a bullet journal. If I don’t limit the time I spend on it, I find myself adding things to my to-do list that I already know I need to do. Things that I will remember even without them being on the list. That is not helpful. It is a bloated list and I cannot see the things I really need to be reminded of. I have to constantly resist the temptation to add something to my to-do list merely for the satisfaction of marking it as done later.
2. It takes practice…sneaky practice
I used to spend lots of time writing out lists, only to rewrite them a few hours into the day they were made for, because circumstances had changed. At first, I was frustrated about this. But then I realized, this is what is referred to as a desirable difficulty: I was learning how to make lists. For months I was frustrated at being unable to establish a daily routine after I gave birth to my 2nd. Sleep patterns changed constantly. My children grew and got into more and more of my things until all the “safe from baby” places in my house were accessible to curious hands. I would spend hours deciding on a routine to organize my life, follow it happily for a week, then find that it was no longer possible because someone had grown, someone no longer took naps, or any other change happened that made my carefully crafted artisan routine obsolete. But now? I’ve built my routine-crafting muscles! I have learned how to identify what would make a good list or schedule for the current situation quickly. I learned how to establish organization in a changing environment as soon as possible. So while I didn’t think I was practicing, I was. If you find yourself getting discouraged with trying to implement a bullet journal or any organizational system, give it time, and allow it to fail constantly. You are training your mind be an organizing machine.
3. Don’t keep a daily list in your journal. Keep that on your phone.
I bought a bunch of tiny pocket notebooks thinking they would be great to carry with me anywhere I went. And they looked cute, too. The reality is that my phone was a much more practical tool. I can make lists on it easily enough, and sync them with my tablet or computer, so that I have it with me anywhere I go. With the notebooks, they got lost more often than not, or I would forget them at home. Occasionally, I still write out my daily tasks on paper because sometimes it just helps my brain think better. But I make sure to put it on my phone after (a simple photo will do). Now I reserve my bullet journal for things that will last from day to day instead of the things that change really quickly. I track monthly and yearly stats, not hour-by-hour needs. I’m pretty particular about my notebooks, so when I find one that works, I want to make it last as long as possible. If I have to use a page for every single day of the year, it’s not going to last very long. I try to only dedicate pages to things I can use over and over again. Not only does this keep me from burning through pages like a forest fire, it helps keep my mind above the chaos of daily life and focus on my long-term goals.
4. Make the page pretty, but only in lieu of other mindless activity.
You probably already know this, but it’s possible to spend waaaay too much time beautifying a bullet journal. I knew this going in. And yet, I couldn’t help myself. It’s just too tempting. So here’s what I did: anytime I felt like I wanted to mindlessly scroll facebook or Instagram or Pinterest, instead I made myself get out my bullet journal. If I was going to waste time, I might as well do it making something nice for myself. I’m not a fan of activities that gratify the brain for being lazy in the first place, so it was important to me to find some way to curb the time I spend getting sucked into apps and websites. To me, this was a win-win. It gave my brain the appearance of being easy and lazy, while still activating my creativity and building my organizational skills.
5. Do NOT undervalue your bullet journal.
I don’t care if your handwriting sucks. I don’t care if you think no one wants to look at your bullet journal or if you think it’s a total mess. It is for you and you alone, no one else. It is a valuable time capsule of your personal growth. It is your brain’s stomping ground. It is uniquely you. Be kind to yourself and never throw out an old bullet journal just because you think it’s not good enough. I have looked back at my previous bullet journals often, and gleaned new insight into myself and how I’ve changed. Not to mention that copying over some of those massive trackers is a huge pain. Look. You’re going to journal the way that is most helpful and fun for you, and no one else is going to do it the same. Give your future self the gift of self-awareness and don’t censor what you put in there. No writing is ever wasted.