Why did I start bullet journalling? To get more organized and productive, of course, just like everyone else. I wanted some help in following through on my commitments. Avoid forgetting stuff. And I’m loving it, I really am, but not for the reasons I thought. Because you know what bullet journalling doesn’t help with? Not wanting to be productive. Not wanting to do the tasks you put in it.
I mean, today’s ideal is to work yourself to death. Fine, if that’s your kink. I won’t shame it. But it most certainly isn’t mine. I recently turned 42, but I’m going on ten and no mistake. When I was preparing to receive my guests on the big day, I considered trying to do something about the mess in our dining room, and then I thought, “Fuck it. Exactly who are we celebrating here? Yeah, that’s right: ME. And what am I like? I’m messy and quirky and charming as fuck in my inability to keep things together.”
So I didn’t clean. Shock horror. But you know what else? My guests probably didn’t notice, because even when I do clean, the house looks absolutely filthy compared to other people’s homes. Clutter, clutter everywhere, and so be it, you know? I’ve come about halfway in this game called life. Time to stop beating myself up for being a typical creative.
Still, I do want to achieve a level of non-ickyness where I live, and I do want to tick off my most important tasks, and maybe even publish another book soonish. So that’s where the bullet journal should come in, and perhaps does in an oblique sort of way. (I’m killing this blog post, btw. Totally rocking the structure part of it.)
Anywayyyyyy. How does the bullet journal help? It keeps me on the straight and narrow when it comes to absolutely essential stuff I need to do. Everything is gathered in one place, and I get visual confirmation when I achieve my projects.
But the best part is the way it doubles as a diary, and some side effects of this that I’ll describe below. Now, I haven’t kept a diary in twenty-five years (because I’m lazy), but this system actually functions as one. When I plan, I jot down what I mustn’t forget, but afterwards comes the fun part: as I wind down and digest the stuff I’ve achieved, I doodle on the planning pages and make them pretty, and so I get a memento. Two birds with one stone!
Before I started bullet journalling, I would plan on scraps of paper and then throw them away, but now I keep it all. This way, I can look back on fun stuff and hard stuff and all those tiny things you tend to forget – you know, the “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” thing John Lennon was talking about in Beautiful Boy. If I keep my notes and mull over them after it’s all over, it becomes a record of my life, and maybe the act of manually and visually digesting it will help my brain retain some of it all on its own, too?
So instead of making me productive – quick, quick, get it done, hurry up to beat everyone else to the grave – my bullet journal makes me slow down and appreciate things, digest them, and put them in pretty writing and colours. I haven’t drawn properly in years either, but the bullet journal offers me a place to do that too. And I mean serious drawing, not just a face on the back of a print-out that I then throw away. It forces me to draw with a purpose, and to make it as good as I can. It reconnects me with a person I used to be – a person I prefer to the one who tries to be like everyone else and scamper around with a pocket watch like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. It helps me realize what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. It shows me where I stumble and where I shine.
Take yesterday. I absolutely had to do two kinds of tasks: one was creative and clearly delineated. The other was a socially confrontational and difficult exercise of authority, but vague, nebulous even, with no limit on how much work I could put in. Not only that: finishing the task was almost guaranteed to earn me not recognition and gratitude, but more problems and questions and complaints and pleas for help.
So which task did I rock and which one had me whimpering in a corner?
But the story doesn’t end with gnashing of teeth and despair. Because since I use my bullet journal to analyze what I’m doing, I decided to change the way I approach the second type of task: since I know I dread it, I now know I need to divide it into smaller parts and do a little at a time. I know how exhausting they are, so I can’t expect myself to do it all in one sitting. And so I can plan for that. Adapt the way I work to the type of task. I needn’t worry about the creative things. I can dash off a couple of pages on food sociology or go through a colleague’s grant application with a red pen in a quarter of an hour, but I need to set aside an hour each day to tackle tiny parts of the more daunting stuff.
Which is what I’ll do next week. And since that week isn’t put on paper yet – it’s still a blank page in my bullet journal – it’ll genuinely feel like starting from scratch when I draw my weekly spread and figure out how to accomodate its visual structure to my new insight.
So, the big question then: does this new insight and the way I apply it make me more productive? Does it mean I’ll get more things accomplished in the coming week?
To that I say: Who cares? So far in life I haven’t screwed up too badly, so obviously I’m already doing something right. And if I find a way of doing the same things in a way that’s kinder to my health and the sort of person I am, that’s result enough for me. I don’t want to be more productive. I want to experience life, to savour every day, and for that the bullet journal is perfect.
And in the end, perhaps the real question is: how do we want to define ‘productive’?