Normally when I travel to work instead of working from home, I’m away for a total of twelve and a half hours. And normally I try to actually work all that time on the bus and the train, so as not to waste it. Needless to say, I’m exhausted when I come home, and there’s nothing of the day left. All I have time and energy for is dinner, an episode of a TV series, and bed.
Today, inspired by the new insights my bullet journal is giving me, I decided to change it up. I mean, is it worth it to run myself into the ground just to be able to shave off a few hours on Friday? No. So today I worked an ordinary eight hour day instead, and the results were amazing.
I had so much time! I could photograph, and edit, and write, and all sorts of creative stuff that really is my lifeblood. And as if to cheer me on, the sun came out the moment I came home, and it stayed out while I strayed through the woods and snapped my photos. It felt like I was out there for an eternity, and yet only two and a half hours have passed!
No matter how tired I am, the forest always manages to rejuvenate me.
I can never get enough of these seeds!
I’ll be honest: once I got home again and started loading all my photos into the computer, I did feel a teensy bit tired again. I mean, I did wake up at 4.30 this morning. It’s just that I forget about being tired while I’m out there in the forest, crouching in the moss to capture those backlit leaves.
But being tired is fine, because you know what? Tomorrow I’m changing it up again and taking the 8.40 bus instead of the 5.35 one and staying later at work.
The other day we had a very special night at the cinema. A famous comedian and band performed in what usually functions as our living room! In a record-breaking evening, 150 people were crammed into a space that usually holds, um, two or three…
Sadly we had to turn away some people who wanted tickets, because the cinema was really full to bursting point. It quickly heated up like a sauna, but what a night! The audience was in high spirits, and the show was at times funny and at times sad, with songs ranging from biting political satire to melancholic odes to bygone times and long gone people.
Here are some pictures from the evening.
And finally, here is a small memento from the evening. If you don’t understand Swedish, all of this is fucking funny, okay?*
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’?
So I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately (grief, cloudy weather, incessant car problems, broken mobile, thyroid issues, and back pain can do that to a girl), and I almost felt like my post the other day was a total lie. It sounds like the bullet journal means I’ve got everything figured out. I don’t, but it does help. I think that without it, I would have been completely under the weather, but with it, I’ve managed to take one step at a time and accomplished a few things.
Like today! Today I had a brightish idea. I’ve been devouring images of other people’s pretty mood trackers, and their creative ways of ticking off each day prompted me to try something new with my “task boxes”.
To begin with, they looked like this:
Simple and plain. Tick each box as I do the task. But it wasn’t very motivating, just demoralizing when I didn’t fill them in and the row of empty boxes stared at me accusingly at the end of the day.
Today I didn’t allow myself to really decorate my daily spread until I’d done my tasks. I decided that one task (student assignments I had to grade) would be a purple garland – purple is my colour code for the course in question, and the garland felt like a nice addition to the “g” in the Swedish word for Wednesday in my planner. And the brightish idea I mentioned above was that I couldn’t add my garland until I graded the assignments!
To begin with, I drew each leaf as I opened a new student document and then filled it in once I’d posted my feedback. I could have drawn them all first and then filled them in as I went, but seeing all my unfinished tasks felt too stressful, so I concentrated on one at a time. Towards the end, when I realized I would have the energy to complete them all, I drew the final five leaves in one sitting.
So the natural response to something like this is “Good god, girl! This way everything you do takes five times as long to complete. How does that help your productivity?”
And the answer is, well, the alternative is I don’t do it at all but sit in a corner and whimper, okay? 😀 Some things in life you have to do even though you hate them, and one of those things for me is to tell others how to write correct references according to the APA system. I hate writing references myself, and I hate telling others what to do, so when you combine these two… you get the picture. So really, having a system like this where I get a silly little reward for each time I point out that someone missed a comma here or should have italicized that, it really helps!
Oh, and I also completely drowned my October cover spread in Too Much Stuff, so it went from this
Are you a highly creative person who constantly struggles with structure and efficiency? Who flings yourself with abandon into every shiny new thing, and then you lose track of your thoughts or lose interest once you’ve jotted down your ideas in a notebook you’ll never look at again?
If so, this blog post may not help you at all – but you already know that, don’t you? Because you’ve already poured hours of your life into an Internet drain of tips and tricks to get more organized. You’ve hoarded planners and notebooks and pens – you’ve even tried Outlook’s calendar because everyone said it was the future. Or you’ve put things into your phone with alarms attached, but when the alarm went off you still didn’t do the thing because the time was wrong, or you missed it because it wasn’t in the to-do list you were following on that particular day.
Well. I know how you feel. And I hope I’ve found a Panacea.
You may not be like me (INTP, 5w4, air-and-fire chart, cold-but-sensitive, disciplined-but-lazy, razor-sharp scatterbrain), and you may not be helped by what I’m about to tell you. But I’ve had an epiphany, okay? And who has the strength to keep quiet about epiphanies? So anyway, my big Eureka moment came when I realized that it’s essential for me to play at work. To use precious time to do silly things like writing and rewriting and colour-coding things in a planner, or drawing elaborate brain-storming maps on giant pieces of paper.
And perhaps, perhaps using a bullet journal.
You see, a while ago I got a relevant ad on Facebook. I know, unicorn, right? Never happens. But it did happen. I got an ad for this blog, and I checked it out because I sensed that it would speak to me. Sure enough, it proved to be a veritable rabbit hole, and I dove in with all the death-defying grace of Evel Knievel. After a few hours of reading, I took Little Coffee Fox’s advice and decided to apply my creativity to the most boring aspects of my life. To force those boring things into my world of colour and fun.
I did struggle for a while. The whole of September disappeared into a frenzy of trying to merge my new bullet journal system with the GTD system I’d been using so far. I read David Allen’s book a few years back and it changed my life, especially the “next task” bit which has really helped me get control over my planning. But I used to use a binder and rip out my ugly, prefab weekly spreads when I was done with them, which meant that I didn’t keep any memories from my life. It’s like I obliterated the days I’d lived every Friday, and when I came across bullet journalling, I realized I didn’t want to live like that.
Okay, it wasn’t just the bullet thing. It was also the death of a friend. I suddenly felt like oh my god, this stretch of time on Earth actually is precious and I want to remember it, savour it, live it consciously.
And here was this system that would let me do exactly that.
But integrating bullet journalling into GTD was easier said than done. Results partially demonstrated below.
I’ve been using a binder for so long that I’ve forgotten how not to move pages around all the time. As I improvised with the new system, I had to rip pages out and glue them in where I needed them – and then redo it all again when that didn’t work either.
Pretty, yeah? Nah. Not exactly something you’d post to Instagram to brag about your planner.
I pondered going back to my binder so many times, but there were two things that stopped me:
Every so often – since I’m a total klutz – I’ll drop things. And when binders hit the floor, well… basically, papers fly, which means you can kiss your careful organization goodbye.
The fucking rings! They’re in the way 24/7. You can’t write on the left side of your spread, and bullet journalling absolutely depends on The Spread. I was not going to miss out on The Spread because of the fucking rings.
So I persevered.
Not very far into my bullet journal adventure, I realized that having pages with Random Stuff in between my weekly spreads was a no-go. Scotch tape to the rescue! But does it feel inspring to use a falling-apart planner with scotch tape all over the place?
So after a few weeks of agonizing, doodling, thinking, ripping-out, glueing-in again, and taping together of pages, I finally decided to abandon my first “growing-pains” journal and migrate to – yes, I fell for it – a Leuchtturm1917.
And it actually seems to be worth it. I love the dotted grid and the prenumbered pages. I love the discipline it inspires in my hand.
I also love the slew of coloured pens I splurged on because… well, I can rationalize all I want, but I needed to say ‘fuck you’ to certain aspects of my life (dead friends and all that), so I felt like I deserved something frivolous. Also I needed to reconnect with a younger me who loved all things colourful and stationary-related (and who hadn’t met said friend yet… You want symbolism? I’ve got symbolism!).
So yeah. I remember now. Pen and paper was my first love in life. That said, I love – no, I adore – computers and gadgets and editing software and the Internet. But now and again, I need to touch base with pen and paper in hand, with doodles and colours and the actual physicality of putting pen to paper. I need to feel the structure in the page, the way the ink flows from my fingertips.
It’s simple, really. A child would understand it. I’ve always known I was creative, but when life/work/accountant types have told me to suppress it, I’ve dutifully suppressed it (until the drudgery of soulless work drained me of all sense of fun and I lost the will to live).
But no more. Nowadays I follow my whims and spend time decorating my planner, thinking through the day to come with colourful pen in hand, however frivolous it may seem when I’ve got tons to do. Because sooner or later, I know I’ll check off all my duties, but since I’m inspired to do them, I’ll be much more efficient.
So when I’ve tired out my brain with reading scientific reports for two hours, I don’t force-feed it more scientific reports just because there’s still a pile to get through. Instead I turn to something else, something fun and silly and “pointless”, and I let myself do that until a new spark leads me in a more “serious” direction again – which invariably happens!
You just have to trust yourself to get back in the groove after your little outing into la la land. Because if you don’t allow yourself to play, you won’t do the other things well either.
Funnily enough, this way of living often leads to the opposite of procrastinating: I do things that don’t need to be done in months, instead of what’s actually on my desk at the moment. But the great thing about this is that when the deadline for the future thing approaches, I’ve long since started the project and perhaps even half finished it, so I already have wind in my sails!
To sum up, I firmly believe that if you’re creative (and I mean deeply, pathologically creative), you need to make your life creative, even the boring things. Like, sure, you can curse your way through paying your bills and cleaning your house, or you can – I dunno – put on some music and dance with the broom? You know best what will work for you, but my point is that we have a choice either to suffer through the boring stuff by closing our eyes and thinking of England, or we can make the task adapt to us instead of the other way round.
Finally, a note on the often gorgeous spreads you see on Instagram and the like: those are the result of painstaking practice and countless mistakes. Nothing is perfect the first time – or the thousandth time. There’s always a different truth behind the scenes.
First, a note: I feel guilty for posting anything remotely normal. It’s too early, it’s too meaningless. I should be living in a cave for a year to honour the dead.
On the other hand, I feel more obligated to LIVE than I have in a long time. Like I’ve been reminded how precious this world is, and what’s the point of being left behind if you don’t make the most of it?
So tonight I did something I haven’t done for twenty years: I baked.
Hubby had cooked vegetables in chicken stock for dinner, and I used the left over broth for my bread. Managing my resources in a way that connects me to the rest of human history.
It’s a funny thing about autumn – I get this primeval urge to gather, to put away, to stock up on things. Normally I just go for ready-made preserves, but tonight it felt right to do something with my hands.
Bread. The symbol for life.
In the days after news of a death, it’s impossible not to feel like you’re making a statement.
When I got the news, it was like a sliced fingertip. First there was nothing, no sensation at all. Then that hot, tingly feeling that’s the harbinger of pain – the deep breath before you realize you’ve cut yourself, deep. And then… pain and blood, hitting with full force.
We used to call you “our man in Berlin”. I don’t think you ever knew that. In hindsight, it’s almost too apt. You were undercover, off somewhere doing the impossible, and we watched from afar. Your absence was literal, but also figurative. You had your own Scorpio world, populated by phantoms and screams. We never really knew you. Maybe no one did.
Our few moments of real connection – Nick Drake, Recoil, And One, always there was a soundtrack to these moments – were unexpected bursts of sun in a gloomy cloudscape where our efforts at communication were, in your own words, exercises in estrangement.
And yet, even though we never really connected, it feels like a part of me is gone. How’s that for banal? But you once said it’s the banal stuff that counts, so I’m allowing myself a piece of clichéd emotion in your honour.
At one time, I even wanted to be you. I wanted that darkness, that mystery to be mine. Wanted my ordinariness to be excised. I was attracted, like you’re attracted to a sheer cliff. Like you toy with the idea of stepping into that nothingness beyond.
But your cliff was something else entirely. It was real in a way mine never was, and now you’ve taken that step. This new absence of yours is total, concrete, unquestionable. And I want to tell you. I want to call you and say, “You’ll never believe what happened – you died!” We’d laugh about it – about the obviousness, the improbableness of it all. About how I wrote it in a song fifteen years ago. About ravens and Poe and fate.
But I can’t tell you, and so it’s like you’ll never know. That you’re not here. We’re all here, everyone who knew you, and you’re not-here. As if you’ve taken the concept of leaving a party early to go home and listen to Kindertotenlieder to a whole new level.
And that’s how I choose to see it. That you left. That death took you with your consent. That you completed your mission and dropped your gun in the Havel.