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.