Learning from failure: a Bullet Journal experiment update

After starting my Bullet Journal experiment, I wrote down my worries concerning maintaining the experiment. One worry was boredom, one was letting things slide because success would lead to overconfidence, and the third concern was getting distracted. Specifically I said:

Good habits aren’t easy to form, but so simple to break. Think about a gym-commitment. How many times do you start some exercise program only to stop because for two days in a row, you are too busy to go to the gym? This happens to me all the time at work. My best intentions get trashed because I arrive and have to solve any number of mini (or not so mini) crises.

I promised myself that I would spend at least five minutes a day updating my various Bullet Journals, but in November, things fell apart. I managed to keep up some semblance of lists until mid-November, but after the 20th, I added one entry on the 30th and nothing since then. In my home-related journal, the abandonment happened well before that. And other than medical appointments, I haven’t added anything to my agenda in a long time.

Since things aren’t working, I need to step back and examine what went wrong and I need to go back to my root reasons for creating the Bullet Journal in the first place. Those are simple:

  • to create a record of everything I do at work so that I can plan better each year (as almost everything is repeated annually),
  • to make sure I don’t forget any task or activity due to being busy or distracted, and
  • to learn to blend work-Alex with home-Alex to create better balance.

Okay, so if those are the three objectives, what went wrong?

I got distracted by technology. Remember how I moved from iPad Pro? It allowed me to create an infinite number of journals. Bad idea! I’m a minimalist and need everything in one place.

Each day more than half of my workday was taken up with covering the tasks of an employee on sick leave. When I had time to do my own work, I ran around putting out all the mini fires that were popping up because I wasn’t keeping a watchful eye on the whole bonfire.

By separating out work and home journal, I complete negated the third objective and went back to my comfort zone which is to put my focus and energies into work.

Does that mean the Bullet Journal experiment has been a failure? Only if I let it.

The good thing about calling the project an experiment is that failure is built into the name. Most discoveries are made through systematic trial and error and each failure is considered progress towards the desired result rather than proof that the project isn’t worth pursuing.

J.K. Rowling gave a speech years ago about the power of failure (included in this great list of her successes). Failure is part of the learning process. If we let failure stop us from moving forward then the failure and any related suffering has served us for nothing. Of course, the result may be  abandoning the project. It’s madness and soul-destroying to continue something when it’s obvious that the originally desired result is not possible.

But that is not my case.

With the holiday season upon us, now more than ever, I need to refocus and go back to my original plan — one journal with all my information together. I will stay with the digital version instead of going all the way back to my physical journal (although they are so nice to touch and feel) because the digital version allows me to move pages around and insert images and with ease.

How have you used failure to refocus your projects and find new and better ways to create progress?

Celebrating success: a Bullet Journal experiment update

It’s not the prettiest Journal, but it works.

The first two weeks of September are always the busiest in my day job and usually I get to launch day exhausted, facing a hundred little crises, and with a knot in my stomach because I have not had time to complete some really important tasks.

This year, however, everything has gone as smooth as silk and I have to attribute the success to my use of my Bullet Journal. Of course, every year, I make to-do lists, but always in a haphazard manner on a variety of different pieces of paper and/or computer files and emails.

I also managed to be productive in my personal life as well. Remember how I made the decision to be purposeful about my choices in life? Well, that has extended into this crazy period of the year, and despite ten and twelve hour days at work, I’ve been in better and more meaningful touch with my husband and friends than I’ve been in years.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why the Bullet Journal has produced different results, but I do have a few ideas.

  • Part of it is because I knew I was using it as an experiment here on Unclutterer, so I never let a day pass without updating the Journal.
  • By giving work and personal life tasks and thoughts equal priority, one never took over the other. And success in one area motivated me and encouraged success in the other.
  • I hate rigid rules and the rebellious teenager in me always wants to break them, so having been told right from the start that “rules” for Bullet Journaling are meant to be broken, my inner-teen never needed to rebel.

The system isn’t perfect, of course. Now that I write everything down, if it’s not in the Journal, it doesn’t happen. For example, in preparing to go down to our apartment in La Rioja last Friday, I reminded myself to take the house keys off their hook and leave them out where I could see them, but I didn’t write it down. Did I forget my set of keys? You bet I did!

The index is useless for me. I know I am never going to go back to review things. My lists and thoughts are “in the moment” things. Once completed, I move on. In my next Journal, the index will disappear.

The Future Planning portion makes no sense to me. I prefer to have a section with the whole year divided into months so that the planning can go there (one side of the page with the days of the month and the other with notes).

I also have added a section. This Monday, I created a weekly calendar that went before this week’s lists. It helped me organize my time in such a way that I didn’t forget a single appointment and I managed to squeeze in free-time and relaxation before the week’s craziness took over.

Planning for system breakdowns: a Bullet Journal experiment

This week when I return to work I will officially start my Bullet Journal experiment. While it looks like a good system and has already helped me in some ways, I question whether I will be able to maintain it. Here are some issues that may cause a breakdown in the system, along with some possible solutions to them.

Boredom

Although I love creating systems and routines, I find maintenance of them rather dull. I need constant proof that a system makes my life easier or I abandon it for something new after a few months at the most.

For this Bullet Journal experiment to work, I am going to have to be aware of any imminent boredom and find ways to tweak the system without tossing it aside completely.

Distractions

Good habits aren’t easy to form, but so simple to break. Think about a gym-commitment. How many times do you start some exercise program only to stop because for two days in a row, you are too busy to go to the gym? This happens to me all the time at work. My best intentions get trashed because I arrive and have to solve any number of mini (or not so mini) crises.

A top priority for this experiment, therefore, will be at least five minutes a day updating my journal no matter what else is happening.

Success

How can success cause a system breakdown? Simple, if things are going well, I relax. Who needs to be diligent if everything is going well? The phrase “sitting on one’s laurels” comes to mind in this instance. I pat myself on the back, tell myself how awesome I am, and forget that continued success requires more effort.

To combat this possible error in the system, I will need to be aware of any feelings of overconfidence and remember that success comes from constant work; it doesn’t fall out of the sky randomly.

How about you? What issues have caused blips or breakdowns in your own Bullet Journalling projects?

Changing habits painlessly: a Bullet Journal experiment

A couple of weeks ago I stated my intention of using a Bullet Journal to improve not just my work productivity but to keep me on track with all the events I have throughout the year in my personal life.

Thank you to all of you who took the time to comment and to encourage me. The two most common suggestions were to customize and to take care not to get sucked into all the extras, and that advice has been duly noted and absorbed.

Fortunately I am a lazy person and my artistic interests lie in textiles not scrapbooking, so I won’t get drawn into forums or into making my journal pretty. My goal for using the Bullet Journal is to make sure that I use my time productively at work (so as to avoid chaos) and to not get into trouble at home by forgetting to plan special moments in our lives (something that happens quite often given my head-in-the-clouds personality). If at any point I find using a Bullet Journal takes more time than any of my other productivity systems in the past, out the window it will go.

As for customizing the system, I’ve already done that. According to the website, I was “supposed to” set up a Future Planning section where events and tasks for more than the current month and then a Monthly Calendar/To Do List at the beginning of each month.

This didn’t work for me. Given the nature of my job, and the way I tend to leave personal tasks to the last minute, I need to have the Monthly Calendars/To Do Lists laid out from the start. The Future Planning section will likely get ignored or will be used to put general topics only. And maybe next year it will disappear altogether. Time and use will tell.

I can see the benefit of using a Bullet Journal already, and I haven’t even started using the day-to-day lists (I’m waiting until after my vacation to get started on those). As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m horrible at remembering to plan for anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and so on. It’s like they suddenly jump out at me out of nowhere, like October 8th (our wedding anniversary) happens at some random point in the year and I never know exactly when it will show up.

By just setting up the Monthly Calendars and giving myself a full page beside each calendar for the To Do Lists, I’ve already started to think about special events that are going to happen between now and next August and have even started planning them.

For example, in 2018 the Eurovision Song Contest will be happening in Lisbon (and will likely never be so close or so affordable in many years again). This is a very popular event and will not just sell out quickly, but Lisbon itself will fill up and soon there will be no place to stay. Taking past habits into account, my normal mode of acting on this desire to go would be to wait until April 2018 to start organizing everything, or to wait until my husband brought up the topic. However, by marking the date in the Monthly Calendar and in the Future Planning section of the journal, I’ve made myself doubly aware of the need to plan. May 2018 is not really that far away. I added a note in the November section of the Future Planning to say that we need to start organizing the trip by then or it’s not going to happen.

That’s one habit changed, without any fuss or struggle. Yay me!

I can’t wait to see how else using the Bullet Journal will bring about changes in habits and productivity.

For those of you who do use Bullet Journals, how has the system changed things for you?

Bullet Journals: an experiment in productivity

As I head into my vacations, I’m getting myself organized for the new year and for me, that starts in September. I would like to find ways to avoid both the organized disorganization and crisis-inspired chaos that always kills my best intentions to stay on top of my daily tasks and move my various pet projects forward.

Recently, a reader asked about bullet journals, so I investigated the Bullet Journal website created by the digital product designer Ryder Carroll. After poking around, I decided that I’m going to give this system a try. It’s going to be a challenge for me because there seems to be lots of parts to it and various stages. However, I’m going to go in with a good attitude.

First off, I will set myself up on the system before I go away on holiday so that I know exactly what I need to do the day I get back in order to hit the ground running.

My first task is to choose myself a notebook. At work, we have spiral-bound notebooks that have been branded with the company’s image, but I don’t think I will use one of those. The Bullet Journal website also sells their own book, but it’s a bit too expensive for me. Instead, I think I will go for my favorite writing notebook, the Moleskine Journal. It’s a good size, opens flat on the desktop well, and is about the same size as my iPad so can go into the iPad’s slipcover for easy transport.

While it might take me a while to get used to the various ways bullet points are expressed through rapid logging (there seem to be so many!), I rather like the idea of putting an ever-growing index at the beginning of the journal. Always in the past, I’ve made to-do lists and then once I’ve crossed off or migrated the task, I’ve forgotten about it, making it a challenge to remember the repetitive tasks that I do every year, every month, or even every week. By having an index that I can refer to at a glance, I’ll be able to remind myself of what sorts of things I need to be thinking about.

(On a side note, it has suddenly occurred to me that I should probably include personal topics in this journal as I’m notorious for forgetting things and thus leave organizing family events to the last minute, or not at all.)

I also like the next section of a monthly calendar with events to record (before and after) as well as a page for tasks in the month. This section will be extremely useful next July when I am organizing the 2018-2019 year. It does, however, take up a lot of space in the notebook, making me wonder if perhaps I’ve chosen a book with not enough pages.

Then again, when reading about the daily task lists, I won’t be using a full page each day. So as to not waste paper, each day’s list is created the night before, meaning I won’t need over three hundred pages to cover the whole year.

The notebook is now set up and ready to use. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I fear that it’s going to take some dedication to stick to the system, but in having organized the notebook, I can already see how it is going to help me. And most surprisingly, I believe it’s going to be more helpful in my personal life than at work.

I’ll let you all know how it goes. Have any of you had a good or bad experience using the Bullet Journal system?

Staying on top of tasks: a Bullet Journal update

A couple of months ago, I committed to experimenting with the Bullet Journal process for organizing my time and tasks. I wanted to know several things before deciding if it was a success or not.

Does the system work?

As I’ve said in previous articles about the system, I’m really quite impressed by it. It works because it’s simple. With the amount of work stress I’ve been under the past six weeks, anything that gave me more work would have failed on the second day. I can honestly say that far from creating more work, it has saved me a lot of last minute crisis solving because I got things done before they reached crisis point.

Is it flexible enough to adapt to different situations?

Any system that cannot adapt will never be viable. The Bullet Journal system manages to adapt not only to people’s individual ways of working, but also to the changing needs of the same person.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that in future notebooks, I would get rid of the Future Planning section, put the month-by-month planning first and then add a weekly calendar before my day-to-day lists. The first two items will actually happen, but the weekly calendar is something I need only when I have a lot of appointments. Most of my tasks aren’t tied to specific dates, so I don’t need to plan out my week normally, but when I do, starting with a blank page rather than a pre-designed calendar, I can create a weekly plan only when I need to.

Can it carry me through very stressful times?

September is always a crazy time of year work-wise. This year, it was even more so because we are installing a new client database. Being a bit on the distracted/obsessive side, when faced with huge and/or stressful projects, I tend to focus on them and let the rest slide.

In previous years, my staff (who are the front-line workers in our industry) haven’t received the support or materials they need to do their jobs well because I’ve been to busy focused on the administrative side, forgetting that if we don’t deliver the service well, we won’t get clients.

By writing down all my tasks (and rewriting postponed ones the next day), very few things have slipped through the cracks this year, and staff have been more prepared than ever.

Can I use it to maintain a work/life balance?

My slightly obsessive nature often causes me to forget about my home life when work gets busy. This year, however, despite doing ten or twelve hour days in the office, I’ve managed to avoid the unfortunately all-too-true cries of abandonment at home. We like to stay busy, organizing weekends with friends at home or away.

Normally at this time of year, I leave all of that organizing up to my husband and basically take for granted that he will do what needs doing so that I can relax and have fun on the weekend.

Not so this year, for once!

We have really come together as a team, participating and communicating so much more, so much that two weeks ago when I told my husband that yet again the following week I would be doing morning and afternoon shifts, he answered with a simple “okay” rather than any expression of disappointment.

And can I maintain it?

This is the one thing I’m not sure about. I’ve already pretty much abandoned the system on weekends. But I’m all right with that. Weekends are when I can disconnect and I believe that if I kept up the Bullet Journal on weekends as well, it would turn into a chore and I’d be quicker to abandon it during the work week just out of resentment. Fortunately, however, none of my system breakdown fears has come true.

In my next Bullet Journal experiment update (once my work life has settled into its normal routines) I’ll let you know how well I’ve managed to maintain the system.

Year-round resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are an ancient ritual, stretching all the way back to the Babylonians and the Romans who made promises to their gods to do things better in the coming year.

However, just because something has been done for a very long time, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessary, or even useful. And, to be honest, how many people do you know actually follow through on their resolutions? Fitness centres rely on resolutions for a influx of income knowing that the majority of new clients will only attend classes for a few weeks, but will actually pay for several months, or even a full year.

One of the main reasons that I don’t like New Year’s resolutions is that they set us up for a fall and create a failure mentality. Despite knowing that we are unlikely to follow through on our resolutions, we promise ourselves quite often outrageous things, possibly even fundamental changes in who we are. (For me that would be resolving to go to networking events in the city and thus go against my introvert nature.)

When we make unrealistic resolutions, we are basically telling ourselves that we aren’t good enough as we are and need to change. All you need to do is look at common resolutions to see how poorly we think of ourselves:

  • Lose weight (I’m fat.)
  • Be more positive (Life sucks.)
  • Get out of debt (I’m not financially responsible.)
  • Improve my career (I hate my job.)
  • Learn something new (I’m ignorant/uncultured/lazy.)
  • Get organized (I’m a disaster.)
  • Be nicer (I’m a grump.)

And the list goes on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for introspection and self-improvement, but doing it once a year in a fervor of self-punishment is not the best way to achieve a goal.

I believe a much better way is the following:

  • Know yourself. What type of person are you? What works for you? What doesn’t? Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies is a great book to read if you want a simple and efficient way of answering these questions.
  • Examine your life. What’s working? What isn’t? Don’t look at your perceived faults and failings. Take a look at where you want to be and where you are in that process. By doing so, you remove the personal judgement and make it an objective review of your objectives. Burnett’s and Evans’ The Designing Your Life Workbook is a good tool for that.
  • Monitor your progress and set up regular reviews. As I have been doing with my Bullet Journal experiment, check in regularly with your objectives. Progress needs to be examined on a weekly basis at the very least (if not daily), the circumstances need to be reviewed, and minor alterations in course need to be made. For me the Bullet Journal system has been working very well so far.

So, instead of asking you what you resolutions are, I’ll ask you what goals you are working on and what progress you’re making with them.

Going the distance: maintaining motivation in long projects

At the beginning of September, my husband and I started a new way of thinking about our food with the goal of getting down to a healthier weight. We got professional help and we made the decision that we wanted to succeed.

Now six weeks into the goal, we are on track, having lost an encouraging and healthy amount of weight, despite having birthday parties and Canadian Thanksgiving to tempt us into giving up. My husband continues to be motivated, but I have to recognize that I care much less. I’m now down to my average weight from the past six years and I’m more or less comfortable. My husband, however, has a bit to go before getting down to his usual size.

It’s common part way into a project to lose motivation and make less effort. In fact, I mentioned how in my Bullet Journal experiment, I’ve given up tracking my weekends and how I have to be extra vigilant so as not to let the experiment slide.

When this point in a project arrives, it’s important to re-examine motivations and maybe find new ones.

For example, my husband is still motivated because every day he can get back into a piece of clothing that he hasn’t been able to wear in at least a year. All my clothes fit me, however, so I’m not motivated by the same benchmark. If I want to continue dropping pounds, I’m going to have to find myself a new way to get myself excited about the goal.

In your home or office organizing projects, different family members will have different motivations and over time those motivations will change. And sometimes what seems like a logical motivation won’t carry enough emotional power to influence behaviour.

I’m at this point. I have food issues, being borderline celiac. If I eat gluten, my rosecea flares up, my moods soar all over the place and I get quite distracted and forgetful. It doesn’t work for me as a motivation ignore though because it’s a negative motivator. Yes, I feel better when I stay away from gluten, but it’s hard work, especially when eating outside the home.

I still want to continue to lose weight, ideally getting down to my wedding weight back in 2011. I’m already almost halfway there, but I need to find some sort of motivation that grabs me and drags me along towards success without a fight.

Forbes has a good article about motivation and I’ve always been a fan of Gretchen Rubin, but none of what Forbes suggests excites me, and I really don’t feel like re-reading any of Rubin’s books.

So, I’ve decided to crowdsource my motivation. What tricks and tips do you have for maintaining motivation when the excitement of a new project wears off?