My Bullet Journal Has Literally Changed My Life

I heard the term “bullet journal” from friends on Twitter, and brushed it off as just one of those things that pops up that I’ll work out eventually. There’s a lot of terminology that just flows past me online.

Then I started watching the How To ADHD videos, and there was one on bullet journals, which made it sound like a good solution to a lot of my problems, listed below.

  1. I forget everything.
  2. I make multiple to-do lists in different places and forget they exist, including-
    1. Post-it notes on my desk at work (multiple)
    2. Post-it notes on my desk at home (multiple)
    3. Word documents on my laptop
    4. Reminder lists on my phone
    5. Entries in my calendar (with reminders)
  3. I can’t work out how long things take even when I try super hard and try to learn from past experience and try to add in a lot of extra time
  4. …so I overcommit and try to make myself do too much, leading to-
  5. Ludicrous stress from overscheduling, leading to-
  6. Collapsing from exhaustion and not getting stuff done

(we’ll set aside the fact that muscular fatigue and low blood pressure mean that me “collapsing from exhaustion” might take a bit less activity than for most people)

I’m constantly trying to make lists of shows I want to watch, books I want to read, music I want to check out, as well as more important stuff like “remember to catch up with [x] once in a while as they’re not part of your usual social crowd”.

So, I bought a nice notebook from Officeworks and got started.

Then I realised it wasn’t small enough to fit in my tiny adorable handbag (fits Kindle, phone, wallet, keys, pens, hairties, lip balm, tiny hand cream, 1x sheet of painkillers). So I went online and looked around for what I wanted and started over.

My bullet journal (a pocket Moleskine)

Filled with stickers and organisational goodness.

I think I’m finally settled in with the process, and here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. I like to make things pretty, but not too pretty

If you search online for bullet journalling pages and guides, you’ll find a lot of really intimidating and beautiful stuff. You’ll see graphic design and hand-drawn calligraphy and some stunning artistic visions. I’m actually pretty minimalist with my decorations as you can see, and making it pretty is entirely fucking optional. It turns out that I like to use washi tape, I like to put stickers in randomly, and I like different coloured pens and occasionally pencils, and that’s it. Most days are just rapid logs vs. journal notes, and that’s just hand-scribbled with black and blue pen.

If I felt the obligation to make it super pretty – if I turned it into a full-on hobby as some people do – I would never keep up with it. It would turn into work. It turns out that, in spite of my desire for things to be pretty and perfect (in which case I would also never actually fucking use it), I can kind of temporarily unhook that part of my brain and let myself be chaotic and semi-random and just drop colours in wherever I like.

A week on holiday

Tasks/notes on the left, reflections on the right. In my defense, I was writing this on an actual boat, hence the bodgy handwriting.

  1. This shit is soothing and mindful as fuck

The part where I let myself scribble and scrawl and paste stickers and washi tape and use different colours is… incredibly soothing. Sitting down to draw out my week planner puts me in a strange, almost meditative, state. I stop worrying and thinking about everything else, and I’m totally focused on what I’m doing. It’s lovely. And again, if I were worrying too much about perfection, it would ruin it for me.

  1. Organised lists are THE BOMB

At first, I found that brain-dumping into my bujo was incredibly soothing. Knowing I could just jot down whatever it was, either on a to-do list or a random page I’d nominated “Books I want to read”, meant that a huge weight fell off me. I have the app on my phone, so that even if I’m just walking around, I can quickly pull it out, brain-dump whatever it is, and transfer it to the appropriate spot in my bujo later. As an ADHD person whose brain never fucking shuts up (although the meds are helping), this is an extraordinary boon.

My packing list for dive guiding

As you can see, I have only done two guided dives since I made this, and also I forgot that I needed fins until the second page.

  1. BUT I THINK OF SHIT I SHOULD DO ALL THE TIME

I quickly ran into a problem where I would write down everything I could think of that needed doing on today’s date, and then panic trying to get it all done because somehow if I didn’t get it all done, I would “fail”. This is the perfectionist bastard part of my personality. So I started a new list, of “things that need to get done but not right now”, and I also started lists at the beginning of each week, being “things that should be done this week some time” – as well as the traditional monthly logs.

  1. Making peace with migration

I think this might have more to do with my new ADHD medication than the actual bujo process, but migration – moving tasks to the next day, the next month, or back to a different time scale – is literally built into the design, so that helps. Feeling like it’s somehow officially endorsed that you might not get all your shit done – or that some stuff doesn’t even need to be written down (like “make bed”) – is irrationally comforting. I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to not get everything on my list done.

  1. My daily to-do lists are getting shorter / more stuff is getting done

I’m learning to keep my daily logging lists shorter – partly because my bujo is a pocket notebook and it is filling up fast! – and my requirements for a day relatively low. It’s funny. For years I’ve known that I take on too much, but it took actually seeing it, visually, to get me to work out how to solve the problem. And I am getting there.

But even when the list is long, a lot of that stuff is… really easy. Things like “make appointment”, which I would put off because I hate using the phone, will only take me a couple of minutes, and since I have a rampant addiction to dopamine (delivered by ticking things off my list) which outweighs my aversion to phone calls, I just get it done.

  1. Habit trackers are freaking amazing

So. This one is almost the best part. It took me a couple of tries to find a format I liked, but… wow. It’s effective. Particularly as there are things that I should do that I forget. For example: Amos needs antihistamines every day, as he has atopic allergies. A habit entitled “Amos pills” helps keep me on track. I also use one for flossing and I swear to god I have flossed every day for the past three weeks even while on holiday. I have a lot of things I track this way: Sunlamp (only in the Dark Months), Supplements, Keto, Exercise.

Habit tracker and Week List

Look at all that flossing. SO MUCH FLOSSING.

I even track “shower”, not because it’s something I think I should do every day, but because I actually lose track very easily since I don’t shower more than 2-3 times a week. Showering is exhausting for me because of the whole hypermobility/low blood pressure issue, and I hate it, to be honest, but I love being clean. I shower after cardio, after diving, after swimming and when I feel really gross. That’s it.

Reminding myself to scoop out the kitty litter every day – that’s another thing that I can easily forget – to the point the Mustrum Ridcully gets irritable and starts defecating in the bathtub overnight.

Mustrum Ridcully Naps in the Cat Hut

Would this cat ever do something so heinous as take a crap in a bathtub when the litter is not pristine? Surely not.

This has made an actual, profound difference in my life, since most of these things don’t take much effort and it’s important that I do them (or at least keep an eye on them: I also have “booze” and “painkillers”).

  1. I actually need two bullet journals

Because I use a titchy notebook, it fills up very fast. Really, I need two of them (two will still fit in my adorable tiny handbag): one for the actual journaling and planning, and one for all my other notes and lists. I’ve filled 145 pages of a 192 page notebook in under two months. I make a lot of lists.

To give you an idea, here are some of my lists:

  • TV shows I haven’t finished that I should watch
  • Movies I want to see
  • Authors I need more of
  • Things to pack for dive guiding
  • Packing list for holiday
  • Blog post ideas (yeah, that’s longer than you might think)
  • Things that need doing but not urgently
  • Fun stuff I could do when I’m at a loose end (because I have trouble thinking of what to do)
  • Computer games I want to play
  • An actual budget
  • Singers and music to check out
  • Physical books I want (as opposed to ebooks)
  • Addresses and phone numbers for all my doctors and specialists
  • Stories in progress
  • Ravenclaw vs. Slytherin (um. Michael and I making fun of each other every time we did something silly when we were on holiday, and Slytherin lost 50 points when Michael broke the tap in our resort room… twice… after I told him how he’d done it and not to do it again… right after as in literal seconds).
  • Scoring for awards that I have judged
  • Notes for stories
  • Blogs and YouTubes I’m interested in
  • Albums I own but should listen to more
  • Things I can do when the power is out (item one is “drive somewhere else”)
  • Notes for stories I’m writing or planning to write (separate page/spread per story) – can’t get too in-depth here, this is just for scribbling thoughts I have when I’m out and about.
  • People I haven’t seen in ages that I should get in touch with

This might give you some idea. This, along with actual phrases for stories and blog posts, is the kind of thing that constantly pops up in my head while I’m going about my day. There’s probably a heavier emphasis on “things I need to do” (like “crap, we should really weatherproof the house” and “wow, the mailbox is extremely gross, I should clean it”) than the other lists.

And the fact that I have built an Index in the front of the bullet journal (one of the key components of a bullet journal) means that I can actually find those lists when I need them. If I decide that one page isn’t enough, I can just pick another blank page in my journal and continue the list. Then I just add the new page number to my index, and I know that list exists on page 46 and page 95 (just for example).

In Conclusion

My bullet journal is a relatively low maintenance way of keeping track of my life, and it allows me a lot more freedom than traditional diaries and planners. I have used those extensively, but they don’t allow enough space for those daily lists and monthly tasks, and they don’t have the option for me to restructure how I’m managing my plans and schedules as I go. If the way I draw out a weekly planner doesn’t work for me, I could just draw out a different one next week, for example. I’ve already fine-tuned how I manage my monthly layout.

Basically, the diaries get very messy, very fast, and they became almost impossible for me to navigate. This way, I have my daily, weekly and monthly lists, and I can populate the small ones from the big ones, and reprioritise as needed. Over time I start to learn how much I can reasonably do in a day, and at the end of the day, if I feel like I haven’t done anything, I can look at my bullet journal and remind myself that I went to the gym, went to a long specialist appointment an hour’s drive away, visited a friend I don’t get to see often, replied to three emails I needed to deal with, scheduled an appointment, and made cookies.

And then I can see that I’m not lazy, just because I didn’t manage everything.

Not lazy, just because commuting and medical shit and workouts take more time in reality than they do in my head.

Not lazy, just because now and then I prioritise my people highly.

Not lazy, just because by the time I got home my blood pressure was tanking, my ADHD meds had worn off, and I couldn’t think clearly enough to tackle the edits on my current novel.

I can use my habit tracker and a flick through my logs to see trends – to see that I usually do things, that I get things done, that I don’t procrastinate nearly as much as I think, to see that my energy levels are getting better as I respond to my medications, to see that I do exercise most days, and I’m not slacking off, to see that I’ve stayed keto for a week now-

So.

It helps me manage my time, and my life, and remember things, and it also helps to combat the negative aspects of my ADHD self-image (I’m unreliable, I’m flaky, I never do anything, I always put things off, etc. etc.).

It’s also fun, what with all the stickers and the coloured pens and the washi tape.

I’ll keep doing it for a while.

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Holiday adventures: My First Whale Shark

Husband and I are in Thailand at the moment, decompressing and enjoying the tropical warmth and sun (from the shade. We’re a bit too pale to enjoy it more directly, especially my redheaded self). We just spent four days on a live-aboard diving tour of the Similan Islands (we went with Similan Diving Safaris and I recommend them without hesitation), and it’s hard to be back on land with no prospect of diving any time soon. Our resort isn’t really positioned for easy day trips.

Anyway, the important thing is that after twelve years of diving and about 270 trips beneath the surface, I’ve finally seen a whale shark. A little one.

Here’s the story of how that happened. I tried to keep it short, but you know me.

We did a spectacular dive on the Koh Tachai Plateau, and I was floored. It was breathtaking. Visibility for miles, clouds of hundreds and thousands of fish, so many species, so much to see that I didn’t even know what to write in my dive log when I got to it. We had a newish diver (about 15 dives, hadn’t dived in years, doing her advanced) and, as we all do at that point, she tended to gas out (erm, run out of air) pretty quickly. This meant that when she was ready to go up, I still had half a tank on a beautiful dive site.

That’s okay, the guide (Alex) had given me a spare SMB (surface marker buoy), and Michael and I are experienced enough divers that we could be left to our own devices. Unfortunately, Michael was having some nasty foot pain and wanted to quit so, sadly, I ascended with the group.

On the boat, I noticed that Alex was about to get back in. “Mini-dive,” he said, since he also still had nearly half a tank left (a bit less after ascent and safety stop). “Is that an option?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied.

I fished my dive computer out of the tub, unhooked the SMB and GoPro – it would be a short dive and I thought I wouldn’t need it – and we jumped back in for a short dive.

The site took my breath away again, and I followed Alex as we ambled around and explored, witnessed giant trevally hunting, and generally just had a grand time. I got down to my reserve (50bar), and let him know, so we began to head slowly back to the mooring line.

By the time we got there, I was at about… 35 bar? 30 maybe? My computer started counting down my stop, so I hooked my legs over the line (you can’t always do that, sometimes they’re covered in barnacles, but this was a clean one) and relaxed to admire the view.

The boss had brought his kids along, so I could watch them diving off the back of the boat and snorkelling (with the captain, who was also partial to a swim). The youngest boy waved at me, I waved back, feeling at peace with the world.

Then the call came out from the captain, who ducked down, pointed, and managed to shout underwater. I didn’t hear what he said, just the urgency of it, and both the guide and I swivelled our heads and turned. There were a few splashes over head as people grabbed snorkels and dropped in off the back.

I saw this distant, blurry shape. “It can’t be,” I thought. But it was! A whale shark came briefly into view – a mere glimpse, just for a minute, maybe less, and then disappeared. I figured that was it. The guide indicated he was going to go check it out, reserve be damned, and then the shark turned back towards us and swam directly towards me, where I hung, on the mooring line, now down to less than 30 bar in the tank, my safety stop timer having finished a little while ago.

It was just a baby, maybe 2.5m long at most, and a little shy. It came within maybe ten metres of us before turning sharply and sauntering back off into the blue.

The whole thing probably took less than five minutes, but I was high for the rest of the day.