Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bullet Journaling is Saving My Ass

This could also be my Trapper
notebook from 1984 to 1988. 

One of the ways that I’ve been dealing with the last few months is with measured distraction. I started drawing again, after a decade or more of inactivity, and that's been very pleasant.Of course, I’ve also been blogging like a helicopter mom in an unfamiliar school district. I even started a second blog for discussing my lifelong relationship with tabletop gaming, if you haven't seen me mention it yet.

But I started doing something else that I have been reading about for a while called Bullet Journaling, ostensibly to help me keep track of all the appointments and scheduling we needed to do. However, I found out that there’s a lot more I can do with bullet journaling, and quite frankly, it has saved my ass.


A guy name Ryder invented the system. His page is here and there are a ton of Bullet Journal communities on Facebook, Pinterest, Google, and so on and so forth. Many of them call it “Bujo,” because, apparently, in 2018, we are unable to say all of a word when there are two or more of them in a row. I hate the term “bujo,” but if you do a search for it, you’ll see a lot of freaking amazing “spreads” and self-designed pages that are drawn by professional artists and talented amateurs because this system is really good for creative people and if you’re like most people, you’ll be intimidated as hell because you’re not a good draw-er or whatever.  Here is a link to how to start bullet journaling without freaking out about it.

I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. It used to be a journal, but over the years, it shrunk down to a pocket-sized thing. I tried, over the years, to use a planner, but I’d do it for a few weeks or a couple of months and then slag off. It was big and cumbersome. The boxes felt like homework. I don’t know what it was. And so, for years, I’ve filled idea notebooks and sketch books with pages that say “Call Bill on 7-4 re: LSP” and I’m just supposed to know what the hell that is—or worse, I did know, and now that it’s over, I’m forever tripping over that page, which was in the middle of a string of organized ideas.

This notebook is specific to Wal-Mart,
chosen for its cheapness and number
of pages. Also, the design was cool.
Most creative people I know have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but really localized and not debilitating, generally speaking. I like to compartmentalize, as I’ve revealed many times before on this blog. To wit, I had, at one point, four different notebooks—one for work, one for reminders and to-dos, one for creative stuff NOT related to the book I was writing, and one for the book I was writing. I used to buy blank books and stack them up. It was a sickness.

The Bullet Journal method absolutely fetishizes its preferred journals (again, only look this up if you like falling into Rabbit Holes) and its pens. Like any good DIY and maker-based hobby, there are no shortage of products to sink your credit card into. And while I’d heard about this bullet-point system, I was leery about dropping a wad of dough on something that, in all honesty, I might abandon in four weeks, if my track record held up.

So I did the sensible thing: I bought a practice book. A cheap-ass trial journal. This composition book costs .97 at Wal-Mart. 200 pages. 5x5 graph paper (that's five squares to the inch, for those of you not down with the lingo of graph paper). Perfect for me to try out, and if I don’t like it, I can ditch it and not feel guilty about buying a twenty-dollar blank book.

Some of my early bullets, mostly colored in.
Right away, I knew that if I didn’t write down my daily tasks, I’d forget something important. Even the stuff I have been doing from day one got recorded. I was taking no chances, not with the added stress of Cathy’s doctor appointments and the logistics of getting her to and from them, since every doctor is an hour’s drive away. I was excited by how easy it was for me to make a list of everything I need to do each day (lists are my go-to for organizing, anyway) and then tick off what I got done. I use the whole square, and color it in. Very satisfying.

This simple idea—this practice journal—was an ingenious move on my part. It gave me permission to mess it up, to change my mind, and to figure out what works best for me. About six weeks in, as I was paging through what I’d already done, I hit upon the realization that I wasn’t really journaling, not in any traditional sense of the word. Instead, I was mapping and tracking my thought process. This book? This is how I think. I’ll be in the middle of doing something, and that will give me a brilliant idea, and so I just start another page and document it, and then go back to what I was working on. The index at the front takes care of where my genius resides, and there is great satisfaction in coloring in the squares when I finish a task.

There are five spaces in my Daily Self-Care bullet, with
the fifth space being in the center. I love this idea. 
Lots of bullet journals have daily trackers—for mood, water consumption, etc. Some of the more artistic Bullet Journalers spend a whole page and fourteen colors on their monthly trackers. Not my style. But I did have five things I wanted to do, every day. The problem was, I knew if I wrote those five things down every day, I’d stop writing them and then stop doing them.

I spent some time trying to work out a slightly bigger bullet for my Daily Self-Care. This is what I came up with. It’s got five chambers, one for each of my daily self-care disciplines, and by placing it on the same line as my date, it takes up no additional room in my spread. I think it’s terribly clever.

I did splurge on one of those Bic four-in-one pens, so I’d have different colors at my fingertips. It’s taken me three months to figure out what all four colors are used for. I’m also using paper clips, color coded, a bulldog clip, and a home-made orange duct tape pen holder. Oh, and I made my own storage pocket in the back.

Organizational Pocket. Orange.
I'm using orange a lot.
Finally, I have made use of the multitude of Marvel Comics classic hero stickers I have picked up from various gag gifts, theater give-aways, and stocking stuffers. In fact, I’m using those stickers and the classic depictions of the Marvel super heroes (think of the graphics they used on Slurpee Cups, and most recently, Toon Tumblers) to further code my pages. It’s crazy, and it’s childish, but it works. It works for me. Now when you thumb through my journal, it really looks like the inside of my head: Dungeons and Dragons maps, Captain America stickers, crazy story ideas, lists of names for steampunk airships, recipes, rants, and diagrams of my M-51 Engineer’s backpack with notes as to what embroidered patches go where. In between all of that mess are serious doctor visit notes, monthly, weekly, and daily calendars, and my daily report card for my overall health. I’m killing it at this whole “adulting” thing right now. Killing it.

I stopped just short of drawing the
Van Halen VH symbol on the cover. 
This is what my bullet journal looks like now. It’s pretty punk rock. I love it. I don’t think I’m going to buy one of those twenty dollar German notebooks. I think I’m going to stick with this. I’m halfway through the book, and I will likely be making the new one in December or January. Six months’ worth of journal for under a buck? You betcha.

There’s one final genius thing: I’ve got bits of dialogue recorded in my bullet journal, along with plot points, ideas, outlines, and even the beginning of a play. When this journal fills up, I will have to start a new one—and there’s a process whereby you migrate extant projects into the new journal. But what about the stuff I’ve written that I want to develop? Or save?

I’m putting the good stuff, the stuff I don’t want to lose, in some of those blank books I’ve got laying around. The bullet journal is the perfect filtration system to see what works, keep what you like, and ditch the rest.

There is one other benefit to this system, and the irony is not lost on me: in writing all of my fevered thoughts down as they occur to me, I’m freeing up my brain to think about other things without losing the good idea, or worse, repeating the thought over and over in my head so that I don’t lose it. God, that’s the worst—the creative version of getting “Muskrat Love” stuck in your head. You can’t think about anything else. That's when distraction and befuddlement sets in, and soon, you're muttering to yourself like a crazy person.

Black Widow is stuck in the corner to reward
me for particularly  clever thinking. 
One last thing: I am by no means any kind of expert, but I figured something out recently that helped me overcome "Spread Envy," which is what you get when you see these artists who draw exquisitely beautiful and haunting and stylish works of art, integrated into their monthly, weekly, and daily spreads, and you realize that your grocery list looks like boiled ass on the page.  I thought I'd share it with you, even the parenthetical add-on for myself at the bottom. Your mileage may vary.

I mentioned above that I was drawing again. The one concession I made to the journal was that I wouldn't sketch or doodle in it. If I made this bullet journal a real catch-all, then the drawing would overtake the thing and it would force me into not using it for organizing my day. Some people use a blank sketch book for their bullet journal and insert a plastic sheet under each new page for outlining and gridding purposes. That's very much not for me. My little sketch book cost me $5 and was worth it to keep the two endeavors separate.

My life is chaos. We are living in the now, and not in the blissful Eckart Tolle kind of way, either. Every day is a new thing. It’s overwhelming for someone like me, but this rinky-dink composition book is helping me to find the order amidst the chaos. I feel more in control of myself and my day, and our situation at large. 

It may not be for you, this whole Bullet Journal thing. But if you think it might be, check out the links above. Or share some links with me if you think I need to see something cool.

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