Reading: “The Bullet Journal Method” by Ryder Carroll

The bullet journal method book ryder carroll

“Studies have suggested that we have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. For context, if each thought were a word, that means that our minds are generating enough content to produce a book Every. Single. Day. Unlike a book, our thoughts are not neatly composed. On a good day they’re vaguely coherent. This leaves out minds perpetually struggling to sort this gray matter gallimaufry. Where do you even begin? What comes first? Inevitably we find ourselves tackling too many things at the same time, spreading our focus so thin that nothing gets the attention it deserves. This is commonly referred to as “being busy.” Being busy, however, is not the same as being productive.”

I’ve started bullet journaling more than 3 years ago, though it wasn’t love at first sight (you can read all about that here, here and here). Wonderguy introduced me to the concept of bullet journaling and when I started, I was extremely under-inspired. Watching a video by Ryder Carroll in which he introduces the ‘bujo’ to the world I found the idea intriguing and interesting but wasn’t sure it would work for me. After halfheartedly journaling for a few months in 2016 I quit, only to return to it in the summer of 2018 after realizing that bullet journaling could be extremely helpful for people with ADHD – like me. What brought me back to the bujo was watching Jessica from How to ADHD explain how the BuJo could improve my everyday life (watch it here) and what she as a fellow sufferer advises to focus on (watch it here). This inspired me to give the concept another try since I’m always open to ways to optimize my ADHD me without meds. The second time around I tried harder, buying a new notebook and pens and getting more creative with my spreads and lists and the like. This time around it worked and I’m currently on my third notebook in 17 months. Overall, bullet journaling works way better than most organizational systems/methods or apps I tried over the years, so I’ll stick to it. Pinterest and Instagram are huge inspirations and I realized how much I enjoy drawing and creating bujo layouts, which offer me a creative outlet while also doing something useful and relaxing. As with Marie Kondo’s spark of joy, the bullet journal won my heart the second time around. 

And until roughly three weeks ago I never thought about diving deeper into the subject because hey, it works for me, so what else?

The Bullet Journal Method – the book

Well, in 2018 Ryder finally wrote a book about his wonderful organizational system called The Bullet Journal Method. I immediately put it on my wishlist and shortly before the start of my Low Buy 2020 challenge on January 1st, I decided to treat myself with a few more books (also thanks to my uncle and the invention of gift cards!!), amongst them being Ryder Carroll’s book. I read it within two days – probably because I had some previous knowledge but mainly because its conversational tone and the way Ryder structures the book make it an easy and inspiring read. Starting with “Preparation” concerning such topics as why we journal the way we do and how it could help you, he goes on to explain “The System” – a how-to bullet journal on a practical level –, which is followed by “The Practice”, a close-up look on how-to and also why to bullet journal on a theoretical and mental level, and “The Art” about additional important elements of a bujo. Throughout the book, you find parts that are designed like bullet journal entries to emphasize his point and illustrate Ryder’s concept of the bullet journal.

the bullet journal method book index

Though I’ve been bullet journaling for some time now I still found new insights and ideas. Reading the book I realized that I had completely misunderstood the idea of collections – instead of using them as a way to collect notes, ideas, or make a list, I always thought they were a sort of advanced to-do or shopping list firmly set at the beginning of the bullet journal and without any logic or system. I’ve never made any use of collections therefore, even though I made tons of lists, tracking my reading, collecting meal ideas, wish list of books I want to buy and sewing projects I want to tackle … I’ve just never thought of them as ‘(custom) collections’ and that I could use them in various ways and for different purposes, not just as some sort of shopping list.   

bullet journal method collections

Additionally, I’ve never worked on my goals in my bujo, mainly because I don’t think that much about goals and plans in general. Since my sanity canceled the contract with my mind and decided to go rogue on anxiety and depression many years ago, I refuse to make long-term plans because I think of them as a waste of time and energy. So much can happen in only a few weeks or days, I don’t like to plan traditionally and much rather try to structure my projects in a to-do list kind of doable chunks with a rather open schedule. So when Ryder tasks us with focusing on our goals and structuring them according to his system – 5 years, 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, and 1 hour – I was overwhelmed, surprised and a bit angry at the same time. For one thing, I realized that I should probably review my goals and plans from time to time just to see where I’m heading. It doesn’t always need to be a structured plan, I can adapt it the way I want, but it indeed gives me a sense of security and structure seeing what I want to do, already have done, and may need to work a bit harder on. Still, strict timetables don’t work for me because they make me feel caged which in turn makes me furious and unable to focus on anything. I prefer deadlines that give me a certain time frame without scheduling every minute (okay, hour) of my day. Therefore, thinking hard about what I want to do in the given periods when doing Ryder’s exercise was a challenge for someone like me who much rather just waits to see what would come up – sometimes also for practical reasons in regards to working freelance jobs – than actively planning the upcoming weeks, months, or even years.

Another exercise I did not find to be helpful was one in which Ryder wants us to find ‘our meaning.’ To do so, he describes the exercise of “Two Lives” inspired by Robert Frost’s poem “The Road not taken”, in which we should write two different obituaries for ourselves, one for the self that took the well-worn path (stayed within the familiar) and another for the self that took the path less traveled. After doing so, we should reflect on the two lives we described, what we felt during this exercise, what we realized while writing the obituaries, which life we preferred and how we could integrate the accomplishments described in the obituary into our own goals. I found this exercise a bit pointless since I assume most of us prefer one of the two options long before actively deciding which life we like better, therefore following a (subconscious?) inner guiding when writing the obituaries. Also, as stated before, I don’t plan long-term, so I had a hard time imagining two different life paths that I could relate to. And while I did my best I was glad once it was over and could go on reading. Nevertheless, I found these exercises interesting if a bit underwhelming, because even though I’m not a planner and don’t intend to become one I realized that it couldn’t hurt to review my plans and progress from time to time – for someone like me, this is a huge realization. 😀

Benefits and Insights

“[…] the benefits of writing by hand stem from the very complaint consistently leveraged against it: inefficiency. That’s right: The fact that it takes longer to write things out by hand gives handwriting its cognitive edge.”

I agree with Ryder that one of the main benefits of bullet journaling is writing by hand: the haptic experience of the notebook itself, the countless options on how to tackle your special interests and needs in this very own notebook of yours is what makes the bullet journal unique. Everything you add, be it colorful spreads, creative doodles, various collections and whatever you need that makes it work for you is the special magic of this concept.

bullet journal method book monthly log

I thought long about buying this book because I already practice bullet journaling and I didn’t ‘need’ the book. I don’t follow Ryder’s concept to the t because I need some color and I’ve come to realize that I like drawing and all that (even though I’m shit at it …). Though I embrace minimalism in various parts of my life, my monthly spread is not the place to be as minimalist as Ryder is and that’s also what he mentions repeatedly: What makes the bullet journal special is how adaptable it is. You do you, and while he provides you with a concept and overall structure, what you make of it is up to you.
In his book, he gives an excellent overview of his method with an in-depth analysis of its concepts and ideas. And though you can find information and inspiration regarding the bullet journal all over the internet, nothing beats the original source. Ryder does not simply bolt through his ideas and topics, eager to fill a book with much information and hardly any soul. Rather, he gives insights into how he came to develop the bullet journal method in the first place and what fundamental issues lie beneath, such as the effects of writing by hand, or why rapid-logging is beneficial to the fast mind and why we should keep track of our goals (yes, even me …). Without reading this book I would’ve never realized how much more a bullet journal can be than just a ‘personalized planner.’ So if you’re already bullet journaling and feel like it is perfect just the way it is, you may feel no need to read this book. But if you are curious about what this concept could do for you apart from the obvious things so well documented on YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest, you may want to give this book a try.

I am happy I did and it will continue to inspire and guide me for some time to come.

The Renaissance of the Bullet Journal

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Being all over the place is nothing new for me, as most of you will know by now. Apart from some serious ADHD doing a lot of freelance work (mainly writing and editing) as well as (still) organizing a dissertation may add even more pressure to my already overwhelmed mind. Furthermore, I have so many ideas in my head, ideas for texts, stories, what to read, which book to blog about, what to sew, and a lot more, that I mostly forget them and have neither the time nor the place to take a note… As stated before, I don’t use my cellphone for everything all the time because hey, there’s nothing better than wanting some down time and fortunately not remembering where you put your (silent) phone – this is pretty much heaven for me, so I’m most definitely the wrong person when it comes to productivity apps and the like. I need a calendar. I need a notebook. And I could really need a personal assistant, but unfortunately I can’t afford one. Also, I’m much to introvert to want to share my life and all that’s in it with someone outside my head… So instead I decided to give the bullet journal another go, after a rather half-hearted test of the concept two years ago (you may find some gibberish about it here).

After not succeeding last time I tried to adapt the concept for my needs, I decided to go in 200%, meaning I even bought a new notebook dedicated to the renaissance of the bullet journal in my life. The first time around I used an old notebook I bought years ago, which did not provide the best hardware and left me feeling rather underwhelmed by the results I got from my various layouts and doodles (a lot of ghosting, and also just plain paper, which in hindsight is not the best choice for a bujo – I now use one with dots). This time I bought a dotted Moleskine with roughly 200ish pages. Though I got some ghosting there too, it still provides a much better hardware for keeping and actually using the bullet journal …

My main goal this time around was to bring everything together in one place – not 15 different notebooks for different topics, but one notebook for everything, from my schedule to my to-do lists, my calendar, my diary and my various list for books I want to get/read, stuff to cook, ideas for my blogs and the like. Apart from all the notes for my thesis – my thesis notebook is not full and finished at this point – it seems to work this time around, at least it has for the last two months (yeah I know, what a milestone, two months and counting …). I even started to do some serious doodling and coloring, though this is light-years away from all those sophisticated and beautiful bujo spreads one sees on Instagram and Pinterest. But that’s ok, I like doodling around a bit, even trying my hand at some sort of hand lettering (or rather my interpretation of it) just because it’s fun. I got something called “daily recap”, which I use when I include some journaling in my bujo, so I won’t need an additional diary anymore. And once my thesis-notebook is full, I will include all my notes for my thesis project in my bujo, too. The big idea behind all this is to confine my chaotic state of mind and thought to one single notebook at a time so that I have one place to turn to to find my ideas, concepts, plans, memories, lists, and much more. I got a vintage label maker to put the dates of  the specific journal on the spine once it’s full, so I won’t get lost in various notebooks. So for now, it seems like a pretty good idea, and it feels like it’s a good way to tackle my ADHD state of mind…

bujocoveraugust.jpgAt least in theory. August is my third month with this new system of mine, I started my current bujo in early June. For the last three months I tried some layouts, seeing what works for me and what not, what is ok to design and draw and what is simply too arduous to do every month. I still experiment with some stuff – trying to keep a gratitude log has not worked that well overall, though I think it’s useful and important for someone like me; the spending log too has not worked out as planned, but I guess some things need time to get used to, so I will continue to include one in my monthly layouts for some time to come. I feel great with some other things – using the bujo as a diary and a work notebook makes a lot of things easier and motivates me to write much more in general.

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So much for the second try. Right now I’m still very enthusiastic about it all, and I hope it stays that way (I probably wrote that the first time around too). I long for some method to ease my mind and help me stay (get?!) more organized – not using any medication, there are days I can literally see my thoughts popping up and then slowly pulling back again, only to disappear in some sort of dark corner where I won’t find them again any time soon – the trivial and simple ones as well as the important and interesting ones. And when this happens I don’t have the time (or nerve) to look for just the right notebook to jot this special thought down – it’s at times challenging enough to find the one-for-all bujo in time to not lose the thought or idea. Maybe it works this time around. I dream of shelves filled with my bujos of the past few years while I stand next to it, all happy and organized and oh so polished.
Yeah well, one can dream …

FYI: if you want to find out more about why a bujo can be really great for ADHD minds, you may watch this very interesting and funny video –wonderguy found it for me and it helped me find a good concept for my current bujo. Enjoy 🙂

Shame on me: an update on how I blame everything that doesn’t work on my bullet journal…

Long time no see, again – an update on how I blame everything on my bullet journal…

So for months now I regularly thought about what I could probably blog about. I even had a few ideas –  quite a few at times –  usually when I had nothing with me to take some notes (for the tech nerds: talking about analog note taking, like on paper,  as well as digital, like evernote, Google keep and similar stuff). Often this happened shortly before falling asleep, which seems to be a high time for me imagining stories, or rather, little passages of something that could be a story one day. IF I would bother to turn up the light again and write it down. Or at least had my cell phone at hand to take a note… Both of which I don’t do and have, which is actually pretty stupid considering the fact that I haven’t written a creative (or academic, for that matter) thing in weeks – might be even months, if you’re referring to something ‘finished’. I did that note taking at night stuff years ago, many, many years ago when I still believed in it. Also, I was drunk every night back then, so this might be another reason why I did it, because aren’t we all a bit Bukowski if we want to?

I’m trailing off…. What I wanted to say was that I do have a section for “Blog IDEAS” in my bullet journal. I also got a “everyday recipes”, “sewing projects”, “stuff to get”, and similar pages in my bullet journal. Some I even tried to organize, like, using a sticky note (post-it) to make them stand out and easy to find (if I don’t find something of everyday use within the first seconds of looking for it, it may as well be lost in outer space, because I will simply forget about the whole thing). Still, I don’t stick to it. I forget, I don’t act, nothing happens. Even with this oh so glorified bullet journal, I’m not capable of organizing myself.

Of course I’m to blame (even though mini-me finds ways to excuse myself from any responsibility for the things in my life). I chose an A5-sized notebook, which is fairly easy to work with as a sort of homemade calendar and planner, but it obviously does not fit in every single bag I own. And I found out over the last few months that this journal works shit for me if I do not carry it everywhere I go – literally. Only then will I be able to get myself to use it daily,  use it every time I need it.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? You will be a better, less chaotic and more stable and organized person when you just switch your fucking diary to a more workable size. Great, isn’t it?

I will try and hope for the best. I do know that it’s not actually a question of size (it never is), but also a quest for discipline. For everything that might be even slightly helpful to get all plans and goals on track again. Getting some structure in your everyday life when handling two to three jobs, freelance stuff and still trying somehow to accomplish a dissertation is exhausting and seems impossible, at least for me. But I will go on, and it will work out somehow, eventually. Because, looking back, it always did. But on this path “t will all work out”,  it never felt as hard as it has for weeks, months, the last one and a half years.

I already own a smaller notebook. Now I only have to convince my inner postwar child (thanks, granny!) to waste a perfectly good, half-used notebook for the sake of trying something slightly different. If you had any clue how strict I am with myself regarding unnecessary escapades, you would know how difficult this will be….

How to organize a chaotic mind

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I’ve been working as a freelancer for years now. I started the first draft of my thesis roughly 2 years ago and there’s still much to do, as pretty much the complete theoretical framework is still missing (it’s there in my mind, at least some parts of it, but not where it should be, written down). Part of the problem is not only that I have to find a balance between work, work, and life, but also because – no, ESPECIALLY because it is very difficult for me to organize myself.

I was diagnosed with ADHD in my mid-twenties. Though I don’t like to hide behind my various issues (panic attacks, anxiety disorder, depression, extremely introverted, anyone?) this did indeed explain a lot. Most of the time I find it hard to focus on one thing; I can lose myself in hours of online research, reading about the least interesting topics ever, but I cannot sit through a two-hour-movie (or even a 50 min TV show) because it bores the shit out of me. I get some impulse for my work, jot it down and forget all about it the next minute, even forgetting WHERE I made or put the notes that could be helpful some other time. I remind myself to write another blog post only to forget it just a minute later because I there is so much going on in my head that I am overwhelmed and just give up. I often thought (and sometimes still think) that this is all about procrastination and being unorganized and chaotic, but –as my therapist liked to say – this is rather about a psychological issue and being a ‘special edition.’ Since I do not take any medication, it’s always just me and my hyperactive, multi-wired brain.

Which leads us back to the initial issue, namely how to organize myself without losing my mind?! I desperately need some planning and structure in my life, for my freelance ‘career’ and especially for my thesis. For years I’ve been looking for some way to organize myself, my tasks, my appointments, my life. I have not yet found a system that works, so I’m still waiting for a miracle…

A possible answer could be: start a bullet journal.

Wonderguy started one and told me to give it a try because it could actually work. So I googled it (of course I googled it and filled my mind with hours of bullet journal porn on Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and other sites) and was taken aback by how much work many people – and especially girls and women – put in the (graphical) creation of a bullet journal. I’ve seen journals I would never actually use because they were too beautiful to just put some common information in it. Those journals were works of art but nothing to work with since my chaotic mind would probably be too distracted with painting another elderflower in the left corner of May 12th on page 30. Also, it seemed so structured and organized (well, what a surprise!), it frightened me. I was afraid of not being able to organize myself with this system. I AM afraid of being too chaotic and unstructured to organize myself with any system. I suppose I’m looking forward to a future filled with post-its, lost notes in the corners of my life, and looking puzzled and surprised half of the time.

So I guess I should give it a shot. It really can’t get much worse…I think. And I do have a fair number of notebooks, I can spare one to substantiate my hopes in a more organized future…