Reading: “An Edited Life” by Anna Newton

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An Edited Life by Anna Newton, published in early 2019.

“Minimalism as [sic] a broad term. It covers a whole spectrum of living with less beliefs, form owning only possessions that you can squeeze into one suitcase, to halving your collection of ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ CDs that were about to topple off your shelf anyway. At the strictest end it can be very prescriptive. […] So what I’ve come to see as the middle ground is to aim for a more edited life. It’s an ongoing process that embraces imperfections and shrugs off the need for perfectionism, because perfection just doesn’t exist unless we’re talking about Ryan Gosling.”

Anna Newton is a blogger and author from the UK who published her book An Edited Life – Simple Steps to Streamlining your Life, At Work and at Home just a year ago in early 2019. She started out as a beauty blogger in 2010 and evolved into a lifestyle blogger writing about beauty, fashion, home decor, travel, cooking, and (self-)organization. She also has a successful YouTube channel. To be honest, I didn’t know her blog but saw her book on bookstagram (I guess – I’m not totally sure …) and only after reading it discovered her online persona – mea culpa! Being all about a mindful and well-organized life, Anna’s blog is a great source of inspiration for everyone interested in mindful consumption, creative cooking, and conscious beauty. I enjoy catching up with her from time to time, but even more so I thoroughly enjoyed her book and the excellent tips she shares for optimizing one’s organization. And contrary to a lot of books on similar topics, Anna always does her best to keep in mind that different people live different lives – not just couples and families. Therefore she often mentions various ways on how to handle stuff or follow her advice, whether you have family, a partner, pets, live with flatmates, or are on your own.
But enough of the introduction. Let’s take a closer look.

Anna’s take on LIFE, WORK, and HOME

Anna Newton An edited life TOC

Anna’s table of content which clearly shows her main topics.

“A TIDY HOME = A TIDY MIND. If your belongings are in order then there’s less chance of procrastination and physical clutter getting in the way of tasks that you actually need to complete.”

Anna’s book is divided into three main parts – LIFE, WORK, and HOME – and before she starts with the first part, LIFE, she introduces eight key beliefs that are the basis for everything she writes and talks about. I quoted no. 5 because it is one that I agree with 100% and one that becomes crucial every time I feel like I can’t get anything done: off I go decluttering some corner of our home (but you probably already guessed that). These eight key beliefs make a lot of sense and are easy to remember.
Only after sharing these important basic principles does she continue with the first section of her book, LIFE, and starts out with another topic close to my (and probably many others’) heart: planning. She gives analog and digital diaries careful consideration and compares both strategies, pointing out all possible advantages and disadvantages, even mentioning bullet journaling(!). After dealing with scheduling and possible diary types, Anna dives into a topic that has always been shrouded in mystery to me but became much clearer thanks to her: money, budgeting, financial planning.
She not only explains how exactly a budget works, giving examples so mathematically challenged people like me can follow it (after rereading it several times) but also shares tips and advice on how to save some money why that is important. In addition to several other interesting topics and insights, this was one of the most important chapters for me, since I always abhorred keeping an eye on my money more than is necessary. I used to have an idea about how much money I have left and I regularly put something in my saving account but never before have I found the energy to actually keep a budget and track my income and expenses – praise the Lady, Anna’s detailed explanations were eye-opening and even though I am still not on her level of expertise, it’s much better than it has been …

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Anna’s suggestions on keeping a budget …


Subsequently, Anna counts self-care, social life, and setting goals as well as planning for your future as parts of editing a LIFE, and there too she shares some good advice as well as practical examples from her own life to underline how to handle your shit.

Part 2, WORK, was especially appealing to me since I work part-time at an office and but the rest of the time at home; Anna, acknowledging that her situation as a freelancer working from home might not be the rule, is careful to include different types of work settings into her considerations. Still, I found her tips regarding how to set up an ideal home office surrounding most helpful and after clearing some more space am now able to work more efficiently. She also makes procrastination a huge topic (speaking directly to me, I guess) and not only shares tips on how to overcome it, but also thorough analyzes regarding WHY we start procrastinating in the first place. Being aware of possible reasons for certain behaviors make it easier to recognize them and consciously work around it. Of course, for most of us this is not the first time we read about possible causes and solutions regarding procrastination, but Anna’s conversational tone – something most blogger authors embrace justifiably as it makes their writing much more appealing to an audience that is used to them talking like a good friend rather than an omniscient narrator or author – and the way she groups, relates and presents those facts still make it interesting to read.

The same goes for the last part of her book, HOME. Those who’ve read other books regarding decluttering, wardrobe organization, and similar topics won’t find anything earth-shattering – something she is well aware of and also acknowledges throughout most of the book – BUT the way Anna shares her own experiences and advises us on how to tackle out clutter and the various rooms we want to ‘edit’ still makes it an inspiring read. She dedicates a part of HOME to the issue of building a capsule wardrobe, something I’ve not read completely since I have not yet reached the point where I want to tackle this issue – still, Anna’s a pro even here (it seems to me) and anyone interested in how a capsule wardrobe works and how you can build your own will find precious suggestions in this part of her book. When sharing her tips on how to keep your home clean she pays tribute to the fact that different people live in different settings again; some live with their family, some live alone, and others live with their partner or flatmates. As mentioned before, Anna is careful to do this pretty much throughout every part of her book – she is always keen to include and address everyone, though of course someone may always feel left out.

The Anna Edit – my résumé

So what was my personal take-away on Anna’s book? I will forever be thankful for her meal plan idea and her thorough advice on how to keep a budget. Meal planning (Anna offers free printable worksheets as pdf downloads) not only made my life a gazillion times easier but it also helped me save a nice amount of money as a result of only having to go to the supermarket twice a week. Budgeting finally gave me a certain grown-up vibe that I didn’t necessarily miss but I am still happy to feel now that I actually know where my money goes. Also, I wouldn’t have felt up to the task of a low buy challenge without seeing in cold print how much money I wasted on stuff I didn’t need (and more often than not didn’t know what to do with once it was mine …).
Anna’s conversational style and special tone made this book a great read and I enjoyed the stories she shared from her life and the advice she gave on the various topics she discussed – always doing her best to include different people and ways of life. Even though this wasn’t my first book on self-organization and a ‘curated life’ (as I like to call it) – it was more like my tenth or so – I would definitely recommend it to everyone interested in improving his or her life in the areas Anna discusses in her book. While I don’t know her that well as a blogger and YouTuber I definitely appreciate her as an author with her own unique voice doing her best to add valuable information and advice to well-established topics.
In my opinion, she does a great job – you may want to find out for yourself 🙂

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.

Once more with … less feeling, please?

 

IMG_20170809_232328_236.jpgA few days ago I received an invitation to a conference in December. I never in a million years expected anyone to accept my paper because a) it’s not even a conference with a focus on literary studies and b) I’m no fancy academic pursuing her studies not looking left or right, but rather a freestyle academic, pursuing her studies when finding the time next to work, life, and stuff. So not exactly distinguished ivy league university material. Not even ‘attending a conference at a distinguished university I always wanted to see’ material… 

Obviously, no one ‘there’ knows that, which is why they are delighted to include my paper in their conference. And I’m delighted, happy, overwhelmed, and panicky all at once. For days now. And nights, which is worse. I sent a submission to give it a shot, “aim high”, as they say (I don’t know who “they” are, but hey, “they” for sure never suffered from anxiety disorders and shit like that) and try for universities (and cities) I always wanted to see or love to visit. I have been to New York before and missed my chance to see Columbia, at least from the outside. I may get a second chance now. 

Still, I have to finance this wonderful craziness – New York is pricey, especially in December (I guess). Also, I have to keep my shit together to go there. It’s not that I am too nervous to actually attend a conference and present a paper (I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so that’s not the issue here); rather, the real challenge will be organizing the trip, finding a hotel and staying on top of things. I hate organizing because I’m really bad at it. Also, since receiving the invitation, tons of unfounded fears came creeping up from the shitty dark holes I forced them into; they caress my arms, creep up and down my spine, float into my semiconscious mind in the early morning hours, lay their heavy burden on my weary shoulders (yes I know, THAT sounds cheesy…). Depending on the mood I’m in, I can take them one at a time, pushing them back into the holes they came from, or I let them flow, because there’s no use in fighting it, not right now. 

I know, I sound like a whiny kid, and I don’t want to. I simply did not expect this to happen – some provincial freestyle academic presenting a paper at rather well-known university. London has already been great, and this too is a wonderful opportunity and it feels huge. Overwhelming. Unreal. And frightening.  

Greetings to my demons. 

Something fresh…

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So the new laptop finally arrived!! UPS and I had some initial problems of finding some time for each other since our doorbell wasn’t working as it should (probably for the last months – which explains why we never get any parcels, but always have to fetch them at the post office), but in the end, THANKFULLY, everything worked out just fine. I’m always a bit nervous when waiting for a valuable item, especially with parcel services like UPS. It’s often hard to get a hold of the individual driver because it’s an international company, so they only offer ‘international’ customer service. ‘International’ in this context rarely means ‘professional’ but rather ‘hard to get.’ So I was really worried that something might go wrong and all my new hopes and good intentions would be crushed before I even get a chance to actively crush them myself with my distinguished lack of energy and drive.

So now I’m already writing on my new notebook, to get a feel for it (as stupid as it may sound, every keyboard is different), with all the fancy Linux stuff I don’t know shit about. I’m still in the process of getting used to Linux and the system with its various components, which is all new to me – though it’s not that difficult, still, in the beginning one is always careful, as if the device may suddenly burst into flames and cease to exist just because you entered one wrong command….who knows, there’s a first time for a lot of different things. I know I may need at least half a day to get acquainted with Scrivener, which sounds ideal to work with for my dissertation and other writing projects that need some organization. Furthermore, there’s still this huge variety of stuff that helps you (and your system) to work better, but I will need some more time to discover all of that. As you see, ‘bird person’ (my notebook’s name, because everything needs a name) and I are still getting to know each other…

I may have a new assignment which will keep me busy until the deadline in June – I will find out in the days to come if it is still on – so this is the perfect test for me working with ‘bird person’ AND with Scrivener. O course, it is also the perfect opportunity to get into the optimal regular-writing-mood I will need if I really want to give my thesis project another shot, like, finish it. I’m usually all about professional and perfectionist when it comes to paid writing/work assignments that come with a deadline. Not surprisingly, I’m also all about the perfect procrastination mode in regard to work that has no deadline in sight. So my good intentions may get some outside support from tech stuff, at least I hope so.

(FYI: You may find references to Rick and Morty and P.G. Wodehouse in this little text of mine. They are easy to detect and deliberate, so to make the repetitive elaboration regarding my incapacity to stick to my idealistic academic goals a bit more diverse and enjoyable.)

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…