My feeling anxious today arose out of my experiment with the bullet journal I started creating a few weeks ago. I have had the journal itself for about a month and have been more seriously considering starting one for the past 6 months. What drew me to the concept and practice was that it is analog and all of my “to do’s” “maybe do’s” “done’s” “future possibilities” and other stuff could be written and later found in one place and indexed for easy finding. Wow, I thought, this would really get rid of all of the To Do lists I create and leave in strategic places around the house, like the kitchen table, on my desk between layers of stacked paper, next to my track pad, on the bedside table, on the mini white board on the fridge, in folders, in random pages of books, in my jacket pockets, in tote bags, in my computer case. Consolidation sounded like the possibility of reaching nirvana in this lifetime.
What I didn’t bargain for was my perfectionism showing up and almost derailing my efforts. All of those beautiful, artistic, colorful photos of bullet journals on Pinterest and Instagram and on the bullet journal web page, plus my writer friend’s beautiful journals invited me to the process. But once I opened my journal-to-be and began to sit with blank pages, those same photos and examples shamed me. It would be more honest of me to say that I shamed myself with those examples. I worried about my handwriting and what it looks like on the page. My writing is big and the dots on the page suggested space for smaller letters. I am not a visual artist and the thought of pages filled with words and no graphic images had me worried. I worried about messing up the index by making mistakes and not being able to erase them as they were written in ink and not pencil. And I began to feel like all I was doing was making a lot of “To Do” lists in a book that could look a lot prettier and creative. The lists were making me feel as if I was unable to get anything done and that more and more things were being added each day to make longer and longer lists.
These thoughts swirled around with the images of what looked like perfect bullet journals and I felt insecure and unskilled in creating a journal that was actually designed to be flexible. There is a basic framework that includes a few sections, and symbols that one can use to track entries, but beyond that and even within that, what the journal looks like is up to the owner-creator. The reference guide even suggests leaving extra pages for the basic sections one creates, because one can’t know how much room one needs for a given day, month, gratitude page, list of ideas, or submission log.
And then I gave myself permission to not hide my mistakes. I wrote the wrong page number in the index, and instead of looking for White Out I crossed it out. I decided to change the title of the page I created to track my writing submissions, from “Submission Goals,” to “Submission Log.” That meant that I had to cross out the word “Goals” and write the word “Log” beneath it because there was no more room on the page. The fact that I changed my mind is written in ink and there it will stay in the form of a crossed out word at the top of the page.
I thought that creating a bullet journal would help me to gather the parts of my life that I juggle and move them from post-its and scratch paper to a book in which I could write them with the colored pens and pencils that I enjoy using. That is a work in progress and I have noticed that there are very few scraps of paper sitting around on my desk and kitchen table these days. I only use those scraps when there is something that really needs my attention immediately and I write the words in a really bright color. Those scraps get recycled pretty quickly, within a day or so, once the task has been handled. What the “bujo” is really helping me to do is to be more flexible with myself and not worry so much that I am making mistakes and that they are showing. I’m beginning to see opportunities for different types of pages (or “collections,” as they’re called in bullet journalese) that will take some of what is going on my daily logs and place them elsewhere, like “submissions” or “ideas” or “tech stuff” or things I haven’t come up with yet. That might help with the lists that are making me feel weighed down and like I’ll never get through the demands of my life. We’ll see.
I’m beginning to feel less anxiety and ease a little more into crossing things out and solving the challenge of allowing myself enough space to make the journal mine. And I’m giving myself permission to treat this as an exploration, an experiment to see whether this bullet journal system or framework can turn out to be something that will truly work for me. If it turns out that it isn’t for me, I can let go of it. I can cross it out and try something else that will truly work for me.
For more information about the Bullet Journal http://bulletjournal.com/
A friend recently told me about bullet journals. I’ve tried many organizing tools over the years, and your post led me to look up what bullet journaling is. I can totally understand how doing it at first increased rather than alleviated your anxiety — just watching a few of the videos make me realize that I am not going to do this myself. I have a datebook, and I use the same brand every year: that’s where I put all the events I have as well as related information. Then I have an index card system for to-do’s, to replace all those scraps of paper. This card system has fallen out of use: I put items on the list, then don’t look at the list, and weeks can go by where I’m just adding to the list. But I think you are doing a good job of making the bullet journal system WORK FOR YOU, rather than letting it for you to WORK FOR IT. I’m going to try to do a better job of making my system work for me and not get bogged down in whether it’s perfect. Thank you for your essay.
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Thanks for your comment, Sonia! And I am glad that you’re committed to a system that works for you. I struggle with perfectionism and the bullet journal has become a barometer of my patience with self.