In January of 2020, before the whole world stopped—before even the idea that the whole world could stop—I was going to get my shit together. I was working out of a local library because my whole family was at home for winter break and I needed some space to get my head in order after a few hard years. 2020 was going to be my year, I was sure of it.
On my way to leaving I passed a book called "The Bullet Journal Method." It was nicely designed, but I probably would have walked right by it had the subtitle not hit me at exactly the angle I needed right then: "Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future." Yes please. I checked it out, brought it home, and read it that night.
Full disclosure: I didn't finish it. The first half of the book is practical explanations of how to build a flexible journal and advice on how to make the most of it. The second is sort of tent-revivalesque preaching about how adhering to the methodology will change your life and sent the cynical side of my brain into overdrive, so I put it down. But the practical stuff sounded useful, so I decided to give it a try, giving myself a three month window to test run it. Yes, the first three months of 2020. You know what happened next.
The world shut down, my family retreated into our too-small, and I was still committed to journaling. I've stuck with it ever since.
Seeing as how it's the start of a new year, and since maybe you are hoping to start getting your own shit together (spoiler alert: my shit still isn't), I thought I'd share how I use very lightweight daily journaling to create reflections of each day, month, and year. And how those have helped me to maybe at least start getting my shit in order if not together.
First let me say that while all of this grew from that Bullet Journal book, at this point I don't think I adhere to the official method much at all. That's fine. Things should work for you instead of you working for them. Anyway, here's my setup:
OK, remember how I said I end up with a year's worth of plural-notebooks? I end up running through one notebook every three or four months. You may not. That's OK! First, my handwriting is big and I'm not trying to conserve space so every day is one page. Maybe you write small or have less daily things on your to-do and you find that you can fit more than one day, plus reflections, on each page. That's great! Second, I use these notebooks for basically everything. I can fill a couple dozen pages of handwritten rough drafts of an essay, that kind of thing. If you just need one notebook, you are awesome. If you need a bunch? You are also awesome.
But more than anything, there's a level of discipline and commitment involved in this whole thing that takes some time to get used to. Trying to do it at the same time every day is useful. Set a calendar reminder maybe, I did at the start. And maybe the whole "do it before bed" thing doesn't work for you. Maybe this is a "do it after coffee" kind of thing or at your lunch break or whatever. I dunno. Just give it a try.
Mostly this is something that has worked for me. While my shit isn't entirely together yet, it has helped me get on a path to shit-togetherness in big ways and small. If nothing else, I would have lost it completely during that first year of the pandemic without being able to write and reflect every day. In the years since, it's helped me get perspective on so much in so many different aspects of my life. Maybe it'll help you in this new year too.
Published January 03, 2023.
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