Monthly Archives: January 2014

Small Tweaks to My Bullet Journal

As I settle into my bullet journal, it has become clear that the unstructured pages suit me. I’ve started to tweak my system in small ways. It’s still simple, but I am making this my own.

Monday - Love the combination of the two tapes, but not how I use them. Ah, well. Live and learn.

   Live and learn. Monday’s layout didn’t work for me.

On Sundays, I have a weekly “launch” routine. I’ve written about this before, and my system is still going strong. Now I’m using the bullet journal instead of my Filofax, however, and I have taken to adding some Washi tape. Nothing over-the-top. Please note that I don’t have a lot added to my list of tasks for the week, because I like to plan out my day the night before. While the pages are relatively empty, I can guarantee they will fill up, since I put tasks both large and small on the pages.

My least favorite layout this week is Monday. It faces a page where I was trying to work out some logistical concerns, and I didn’t have a great vision for how to use the tape. Meh, it is what it is. Tuesday and Wednesday turned out much better, I think.

The Martha Stewart labels at Staples are very similar in color to the Moleskine paper.

The Martha Stewart labels at Staples are very similar in color to the Moleskine paper, so I had fun using them in this layout.

One of my small tweaks is listing the dinner plan for the night at the bottom of the page. I also created a log to track how many glasses of water I’ve consumed during the day. I plan to add notes that also track my spending for the day, since I carry this notebook everywhere, and I can tuck a receipt in there as soon as I make a payment or pay a bill.

For Thursday and Friday, I love the paisley Washi tape with a small strip of purple underneath. Simple and bold at the same time. It almost makes up for Monday’s disaster of a page!

I may have to repeat the paisley Washi tape sometime soon!

In addition to starting my lists for the week, I decorated some pages for two lists that I want to make…one for brainstorming family activities and one for travel. My husband and I are alternating weeks for one-on-one time with our kids, in addition to spending time together with all four of us. This weekend, I took my daughter bowling at the university’s student union. The lil’ stinker managed to beat me…legitimately! Next weekend, my husband will do something different with her, and I’ll do something with my son. As you can see, I haven’t added a lot; I’ll fill it out as the week progresses. On the other side is a space where I’ll brainstorm our family vacations. My husband and I spent an hour talking about our calendars yesterday, so here’s where I’ll put ideas for each of the vacation periods.

Ready to complete...I'll have fun with this during the week. Time to do a little dreaming!

Ready to complete…I’ll have fun with this during the week. Time to do a little dreaming!

Bullet Journal – Going Strong

I have to admit…this bullet journal thing is very “me.”

I’ve been working on my bullet journal for a few weeks, and it is brilliant in its simplicity and functionality. This week, I even went a little out of my comfort zone and used Washi tape to accent the plain grid of my Moleskine planner. I know. Living on the edge.

I have included a few pages to give you a sense of how I’m currently using it.

IMG_4480First, the index/table of contents. This helps me locate specific lists not related to my daily planning. You can see that I’ve made notes about my monthly overview, kept records of my work meetings, noted books I’m reading, and more. To keep things uncluttered, I am not listing my daily “to-dos.” That’s what I use my bookmark for…

Here’s my week. Blurry, because…well…how interesting is my to-do list, really? I use dots for notes, circles for my events/appointments, and check/tick boxes for tasks. Today, I color-coded some notes about my children’s activities. The stars indicate my three “Most Important Tasks” (hat-tip, Zen to Done).

IMG_4477Since I had time on Sunday, I set up a few pages in advance…plus you can see some notes from Sunday with my Washi tape. I’ve posted them below. As for my A5 Maldens and Holborn Zip, I’ve been settling into my Finance Filo nicely. The Maldens have become binders with notes and references, but not my tasks and diary. Who knows how long my love affair with the Bullet Journal will last, but for right now, I’m loving how easy it is to update and not worry about the order of items. I’m also appreciating that I don’t have to write around the rings. It’s a small detail, but one worth noting. Maybe that means when new Flex notebooks come out, I should look at them. Now…off to finish a few more things before my daughter returns home from school.




Permission to — occasionally — set aside lists and planning

Last Friday, I attended my brother-in-law’s funeral. After we pause for a moment to say our favorite curse words about cancer, I wanted to share a post about setting aside planning and productivity once in a while.

I’ll be reaaaalllly honest about my love of planning and organization. I know we’ve just met, but I’m a Northern California girl, and I have been known to sprinkle the word “authenticity” into a conversation or two.



Here it is: While it’s true that I need to be organized to make sure I don’t leave a kid at practice or miss a deadline for work, one of the main reasons I’m drawn to planning is emotional. Sometimes (cough:: most of the time:: cough), life is messy and out of my control. My brother-in-law’s rapid decline from melanoma. The loss felt acutely by my sister and her children. The drought in California. Traffic jams. The list goes on.

It’s actually liberating to acknowledge that life is messy and we don’t have the power to micromanage every detail. Aside from being exhausting to have that much responsibility, it would rob of us the joy that comes from spontaneity and serendipity. On the other hand, I draw comfort from being intentional about the things I can control. Enter my love of lists, journals, routines, and calendars! If you’re here, you likely understand the satisfaction of getting thoughts on paper and ticking off items from one of your lists. Admit it…a good list and ticking off each box can fill you with a sense of joy and accomplishment. You OWNED that day!

I had a long list of things to do Friday afternoon, but when I returned home from the funeral, I remained immersed in the love, sense of loss, and reflection that funerals trigger. And I was utterly drained. Not depressed. Really. It was a beautiful and moving experience to hear how one person impacted the lives of many, but I had zero motivation to do work that afternoon, despite the fact that my list felt even more compacted because I’d missed a morning of writing and research! Frankly, I was not interested in digging deep to focus at my desk. I just wasn’t.

So I gave myself permission to abandon the day’s list. Without guilt. My bullet journal list on Friday had a ton of arrows, indicating that I moved those unfinished items forward to another day.

Guess what? The world was not knocked off its axis.

Yes, my Saturday list was a little bit of a doozy, but I survived…as did my adviser, my writing partner, and my family.

There are some days that aren’t made for lists and maximizing productivity. They can be days spent off the grid with your loved ones, playing in a tide pool. They can be days when you’re under the weather. As long as these days are more of an exception, we should embrace our need to set aside a list. In sports, we talk about “listening to your body.” There are also days when we need to listen to our spirit, and not just honor our need to leave a list undone, but do so without shame or a sense that we should have done more…been more.

Friday was that day for me, and I feel infinitely better for it.

Bullet Journal Experiment (and a Finance Filo Question!)

So many people had been posting about the bullet journal method that I decided to give it a go. After all, new year…why not? I’ve been having difficulty wrangling my to-dos and events into my agenda. I’ve been adding a page in between the two halves of the weekly layout, but maybe the bullet journal would work as well or better. If it doesn’t work out, I can revisit my Filofax agenda. This system doesn’t require hours of set-up for a method that might not end up working for me (one reason I am not trying the life-map approach right now). There are several appealing features, but the simplicity of the bullet journal requires less initial start-up effort.

If for some reason you haven’t seen the bullet journal video that started it all, the system is explained quite clearly by Ryder Carroll.

I’ve been using this system for a week. So far, VERY helpful. Here’s a photo of yesterday’s entry. In the margin, I tried to add an approximate time frame for completion (M = morning, A = afternoon, P = Evening). That’s not essential to the system — and yesterday was the first day I tried that — but yesterday I was a bit ridiculous about what I could accomplish. I needed to have a sense of how the day would unfold.

bullet journal


It’s a little weird putting this on here, because there are some funny items on yesterday’s list. Two items, for instance, refer to prepping items for training our dog (“Prep Kongs” and “Prep hot dogs”). We’re working intensely on training Scout to get over his fear of the crate, and it’s easier if I prep the food-stuffed “Kong” toys and diced hot dogs for the whole week. Yesterday, I even put a reminder list about what I needed to remember for the kids (school projects, cleaning the kitty litter, etc.). I called it my “nag” list…in jest for me, though my kids found it more accurate than humorous.

Now for a question…

You may also notice that I included a note to set up my Finance Filo. I will be posting about that once I’m using it fully. I’m using my A5 Holborn Zip in Wine, and I’m really excited to A) put my Holborn to good use and B) have a portable bill-paying system. I’ve looked at a few posts from other Filo/paper planner bloggers, but if you have a favorite post or set-up you’d recommend, I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments! I’m especially interested in hearing how people track their spending on debit/credit cards and cash. Checks and electronic bill pay are easy for me to track because I’m seated at my desk. It’s the “on-the-go” items that I struggle to track.

The Point is the Doing

check list
Source: David Castillo Dominici,

Between getting to the bottom of my son’s health issues, the holidays, and the fun of setting up my new planner, I haven’t actually been that productive in the last month. That’s not to say I didn’t accomplish important things — and they were truly important, because they were about family — but I’ve barely touched my dissertation proposal.

It’s time.

I began this morning by waking a bit early to journal why I’ve been reluctant to get in there and DO the work. It was an amazingly helpful exercise, because it shifted my perspective from feeling pressured to feeling privileged to have the ability to do what I do…and, even better, I feel a sense of purpose. I’m trying to support teachers who want to provide all students with equitable access to a quality education. As I wrote near the end of my journal entry:

This is a gift…my work is not a task to avoid because someone will judge me a failure if it’s not perfect. My dissertation allows me to explore big issues, and I believe my work will be of service to educators, and more importantly, children. The process itself is beautiful: Each day I work toward my dissertation, I am able to study what I want, how I want. What an amazing privilege! At the end of the day, I’ll know I am one step closer to putting my research in the hands of people who believe in providing better teaching and educational outcomes for children who deserve our best.

Guilt and shame don’t actually encourage me to do the work. While lists are helpful in breaking down a daunting task into manageable pieces, they are only effective if I do what’s on them. It helps to remember why I chose this path, and when I remember my purpose, I can draw upon renewed energy.

Now that I’ve reminded myself about my values and how lucky I am, I decided to post a few strategies to make my daily work life run smoothly. It’s right there in my Filofax:

  1. Write from 6-7am.
  2. No Internet until 9:30am.
  3. Use Facebook on Saturday only.
  4. Check e-mail three times per day: 9:30am, 2pm, and 5pm.
  5. No screens of any kind from 6-8pm.
  6. Run errands after the work day ends, not when the kids are in school. 
  7. Get 8 hours of sleep.

The writing time is because I want to start the day knowing I’ve accomplished something before distractions hit. My husband manages the early morning tasks with the kids, but once I leave my bedroom, the world intrudes on my mind. If I start working, I’ve won half the battle. The notes about the Internet, Facebook, and e-mail are tailored toward preserving my focus. Once I open my e-mail or read the news online, I tend to get derailed. If something is so urgent that it can’t wait until 9:30, 2, or 5, that person would likely call me.

I need to remember that because I work from home, I need to establish clear boundaries for my work and family life. I used to work outside of the home. I couldn’t run to the market during the middle of the day. I need to work while I have quiet time to focus. That’s when my kids are in school. I can always run an errand in the early evening with my children or on the weekend. Because I am home a lot, work can creep into my family time if I’m not mindful. No screens from 6-8pm. That’s time I reserve for my family, and they deserve my full attention. Period.

Finally, when I’m tired, I have a hard time focusing. Get sleep. How else will I write at 6am?

If the point of planning is doing, I need strategies that set me up for success. These personal guidelines have the potential to get me back on track with work. I am so glad I took time to think them through.

Updated (6 Jan 2013): Oh, these personal “rules” are the bombdiggity! I love getting something (an hour of writing) accomplished first thing, because the “small win” makes me want to keep on track. acebook is easy, because I’ve weaned myself off it since October. The rule about no screens from 6-8pm translates into more reading with/near my children. Honestly, the hardest thing is not compulsively checking my e-mail every time I pick up my cell phone or open my browser. I think one of the reasons I have been more productive so far, however, is because I’m not getting sidetracked by e-mail. Onward! [Actually, I need to get to bed. The 8 hours of sleep thing is a wee bit tough, too. G’night!

Apartment Therapy’s January Home Cure: My Project List

Back in December, I signed up for Apartment Therapy’s January Home Cure. It’s a month of tasks to improve your home…both in terms of function and beauty. I did this about a year ago, and I was very pleased with the results. While I didn’t follow it to the letter, it offered a very simple way of tackling nagging tasks around the home. This feels more manageable than a big resolution like organizing the entire house, and it often triggers other projects as a “bonus.”

This morning, I received my first assignment via e-mail. I wrote out all possible projects for the month and completed Day One (“Create a Project List”). To get started, I used the Filofax “Home” section I created last year. After I listed everything I would like to do to make this my “dream” home, I looked at what was both reasonable and affordable at this time. My personal goal is not to just buy or remodel, but to repurpose, declutter, and organize. The e-mail assignment said to identify 3-5 items per room at a maximum.

Here is my final list. Anything that costs money will be marked in bold violet. I’ll be coming back  to this post to mark off items as I complete them:

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