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Midori Bullet Journal in 3 Parts

My bullet journal has worked well for me for quite some time. I have switched to the Midori Travelers Notebook, using my Moleskine setup exclusively for the field notes that I take in my research site.

I constantly teeter on the line between a systematic, thorough approach and manageability. When my system or routine creeps towards complexity, everything collapses. I pruned my modifications from the original, simple bullet journal approach enough that my Midori is in my personal planning sweet spot.

My set-up uses 3 regular-sized (as opposed to “passport” size) Midori grid inserts:

Brain dumpThis holds the unfiltered thoughts I capture as they happen. I have learned to keep this handy when I’m trying to focus on things deeply. When I read a journal article and think, “I want to read the book the author mentioned,” I jot it down instead of going to the Internet and searching for it…derailing my concentration on the article. When I am writing and someone other than a family member calls, I make a note instead of picking up the phone so that I can return the call during my next break. I also use this list when I sit down to create my daily and weekly plans.

Mental health bonus: if you have a tendency towards anxiety or have been diagnosed with ADHD, a single place to capture random items is particularly helpful. I find that adding to it at night is also useful at reducing insomnia. Before, I used to turn out the lights and I’d have a list of items flash through my brain. Now, I write down these thoughts in my brain dump notebook and know they can wait for me to tackle them tomorrow!

My lists: This notebook contains…uh, lists. Most notebook and planning enthusiasts are, by nature, list enthusiasts in general. I like keeping these in one place. Some are helpful in planning longer range projects such as the focus for each week of a 52 week “home organization” challenge. Here’s a random little tidbit about my notebook: I add most lists into my notebook from front to back and add the title to the table of contents as I go; however, I add items to my “to read” list from back to front. That’s my longest list, and this method allows me to add to it without setting aside a specific amount of space. My notebook is full when both ends meet!


A notebook composed solely of lists. Glorious, quirky, random lists.

My Bullet Journal (aka Daily To Dos)Finally, I have one notebook devoted exclusively to my daily and weekly planning. This is where I organize items that I want to tackle from our family calendar, my brain dump, and my list notebook.


It’s also where I prioritize the top 3 items for my work time. As a grad student and parent, I have a long list of items to accomplish but very little external structure built into my day. This has been difficult for me to learn to manage. Before I was a PhD student, I was a teacher. Back then, my days were highly structured. I taught subjects at specific times; I had goals for each lesson; and my breaks were scheduled (teachers are renowned for their bladder control because you can’t just stroll out of a lesson or abandon yard duty). With the lack of imposed structure, my brain interpreted flexible time as MORE time. Not so! This mistake added extra time to my grad school program and caused undue stress. Daily planning and prioritizing is how I build the structure into my days now.


How I use my bullet journal now – April 2015

I began experimenting with the bullet journal approach long before my diagnosis of adult ADHD, and in hindsight, I can see that my deep fondness for paper planning was actually a way I was able to succeed (in many ways, albeit at great cost) for so long. Many of those who work with adults and teens with ADHD acknowledge how helpful paper planning can be.

Over time, I refined my approach to fit my specific needs, and I am enjoying the structure it provides.

Part of what I have done is create a double-page spread for every day and get very specific about categories of tasks and other items. Below, you’ll see that I put the time-specific scheduling at the top of the page. An appointment buried in the middle of the page, even when delineated with a special symbol, is an appointment I might miss. It also gives me a quick overview of where I have “space” in my day for the other tasks.

Double-page spread

Double-page spread

Below that, I divided my tasks into five categories:

  1. Phone calls
  2. E-mails
  3. Online (yes, e-mail is online, but I consider the e-mail communication and separate it out)
  4. Errands
  5. Work (at this time, it was prep for a conference presentation…heading changes)

I also have experimented with sections like “fun” and “notes” — see above. On other days, I have added a section with the affectionately-titled “nag” list for items that are reminders to check in with kids on chores, practicing music, and other items I want to emphasize (cough::flossing::cough). There’s some fluidity based on priorities at the time. Do I feel like routines need to be emphasized with the kids? Nag list. Do I feel like I’m not having enough restorative time? Fun list. Both? Why not?

Sometimes, like on this day, I needed help visualizing when to get everything done, so I noted if it was something I could do in the evening. Sometimes, if it’s a small task, I’ll note the item with a “B” for “break,” meaning that I can tackle it during a break. I’m not rigid about this. There are days that are less crowded. I still use a double-page spread, though. It just appeals to me, visually.

Other marks include techniques standard to a lot of bullet journals. The completed task or appointment has a box (task) or circle  (event/appointment) filled in. The item I didn’t begin has an arrow to indicate that I’ll move the item forward. A half-filled box represents a task I started. I occasionally mark a task with a star, if I am mentally stating that the item MUST be done for the day.

Note that I have made one change in my organization: I now put my work tasks immediately below the events and appointments. This is symbolic, reminding me that even though I have a flexible schedule, my work should not be placed last on the agenda.

Hope this helps give a sense of how I’m using the bullet journal to provide structure, rehearse the day ahead, and become more productive. If you use a bullet journal, have you adapted it in ways that you find helpful?

An answer…and a new journey

I haven’t posted on here in some time, because during the past year I have been trying to figure out what I can say that others aren’t already saying so well…Since I’m not currently decorating pages much, it felt a little redundant to keep posting on the bullet journal format.

Given a recent turn of events, I experienced the odd click when a number of seemingly separate pieces tumble into place.

This part’s personal. Not salacious nor dramatic. Sorry! But it’s personal nonetheless.

This year, my daughter…my amazing, bright, and sensitive daughter…was diagnosed with ADHD (combination subtype). In the lexicon of some people, she’s “twice exceptional” — intellectually gifted, with a few…well…challenges such as ADHD and a discrepancy between her understanding and her processing speed. Wait, does that make her “thrice exceptional”?

During the process, I learned about many misconceptions about ADHD in girls. For several reasons, girls are more likely to be diagnosed later, if at all. In fact, many women are diagnosed in adulthood only after their children are diagnosed.

Which leads to my “a-ha” moment. The more I read about how ADHD manifests in women and girls, the more I realized that many of the challenges I face stem from similar symptoms. The why and the how isn’t particularly relevant here, but I will say that I participated in an extensive evaluation process and received my diagnosis about one month after my daughter’s. This was not a haphazard process, and I feel quite confident this isn’t a case of “everyone struggles to focus in this day and age.”

What does this have to with Clarifilo, you ask?

Well…it’s amazing how things piece together when you have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight. It turns out that my love of lists and routines likely stems from techniques I developed to compensate for the untreated ADHD.

I think that in the coming months, I’m going to revisit Clarifilo as I try to incorporate what I’ve learned about structure and ADHD management. It turns out that paper planning suits many of my needs well, so you’ll see posts with the latest version of my bullet journal, more discussions of apps and routines, as well as some information specific to ADHD. I may also address strategies I am using at home to support my daughter. We’ll see. What I do know is that so much makes sense now, and I’m excited to continue this journey on Clarifilo.

Overly Ambitious To-Do Lists

Happy New Year!

Last week, I sat down and took stock of my dissertation proposal and data analysis for another major project. I read each section of my draft, considered what the other report required, and made notes about what needed to be completed, added, or revised. I then sat down with my calendar and mapped out what days I’d tackle each task.

Every day, I have been chipping away at my list, but it is going much slower than I anticipated. In the past, this type of realization led to frustration and paralysis. This time, it’s been more positive. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Be realistic about how long you can sustain focus. Writing and analysis are both demanding…fun, but demanding. I thought about what constituted an 8-hour workday, but over-estimated how long I could do writing or analysis well. Honestly, I can manage about 4 hours before I feel D-O-N-E, done.
  2. Sprinkle less-demanding tasks in between more intense work periods. For me, this looks like responding to work e-mails, looking up data online, formatting, gathering resources, and organizing data. Yesterday, I broke up my writing with creating a few tables. I poked around two websites for the data, but it was much less taxing than what I was doing earlier.
  3. Enough sleep is essential. Shocker, I know! Being well-rested means I can focus for longer, even if it’s not as long as my initial ambitions.
  4. Revisit what you have accomplished at the end of the day. At first, I was discouraged by how much slower I was progressing through the list than I’d planned. When I stepped back, however, I realized that I had still made significant headway in my work. Consistent effort makes a difference. Surpise! By looking at my progress instead of beating myself up over “falling short” of my goal, I have been able to stay motivated.
  5. Schedule one big session early in the day, if possible. Real talk: Things happen in the course of the day that can derail your plans. Your child gets sent home from school with a fever, the washing machine floods the laundry room, your boss e-mails with a “drop everything” request that had not been part of the agenda. If you’ve done a chunk of work early on, you may accomplish more than if you’d run errands or responded to e-mails for the first hour or so.
  6. Use the daily list to say no. Recently, I have been experimenting with “Remember the Milk,” an online task-manager/app. One feature includes creating a time estimate for each task. Other programs also include this option (e.g., OmniFocus), and you can do this on paper, of course. One thing I appreciated is that RtM is that when I look at the day’s list, it tells me how many hours I have estimated for the all my tasks. Illuminating! As a result, I have been using the estimates to force myself to be more realistic AND to take some items off my plate.

I went back to the list yesterday and adjusted it based on what I’ve learned in the last week or so. Although it almost doubled the projected time frame I’ll be working on these two projects, I’m more productive than I’ve been in a while.

Curating Your Life

Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist and author of My Stroke of Insight (2009), had a stroke in 1996. She later described how she could sense the energy of people who came to visit her hospital room during her recovery. From that experience comes her famous quote:

Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.

I agree wholeheartedly that other people’s energy affects us. I have always been sensitive to the moods and actions of people.

I cannot expect everyone to be mindful of their energy, however, as a way to make my day better. People are busy doing their thing…and my comfort is rightfully not the focal point of their daily actions.

So what can I do to protect my emotional well-being? Recently, I found that Facebook was becoming more aggravating than pleasant. People I love and respect shared some callous thoughts on a topic that I hold dear to my heart…and while I don’t dispute their right to their opinion, I don’t need to fill my day reading posts that drive me apart from people in my life.

It is important to curate our lives. We aren’t just responsible for the energy we bring into a space; we must be mindful about the energy we allow into our space. Although we can’t control everything we encounter – an irksome co-worker or a bigoted uncle at Thanksgiving, for instance – we should occasionally audit the media and social environments with which we engage.

I feel much better having practiced what Anne Lamott refers to as “radical self-care.” Perhaps there are some ways you can curate your daily life to protect your emotional well-being, too.

Maybe now is the time to look with fresh eyes.

The basics

This week, I’m working on doing the fundamentals.

The basics.

You know, the things I have known for years are important, but somehow I don’t do them. Why is that? They’re clearly in my best interest, but somehow they don’t happen.

Once, when I was talking with my mom about cutting back on spending, she said there is one question I should ask myself when I consider buying something: “Does this item truly help me create the life I want?”

Not “Do I want this?” or “Does this item fit in the image of the life I want?” Those are different questions. In the case of my bigger goal, living within my means so that I don’t worry as much about finances, that “magazine moment” picture in my head is not as meaningful. My life doesn’t have to look like a two-page spread from Sunset Magazine to be beautiful.

Here’s the thing: I can apply that to choices I make about my time, too. “Does this activity truly help me create the life I want?”

Staying up too late to catch up on DVR and then being too tired to get in quality writing time? Doesn’t get me closer to finishing my Ph.D.

Clicking from one FB link to another when I could be reading to my daughter? Not serving my values well.

Drinking that soda when I know how terrible it is for my health? Gosh, that’s hard. It’s my weakness. Soda has been my guilty pleasure, but when I hold it up against the life I want for myself, I shouldn’t drink that soda.

I’m not advocating an austere life, devoid of “treats,” but if you’re doing it several times a day, does it really qualify as a ‘treat’?

So this week, I am thinking about the life I want to live. And I’m simply going to do the right thing. Here are the biggies I tend to ignore:

  1. Exercise daily for extra energy and stress reduction.
  2. Go to bed at a reasonable time so that I can function well the next day
  3. Take care of the paperwork every day so it’s not hanging over my head
  4. Be mindful of my spending. Watch Amazon 1-click and debit purchases.
  5. Practice mindful eating. If I have a “treat,” savor the heck out of it. If it’s something that doesn’t make me swoon, it’s probably not worth it. And if it does make me swoon, enjoy it in a portion size that doesn’t make me feel blergh afterword.
  6. Meditate. Even in the moments that seem a bit hectic, take a few seconds to focus on my breath and settle.
  7. Let go of what I can’t control. When I start to stress out, reconsider and get a little perspective.
  8. Limit multitasking. Doing three things crappily is not worth it, nor is it pleasurable. There are sometimes it’s okay (pay a bill when watching TV), but most of the time, it detracts from the moment.

I KNOW these things make me happier and healthier. Yet so often I neglect them. Not this week. This list is going on a post-it in my planner and I’m going to plug away at it. Every day.

Here’s to a wonderful week!

A5 Ochre Malden — Back in Rotation for a New Journal

I’m absolutely thrilled with my new planner set-up. The bullet journal and more…all held in my Fenner CRAFTS “Explorer II” handmade leather cover…are working out wonderfully. Yet I’ve been struggling with the guilt that stems from neglecting my Maldens.

I’m happy to report that I’ve found a new purpose for one of the Maldens. A Wellness Journal. In it, I plan to track the things I’m doing to make my life healthier, both emotionally and physically. Here’s how I planned the initial set-up:

Section 1: Goals

Section 2: Gratitude journal

Section 3: Reframing Journal

Section 4: Exercise, Sleep, and Food Diary

Section 5: Meaningful Quotes

At first, I was going to call this my “Happiness Project,” but upon reflection, I think that a life of meaning and well-being is more complex than happiness alone (for instance, see this article in the Atlantic).

Not only does this put my Malden back in the rotation, but I am so happy to open to a page designed by my daughter.

I put Washi tape around the watercolor my daughter made for me about a year ago. It's in the Filofax transparent envelope with top opening.

I put Washi tape around the watercolor my daughter made for me about a year ago. It’s in the Filofax transparent envelope with top opening.

On the back of the cover, I put a reminder to myself:

The battle against perfectionist tendencies is ongoing...

The battle against perfectionist tendencies is ongoing…

Because part of wellness is gratitude and human connection, I tucked a few envelopes and notecards in the front of my binder. My goal is to write to people at least once a week. This year, I’ve been prioritizing nieces and nephews, but now seems like a good time to write thank you notes to other people, too. As I write this, I realized that I should tuck stamps in the pockets, too.

front pocket

My first section lists goals for the month. Here were my goals for April. I did pretty well, although I’m behind in my writing. Grrrr…

april goals

While there are more sections, I may detail those a bit later. My last photo comes from the quotes section I had in a previous set-up.

I have a collection of quotes that help provide inspiration and anchored in the ideas I value.

I have a collection of quotes that help provide inspiration and anchored in the ideas I value.

I am enjoying the initial set-up, though I’m sure there may be some additional tweaks. I downloaded an app for my food journal, and the Fitbit tracks my steps each day, so tracking it in my Malden may prove redundant. I’m open to suggestions about alternatives!