The year 2016 is about to come to a close which means a new year will soon start. I have had my moments of cynicism in the last decade, but something I don’t think I will ever become cynical about is the promise of new beginnings. For me a new year always feels full of hope for better things. And I am charmed and captivated by the prospect of possibilities.
My job as full-time music teacher to children ages 3-8 ended six months ago. Maybe it was the strict sleep schedule I adhered to, or my habit of partial fasting during the school day, or the the routine and structure my job superimposed on my life. Whatever the reasons, now a year and a half later, I have the luxury of energy that I just haven’t had.
Having the most energy since being diagnosed with Lupus, opens up a whole world of possibilities for me. I feel exhilaration and determination to channel and focus this hard won energy toward new goals and dreams.
To really get the most from this gift of energy, I made the decision to teach myself an organizational system, a time management system. I have a number of different projects, both personal and professional, that I want to work on simultaneously. Developing my own unique system of organization, seems the first and most important area on which to devote my time and attention.
For the past few years I have had a kind of “do something” approach to work and life. I think the shift happened when I developed Lupus and my previous bursts of energy and short term “sprints” were no longer a part of my reality. I faced the hard truth that I simply could not do grandiose plans…at least not in the same way. I had to adopt a sort of dogged plodding approach to getting things accomplished. So I started thinking in terms of “I can wash one dish and then one more…” If I didn’t finish the task of “washing dishes” at least there were fewer dishes the next time I came back to that task. This was a psychological tool I developed and strengthened. And it served me well during our time in Yangon. But the year helped me to graduate to a new level and now “do something” is not enough. I have started to dream big again. I have pushed at the boundaries of my limitations and in so doing, have moved the boundaries. So I’m going to keep pushing and striving for more of the life I want.
Growing up I think I was considered more “messy” than “organized” but still I had a few organizational skills. During elementary school for example, I had one of the most neatly organized desks in the whole school! (Well to be fair, it was a one room school and although allowed for grades 1-8, only had a total of 20 kids! :)) Also later in high school I maintained a neat and functional locker. Unfortunately for me, those skills were not sufficient to organize the myriad of areas I suddenly became responsible for when I went off to college. And it seemed that my small and limited organizational skills were simply choked out.
Of course, people were keen to help me. Ideas, suggestions, books, even furniture were sent my way. I also tried to find my own resources. I loved pre-printed planners and calendars, I loved buying them for myself or receiving beautiful ones for gifts and I loved dreaming they would magically work wonderfully. I had separate notebooks for a variety of things I tracked: a gratitude journal, piano practice logs, food logs, exercise logs, regular journal, books read log. I also really loved buying and getting pads of decorative paper for making lists of groceries, gift ideas, to do items. The papers were nice to look at but really held very little practical function.
I’m not sure when I first discovered the bullet journal idea, but search YouTube for “bullet journal” and scads of videos will appear. It’s like a thing. A “community”. I’m sure that I watched one of these videos during the school year but at that time I just wasn’t interested. It was a draining year and I was worn out and simply could not add anything else to my life. But after a month away I was more rested and had recharged some. It felt like an excellent time to try a new system of organization. So I watched a ton of videos to get some ideas and then I was ready to give it a go.
My schedule for work last year had lots of planning time built into the day. This was such a gift. And I went deep into planning like I'd never been able to before. For the first time in my school teaching career, I had sufficient time to plan out my lessons and then review them thoughtfully every day. I tried new ideas and methods regularly. This process of—1. having a new idea 2. trying it out and 3. then analyzing it’s merits and weaknesses— gave me a way to think about organization. So I knew that especially at the beginning, I needed to specifically plan in time for reviewing the system and reflecting on what was and wasn’t working for me. To reinforce this idea further, I included both morning and evening planning time as a habit to develop on my Habit Tracker chart.
Another thing I will borrow and bring forward from my experience as a music teacher in an international school, is my attitude. I approached my new teaching position in a can-do, keep-my-eyes-on-the-big-picture-and-don’t-get-bogged-down-in-the-details kind of way. That attitude served me very well in my job and so I’m adopting the same attitude in my approach to my planning journal.
I used to scrapbook a lot. And I was slow. My first page took 4-hours to put together and I know the consultant who sold me my first album, pages and stickers was more than a little aghast at my slow process. For the brief time that I was a consultant myself, I remember that the main idea was: “get those pages done! Get those pictures in albums!”. But I spent hours pouring over stickers and paper options. Should I crop the picture into a circle or just trim the edges. Should I double mat and cut the outside edge with special scissors??? Should I freehand my titles and text or should I use colored stickers or stamps with colored ink????So many choices and I wanted it to end up beautiful every time. Like a work of art. A few of the videos on bullet journaling that I watched seemed to take all the ideas of scrapbooking, minus the photos, and apply them to their planning journal. I knew I couldn’t let myself get sucked into that or my planning journal would be a complete failure! I am an EXPERT at wasting time on stickers and colorful paper. What I need is a functional organizational tool, first and foremost. So my guiding principle is that adding artistic flare is fine as long as I don’t spend much time on it. The vast majority of the time needs to go into planning and tracking how well the planning is working.
Sticking to this principle has been relatively easy. And I think the reason for that is that I have a LOT of creative things I do now. I draw, paint, and sketch in a number of different media including digital.
My need for creative outlet is met through these ways. Therefore my planning journal does not need to be a creative outlet too. So I don’t use a ruler and draw “straight” lines freehand.
My titles are in fonts I can dream up in a couple of seconds. I was tempted to watch videos and scroll through instagram and pinterest for fancy fonts I liked, but when it came to the point where I would need to practice copying any new fonts, I stopped myself.
I wrote down “stickers” in a list of things to buy but so far I have been quite restrained about that. No stickers purchases yet for my planning journal. And I started with only a black pen. I bought a ton of black pens for my Zentangle class for my after school activity and for my own sketchbook drawings. So I already had those and didn’t need to buy anything new.
What I did buy was a journal. Because of Urban Sketching, I discovered Moleskine journals. I had seen them when I bought journals before but I really learned about them when I started my sketchbook practice last year. Moleskine has several types of journals and when I had been looking for watercolor sketchbooks, I also ran across grid papered journals too. I remembered those grid journals when I went to buy my first planning journal. A brand of planning journal that is popular for these custom planning journals have dots, but I find that the grid in the Moleskine works well for me. I bought a pack of three skinny journals. Traveling has forced me to think about the weight of everything. I didn’t want a big journal that was heavy and bulky. I already carry too much weight in my purse as it is. So these skinny Moleskine grid journals are perfect. And another thing, because we do travel so much it’s nice to know that Moleskine is all over the world. So getting my next journals as I need them will be easy.
I set up my first journal in August when we had a plan, albeit a rough outline of a plan, for what we were doing. And my journal and new system worked quite well until the middle of September when our lives became transition-on-hyperdrive. And for a couple of months there was no such thing as structure or routine. Things changed weekly. So living in this constant state of flux has been the biggest challenge to developing a solid system of organization for myself. In my next post I will write about what things I’m doing to overcome this and other barriers to moving forward with my dreams and goals.