The end of a month… make space for another one

The closing of a month is becoming a cherished ritual for me. This month, I “started” March only today as I found the time to sit down with my journal and follow through with the steps that are becoming part of a small ritual that I have installed for myself at the end of each month. Other times I would have said, “OMG, is it March already”. But not now. Even though I feel I could have used the 2 extra days that February is missing, I got to the end of March surrounded by a super-mum-power-working-woman feeling. Arguably, it is nothing but a feeling, but I will go with that for now.

As the bullet journal becomes such an important part of my life – I thought I would share more about the steps to take, what I find helpful with the method and how I have applied it to my life – with my own tweaks. I touched on a few when I first wrote about the bullet journal, but I feel the goals really added to the bullet journal experience this year so I will cover that too.

Sara, you must spend hours on this BuJo thing.

Not really. I spend at most 5-10 minutes in the morning for my gratitudes and stuff for the day, and I may have it open at different times during the day to check on things I need but I don’t consider that spending time on it, but rather using it. To close my month, I take probably an hour, and that is because I write a lot, despite being a fast writer. So today I closed February, with all my honesty and with much peace.

Here are some steps to help you going and make the most of each new beginning.

Step 1 – Finish off your month

Yes, finish what you have started. Skip the temptation to let go of the last few days and stop journaling, as the next month is coming anyway. I more easily skip the first 2-3 days of a month than the last of the previous month. Not finishing a month may give you a thought or two about procrastinating on starting the next one. And it will have the added hindrance that you start leaving things undone, keeping them in your head, adding to the mental weight that can be loaded from everywhere. And It will make it more difficult to open up the next step.

Step 2 – Make time for it

To properly close out of a month, you need to allow time and space to do it. Much like finishing a book, I usually need some time to take me to the next one, perhaps 2-3 days to get me used to the ideas that I have just absorbed and to help me chose the next one that I want to focus on. I feel a bit the same about the months planning. I generally take a break over month end because I know I want to do it with enough intention to make it worthwhile my investment. I like to do it in an evening with some music, or perhaps in the tube on my way in, if I get a sit right at the first station, so I don’t have to be interrupted.

Step 3 – Celebrate your month

So you may not have closed on that big project, you may not have done all the things on your to-do list. Nothing like that matters when you close out a month. The first thing I added to the BuJo method was an achievements list. I started to early on draft a list of all that I achieved in the different areas of my life that matter to me, finishing off each “bucket” with a smiley (or not so much) face. I focus on what I did, and I rarely admit into the closing less positive words, though I may allow for some qualifications of my achievements. I include a few examples for reference below. You can go as detailed or philosophical as you wish. When I started I barely filled a BuJo page. Today, I wrote 2 and a half pages of achievements, complementing them with little smileys of how I felt about each of them. One smiley even had a CEO hat on. Those that know me will have knowledge of my poor art skills so I will not be sharing pictures.

Examples of Achievements

  • We had a lovely family holiday together despite the many hurdles that are part of life. We enjoyed each other’s company, we enjoyed skiing and we spent time with friends;
  • I have secured a venue for Little Girl C’s birthday party, as well as the science entertainment she requested a long time ago, despite my short week of panic where I thought I could not find anything;
  • I was there for Little Girl’s C School Assembly about Katie in London and she was proud to participate and have us there for that special moment;
  • I have done progress with our board members at ALG and held our first quarterly Board drinks while handing them an ambitious fundraising target;
  • I have created ALG’s new blog and a plan on how to take it forward, even though I still need to find a volunteer to execute on it;
  • I have discussed my work goals and established a plan of action and how they can reinforce each other.

Step 4 – Quick check on goals

This is not a quarterly review, but it is a good opportunity to maybe do a quick self-assessment on how you are doing on your goals. Are you closer to your milestones, did you complete any of them? If not, what do you need to do differently? If yes, what is the next thing you need to focus on? There is no need for too much time on it, but hopefully putting down the achievements would have already informed you about most of the progress towards anyway. I am assuming that i) that you have laid out some sort of goals and milestones and ii) your achievements will be somewhat aligned with your goals. If the latter is a false assumption, I suggest you review your goals. Note that, on my task list (see step 6) I also have 3 small goals for each month so I try and see if I hit those. I am not at 50% hit ratio yet.

Example of Goal Check

  • Goal #1 (Be healthier): I spent a week skiing and felt up for it. My body naturally suffered from the shock of so much sport but I took the opportunity to rest and sleep as much as I could. I am improving the family menus and introducing more vegetarian alternatives (ok, France was not great to keep my weight, but it shall be fixed). I have only been to pilates once, but I have kept my morning yoga, except a few short days while skiing. My sleep deteriorated since I came back from holiday and I have to work on it. I got myself a fancy new bottle of water and I need to make improve the intake in March.

Step 5 – Start your month – draw the calendar

It is time to draw out your month (I mean really). List out the days and main events you already know for the month. Even though this page seems of little relevance given the extensive use of google calendar these days, I still believe it has good value to lay it out on paper. You often notice special events, birthdays, map out the weeks in a way that you know when you need to prepare for what. For me, it also helps me see which Fridays I have open so I can book dinners with friends or other activities. I may sometimes also add it to my phone calendar if I notice it is missing. March is a month full of birthdays for me, so it is good to lay it out and see if I don’t forget anyone.

Step 6 – The tasks – the hard part

It is time to list out what you need and want to do this month. The BuJo method tells you to list it out in bullets. Now, I have adjusted this slightly to my own personal style. I split it into the areas of my life that need organizing and prioritizing. I have a page split in 4 (it has been 2 and 3 before), which allows me to put things I need and want to do for i) me, ii) my family, iii) my Portuguese charity UPG, iv) my UK charity ALG. I strongly suggest using buckets if you have many things you work on “outside work” or if you are using this for work. At work, I also use a bucket system for my different areas of focus and I have found that to be an extremely productive approach.

So how do you fill up the task list? Here are some tips:

  1. Close out the last few days of the month before for any unfinished items. Browse for any items you have not yet crossed off your list, or things that are only kind of done. If you have time, quickly browse through the weeks to capture any unfinished or not migrated items.
  2. Look at the to-do list from the previous month, that you set out to achieve before it even started, and check what you have left to do.
    • It is crucial that you take a month to stop and be realistic about the things you did not do. Did you genuinely not have time or ability to do it? Did you forget? Ask yourself if that task still merits to be in your to-do list. A month has gone by since you last wrote it down on a piece of paper. Can you remove it altogether? If it is still important, give it some thought on how you are going to achieve it. Perhaps breaking it down in smaller steps will help? Start with it right away?
    • This is a key feature that the BuJo did for me. Sometimes I will just cancel tasks out, other times I admit this month I will not be able to make it a priority, and so I move it to my future log and I chose a month where it makes sense to do it. The over-achiever in me will always write down more than I can achieve, but I have become pretty reasonable at making these end of months assessments and a feasibility test on many of the tasks I have.
  3. Look at the future log that you prepared at the beginning of the year where you laid out a couple of tasks ahead. You would have put things down for the month of March maybe back in December and never thought of that again (that for me is the benefit of getting rid of the mental weight that this system gets you). Chose which tasks you still believe are required to feature in March and be just as brutal with the remaining ones as my previous point. If you are unsure – kill it. If you ever have the need to do it again you can add it back at any time.

You are done, you can now start this month knowing that you have a plan. And even if you don’t do what you plan, you have a way to figure out what it is that you are missing. I have kicked off March knowing that will be long and pushy but ensuring I keep my energy at its highest to achieve all that I have laid out for me. And I am also ready for the uncertain – I can just add it to a bullet when it comes and list it as a new achievement by the end!

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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