I open my journal. And then there is April to be closed, another month that goes by and it is hard to figure out how fast it went. So different, so full and yet again it is left behind leaving with us memories and naturally lots of unfinished business. If you have been reading for a while, you know this is the time of month when I start by end of month ritual. I close a chapter, open a new one, finish on a proud note, open on a hopeful mind. And you may wonder, does it make sense in lock down? Clear YES.
My Journal: End of Month Ritual
My end of the month ritual is the moment in time where I allocate more than a 10 minutes to my bullet journal and, with it, I reflect, and I plan. (short insta story here) It is a moment of thought and a moment of action. No getting stuck in what was not done, no feelings of unfinished business left lingering. Here is the short version of what it means:
Step 1: What I have achieved
I go through an honest though sometimes pampering list of what I have accomplished in the month. The worst or more difficult the month is, the more pampering this list needs to be. It means I need more kindness to self than ever. The list avoids connecting words such as “but” and qualifications as “unfortunately”. It is full of positive statements about what was achieved. What I achieved. It is factual and if need be, it goes through the little things in life.
Step 2: The month ahead plan
I lay out the month ahead, bullet journal style, including an overview of events coming (pretty empty at the moment) and space for the tasks ahead. I also added to my Bullet Journal a Goal Tracker. It is a simple table where I track daily my sleep, food, parenting, writing, happiness. All small KPIs related to my goals. Keep it simple as the simpler it is, the more likely it is that you will do it as a routine. And I don’t do artsy stuff like the cute instagrams you see on BuJo. I am in it for the content. I think once in December I sketched a Christmas tree.
Step 3: The tasks at hand
A key part of the BuJo is to help with what you want to get done (though arguably I use it for more than that with my gratitude practice). There are 3 ways to populate the tasks at hand:
i) check what you have not completed the previous month,
ii) check what you have in your future log for this month (if you don’t know what that means check my BuJo intro) and
iii) check your head for a mental download.
For the long version and a few examples you may want to go to my post about “Closing the month… make space for another one“. I want to focus on the benefits instead today.
Why does a journal matter now?
In fact, now more than even before, the ritual of closing down a moment before you step into another one can be a crucial step to ensure we maintain (or recover) mental sanity. For many of us working remotely, home-schooling, caring for others, giving back to our community, me-time is likely to have been even more reduced. For me, commute is when I got quite a bit of me-time. Now, I don’t miss my commute at all. I do however recognise I have had to find ways to prioritise me-time while at home, which is not something I am very good at. More of that on my weekly confessions.
Here are the 5 reasons why I am even more focused on maintaining a journal as a self-care tool:
The number one reason I started using a BuJo was to get out of overwhelm. Admittedly, we have all gained time by not having a commute. However, many of us find ourselves with more to do and even less time. There is school at home, there is more food to buy, there are more things to sort out, the admin never ends, everyone seems to need care, and you have an even more immense need to connect to friends virtually. If you relate, that means you are out of time.
The Bullet Journal system is a really easy way to ensure you get all your to-dos, notes and thoughts into one place. It stays next to me through the day and when things show up that I can’t address in the moment they get there, highly reducing my level of anxiety with my failure to remember everything. When a moment of calm (sort of) happens, then you can easily go through the list and execute. No wasted time.
What do you really achieve in lock down? You are stuck at home. In a way, you achieve more than you ever did, it just depends on the perspective. Especially if you are still working remotely close to the same level as you did before (or with even longer hours). A few days ago, probably on a Thursday which has been my weakest day of the week through lockdown, I remember coming up with my very first quote:
“I am not seeing life pass by, but I am seeing life running over me”Me, on a Thursday evening
Some days I get that feeling. The feeling that no matter how much I try it is hard to just be even good at all the areas of life that are calling for help right now. I am not even aiming at perfect anymore. As such, recognising your achievements, adding a few “ticks” to your boxes will certainly help the days count more and turn the mood of the lock down into “look at everything we are actually able to do“. I feel especially like that in the weekend, where I am surprised by the amount of things we can now do in a single day, just by nature of having no swimming lessons or brunches.
This is one that I just can’t let go. And my daily lists are getting longer. I don’t journal per se, in the strict sense of the word that most people would think journaling means. I don’t start “dear diary, Little Girl C was really mean to me today”. There could be some rare exceptions where I expand on the day, but my journaling is done through my gratitude practice. Don’t worry, it is not some weird voodoo thing.
It is going on 3 years now since the day I started forcing myself to write down 3 things I was grateful for in my day. I don’t think I have missed a day since then, even when I do these a few days late. Gratitude has terrific effects on our brain and our mental health. And it has the ability to program you to see things for what they are – life happening, with so many beautiful spots. Even in the worse days, I make an effort to come up with at least 3. And I must admit, during this lock down, my list is rarely less than 5. I am just so immensely grateful for the experience I am having and the opportunity that I have been given. It may help change your view on lock down to try this one.
It is hard to lose yourself when you are caring for others. For many of us, that is what lock down will mean. Amidst work, care for others is just more intense. The priority of needs puts self-care right at the bottom of the list, if in the list at all. It is indeed easier to just put a few things aside, and likely we feel less guilty if we give up on things for us. However, just because there is a pandemic going on, it does not mean we need to forget the goals we set (and if you have not set any, now is a good time too!). If you do have some goals, tracking is the only way you stay true to them.
Looking at my Goal Tracker, I could tell at the end of March where I was totally compromising my ability to achieve my goals. I was not getting a lot of check marks on my “peaceful parenting” tracker, I had a big zero on my fitness tracker (outside my morning yoga), I had empty spaces on my drinking water tracker. Having that visible in front of me forced me to stop and evaluate if I still wanted those goals there. The ones that stayed, I then committed myself to do more. I started running for the first time in 5 years, I re-started playing some piano, I am being slightly better about water coming up with games with Little Girl C so we both drink more. OK, so I am not there on sleep yet, but it is high on the priority list for improvement. If you track, you can keep yourself accountable, and you are more likely to chose the actions that support your goals.
This is a unique time in history. My recent years have given me a more fable memory. I fear not remembering so many good moments. I was anxious about all the children albums I did not do. And though I still want to do them, I now include our family moments and my children’s one moment of the day in my goal tracker. Because keeping up with it is part of my goals. It is not perfect, and not always readable, but all in all I am certain it will help me remember better what this quarantine was about for us. Together with a long gratitude list I am, in a way, documenting this lockdown which I am certain we will be telling our grandchildren about. How will you remember?
If you have not yet started journaling, now is a good time to start. Any month will do. Any day of the month will do. Make it count.Jess Bailey