Journaling, Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

My most recommended habit: journaling

I became a fan of journaling. It has now been 3 years and I am only adding to it. Even though I started bullet journal style, I guess in a way I created my own personal style. I have written about it in a few places, firstly when I explained how the bullet journal changed my life, but I thought I would do a 1.0 guide for those wanting to start and not really knowing where. This is my version of journaling, neither Anne Frank style nor pure bullet journal style. Just one that works for the different benefits I attach to it. Perhaps it can work for you.

Now is the best time ever to start journaling.

Covid-19 Lockdown speaking

Why, you may ask? My 5 bullet point answer (who does not like a bullet point answer)

  • Get out of overwhelm
  • Talk about your achievements
  • Be grateful
  • Stay true to your goals
  • Remember

Now really, if you want to know more about it, go here. I am focused on the pieces of journaling today!

What do you mean pieces?

Face this as a software in modules. You don’t have to buy all of them at the same time (I didn’t). You can try what works and what quickly becomes part of your workflow. Remember, the easier it is, the more likely you will keep up with it.

The Organizer Journal

This was what got me to the bullet journal in the first place. I was in overwhelm and did not feel like I could cope with all the areas of my life that needed attention. Moreover, I felt like my memory was failing me and I kept on getting frustrated about what I forgot. I ran endless to-do lists and never really saw the end of them. Nor did I have any motivation to do so, they were just so big.

My friend Madalena introduced me to her (rather pretty) bullet journal. After watching the intro video I was sold on it and probably bought it on Amazon before I even got home that evening. This was when I started getting out of overwhelm, with 3 steps:

Plan Ahead

A place to put my big-picture 6 months “to-dos”. You may not think you know what you want to do in 6 months, but there is a way to think about it differently. What is in your list today that actually does not belong to today?

I know that I would like to do a lockdown photo album, but will I really do it in May alongside home-schooling and closing charity accounts and raising emergency funding? Unlikely.

I also know that I will need carpet cleaning, will I do it now? No, I will schedule it for when we are due to be out so the carpets can dry.  So I can have it on my to do list, but not on my active list, occupying space.

The mental weight that has come off my shoulders with a “Future Log” has been immense. Try it out. And when something new comes to your mind, remember to consider whether that really needs to be done now and when the best time for it would be.

Plan for the Month

This is a place to put all the to-dos I would like to achieve in the near future. Let’s face it, some months it is bigger than I can cope with, I admit it. But overall, in time, I learnt to measure my monthly quasi-goals to realistic things I can achieve with a few stretch assignments I give myself.

The process of closing this list every month is the best way to ensure “no task is left behind” and can either be carried to the next month or postponed to a later date. I rest in peace that I am not forgetting things and indeed whenever there is a (rare) spare moment I have a ready-made list of things I can address. No time wasted.

Daily Actions

I like that the bullet journal does not have a specific space for each day. If you don’t want to do a day, you don’t and there is no guilt. For each day you list what you want to achieve, and you can have more days open at the same time if you want to start moving to a more weekly view (which I did over the last 3 months).

At the end of each day you use a cross to mark it is done (I know it is weird that it is not a tick!) and you use a triangle for what you want to migrate to the next day. It is a good way to assess if something really needs doing when you use a triangle repeatedly in the same task for days without end.

The Gratitude Journal

I am big on the practice of gratitude. And if you have been to the blog before, you have likely picked up on it. A year into my gratitude practice I moved it to my bullet journal, alongside each day. It gave a more meaningful side to my to-do list, though in fairness it was often associated with it. In a way, it is my journaling done in a more traditional way.

I have always enjoyed writing with pen and paper (as opposed to screen and keyboard) so the practice is somewhat therapeutic for me. Moreover, the more I read about gratitude the more I know it is (scientifically) great to be able to write and even some times go back and read as a reminder that there are indeed many things in life to be grateful for. Mental health says thank you. What are you grateful for? 

The Goal and Habit Tracker

In 2019, I started goal setting. I had given thoughts to goals before at work, but not really in the context of my home and my charity. So as I ventured into it, I thought there was no better place to put it than the bullet journal. I started with just stating the goals, to then developing a new framework for it and ultimately, I decided I should be tracking it as well.

What do I mean by tracking? Well, I am not tracking whether I am healthier every day, it’s hard to tell as I am not a doctor and don’t carry around the necessary equipment to evaluate that objectively. But I have created a simple log for each month that allows me to track my physical health, mental health, fitness activities, sleep, water intake and high level food intake. It may seem like a lot, but being healthier was my #1 goal for 2019 and I felt like I made progress but did not get to the right level, so I stepped up on key actions I had to keep up with in 2020.

And this is an example for one goal only. Now, you don’t want to overdo it, but tracking a goal is the best way to make progress towards it. Because when you look at a week where you barely have anything to say about an activity that you know is key to your goal, you know you are deviating and can choose to course-correct.

If you are up for it, you can even do a journaling session for a quarterly mark to market. I have done a few, highly recommend them!

The Self-Care Journal

Self-care is one of those words that has grown in meaning and usability over the last few years. Especially with women. Women need to have more self-care. Make time for self-care. Self-care is essential for mental health. All that is true, and part of that is already reflected in the 3 “modules” above. The fact that I have a better way to get organized and feel less overwhelmed is self-care. The fact that I write down gratitudes every day is a strong form of self-care. Making sure I stay true to my goals is another one. Well, journaling is a form of self-care! So what else could one want?

Well, there is one piece of self-care that I excel at failing. Kindness to self.

I will never forget the therapy session where I just could not find kind words to say to myself sitting in my best friend’s imaginary chair.

So for the last 2 years, I have tricked my brain into it. Every month, before I go through the process of figuring out what I have not done and needs to still be on the list, I close my month by stating “what I have achieved this month“.

It is more than a list of gratitudes, even though I am grateful for all that I have achieved. But rather than speaking in the third person, I speak about myself, and about how I did well. It feels like some cult exercise, but I promise it’s not. Sometimes, it is hard to find things, but once you start, you will find that you get in that positive spin. And it is an essential step before I move to plan another month and all the “unfinished” business that usually entails.

It was only 18 months ago in a journaling moment looking at one of these lists I had tears in my eyes and turned to a stunned Hubby B to say “I guess I am not that bad“.

If you must know his answer it was “It only took you 37 years to find out”.

Memories in one Place

Sleep and tiredness affects your memory. I have little of the former and lots of the latter. As such, I feel like my memory fails me in ways that it did not before. And I fear that. I fear not only that I forget what I need to do, but most importantly, that I forget what I have done.

This is particularly true in what concerns my children and how they grow up. I don’t have precise memories of when they started doing things or when we did a new activity. But now I have it all in one place. Alongside my daily goal tracker, I have built in a Family, Baby S and Little Girl C tracker, where I try and record special moments even if just with one word.

A few days ago it was “2nd tooth”, to remember the day Little Girl C lost her second tooth. I still have the hope that one day I will translate this part into an actual child album (which I already bought), but until then, I just have to make sure I have it somewhere, as I panic at the thought of not knowing.

I also keep in one place notes from books, from workshops, lose thoughts. Why have things dispersed? And in the end, because the bullet journal has numbered pages and an index upfront, you really can add anything you want and refer to it easily as needed. Like a memory vault.

All-in-one journaling

At the moment, the bullet journal is an all-in-one journaling solution for me. It can easily be for you, though I would probably recommend approaching it in steps. I started with what needed more urgent fixing – my feeling of overwhelm. Despite being strong in time management I rarely felt like such, and since I have my pink book with me, I feel more in control. Feeling in control can do wonders for what you can achieve.

Imagine when you add gratitude, goals, self-care and memories to it. Enjoy the journey.

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

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