In the past, I’ve written about how my Bullet Journal is the single most important tool I have to staying on track with my projects and goals. I’ve also written a lot, particularly here on Medium, about productivity and ways we can increase it. But I’ve had a change of heart.
I love my bullet journal. Like I said, it’s my #1 writing tool. But it’d become something I was avoiding. I didn’t want to use it, I stopped tossing it in my purse when I left the house. Some days, I wouldn’t even open it. What happened?
First, I watched Rachael Stephen’s video on the mistakes she was making in her Bullet Journal and it all made sense. I was making the same mistakes. And, like Rachael, what I was doing was sucking the joy out of my journal and out of my days.
What I was Doing Wrong
My journal had become this heavy instrument of Productivity that I wasn’t able to consistently live up to. I wasn’t crossing off enough tasks, tracking enough time, doing enough, to make it feel useful. I was spending time every weekend setting up the spreads for the following week instead of spending it with friends and family. I generally take weekends off from work and writing, so those days were often blank with a small note of what I did each day, if anything. Days I just couldn’t muster the mental or physical energy to get words on the page were also blank.
These blank spreads then caused untold anxiety. Here’s why:
I grew up with lectures about how to be a grown-up, a good and useful member of society. I had to go to university, get a degree, find a job, then slave away at a desk until I was 65 and could retire. It’s the same story that was dictated at me as a legal assistant, barista, social media writer, and copywriter. And, if I’m being completely honest, even now as a writer.
To be a good person, a useful and worthy person, you must be busy. Not just busy, productive.
So, those blank spreads were causing anxiety. Those days I wasn’t feeling up to writing, or chose to spend the time with my nearest and dearest instead, were a waste. I wasn’t being productive. I wasn’t hustling and getting shit done. I decided to run a little experiment.
I stopped being busy.
The Break Up
I didn’t want my journal to be this place of anxiety and avoidance. I wanted to get work done. I have stories and insights to share, but I wasn’t writing. Now, don’t get me wrong, the way I was using my Bullet Journal wasn’t the whole problem. I was also burnt out.
I put too much pressure on myself to hit Medium really hard and I was struggling to fit writing these stories into my already busy writing schedule. So, I took a break from Medium to get my priorities sorted and a couple big projects off my desk.
I also overhauled the way I was using my Bullet Journal and went back to a more “traditional” way of using it. I drew up a master task list and went with rolling dailies. Now, I wouldn’t be spending hours every week setting up beautiful pages that could be left blank. Instead, I would pick up the day right where the previous one had left off.
I ended July with mixed results. My journal was much more functional, less rigid, and more free. Gone were the feelings of anxiety and “unworthiness” surrounding it because there weren’t blank pages anymore. I also accomplished very, very little that month.
Without a big list of tasks to finish (and carry over from day to day if I didn’t), I didn’t do much. I found I didn’t have the same motivation I had before. I did, however, use (and waste) less paper in the book than before, which is a plus. But I didn’t cross a lot of tasks off my list. I did start a rather large craft project (that’s still unfinished) and devoted a lot of time to that instead of writing. I had more time to follow the things that made my heart happy in the moment instead of shackled to my desk, beholden to word counts and tracked hours.
For August, I continued my experiment and accomplished more. It may have been a result of a looming deadline for my anthology adventure, but I’ll take it. I still didn’t find enough time to get back to writing for Medium regularly, but I finished the adventure and attended a local writing day. I had more motivation, but still wasn’t accomplishing the same output I had in June. But I also don’t beat myself up over unfinished tasks.
Things don’t get finished, and that’s okay.
That brings us to today, the beginning of September. Once again, I’ve laid out my journal with a calendar and a master list of tasks I want/need to accomplish this month, and other things I’d like to do. I’ve already managed to cross off a few little things from the list, and am now on the bigger, ongoing things — like getting back to writing on Medium.
I’m excited to see what this month brings, what I can finish, and how this experiment continues to evolve over time.
Productivity is so entrenched in us as the marker of someone who has value in our society. Since shifting my focus from productivity to following the things that draw my attention, I’ve been happier and less stressed, even if I’ve taken a little longer to get things done. Eliminating the constant need to be busy, to be productive, has allowed more space for creativity and joy in my life. It’s all about bringing work into better balance with the more important thing called life.