“Mindfulness” is the buzz word at the moment. Actually it has been for a while, and I will happily raise my hands and confess to the fact that I am a sheep and follow the ‘mindfullness’ crowd by reposting motivational quotes about ‘making time for you’ and ‘being in the moment’ whenever I can; which is entirely hypocritical because my idea of savouring the moment is having a slightly slower walk back up the path after taking the bin out. Which, usually I just find tedious and an unnecessary waste of time after 0.5 seconds. I had an hour long, full body massage last week (not a typical Thursday afternoon for me, it was a post-wedding, mourning the loss of my Thomas Cook honeymoon treat), and even in a darkened room where the only sound is music specifically engineered to relax you, with someone physically relieving the tension in my body, I spent the hour thinking “am I relaxed enough yet?”. Ah, the perils of being an impatient, anxiety-ridden overthinker. However, despite being unable to achieve a state of even moderate relaxation without first receiving a general anaesthetic, I recently tried my hand at bullet journaling.
Bullet journals are something I have admired from afar for a while now, and by ‘afar’ I mean by looking at my Instagram feed and thinking “that’s too faffy and technical for me”, much like the satisfyingly organised homes and perfectly contoured make-up. I spent an embarrassingly long time researching which bullet journal to get before realising that they are all, essentially, just paper. Having said that, I’m not a monster so of course I spent money on a lovely smooth, pretty new notebook in which to do my bullet-journaling; along with some fun stickers because you’re never too old for stickers.
What I noticed about the more expensive, more technical bullet journals was that they were mostly segmented and had different prompts to help you think about what to write, but there are a lot of ways to manage this without spending a fortune. A lot of ‘fancier’ bullet journals are divided up by day, but that’s essentially just a desk planner or a weekly diary – readily available for less than a couple of quid if you look in the right place. I personally didn’t want to get into a weekly view, it felt too similar to planning my work schedule, and I like the idea of being able to close the page on each day – I haven’t re-read any of my previous entries, I just don’t find it beneficial or enjoyable. My journal came with some emjoi stickers (how very 2019), which I really liked, and prompted me to buy some specific ‘bullet journal stickers’ with little quotes and mantras on. To get the juices flowing, I start each day’s entry by choosing an emoji sticker and a quote which best fit that day, then using the written part to elaborate a bit on why. Even if my emoji for the day is the crying face because it’s been horrible, I’ll jot down a summary of why it was so horrible even if it’s just “busy day at work, am exhausted”. Something about putting it in that onto the paper and closing the page does, to my pleasant surprise, make me feel a bit lighter. It’s like that bit in Harry Potter when Dumbledore uses his wand to drag thoughts out of his head and put them in the water – who doesn’t love some de-cluttering?
The easiest counter-productivity traps to fall into with bullet journaling which would then put you off doing it again are to dwell too much on the negatives, and to write too much. I’ve managed to tackle both of those with some nifty tricks which were so useful I may have to consider copyright. First, although it’s perfectly fine and sometimes beneficial to write down negative things, for every negative point about my day I make myself write a “but”. For example, if I’ve had a difficult day at work I tend to follow it with “but, I did my best and that’s all that can be expected”. Ending on a positive definitely made me see the ‘point’ of bullet journaling, because writing a list of everything that was rubbish about your day is quite draining and just makes you feel worse. So, keep that little weighing scale of negatives and positives even.
Also, for someone like me who is a rambler (someone who talks a lot, not an old person who likes getting lost in the countryside), it’s very tempting to start writing War and Peace and listing every aspect and emotion of your day. To overcome that, I started being quite deliberate with the time slot I allocated for the journaling. While setting a timer seems like a nice idea, I personally would just stare at the timer and feel like I was taking an exam which would be totally counter-productive, but I’ve started using a limited time slot like waiting for the bath to run or for my dinner to cook – there’s a clear end point but it’s not a race against the clock. I did see someone else post online about how they like to see it as a challenge to write something that will summarise their day in thirty seconds, as if there was a trailer for the film version of that particular day in your life. That is also a fun and non-restrictive way to think about it; but sadly I’m from the North and talk really fast so could probably still get a feature length film out in thirty seconds.
So, after doing some research on bullet journaling, and from doing my own, I came to the conclusion that it is a genuinely useful and healthy habit to get into, but that it really needs to be bespoke to the person doing it. I’ve seen some journals online which have so many boxes, each demanding to be filled in with separate thoughts or ideas, or some which set targets for the week which, to me, just seems like a trap for self-induced guilt like New Year’s Resolutions. Although I started off by forcing myself to do this each day, it has quickly become a habit, and a useful one at that.