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Sierra's little corner of the internet

The Eternal Cycle of Organizing Your Life

organization productivity

This week, I decided to try out bullet journaling as a way to improve my organization. For those who aren’t aware, it’s a minimalistic way of writing an agenda in a blank notebook that has lots of room for flexibility in what kind of things you can keep track of with it. So far I’m liking it, however this is a familiar situation I find myself in: I can’t figure out just what kind of agenda or planning system I want to use.

Tick-Tock

I find myself going back and forth between analogue and digital workflows. On one hand, having things digital is highly convenient to organize and display data at my fingertips, as well as sync my tasks or calendar events across devices and services with ease. On the other hand, there’s nothing more satisfying to me than the tactile sensations of writing on a piece of paper. I’m a bit of a fountain pen lover, so I like to use every excuse I can to write with my pens. Inevitably, one method stops working well, and then I switch to another method. I seem to have entered a “tick-tock” pattern where I get frustrated with a digital workflow and go analogue, but then after a while I get annoyed at the inconvenience of dealing with notebooks and not having things on my phone at a glance, and then I go back to digital again.

It’s this never-ending cycle of getting used to one system, finding it’s not quite a good fit for me, and then changing to a different one. The ultimate outcome is that I’m more disorganized than I ever was before. Not to mention, my ADHD brain would much rather hyperfocus for a day on looking at ways to structure my to-do list without actually doing anything on the to-do list at all! This YouTube video from Answer in Progress perfectly sums up my experiences in the world of organizational hell.

Various Iterations of Utter Failure

I’ve gone through many different phases in the past few years since I’ve been in university. In high school, a specific planner was mandated and forced on everyone so I never really had as much trouble staying in a consistent system until I started having to plan out my time completely on my own.

I started out using a Moleskine planner which had a week per two page spread. On the left side was a small area for each day to write down events, and on the right a lined page for writing down notes or to-do lists. This served me well, and I lasted a little over a year with it, even filling a planner fully! However, the format was limiting, and it was hard to see events and deadlines until the week of, unless I made a ritual out of looking ahead. Not only this, but pocket notebooks are just too small to fit everything in and are cramped to write in. The biggest thing that caused me to switch away is the fact that Moleskine’s paper is hot garbage, it bleeds through and feathers like mad, even using a fine nib and the most well-behaved of inks. Moleskine isn’t worth the exorbitant prices they charge.

After this, I moved to a Kanban system, using Nextcloud’s Deck extension. This also served me well, however it became very overwhelming. Although I could easily see and organize which things are due when, everything was in view, no matter if it was due tonight or 2 months away. Needless to say, this did not help me stay organized in stressful times, and it constantly got disorganized. Kanban is very high maintenance, and is better suited for planning out work in groups, such as in a Scrum setting.

I went through a period of just not writing things down, and when I got my iPhone 12 last November, I decided to just use the reminders app. The reminders app is good enough for to-do lists, but it doesn’t have a good enough scope, much like the Moleskine. I have scheduled tasks, and stuff that’s due today, but it’s very hard to prioritize things effectively. Sometimes I would forget about something because since it was due 7am, I wouldn’t see it until I woke up in the morning and it was too late to do it.

This brings me to where I am now, 3 days or so into bullet journaling, and I’m more confident this time.

Is this the answer?

I still don’t know whether or not it will stick, but the saving grace of bullet journaling is that it’s so flexible and designed to be changed and adapted as you use it. To be clear, this isn’t an article trying to sell you on the process, it’s just my own personal experience so far. The fact that it just requires a blank book, a bit of deliberate writing every day, and tons of redundant entries in different scopes (being long term, intra-month, or daily) makes it all the more enticing to me. I can check things off as I do them and get that rush of dopamine to my brain. I can “migrate” goals that I never got done to the next month. I can write miscellaneous notes and events in and it’s not out of place. It doesn’t have to be in an order, there’s less of a feeling of “I’m too afraid to write anything in this nice notebook because I’ll just ruin it”. The biggest draw I have with this is that it doesn’t replace my digital calendars or to-do lists. I have it written in my journal because it’s a journal. 50 percent of the bullet journal process is recording your life on paper like a diary (even if I keep a longform journal of my own thoughts in its own notebook).

Will it work out for me? Only time will tell. I just hope I don’t keep perpetuating this cycle of reorganizing my life when it’s already mid-organization.