Earlier this month I shared my plans for using a bullet journal not only to manage my writing business, but my life in a broader sense. I told you I'd update you on how that was going at the end of January. And, my, how time flies, because we're just about there. So here's my bullet journal update.
Overall, I'm happy with my bullet journals. After months of feeling down and stressed and sluggish, I feel much different now -- even though all of the things bringing me down last year came to a head mid-January and I had a devastating week to push through. I thought I'd throw in the towel in that moment, and I almost did. But my main bullet journal played a big role in getting me caught up and back on track.
There are good days and bad days, but when I focus on my journal and what I've mapped out there, it's most often a good day.
One Month of Bullet Journaling: The Good
Here are some of the highlights from my first month using bullet journals, both personally and professionally:
Having the bullet journal (alongside a traditional journal) helped me cope with a lot this month. The mini daily updates and mini rant pages were life savers. They forced me to get things out, do it quickly, then put it behind me in that moment. If I couldn't, I had the longer traditional journal to help in a different way.
This might not sound like a huge benefit, but those short outlets for journaling helped me make it a more regular habit, and the mental benefits alone are worth it. Getting things down on paper helped me clear room in my mind to focus on my work at a level I haven't been able to in a while.
The master blog post tracker helped me blog more in the past month than I have in the last three combined. Mostly though, this tracker made it easy to stay on top of multiple blogs. That's going to be more important moving forward as I re-grow my network of sites. I have three more due to launch over the next couple of months.
That said, it wasn't a perfect month. I had that bad week where I didn't do much of anything if it wasn't on a client deadline. And this week I've already gotten a tiny bit behind because of a half-day Monday (why this post is going up a day late). So I need to work on the schedule consistency. But where it's helping is making sure everything gets done, even if a day or two later than I'd like.
The weekly spreads were more effective than my usual to-do lists. I don't know why this worked better for me than digital daily and weekly lists.
Perhaps it was having so much at-a-glance, even when it was finished. There's a certain motivation to it all, and tracking work tasks plus simple habits together means I'm always moving forward with something. Seeing that drives me on other things too.
More Time Reading
I read more in January than I had in any of the past several months. Having a master TBR list along with a breakdown of monthly titles to focus on seemed to push me to read more, which was a big goal for the year.
I doubt I'll finish anything new between now and the end of the month, so it's looking like 7 books for January. They ranged from image-heavy books on art techniques I'm working to improve to a novel from a favorite author that just released this month, and some nonfiction covering politics and media issues.
Not too long ago, I used to read 8-10 books per month. So I'm not quite back there yet. But my goal was only to read 5, so I'm happy with the result. And as we all know, reading is important for any writer. You have to make the time.
I watched several films I might not have this month. Similar to the reading list, I set up a list of movies to watch. I didn't get through all of them (I'm choosing around 20 per month to target, split between general things I haven't seen yet, horror movies, French films, and films to re-watch). But I did enjoy some movies I might not have otherwise made time for, from finally seeing Moana to most recently watching Dunkirk, which was fantastic.
I'd been bad about taking time to relax recently, so while this doesn't seem writing-related, it is. If you don't take time to do things for fun, you burn out much easier. I've been making an effort to have more fun and spend more time on hobbies. This is only one example, but I've also spent more time painting, drawing, and making music as well. And thanks to that downtime, I've been getting more done, and don't feel anywhere near burning out.
I lost some weight. In my last weigh-in a couple of days ago, I was down 12 lbs for the month. This comes after a year with my weight barely moving, so I'm happy with that. When I do my month-end weigh-in (Feb 1st) I could very well hit my high-end target of 15 lbs. My low-end target was just 5 lbs, as I mostly cared about seeing the scale start moving again.
I won't get into the health issues that caused the weight gain in the first place, or how that affects what does and doesn't cause it to come back off, but suffice to say this is great news. I thought it would take a few months to get things in-balance again. And it didn't. The real test will be to see if it's consistent next month, especially because I also start a new training program in February.
In general, I just feel better physically. I don't feel dehydrated half the time. I'm getting more sleep (though I still have some rough sleepless nights, my body's insisting on making up for them most of the time). The yoga and meditation have helped with the stress (and that stress is still very high; my body is simply dealing with it better). I can already see more definition in my arms, and everything waist-down has toned up significantly -- much more than I expected in a month. So the targeted strength training is paying off.
Tracking vitamins and supplements has also helped. For example, women in my family tend not to make enough vitamin D. And let me tell you, if your D is low, you feel like absolute hell. If I don't heavily supplement, mine is extremely low. That alone makes a world of difference, just tracking to push consistency in supplementation.
So yes, overall I feel better physically. And that means I don't feel drained all the time. And that, in turn, leaves me in a better position to focus and be productive in my work.
More Creative Writing
I've also done more creative writing. The journal's habit tracking and blog scheduling have pushed me to focus on creative writing more consistently. This includes writing poetry and short fiction.
This isn't necessarily a big help for me freelance-wise, but making me think more creatively certainly comes through with other work. And I am focusing a bit more on prepping creative projects for pitching. I'd love this to be the year I finally get both my poetry and short fiction published (technically I became a published poet at 17 or 18, but it's been so long I don't count that, and that's a story for another day).
Having the bullet journal has helped me not only work more, but also grow. I've been able to find more time and energy for self-improvement. That starts with more reading as I've mentioned. But I'm also taking at least one online course each month, and have been spending more time brushing up on my French. I watch TED talks most days. I watch more documentaries when I can. Basically, I'm feeling a little more like my old "information sponge" self.
A Better Sense of Self
Thanks to my main bullet journal, I have a better handle on my moods. I'm not saying I never have mood swings. Goodness knows I do with the things I'm still trying to process. But I have a yearly mood tracker there (yes, yearly, on one page), and I think this is one of the best spreads I'm using.
It lets me see at-a-glance when my moods are up, down, or so-so. I split it in half-day blocks, so if my mood varies morning and night, that's tracked too. This gives me a better idea of what days of the week I'm at my best, and when I struggle. It's opened my eyes quite a bit.
For example, I can see when the hard times hit -- when I tend to start overthinking things. So I know to keep myself busier on those days or during those hours. At the same time, it shows me when I tend to be productive and focused, so I can put more energy into work during those hours. And I'm confident that's played a role in me getting as much done as I have this month.
My Bullet Journal Wasn't Perfect
All of those positives in mind, there were also some things that just didn't work out. For example:
- I'm dropping my master mileage tracker I shared in the previous bullet journal post. I wasn't being consistent about tracking miles based on my step counts vs miles based on only planned workout miles. So I kept falling behind my actual total. Rather than try to figure it all out now, I'm starting over with monthly mileage challenges.
- I didn't use my blog-specific bullet journal much. I noticed this early on but thought I'd use it more as the month went on. I didn't. I might ultimately move those pages to my main journal instead of keeping a separate one, but I want to give this one more month before deciding.
- It's easy to get overwhelmed with habit tracking. Basically, I tried to track too much. And I was tracking in a few different ways (monthly, weekly, and some habit-specific trackers). It made sense to test different tracking options. Now it's time to simplify.
With that in mind, here's my bullet journal plan moving forward:
Health & Fitness Changes
Moving forward, I'm tracking miles based on total steps (since they're tracked separately anyway, it'll be more consistent).
I'm also tracking these based on monthly challenges. I'm starting out with a 100-mile challenge for February. As my new 5k training program itself covers less than 40 miles next month, I might not hit it. But I'll continue the challenge until I do, then raise it the following month.
In the meantime, it'll just be a good excuse to work more steps into my day in every little way I can think of.
I'll be simplifying how I track those miles, and turning more emphasis to tracking yoga, my new strength-training program, and meditation. I want to focus on less time tracking, more time doing. And I want to work even more activity right into my work day (largely meaning more standing desk time, and more frequent active breaks).
More Emphasis on Publishing Projects
My writing business isn't all freelancing. And one thing I neglected a bit when I set my bullet journals up in late December was the publishing side of things. I'd since debated whether that should be in a separate journal (like my blogging is currently) or worked into my main one.
I've decided to keep this in the main journal. So story ideas, my larger publishing plan (on a quarter-by-quarter basis), and notes or reference pages are being added. I also intend to add word count trackers for projects I'll be drafting in the current quarter. I'm still trying to come up with a way to push myself through revisions though, which I enjoy much less and need more motivation to get through.
Scaling Back (While Expanding)
I plan to cut out some of the trackers I was using that didn't help as much as I'd hoped, so I can focus on some new things I want to keep a closer eye on (like the publishing plan, poetry and short story pitch tracking, yoga, and meditation time).
Previously I'd hoped to get more creative with my main bullet journal in February. That's not going to happen. It takes enough time (though it's time well-spent) that I don't want to add to it solely to "pretty things up." If anything, I'm simplifying some of the spreads so they take less time to create. As of now, I'll leave most of the creativity to the daily doodles spread, which has been fun but also forces me to boil my day or mood down to a single narrow focus. I'll leave any further creativity to my sketch journal, which I've sadly been neglecting.
That sums up the most important parts of my bullet journal experience so far. I've gotten much more done with work. It's helped my health tremendously (which in turn plays a role in me getting more work done). I feel much better than I should given certain circumstances in my life. And overall, I'm just very happy I gave this a try.
If you started your first bullet journal recently, how has it worked out for you? What changes are you planning to make?
Jenn has 19 years experience writing for others, around 14 years experience in blogging, and over 11 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
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