The Pragmatic Bullet Journal

At the beginning of 2019, armed with my new years resolutions, I was looking for a way to get organised, be more productive and build opportunities for reflection into my life. Over the years I think I’ve tried every task management app available but none of them seemed to stick. So, instead of downloading the latest productivity app I followed my friend Ana’s advice and decided to pick up a Bullet Journal.

If you haven’t come across bullet journalling before I recommend you check out this introduction, but essentially it’s a framework for paper based goal & task management. To me it feels loosely based on principles from David Allen’s, Getting Things Done with greater emphasis on reflection, not just productivity.

I was initially reluctant to get started, mainly because the approach has become fashionable among many bloggers & vloggers who seem to spend more time creating beautifully designed journals than achieving the goals contained within them. However, after six months of journaling I can tell you there is a more pragmatic approach that requires little time and no artistic ability.

Now I’ve come to the end of my first journal, I thought I’d share my process and what I’ve learned so far:

Review’s
One of the biggest benefits of journalling for me has been reviews. I do a review once a month and also looked back on my year too. It’s helped me better recognise what I have achieved and reflect on things I want to improve. Each review, I ask myself:

– What went well?
– What went badly?
– What am I grateful for?
– What did I learn?
– What did I enjoy?
– What did I avoid?
– What are my new priorities?

Monthly Log’s
Every month I set up these simple pages. I have a simple calendar on the left to schedule key events happening in the month and a similar calendar on the right to schedule exercise I want to do. I also track daily habits I want to work on by colouring in squares when I do the activity. In these pages I’m tracking reading, journalling and exercise.

Daily Log’s
I use these daily logs for two things. Firstly I have a task list which I use to capture anything I need to do. I can then cross these tasks off as I go through the day with anything that isn’t done being moved into the next day or scheduled using an arrow. I also use these pages to write, this is normally just free flowing and used to reflect on the previous day or specific questions I want to ask myself.

These are the main components of the Bullet Journal method I use on a regular basis. It’s a simple process, that I use daily and have found to be much more effective than hiding my goals, tasks and thoughts in a digital tool. For me the biggest benefit of journalling has been reflection, looking back and recognising achievement as well as identifying areas for improvement. If you’ve ever considered bullet journalling or are just looking for a better approach to organising your mind I highly recommend giving it a try!

Out-think the Butterflies

We’re all familiar with the butterflies. That swooping sensation in your stomach that you feel when you’re worried about something. It’s just one of the many natural bodily responses that occur when we’re nervous, but what would happen if we could train our brains to recognise these feelings differently? Could we reframe the physical sensations we feel?

Well, emotional reappraisal can take many forms, but I have found the most effective way for me is to look back at past events which have caused me to feel nervous and ask myself questions from three different perspectives:

Positive – What was the best that could have happened?
Negative – What was the worst that could have happened?
Reality – What actually happened?

I’ve found that the outcomes at the extreme ends of the spectrum almost never occur. It’s extremely unlikely you will ruin your career though your first public speech and it’s equally unlikely it will send your career on a stratospheric rise. Normally the reality is much more balanced, however, our brain has an annoying habit of tricking us to believe that the most likely outcome is one of the more extreme, especially when we are outside our comfort zone.

Reflecting upon past events, experiences, or challenges, can strengthen your emotional reappraisal ability. To begin with it can be challenging, but with practice you may find yourself looking at these past events differently and finding the way you look at future events changing as well.

I have been practicing emotional reappraisal for pre-event nerves for over fifteen years and it’s still a continual practice. Without regular training your ability to reframe the physical sensation of nervousness will degrade. When I was an athlete I became pretty good at reframing the feeling of nervousness into the excitement of performing, but once I stopped competing I had to work harder to find the opportunity to train my brain. If you want to conquer the fear, you need to regularly put yourself in situations that allow you to train.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a thought. Whenever you try to achieve anything where ‘success’ is not an inevitable outcome your amygdala will use all kinds of tricks to try to keep you safe. You can’t prevent this, nor should you, but you do have the power to reframe these signals as a sign you are on the cusp of an experience that may be new, exciting or educational. One that will enrich your life and may help you achieve what you dreamed.

In time you may even begin to crave the feeling of butterflies rather than fear their impending arrival….

My First Post

“The scariest moment is just before you start”.

Stephen King

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been daily journalling. I’ve found it to be an extraordinarily helpful process to quieten the monkey mind and organise my thoughts. I’d come across the practice of daily journaling before, but it wasn’t until I read Jerry Colonna’s book, Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, that the value in the process really became clear for me.

But while daily journaling has been valuable, it feels like I need something more.

So inspired by Jerry, Seth Godin, Fred Wilson and many others I’m starting a blog. I have no idea how it’s going to go, but I do have a few reasons for doing this:

  • I want to build a daily practice, to add more structure and discipline to my life.
  • I hope to use the act of writing as a forcing function to refine ideas, clarify thoughts and understand myself and the world around me better.
  • I want to challenge myself to be vulnerable by sharing my thoughts and ideas in public. I have many projects I started but didn’t finish primarily due to fear of ‘shipping it‘.
  • I want to improve my writing – This short post has been an undertaking in itself!

Lastly, I think I have something to say, but I’m sure time will tell! I hope my writing can provide value to you and maybe to others as well, but primarily I aim to write for myself. I hope you will join me on the journey.