Tag Archives: growth

Evolution of the bullet journal

Evolution is, perhaps, the wrong way to describe it. The phenomenon that is the bullet journal method is slowly coming full circle, leading us all right back to where it started.

As I’ve discussed before, I was a relatively early adopter of the system. I know I was using it at a job that ended in December 2013. Given that Ryder Carrol launched the Bullet Journal website in August 2013, I must’ve been one of the first people climbing aboard that waggon. Plus, it led me to the Pen Addict podcast, which allowed me to rekindle my love affair with all things analogue.

Above all, I found it because it was a productivity tool. A system to better manage my To Do list. Although I’d been using a digital task manager for my personal life and a GTD style spreadsheet for my work tasks, when the proverbial hit the fan, I always grabbed a pen and made a paper list. Five years later, things are still the same. A handwritten list allows me to focus on what is truly important, rather than scrolling through lists of next actions throughout the day and wearing myself down with decision fatigue.

Then, at some point, bullet journaling and Instagram collided. The emphasis on actual productivity became muddied. Yes, there were things to do on people’s lists, but no growth once things got under control. People who had come to the system because they needed to manage their overwhelm had everything in one place at last, but the twins of effectiveness and efficiency were nowhere to be seen. This is, of course, a gross simplification and uses broad brush strokes, but when your productivity system becomes an art portfolio with token tasks, then it’s missing the point (unless you’re an actual artist). Underneath the bujo hashtag is a mind-blowing array of beautiful images.

No one’s bujo looked like mine. Four things to do each day and space for a beautiful sketch? You’re living the dream then. A day with only four things for me to do is a lazy weekend day. And with it the bitter, mostly envious thought of well if you spent less time drawing perfect layouts, you’d actually get more done. This is not necessarily true, but the images of weekly spreads across the various social media sites made it difficult for anyone new who didn’t want that element to feel like they could do it. It can be demoralising as much as it can be inspiring.

Not to mention that all those pretty accounts led to a wrongly perceived gendering of ‘how’ to bullet journal. I couldn’t imagine someone going into a boardroom meeting with all those pastel shades and flowers and being taken seriously. The culture we live in would, sadly, make one of two assumptions. Firstly, if it was a man, he would be mocked endlessly for his girliness. If it was a women, then she clearly isn’t as focused and capable as a man. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s the world we live in until we make progress in making it better.

Yet the system is perfect for that environment. Writing by hand removes the perception that you’re secretly checking your email, which happens when you take notes on a laptop. A well-organised and maintained system allows you to easily flip through to previous meetings and related collections. Your actions and waiting fors are captured quickly so nothing gets lost. The act of capturing the notes themselves stops you from zoning out when that powerpoint presentation hits slide twenty.

So the bullet journal is at a point of reckoning. Ryder is an astute businessman and creative, so was prepared for this moment already. His book, The Bullet Journal Method, takes it gently back to where it began – a productivity tool. The emphasis is what made it attractive in the first place: it’s not about getting more in your system, it’s about focus on what matters.

So, the bullet journal breaks down to this:

  • As long as your notebook is something you want to engage with, it doesn’t need to be a work of art
  • A notebook that comes with an Index and numbered pages does half the work for you
  • You don’t need to do everything – keep the parts of the system that work for you
  • You can use a bullet journal in conjunction with digital tools – it’s not sacrilege to use an online calendar
  • The bullet journal is a methodology that plays well with others – you don’t have to abandon GTD or personal Kanban to use it
  • You don’t need an expensive notebook and pen (although I prefer them)
  • It doesn’t have to be a specific, larger size format that you see most often depicted – I apply the same principles to my pocket notebooks
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What got you here won’t get you there

As I move deeper into a year focused on doing what matters, the saying ‘what got you here won’t get you there‘ (made popular by Marshall Goldsmith) has begun to resonate more and more. When life changes in some fundamental way, then you have to change too. This applies to career, family and everything that gets wrapped up in those banner labels.

What has got me here, certainly won’t get me there. Why? Because of that other buzz phrase right now, the one about doing things for ‘the season you’re in‘. Now that one resonates even more.

When you have a child in your forties – your first child especially – you suddenly enter a whole new season. The real problem isn’t that you have to adjust, it’s that, if you think about it, your seasons are now out of order. Another spring has followed summer and now it looks like your autumn and winter are probably going to be rolled into one.

I’m fortunate to have done so many amazing things in my life. I’ve lived in several countries and traveled to many more. I’ve had a few fulfilling jobs (and a few less-fulfilling ones). I’ve been employed, self-employed and consciously unemployed. I’ve written a book that received a best-seller tag from Amazon and plenty more that should never see the light of day. I implemented a successful morning routine and got my health in order.

Now I stumble into the bright lights of the office each morning and need to double-check that I really have got dressed. My morning boot up sequence has been cut from an hour to a maximum of fifteen minutes. Journaling has kept me sane – I refuse to sacrifice that. As for my health, I frequently fall into the spiral of no sleep = poor decisions + low energy. I am officially a different person to the one I was a year ago. A person whose spring is just starting and those seeds I’ve planted have yet to sprout into life.

What got me here won’t get me there. It will again one day, but not just yet. Those seeds will become flowers again at some point, but until then, I have to keep moving forwards.

But how?

I need to ask better questions. Create new routines, not just abandon old ones and let chaos reign.

It’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s also not a quick fix, super-easy solution. With my morning routine, there are some things which are sacred and others which were luxurious habit (see my previous post on streamlining my morning using the MD Paper diary notebook). Reading isn’t happening right now, but it will be again. I know that writing 1000 words each morning can be curtailed by sudden wailing, but I’ve become less fixated on the number and more on at least writing something. 400 words might not be as good as 1000, but it’s better than zero because I’m worried the baby might wake up.

This new season – I have to learn to go back to small wins. Small habits. What are the building blocks I used last time to build the castle. Which ones can I re-use? Which ones are the foundation stones.

I don’t have the luxury now of an hour to exercise in the evenings if I want. Not without compromising other things that now suddenly matter more. The lack of sleep means that I tend towards inertia at every moment of calm. The only way out of that is to remove anything that causes friction between myself and an activity. I’ve always advocated for that, but now I need to recognise just how small those barriers might be. I need to monitor and measure things that I’ve long since taken for granted.

So here’s my simple five step plan. I’m doing it and sharing it so that no matter what season of life you’re in, if it’s flowing along nicely or a momentous change has suddenly derailed you, it’s possible to make a change.

Make a conscious choice. Then make changes.

  1. What are the cornerstones you already have?
  2. What are the unconscious habits you need to let go of or change?
  3. What are the small changes – the tweaks – you can make that will have disproportionate results?
  4. What are the friction points stopping you from getting started each day?
  5. What are the goals, dreams and plans that you need to let go of, even if it’s just for now?

Sugar cubes, pudding tax, ‘New Year New You’ marketing and simplification

The first full week of each new year is when I actually begin any planned improvements. I’m such an introvert that I need time after the holidays to process and set my focus. For those starting their resolutions on New Year’s Day, this is the tough week. This is where it gets real. I’m just starting out and there is something nice about that, even if it means tough is still lying ahead, waiting for me.

It’s no surprise that the first week of the new year has been filled with health related stories designed to tap into people feeling guilty for their holiday gluttony and determined (again) that this is the year they’re going to turn everything around. 

It’s interesting to see that sugar has largely replaced fat as the demon in the headlines. When I first began looking into the benefits of a sugar-free lifestyle in 2015, saturated fat – indeed any fat – was still public enemy number one. The change has been swift and is getting less subtle. 

That Public Health England are now focused on reducing sugar intake as one of the key ways of reducing the obesity epidemic is the main driver behind this. I’m under no illusions that this is an altruistic gesture. Obesity simply correlates to more occurrences of diabetes and heart disease (amongst many things), all of which cost the NHS money to treat. Regardless of the motivation, it’s good to see that finally people are starting to be told the truth about how much sugar is added to our foods by manufacturers.

Of course, depending on the media outlet involved, the presentation is different. Nanny state and tax threats drive some clickbait headlines, others provide a more balanced view. But the truth behind the message is the same across the board – we need to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets.

What none of it seems to want to focus on is how hard it is to actually make that happen. A few foods get targeted here and there as extreme examples,  but that doesn’t really help people with the everyday foods that have sugars added to them. The unexpected ones – those often labelled as ‘diet’ and ‘low fat’ – that catch people out.

More importantly, none of them seem to offer any insight on the simple fact that there is something addictive about sugar. Something that makes it hard to cut out sweets and chocolate, no matter how much information we have or how good our intentions are. This is the element that trips people up time and time again, myself included. Just one little taste, one bad day, can get us reaching for a sugar-based snack before we’ve even had chance to think about what we’re doing. Time and time again I’ve done this since the baby was born, eating in some sleep-deprived haze and having very little memory of when or how. This lack of intentionality is something I absolutely must address this year, hopefully with the addition of an extra hour or two asleep each night.

I’ll be experimenting with general simplification of my life to do this and if it works well, that will be something I share throughout the year. There is a certain attraction to achieving more by doing less, but it will be interesting to see if the promise lives up to the theory.

So below are some of my favourite headlines of 2019 blitzing those with resolutions to think about. Where there isn’t a link it’s because I simply refuse to give clicks to certain sources. That’s another 2019 resolution for all of us. Let’s not feed the trolls.

Children are getting targeted in the blitz, with the story that children have already exceeded their entire childhood quota of sugar by the age of 10. That’s 8 whole sugar free years they then need to do just to break even. A scary thought. But I loved Matthew’s sugar experiment with his family – this is the kind of visualisation that you don’t get from simply reading the labels and doing the calculations in your head.

Are we going to get a pudding tax? Some progress has been made with other foods but I think a pudding tax is silly. Target the misleading foods and the everyday foods first.

And of course, the thought that our government would be together enough to order anyone to do anything is implied by the Sun’s headline ‘KIDS will be ordered not to eat Frosties and Coco Pops under tough new government guidelines’. The actual story is about a set of simple recommendations, but why not get people in a defiant and self-destructive mood instead? See earlier comment re: trolls.

If you’re more interested in the information behind the headlines, including some practical and actionable tips on how to eliminate sugar from your life, then my book is a steal at only 99p on kindle. It won’t break the bank and may change your approach to diet and healthy living forever. I’m re-reading it now to remember my own lessons!

 

Not interested in changing your diet but itching to make other improvements this year? Then take a look at my book on Resolutions instead. Goal setting doesn’t need to begin January 1st. Why wait for tomorrow to become a better version of yourself? Not just for the next week, but with a strategy that lasts.

Five ways to create a flexible planning system

As you may have noticed, there haven’t been many new posts here lately. It would be so easy to say that life got ‘busy’. In reality, life changed and the systems I had in place weren’t flexible enough to handle it.

Is your productivity system flexible enough to handle change?

Many people from a GTD background spend years getting their system to work just the way they want it to. One of the major strengths of the Getting Things Done system is that it is inherently flexible. There is no preferred tool and you can customise the set up to suit your needs and circumstances.

But once we find a way of doing things that feels right to us, humans develop an overwhelming resistance to change. The system might be flexible, but we become inflexible. Without realising it, I had found myself in this trap. Setting aside the time for creative thinking and writing of posts fell through the cracks as a result.

So how do we make sure that our systems are flexible enough that changes don’t bring everything to a grinding halt?

Don’t be wholly reliant on a system that isn’t transferable.

Whilst we all have our favourite tools (both digital and analogue), there is an inherent danger in being completely tied into one. It may have the best features in the world right now, but when it stops being supported and you can’t export your tasks and projects, you’re in big trouble. Frictionless access to your next actions is vital.

Separate life and work

For many years, people argued that when it came to life and work, it was all one and therefore only one system was needed. Whilst in some ways this is true, ‘work’ changes at a much faster rate now than when GTD was originally published back in 2001. Not only do we change employers much more frequently, many of us now have developed side hustles to cope with a crazy economy in a crazy world. If your system is all nicely integrated to your day job but that changes every few years or even months, then it can be a painful process to routinely unpick it all. With constant data breaches, companies are getting more and more antsy about accessing different tools on their systems.

Letting go is not the same as giving up

We can become deeply wedded to an idea of something we want – or think we should want – to do. When circumstances change, it may no longer be relevant. Sometimes it can hurt to let something go, or feel a sense of failure for not completing it. The end result is a system full of junk that you once wanted to accomplish, but now have no real intention of taking action on. Over time, this clutter can slow everything down until you stop noticing the things that remain important even once life settles down again.

Attractive tools that are easy to use

It’s a simple fact that the more you want to play with your toys, the more time you’ll spend with them. A task management system you don’t like will be a task management system you ignore. The same applies when things change. It might be that your app worked fantastically with email input at a time when most of your tasks appeared that way. But if it is cumbersome when you have to add a task manually and that becomes your new normal, you’re going to stop looking at and updating the tool pretty quickly.

Don’t be a chronic-optimist

When your circumstances change, the new tasks you need to complete take their toll on other items, even if they are seemingly unrelated. Learning new things and using your day in different ways tires you out in the beginning. This means a task you have been completing in 30 minutes at 6pm for years can suddenly take double that amount of time when you’re forced to push it back to 8pm and your brain is extra tired. Before you know it, you’re in backlog with tasks that you haven’t got round to. Like writing this post, for example…

So, after nearly six weeks of tweaking my system after my third major change in two years, I think I’ve made it slightly more adaptable.

Only time will tell.

The legacy of Roger Bannister

Although it seems a particularly inappropriate time to say it, over the past few years I grew sick of hearing about Roger Bannister. Working in personal and corporate development, it seemed like every book or PowerPoint presentation wasn’t complete without a reference to the four minute mile.

As if getting someone in a suit to reach inbox zero was on par with breaking a time /distance record that had held since man developed accurate timepieces.

That record lasted less than 50 days before it was broken by someone else. The commonly held perspective is that once someone had proven it was possible, others could finally believe it and do it themselves. This is, of course, somewhat simplistic, as a group of runners were all hitting around that mark, but the story does have a nice ring to it.

For me, the real lesson to take away from Roger Bannister’s four minute mile was that he was an amateur. It’s hard to imagine in today’s world of professional athletes, where running or kicking a ball is a career in itself. That famous four minute mile run almost never happened because of bad weather. Harder to imagine is that Bannister came to do it after going to work that day and the success built on a training regime of sneaking in a mere forty-five minutes daily.

It’s not so much about proving something so others can do it. Instead, it’s having the grit and determination to do something yourself, even if it’s not your main priority in life.

 

The 5 best bullet journal health tracker spreads

With all the apps out there focused on health and habits, analogue still remains a fantastic way to set goals and easily monitor your progress. I’ve been using a modified bullet journal for years now and its best feature is that the system does whatever you want. When it comes to tracking your health, a simple one or two page spread is all you need.

I have limited artistic skills to say the least. My bullet journal set up needs to be simple or I spend more time doodling than doing. So the following examples don’t all focus on exquisite calligraphy or time-intensive set up. Of course, they could all be made simpler or more elaborate depending on your personal preferences.

Remember, your healthy habits will be personal to you, so don’t worry about tracking things you don’t care about because someone has included them here. Alternatively, you might see something you’d never considered before.

1 – Minimal

Image: marianeofcysn

This is the kind of tracker I use. I can just about manage to draw small squares without going too far wrong. With the habits listed down the left hand side and the dates across the top, it gives a quick and easy visual of missed days and progress.

2 – Data driven

Image: oak.tree.journaling

These simplified graphs allow you to see much more than a yes / no response to your habits. This is particularly useful if you are setting yourself sleep, calorie or water consumption targets, for example. The space for notes is helpful for noting any external factors that impacted progress to add more context to the images.

3 – Funky

Image: Boho Berry

There is literally no one who bullet journals who hasn’t heard of Boho Berry. With good reason too – she’s always tweaking and experimenting so you don’t have to. With this tracker, I love the sense of full circle you get for the month. It is also a fantastic way of quickly assessing if there is any correlation between your habits. If you eat badly after a poor night’s sleep, then chances are you’ll be able to spot the pattern quickly with this one.

4 – Wordy

Image: b.izzi

Like the minimalist tracker above, this is the kind of spread I can get behind because it uses more words than images! This is great if you want to track at a greater depth on a weekly, rather than monthly, level. Instead of simply recording whether you hit (or missed) your goal that day, you get space to think about and record the reason why. This is especially useful for those who like to review for strengths and weaknesses so they can course correct as necessary.

5 – Visual

Image: mybulletjournal18

Although this one is also simple in terms of its components, visually it packs quite a punch. The bright colours and easy to read progress bars are great for those who like to take in their information in a visual way. Colour co-ordination really comes into its own with a spread like this and allows you to see where you need to focus your attention as the month progresses. It’s less useful if you’re trying to establish a successful streaking process.

Don’t forget to check out the creators of these spreads (click on the images) to get other ideas that might work for you and see their work in more depth. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options when you scroll through instagram, so if you’re new to it, start out simple and focus on what you need. There’s plenty of time to tweak it later.

For more information on building habits and healthy eating, check out The Realist’s Guide to Sugar Free and The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions.

            

January Monthly Review: Fear Setting

January is a strange month. Everyone starts out with a higher level of enthusiasm which then fizzles out faster the the New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Now we stand on the cusp of February and it’s easy to wonder where the past month went. For most of us, the lofty goals we had in mind when the calendar ticked over have already fallen by the wayside. That doesn’t mean we should abandon them completely.

Technique One – Monthly Review

Regardless of whether you abandoned your goals back in week one or if you’ve been grinding away on them the whole way through, a monthly review is an essential technique for staying on track.

Before you begin – no judgement. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing as well as you’d hoped, you’re only human. The fact you are taking the time to do a review at all puts you ahead of the rest of the pack.

Look back over January with an honest pair of eyes. Were you realistic about what you wanted to achieve to begin with, or were you just flush with optimism for the future? Do you even still care about those goals you set? If you don’t, then there is nothing wrong with abandoning them and moving onto something else. The real value is progress on what matters, not for progress’ sake itself.

The final question to ask is what you did right / wrong when it came to working on your goals and plans for the month. Learn the lessons so you don’t make the same mistake again. Improve on your strengths to get even more value from them.

Now set yourself up for a great February. It doesn’t matter about January anymore. Let it go. Instead, focus on how you can gain the momentum that will carry you forward for the rest of the year.

Technique Two – Fear Setting

Tim Ferriss did a great Ted Talk explaining fear setting better than I can. It’s a great technique you can use if you’re not making progress because something is holding you back. If you’ve struggled to really commit to your goals, then this is a reversal of the process. Instead, you define your fears.

For most people, thinking about their fears is counter-intuitive. Why would you spend so much time and energy thinking about the things that induce anxiety and discomfort? Isn’t that the exact opposite of what we are told to do for a happy life? Mindfulness is a hot topic for a reason.

Fear setting is hard, but by going the extra mile and breaking down those fears, you take away their power. Fear is often a series of unanswered ‘but what if?’ questions. They spiral and debilitate. The power comes in getting to those answers.

Like a monthly review, the process is quite simple. You just follow a series of questions and steps to get to a place where you are able to action the right things.

Firstly, you have to define those fears in the extreme. What is the very worst thing that could happen. Be as detailed as you dare.

This is the point where most people stop in life. This is the anxious point. But what could you do to prevent those things from happening? This is the second question Tim asks as part of the technique and it’s amazing how easy it is to come up with answers. Pre-empting the worst case scenario often prevents it.

But what if that bad thing holding you back actually happened anyway? Before it does, take the final step of working out all the things you could do to get out of the hole. It’s amazing how resourceful you can be. That’s because by doing it up front, the pressure is off. When you’re in that place, the fear is the stronger emotion and it stifles ingenuity and creativity. By fear setting up front, you’ll already have the answers should the worst happen.

So by combining the two, you can guarantee yourself a better February, no matter how the year has gone so far.

Need more help? The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions is a practical approach to goal achievement, no matter what time of year.