My passion for paper hasn’t dissipated, despite the many and varied ways I access information electronically these days. This month’s visit to Japan and its many fabulous stationery shops reminded me just how much I can go weak at the knees when faced with well-made stationery.
While I no longer carry around a bulky Filofax, whose rings cramped my writing style every second page, I’m a big fan of the humble notebook and these days, I rarely leave home without one. This past month, I’ve really appreciated the simple pleasure of writing my reflections down – rather than type them up in an app – in a Midori Traveler’s Notebook.
But honestly? It could just have easily been as a series of post-it notes. For me, the tool was less important than the method. I just happened to have a Midori with me. Slowing down, writing about what’s going on inside and giving space for my thoughts and emotions to take form in the physical world. That’s what was important. Not the grade of paper the thoughts made their way onto.
I’m the first to admit that this flies in the face of my preferences for efficiency. I love using apps on iOS that save me time, whether it’s dictating some thoughts into my phone, or bashing out important meeting actions into ToDoist on my iPad. But what I realised a while back was that I was missing the reflection that fuels meaningful work.
And so I began to write.
I maintained two journals on my recent trip to Japan: one was a typical traveller’s journal, with observations and records of where we’re been and what we’d done. The other was pure reflection: my mental and physical health, my values and plans, my thoughts about life in general. Spending time each evening and morning with these small notebooks – over breakfast and evening cocktails int he hotel – was so enjoyable and calming that I’m determined to do it more regularly.
And in reading more about the journaling process, I came across (and not for the first time!) the concept of the ‘Bullet Journal’. For those of you not as familiar with the ‘bullet journal’ philosophy as someone who’s read far too many articles (like me!) it’s really about slowing down, living intentionally and using simple tools to log what has happened, what needs to be done now, and what to consider when scanning the future.
There is, in the re-writing and list-making, some inefficiency. But there is definitely purpose. And clarity. And intentionality.
For someone who maintains an electronic calendar and keeps all his projects and tasks in an app, the idea of writing down tasks and appointments at first seemed quite alien and time-wasting. But reading more about the rationale and reflecting on how it would be applied in my own circumstance, I realised it could give me the clarity and prioritisation that so easily gets lost in the world of ‘busy’.
In other words, a simple notebook could remind me how to differentiate my arse from my elbow and me the kind of person I want to be.
Determined to avoid any bandwagon-joining, I eschewed buying a book or a specific (expensive) notebook to get this project going. Instead, I picked up a very anonymous, generic and cheap notebook while in Muji in Shinjuku, Tokyo and a couple of pens and decided these (almost disposable) tools would be what I’d use.
My first exercise – looking ahead to the remainder of August – flagged up for me the potential to over-commit and be double-booked, the opportunities afforded by an upcoming Bank Holiday and the need to schedule some prep time for an important piece of work in the first week of September. The entire exercise took me about fifteen minutes but gave me an insight into the next week or so that no app has so far been able to do.
Some important tasks went into ToDoist, others were added to a shopping list and other thoughts about August and the fast-approaching month of September made me reflect on both the passing of time and the need to quickly calendarise a training schedule for October’s half-marathon. And I was left with a lovely one-page summary of what August and the start of September should be about. Instead of a bottomless inbox of emails and overlapping appointments in calendars.
A statement of what I intend do get done and why.
Let me clarify: I don’t think the Bullet Journal methodology is magical or flawless.
But it’s a great way of slowing down a busy mind, establishing priorities and acting with intention. It’s a great fit for my philosophy as a practitioner psychologist and echoes some of the great evidence-based science into our experience of unwelcome thoughts and emotions and feeling overwhelmed by workload. More by accident, I suspect, rather than design.
So, alongside my busy electronic calendars and my unending list of projects and tasks in ToDoist, I’m going to experiment with keeping a bullet journal to highlight what matters, take a longer-term view and maintain some focus.
Your mileage, as I find myself saying more and more, may well vary.