Have you heard of habit triggers? In addition to helping you get rid of bad habits, you’re supposed to be able to use them to get develop new, positive habits, too.
According to Leo Babauta,
Habits become automatic after we’ve created a bond between the trigger and the habit — the stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.
He then goes on to outline some common triggers, which include waking up, eating breakfast, your morning commute, your afternoon commute – really, anything that you do every day can become a habit trigger.
I have wanted to develop a consistent journaling habit for a very long time. The key term there is “consistent”. I have so many notebooks and journals lying around with a page or two filled, a sign of my many attempts to develop a journaling habit.
And why do I keep trying? Because I do feel that compulsion to write things down, as Joan Didion describes in her marvellous essay, “On Keeping a Notebook” (pdf):
The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.
It’s just that I don’t feel that compulsion consistently. Hence all those aborted attempts at keeping a regular journal.
So I decided to try using a habit trigger. I have a morning ritual that’s quite indulgent – it includes meditation (good) and surfing around online (not so sure about this one). It’s not the most productive of rituals, but it’s definitely become my morning ritual.
Last week, I decided I’d add journaling into the mix. And to make things easier on myself, I also decided to use my Bullet Journal. I put all of the rest of my life in that journal anyway, so why not, right?
What I’ve been doing is writing in my Bullet Journal every morning. I write about what I’m thinking, ideas I have, what I’d like to get done. Then I do a very very short to-do list for the day. I love the idea of to-do lists but I’m very bad at them. Even though I only have between two to four items on my daily to-do list, often I only accomplish half of the items. Some days, only one.
How has it been working out? It’s only been a week, but it’s already starting to feel like a habit! So this habit trigger thing seems to work.
Once I have this new routine nailed down, I’d like to work on a nightly observation log a la Lynda Barry. The only problem? I don’t have something I do consistently every night (other than going to bed and all the things associated with that – none of which feels conducive to sitting down and writing).
When I’m on deadline, I usually work until I am too tired to think straight. And when I’m not on deadline, I do a lot of puddling around, but nothing consistently. I was thinking maybe my night time ritual should be reading followed by an observation log. And the habit trigger could be … feeling tired? Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like it will work!
It’s been a couple of months since I started a new planner/notebook system based on the Bullet Journal method. When I first discovered the system, I knew I’d found something that just might actually work for me – which was quite a big deal, because while I love the idea of a planner, I’ve never been able to really stick with anything other than remembering to put my work deadlines into Google Calendar.
I can say now that I’ve definitely found the system for me. I know this for a fact because after eight weeks of extremely heavy work deadlines, weeks during which nearly every waking moment had to be applied to whatever assignment was due next, I found myself still using the Bullet Journal. And not as a daily calendar, either.
I’ll likely continue tweaking how I use my journal, but here’s what I’ve discovered so far. Your use of the Bullet Journal method will definitely be different, because it is ideally suited for customization, and you really can’t use it without customizing it to your individual needs.
The Monthly Stuff
Mid-November, I realized the regular monthly calendar pages weren’t working for me, mainly because I use Google Calendar for entering all important dates and deadlines, and even though I dutifully logged in everything at the beginning of the month, I rarely needed to consult those pages, since I have access to my calendar on both my PC and on my phone.
One thing I’ve never been good at doing consistently, though, is keeping to a daily journal. At the start of this year, I bought one of those tiny Moleskine daily planners, thinking surely I’d be able to fill the small space for each day easily. Didn’t work. But I’m thinking now it might work in my planner. So I created a December Diary page, and plan to write just one quick line per day – kind of like a very simplified diary.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. I’d like to develop a consistent, daily gratitude practice. So I also created a December gratitude page. Here’s what they look like (They’re still blank. Which is my way of saying I haven’t yet gotten the "consistent" daily practice part of either the diary or the gratitude page down yet.)
Another thing which has worked really well for me is my "chains" page. Basing it on Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity method, I created a page for November where I could create my chains. Seinfeld used his chain method to get himself writing daily, which was my number one priority (and for most of November, I did, until I got to the stage where I had to do more research. And I’m still at the stage where I have to do more research), but I also use the method for other good habits I want to maintain.
(The "W" under E – for exercise – means I walked, instead of doing an exercise routine. I’m a little hazy as to why some of the squares have both an X and a W in them. And as you can see, I’ve been woefully behind on reading since October. The L is for litter box – see below – and it’s unmarked for those first seven days of October not because I didn’t clean the litter box for a week (!), but because I didn’t get the idea of using a chain for it until a week into the process.)
The two previous months I had chains for writing, reading, meditation and exercise, but this month, I added a research chain and an ideas chain.
My "dones" are based loosely on the chain method. These are chores that I need to keep track of, but which I might not do on a daily basis. When we had just the one kitten, cleaning the litter box was one such chore – I tried to clean it every other day. Now, with two kittens, it’s more of a daily thing so probably could be a regular chain, but I still lump it with the "dones". Clipping the kittens’ nails is another "done". With this method, I can see at a glance when I last did something.
Many of the pages in my planner system are "special pages" – meaning, I wouldn’t be able to tell you today what new pages I might add over the next few weeks. It’s a "whatever comes to mind" thing, and this is where the Bullet Journal method shines for me. When I get an idea for a new page, it’s as simple as turning to the next blank spread and starting whatever new page I need. For example, I woke up one morning from an extremely vivid and exciting dream, so I started a "Dreams" page. Haven’t added any more dreams since, but it’s there, waiting, for the next vivid dream I want to remember.
The index that you create at the front of your Bullet Journal is meant to help you find things in your journal, but I thought of an even better idea for finding those pages I use frequently: corner bookmarks! I love making these little things, but almost never use them because I’m one of those people who like to (yes, confession time) dog-ear book pages to remember my place in them. But they’re perfect for keeping track of frequently used pages!
So this is where I’m at so far after two months with the Bullet Journal method. I anticipate I’ll be putting my planner to a lot more use once I’m out of this crazy, busy work season (about mid-December, I’m hoping). I keep calling it my planner, but with the Bullet Journal system, it’s become more than just a planner. It’s my Everything Book, really.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I posted about my to-do list conundrum. I’m a lot busier these days, and I’ve been desperate to find a single journal/planner/to-do list method that would work for everything. Something I could use for work, for personal things, for my writing WIPs – for my LIFE, basically.
I couldn’t find a single productivity app or method that seemed capable of doing what I needed it to do. When I wrote the post, I’d decided to just go back to the DIY planner I’d made last year, as it was in a nice Moleskine and was still partially blank. And I would just date stamp the pages and put my to-do lists on there.
I had lovely comments on that post, some of them with great suggestions. I really liked Bernadette’s description of how she uses Remember the Milk (RTM), so I set up an account there, and downloaded the app. (I love the way you can have repeat tasks on RTM that are based on a time period "after" you last performed the task – their example was, "clean out fridge three months after cleaning out the fridge", which I thought would be pretty awesome for a lot of household chores.)
But RTM didn’t work as well for me because of all my lists. Not to-do lists, but just lists of things, whatever things happened to be on my mind. I do that list thing a lot, you see. And you definitely can use RTM to make lists, but on the iPhone app, if there’s no set due date for an item (which I wouldn’t have on a "books to read" list, for example), you have to choose "never" and I didn’t really like the sound of "never".
So I searched around for some list apps for the iPhone, figuring I’d just use that in conjunction with RTM and Google Calendar (with which RTM syncs really nicely) and ended up downloading an app called Quick Drafts, which has the ability to turn any list you make on it into a to-do list.
And there I was, all set to be super productive. And guess what? It didn’t work. There were too many pieces to my system and the only thing I really used was Google Calendar because I’ve got so many deadlines and I find some days I’m having to scare myself into working by pulling up a monthly view of my calendar and staring at it.
Then, this past weekend, I came across this: the Bullet Journal. I actually discovered it when I was searching (yet again) for a productivity app on my iPhone. One of the apps I was looking at included a line from someone’s review in the description, and the review said something like, "If you use the Bullet Journal method, this might be an app you could use in conjunction with it."
That had my head spinning. Bullet journal method? What the heck was that? So then of course I had to Google it, and I found the site, and I watched this video:
And I was hooked. I was so hooked I spent another couple of hours searching Google to see how others had implemented the system, because it’s such a flexible system and I was in the mood for more tips and ideas. Unfortunately, not too many people seem to have written about their own personal implementation of the method.
I did come across some cons of the system, like not being able to plan ahead, but honestly, I plan to do forward planning in my bullet journal and it seems easy enough. I figure when I have something that comes up in the next month, I’ll just add that month’s page right then and there, even if it might be a few weeks away. Since the index is the fabulous thing that holds the bullet journal system together (and you can imagine how much I love that, being a professional freelance indexer and all), all I’d have to do is add that month to the index and away I go. If I got at all concerned about being able to find the various monthly calendar pages (I probably won’t, but anyway …) I’d just highlight them in the index.
Anyway, I was so thrilled and excited by the Bullet Journal method, I immediately rooted through my stash of notebooks to see if I had just the right thing. Only to discover I didn’t have a blank Moleskine of the type that I wanted – the hardcover squared, in large (which is about 5" X 7"). So I ordered it then and there.
And it just arrived today!
I will be happily occupied getting my life completely organized over the next few days. (Well, I’d settle for nearly completely organized. Actually, who am I kidding? Even partially organized will do.) I even plan to do bullet-point journaling in it. I’m really hoping the Bullet Journal method is exactly what I’m looking for. One place for all those notes, lists, scribbles, ideas, thoughts, to-dos and events. Plus Google Calendar, of course.
Okay, so it’s a little too early to say it’s my “new habit”, but I really want to establish a good, solid journaling habit this year, and if intentions count for anything …
As we headed into the new year, I played with several ideas, hoping to find one that would ease my transition from not-very-consistent-journaler to “why, yes, I do journal every day”. I’ve had many a new year start with the shiny, enticing new resolution “Journal Every Day” but it’s always ended up being, as my youngest would put it, an epic fail.
It occurred to me that perhaps it might be best to ease into the journaling habit. Start small. And structured. Limit myself to one page a day.
So, no beautiful blank book. All those blank pages all at once have always proven to be too overwhelming.
At first I thought I’d get myself a one-page-a-day daily planner, and commit to writing something on each page. But all the planners I looked at had lined pages, and I really wanted blank pages.
So then I thought I’d go to the art supply store and buy a small sketchbook. I’d prep it by stamping all the days in January in it, and maybe that would become an end-of-the-month ritual. You know, where I’d flip lovingly through all the pages I’d remembered to fill out the previous month and then stamp all the days of the new month, in preparation for all the days to come which I would also remember to fill.
But then I saw this. The Moleskine Daily Diary/Planner. It’s an absolutely ADORABLE teeny tiny book filled with blank pages, one for each day of the month.
It’s so small, it fits in the palm of my hand.
And the best thing? I only have to fill one 2X3 blank page a day! Not a whole lot of space, so that takes care of the whole being overwhelmed thing.
How have I been doing so far? Well, I didn’t buy it until January 4th, so that’s when I started. But I’ve filled each page since then (although there were a couple of nights where I forgot, and had to write my entry the following morning).
My problem has always been that I have lots of days where not much happens, but I’ve been finding that even a day spent at the computer working madly away at a deadline gives me enough fodder to fill one teeny tiny 2X3 page.
They say it takes 30 days to create a new habit (some say 21 days, but I rather like the 30 day number). I’ve done seven days so far. Wish me luck on this one, because consistently keeping a journal is something I’ve wanted for a very long time!