How I Organize My Life

August brings a new year for my bullet journal. I buy a gorgeous new Leuchtturm 1917 dotted notebook and begin planning and organizing using this “analog system for the digital age”.

I’ve gone through lots of different systems over the years. Once upon a time it was a Daytimer. I loved my little binder with its looseleaf pages and used it through many years of teaching. Later, I was given a Palm Pilot which was pretty cool at the time. I started to get into the whole electronic calendaring thing. Fast forward through BlackBerry, First Class, the iPhone and MacBook and now into Outlook 365 for work. Each one is full of interesting features and I used them all diligently for planning, reminders, calendaring, and note taking.

About 8 years ago, I found “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity” by David Allen. This book is worth reading to help you deal with the whirlwind of our daily lives. Allen advocates a pretty simple system. I remember taking about 5 hours to completely re-organize my filing cabinets, reminders, calendar etc. One of his key concepts is to set aside times to deal with your to-do list, like last thing on Friday before you head home for the weekend. I’ve heard this idea referred to as “power hour” (not the drinking game!) by others where you schedule an hour to deal with the important but mundane tasks that need be done. Another Allen idea is to go through your task list and do anything you can do in two minutes or less – everything else is organized for a future time. This reminds me also of the “one minute rule” where if something can be done in one minute, you just do it – no procrastination. It’s useful for me as I am a procrastinator extraordinaire!

But despite all these great ideas, tools and systems, something was missing. I first heard about the bullet journal from Frances Nicolaides, a teacher in our district. She was experimenting with a bullet journal on Instagram and it looked intriguing. So I dove into the website. Something about this way to get stuff done and know what was going on my life really appealed to me.  I love notebooks, pens, coloured pencils, in fact, office supplies of all kinds. (It’s a bit of a weakness, like socks) My digital systems had robbed me of that. The bullet journal gave me permission to go back to them in clear, organized way.  Each year, I use the Future Log, the Monthly Log and the Daily Log. I experiment with different headings and different colours. It makes it a bit more fun. The photo to the left is a sample of my daily task list.

I also take many notes during meetings, conferences or key notes using my bullet journal. I can incorporate fun little sketchnotes (another trend creatively exemplified by Beth Woof, a principal in our district as well as Sylvia Duckworth). The photo below shows my attempt to take these kinds of notes, which I really enjoy.

I still use my digital calendar and OneNote, but they’re better integrated into my life and make more sense for me now.

I’ve shared the bullet journal concept with colleagues and some have found it really useful too. If you’re looking for an analog way to get yourself on track, you might consider the bullet journal.

How to Unlock Your Creativity

Kevin Ashton says creativity isn’t magic. His book, How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery explores many examples and shows that humans don’t wait for some kind of divine inspiration and then mystically start creating. The idea comes first, but it’s only a seed. Tenacious hard work through a series of small steps creates the final product.

When I create, I make something new. Most of us have some experience of this through cooking. We get the idea, we assemble the needed materials and we work through the steps of a recipe to make something yummy. But becoming a good cook doesn’t happen magically. You need to create many dishes, and you’ll have some failures (maybe some spectacular ones – like a cake I made as a teenager where I used salt instead of sugar. Oops!) before you can call yourself a cook.

Yup, I made this!

My writing is the same. I love it, and it’s a satisfying way to take an idea, expand it and synthesize previous thinking. But I’ll tell you, it’s hard work. Successful writers back this up when they talk about the discipline and time needed to create an article, essay, poem, novel or story.

I have lots of ideas from many different sources. Ideas are easy, they’re lying all over the place. I’ll confess that there are 37 draft ideas waiting in my blog draft folder. It’s another thing to work them up into a post.  I try to nail down the purpose of my post and sketch out a framework before I begin. I want to write a good lede.  What actually happens is a lot of back and forth. I write, I delete, I cut and paste, I preview the post, I re-read and rewrite until finally it’s good enough. Once I hit “publish” there’s a lot of satisfaction. I created something new for me.

Creativity isn’t something only special people are born with. We all have it. It’s in the ideas we see and seek out. It’s in the time we insist on setting aside and spend working through the steps to figure things out and make something new.  We cultivate it by trying and failing and trying again.

Maybe you’re an educator creating a blog for your classroom community or an amazing learning experience for your students. Maybe you want to write a YA story. Maybe you want to check into the maker community.  Go for it. Start with the idea and get tenacious.

Getting to “Flow”

You begin and lose track of time. You blink, and one hour has gone by. When was the last time you were “in the zone”? This intense feeling is energizing and happy. Most of us have experienced it through activities that we are good at and that challenge us in just the right way. The happiest people find it in everyday life through focus and determination.

Mihaly Czikszentmihaly coined the term “flow” to describe the state of being fully immersed in an activity with focus (“Flow” in Wikipedia, accessed July 24, 2018). His positive psychology continues to be influential, and his TED talk from 2004 is worth watching.

Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level according to Czikszentmihalyi. From Wikipedia “Flow”

I experience flow at times, mostly when swimming or singing and sometimes when exploring ideas through reading, discussion or writing.  I’ve realized that this past year of work, which was difficult, just didn’t have enough flow. You know how it is, you go along with the emails and the meetings and the phone calls, and you try to climb the mountain of “Things To Do”. I would go home at the end of multiple days of just that, and wonder, is my work meaningful?

After listening to Czikszentmihalyi’s talk and his description of people finding flow in everyday work, I’m inspired to think more deeply about how I can change. It can’t be up to anyone but me.  In the diagram above, you see various mental stages related to the combination of skill and challenge. If I feel boredom, apathy, worry or anxiety, then the challenge of a situation does not match my skill. When I scroll through the activities that make up a typical day, I can see exactly where this happens.

For instance, I had some tricky and important meetings this past year. I often felt anxiety beforehand which leads me to think that my skills weren’t quite up to handling these sessions. (Or at least I believed they weren’t.)  Now I want to get to flow in these kinds of situations!  I’ll need to reflect on exactly what skills are needed to be successful and then evaluate where I need to improve. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I know already.

I feel energized by this – maybe I’m already experiencing more flow!