The figuring out my life notebook

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Preparations for the fabulous planner life.

So you’ve decided to do a bullet journal. I was lucky in that I had an immediate and urgent set of projects that I needed to tackle. But let’s say you have time, and you want to be effecient, make progress, track the progress, but you’re not quite sure how to begin.

I was in this place about three months ago, so it’s all still fairly fresh. I’ll dig up spreads to share. Meanwhile,  here’s my system:

Step 1: Where do you come from?

Tools: notebook or a sheaf of paper and a pen.  If you find a notebook, great. Call it the figuring shit out notebook and allow yourself to make a mess here.

Open a random page (or the first one, if that’s not too overwhelming) and get to work. Don’t panic, I’m about to describe how. Also remember that you don’t need to finish ANY page before skipping to the next.  The two facing pages are one spread. It’s pretty important that each spread is dedicated to one question that you want answered, one thought experiment, or one theme.
If at any point of following me along, you feel overwhelmed, stop. Open a new spread. Time and date it. Label it “dump” or with your name (sometimes thinking of yourself in the third person provides the distance you need to articulate your dreams or hopes or whimsy) and list out every single thing you want or that’s in your head interrupting you. Don’t edit or editorialize. Don’t classify or analyze. Once you’re calm, go back to what you were doing. Don’t look at dump page(s) until you’re done with this post and are ready to start your regular planning.
Label a spread “inspiration”. Make a list of things that inspire you when you’re stuck and don’t know what you want or don’t want to think about the future. For me, this includes these talks:
  • Randy Pausch – Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.
  • Neil Gaiman – Make Good Art.
  • Brene Brown – Vulnerability.
  • Kathryn Schultz – Being Wrong.
Maybe quotes. Maybe pictures. Whatever works for you. Whom do you want to be in ten years? The stuff that helps you formulate the answer and articulate it, goes here. I was completely blank when I went it to do it the first time, so I skipped it except the label on the page. A lot of people find this calming.

Step 2: Listing Your Goals

Open a new spread (having only one thing going per spread is key to keeping your sanity). Label it goals.
What is a goal (as opposed to a dream)? Goals are:
  • Specific
  • Time bound
  • Intrinsically motivated.
For each goal, list
  • What do you want
  • Why do you want it
  • Why don’t you have this already? What’s the fix?
  • Is there another reason you don’t have this already? What’s the fix?
So once you do that, you have a giant overwhelming crazy list and that can be really really overwhelming.

Step 3 (or logically, step 1): List Your Priorities

To contextualize it, you need a list of priorities. A guide, if you have none, is the Level 10 life. I have several strong issues with assumptions that guide makes, but that’s a tangent for a different post. Those categories don’t all work for me, so I came up with my own priorities, and then weighted and statistic-ed the sh*t out of them. Briefly, mine include:
  1. Happiness (quantified by my mood, which I track).
  2. Relationship with my spouse.
  3. Career stability (quantified by a metric).
  4. Relationship with family.
  5. Career growth.
  6. Travel for friends and family.
  7. Travel for fun.
Put your top four priorities, once you have figured them out, on your goal page or on a post-it on the goal page. Those are your everyday intentionally working-on-it subjects. The rest are projects that cycle as you have time.
That is the catch: the limiting factor for all your dreams is time.
Create a timeline spread. Draw a line a fourth of the way down your page, going the length of the page. Section it into twelve for the next twelve months. Another line, halfway down the page, sectioned into 7-10, for the years after, and finally, a third line for the next 25 years.
Fit in your goals and dreams on these timelines. Life is long. Some dreams can wait 10 years. Some tasks keep food on your table.

Step 4 (or Step 0): What do you have to do everyday to make these dreams possible?

Maybe you have the whole 24 hours to work with. Maybe, like me, you have 9+ hours a day committed to a job and have to work your goals and priorities and dreams around all that. You don’t know how much time you actually have until you chart it out. Start with an estimation.
  • Sleep: 8 hours
  • Daily absolutions
  • Committed work
  • Eating
  • Child/plant/pet care
  • Preparing food, cleaning, any other home chores
  • Your hopes and dreams
Of course, you could be J.K. Rowling and spend a couple years without really cleaning or doing much upkeep and write a blockbuster that would make up for it all, but most of us aren’t going to do that.
If you know where your time goes, you also knowhow much time you have available to assign. For a day, or a week. You don’t face a page of emptiness (if you do, create a Upcoming Projects of a Maybe-do spread) and your bullet journaling or other means of tracking your tasks and productivity (even for soft goals) is effective.
I, for example, generally have somewhere between an hour and two. The system that works for me is to have a goal or a project-of-the-week, something that takes upto 4-6 hours, and I spend the week on accomplishing it. Oh, you noticed that that’s way less than the 5-10 you’d expect that I have? I am an optimist. But real life doesn’t actually ever let me take the whole 4 hours uninterrupted and in perfect flow. So I build in buffer. Also, I avoid filling my available 2 hours with more than 2 tasks, even if one is as simple as “drink water”. More on building habits at some point later 🙂
In the end, if your goals are reasonable, you win at life.

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