Life and Everything

Bullet Journalling: Are you a slave to the list?

Maybe I’m a grumpy old woman but …

Bullet Journalling, what the…

A while back I read an article on ‘Bullet Journalling’ by (the surely lovely and intelligent) Nicole Nguyen (who maybe is just trying to make a living). “Try breaking up your days into time periods: morning, afternoon, evening. This will make actually completing the task much more manageable” (*) she suggests. Who knew? It seems we now need instructions on how to use a diary.

Break out the felt tips

Oh sorry. It’s not a diary. It’s a Bullet Journal, or ‘BoJo’ (Urghh). Really, you don’t know what it is? C’mon, where have you beeeen!  For the uninitiated it’s beautifully illustrated, colour coded, indexed to-do lists and planning. It’s supposed to increase your productivity and help you achieve more. You can use it for work or for personal goals or both. It’s the life coach in your handbag! Apparently.

You can personalise it as much as you like as it’s all completely DIY, design it to fit your needs, keep everything in one place, make it look pretty with colour coded illustration, boxes, indices. For added productivity make sure you have an expensive notebook with dotted or squared paper. This should be a dream for an arty farty list maker like me, shouldn’t it?


What’s the problem?

Firstly, let’s look at productivity. I do not want to add list making to my to-do list. When the list turns into a task in itself, well that’s the sort of thing that gets a procrastinator into serious bother. If I really want to increase productivity (and don’t assume I do, because hell, I’m already knackered), I need to know what I want to achieve and take action to achieve it. No amount of multicoloured fine-liner will do that for me.

Secondly, it appears to require the purchase of posh felt tips and fancy notebooks, and as a constantly strapped-for-cash artist, I’m usually scraping together the pennies for a loaf of bread. It doesn’t seem like a wise buy to me. I mean, when you’ve reached the dizzying heights of actually paying yourself, and you have a disposable income and a heap of leisure time, knock yourself out with luxury Japanese paper tape and Italian leather bound journals.

Thirdly, fetishising the list is not the same thing as getting stuff done. We’ve all been there. Making lists that include the stuff you’ve already done just so you can tick them off. Making lists of things that by the time you get round to doing them they no longer seem very important to do at all. Making lists of lists. Yes I’ve been there. Focusing on the list does not help.  You need to do the tasks.  I think Bullet Journal fans would tell me that their list making helps them do the tasks.  But if it’s the tasks that are so essential, why are you spending so much time beautifying your lists?

Don’t get me wrong, I like lists

Look, I’m not against lists. I have lists.  Or goals. I have those written down, and broken down into achievable tasks.  Even ‘life-goals’: I most likely had a list of them at some point. They were probably a bit pants as ambitions tend to be with the benefit of hindsight. And I probably wasn’t good at the ‘action’ bit either. But on this you can be absolutely certain, my lack of achievement is not down to the fact that my hopes and wishes were not decorated with felt tip pen and something called ‘hand-lettering’ (which I think is what used to be called writing).


When lists become bullies

But is there something more insidious about them too? What happens when we become so goal orientated that we forget to enjoy the ride?  Will we forget to take the scenic route, to discover, and learn and wonder.  Life is surely more than a set of lists, however pretty those lists are. Sometimes you need to stop doing and try a bit of being. Don’t be bullied by your list book.

And what happens when we become so goal orientated that our lists become our Bibles?  The danger with making your to-do list and diary into some kind of illuminated script is that you invest too much in the list and not enough into life.  Look, what if your goals turn out to be stupid, and your action plan a bit half arsed?  If you’ve written them on the back of the envelope of an unopened letter from the bank manager, you can just rip them up and chuck them in the recycling along with the letter. There, all evidence of your idiocy is gone.  Clean slate.  If you’ve worked hard to create a beautifully decorated bullet journal, in your fancy book, you’ve invested too much in it, it’s there for posterity and you have to keep to the script.  And what if you stick to your plan and achieve all the goals you set out to achieve and then realise that you hate your life.  I do wonder whether investing in the list makes you a slave to the list.

But when it comes down to it, I mostly think that it’s all a bit twee.


* Genius Ways You Can Customize Your Bullet Journal, Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed, 2016



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