It’s only been a couple of months, though. For most of my life, I completely lacked routine and organization. I loved the idea of it; having an orderly life and getting things done. I loved the idea of a planner with neatly written checklists, and a desk full of clever utensils. And, of course, of having a clean home into which I would feel comfortable inviting friends. Of steady sleep patterns, regular meals.
But it wasn’t to be. Every time I came up with some new organizational scheme, it took no more than a few days before it was lost in the general clutter of my life. The holy grail turned into a pipe dream. I would pause in the stationery section of every bookshop and gaze longingly at supplies I knew would never see any use.
I was a hopelessly disorganized person, and that was the end of it.
As a defense mechanism, I distanced myself from my ideal. I tried to convince myself I wasn’t a failure, I just didn’t like being organized. I’m an evening person, I can’t get up early! I need to be free, routine would shackle me! Of course, today I know it wasn’t a lack of skill or commitment that was my problem, but rather an inability to focus, and the anxiety that followed from that.
“Isn’t There an App for This?”
When I started seeing a psychiatrist and eventually had my anxiety mostly under control, I started looking for ways to sort out the practical side of life. My flat was in a constant state of disarray, I wasn’t eating properly, and so on. I needed to set up habits and routines. But how?
A few years ago, I managed to use a gamification app called Habitica (then HabitRPG) to good effect for the better part of a year. My flat was mostly clean most of the time! But that lapsed when my mental health declined, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to pick it up again. Not just because of the negative association – the app was now connected with a sense of failure – but because there were some parts of it that weren’t quite optimal.
I started looking around for other to-do apps that might suit me, and found absolutely nothing. Every single app I looked at, from your standard to-do checklist apps to gamification-focused systems similar to Habitica, had some limitation or another. None of them could do all I wanted. To be able to organize every aspect of my life that I felt needed it, I would have had to use at least four or five apps in conjunction, and it simply felt like too much of a hassle.
Then, all of a sudden, I decided to go analog instead. I went and bought myself a Filofax.
I thought I’d just use it as intended: Put my appointments and due dates in the calendar, and to-do lists and other notes wherever appropriate. However, I quickly realised that the calendar that came with it was no good for me. My aspie side balked at the pre-printed timestamps. They stop at 18! Where am I supposed to put evening appointments? So I started researching alternatives online.
That’s when I fell down the rabbit hole and became an organization junkie.
The Magical World of Planner Porn
See, apparently there’s an enormous online community centered around planning and organization in general, and personal planners and bullet journalling in particular. And in this community there are some immensely inventive and creative people. What many of them do is essentially a sort of utility-focused scrapbooking, and for the first time I realised what a fun and creative hobby it can be.
I read blog post after blog post about planner set-up, browsed Pinterest for fun ways to track habits and decorate calendars, and all the way I noted down what I liked in my own planner. After days spent absorbing vast amounts of inspirational planner porn, I moved on to designing and printing my own inserts, and of course shopping for cheap craft supplies with which to decorate my new baby. Oh, and I finally found a use for my running metre of outdated biology coursebooks.
The planner community had a profound impact on me in more ways than one. Though I started browsing for inspiration on how to set up and decorate my Filofax, what I found was a number of complete systems for how to organize one’s life, both personal and professional aspects.
Lots of gears started turning in my head: What if, now that I can actually focus, I started really focusing on stuff? Like, setting up some proper life goals? Working on various areas of self-development in a more organized manner?
Ends and Means
I always loved hacking my own mind and behaviour. Now, a whole world has opened up before me, one where I can hack myself to an unprecedented degree. Maybe, just maybe, I could become the person I’ve always wanted to be – for real, within the foreseeable future! Suddenly, I truly feel like my dreams aren’t quite as nebulous as they used to be. Rather, they are goals that can be achieved.
As part of this process, I’ve decided to have themed months. This would help me decide what specific projects to work on in my spare time, rather than be overwhelmed by the choices.
For October, the theme was obvious: Organization. Before I can even start thinking of working on the other aspects of my life, I need to figure out which those aspects are, exactly – as well as make sure I have the organisational framework properly set up with the tools I need. Those tools mostly reside in my Filofax.
It’s taken me a good while to figure out how I want to use it, and I expect my system will change with time. But for now, after having tried a few things out, I have settled for a few key designs when it comes to calendar pages, planning sheets and trackers, that I’m going to stick with for a while.
Girls People Just Wanna Have Fun
One very important thing I’ve learned from this little adventure is that planning is fun if I make it fun. Having all these coloured pens, stickers, washi tape and other tools makes me want to use my planner. Both decorating it and simply leafing through it is very much a pleasureable activity.
This really wasn’t a surprise to me, and I feel more than a little silly for needing the internet to tell me it’s even a thing that can be done. Back when I studied biology at university, I realised that I was far more likely to take notes during lectures if I had a range of coloured pens instead of just one regular ballpoint. (In fact, I’m still using many of the same Stabilo point 88s as I did back then!)
Although I’m definitely a digital
girl person in a digital world, there is a point to designing my own “analog app” that is completely personalised and unique, that goes beyond how useful it is. Self-expression and creativity is immensely important to me. As is having fun. Perhaps that seems like a trite thing to say, but I actually think there’s something seriously wrong with a society that doesn’t consider “having fun” a valid desire in life, and almost sees it as anathema to being productive.
Well, I refuse to be productive if I can’t also have fun. Thankfully, at least right now, this doesn’t seem to be a problem for me.
I will be writing more about this topic, as well as give you a tour of my planner at some point. But I hesitate to give advice. How best to organize one’s life is definitely very much a personal preference. But since I’ve found it very inspiring to see how the planner and “bujo” junkies do things, I hope maybe I can pass some of that inspiration on.
And please, by all means, tell me how you prefer things! Analog or digital or do you keep it all in your head? Do you know of any awesome apps you think I might have missed? Or are you sitting on a stash of Filofax insert printouts? There’s no such thing as too much inspiration!