Read this book even if you have no particular curiosity around the practice of bullet journaling. Read The Bullet Journal Method, because it happens to be one of the greatest productivity books ever written. Ryder Carroll makes a truly compelling case for why Getting Organized can be so transformative for so many people, whether their struggles are with attention deficit, PTSD, or, memorably, talking to emergency medical responders while a child is having a seizure. This book has so much to offer that the artistic aspects are really just a side bonus.
I use a paper day planner with bullet journal techniques even though I also use a tablet and a smartphone. Writing longhand really does work to help focus, think clearly, and remember details. Another benefit that Carroll describes is differentiating between our memories of what happened and what actually happened; we may have positive memories of something negative and vice versa. Writing down accurate details can help us see the truth that a job or relationship isn’t going quite the way we thought it was. This is why a written journal is so instrumental in spotting patterns and deciphering mysterious health problems.
Part of the practice of bullet journaling is the daily reflection. Carroll points out that it’s better to spend even one minute a day on this, as long as it’s done every day, because that is more valuable than longer but more sporadic sessions. He says he usually spends 5-15 minutes per daily session, and I can back this up. With a clear system in place, it takes very little time to maintain. More, it becomes a pleasure, even a stolen thrill, rather than a chore. This is where the beautiful artwork and hand-lettering of so many BuJo aficionados begins, because it’s a treat we give ourselves.
Productivity is all about gamification, or how we choose the metrics that will measure our success. Carroll includes some very interesting ways to gamify goals, including the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. (Set some goals for five years, four months, three weeks, two days, and one hour). He also teaches Agile methods, Sprints, and the Five Whys, which transfer readily between the home and the workplace: my husband relies on this system as an aerospace engineer, and we use it in our marriage as well.
The examples of problem-solving that come up in The Bullet Journal Method say everything about how universally useful it is. Everything from how to plan a vacation to I CAN’T PAY RENT is in here somewhere. Carroll writes lucidly about self-compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, and all those catchphrases that seem so abstract, until we see how directly they apply to daily life. This is a remarkable book that far exceeds its remit, turning “productivity” into pure poetry about how to live life well, even amid the massive jumble of it all.
Few things are more distracting than the cruel stories we tell ourselves.
Often all it takes to live intentionally is to pause before you proceed.
If everything is a priority, nothing is.
Yes means work, it means sacrifice, it means investing time into one thing that you can no longer invest into another.
Productivity is about getting more done by working on fewer things.
I failed the first time I tried to read this book. I had this idea that it would be soothing and deep and that I’d listen to it on audio before I went to sleep at night. Whoops. Dan Harris is so funny that I kept shaking with laughter. That’s neither meditative nor conducive to one’s spouse getting any sleep. It was too late, though, to switch to a text copy, because I was hooked on Harris’s delivery as much as his wisecracks and insights. I just had to settle for having him entertain me throughout the day. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is also approved for Restless Comedy Fans.
Harris does a pretty convincing job of casting himself as the last person to ever consider meditating. He is open about his personal foibles, including heavy drug use and workaholism. This makes it easy to hear him out about the benefits of mindfulness practice. If it worked for someone like him, then surely...?
Meditation is one of those things on the Obvious list, unfortunately; it’s right up there with “eat healthy” and “get plenty of sleep,” which means a lot of us automatically will want to rule it out. I find that when I try to sit silently, it opens the floodgates of creativity, and the result is that I wind up speed-writing a very lengthy list of ideas and tasks. Something I liked about Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is that it offers various practices, not all of which are of the classic “sit still and empty your mind” variety.
Incidentally, there are a few things that can really help those of us who feel simultaneously drawn toward and repelled by meditation. (My draw is that I have a high resting heart rate, and I’m on a Fact-Finding Mission to do something about it). If you’re as fidgety as me - ADHD leaning, hyperkinetic and born restless - start with a vigorous and very strenuous exercise practice first. Dump all those excess yayas. Watch your caffeine consumption. Capture your mental lint first; I recommend GTD as a practice. Then experiment with time of day and just do little five-minute increments. Or one minute. My mantra here is “okay,” as in, “okay, let me think for a minute.”
Harris arranges Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics into a list of objections to meditation as a practice, and responses to those objections, both from himself and others. One such chapter is “Meditation is Self-Indulgent.” I’d like to focus on this because I think so many people (ahem, or I really mean to say WOMEN) feel this way about everything. Meditation is self-indulgent, and so is getting enough sleep, working out, eating a hot breakfast, peeing alone with the door closed... It’s a really weird idea that every single other person of the seven billion has to come first before a lady can spend so much as five minutes simply breathing. How can you possibly give anyone your best when you’re stretched so thin?
There is a real Dan Harris presence out there for those who can’t get enough. He has two books, a podcast, and even a meditation app. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is certainly a great place to start.
This book is a work of genius. Sometimes I think I’ve read every organizing book ever published, and most of them are great, but they all tend to sound alike. Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD is actually full of original, contrarian ideas that suit the ADHD style. It even has copious amounts of illustrations. These are real rooms. Rather than a Pinterest palace, unattainable for 99% of us, these rooms designed by a professional organizer are feasible and practical. They’re even exciting!
The day I realized that I fit the criteria for ADHD was a wonderful day. I was in my late twenties, born a little too early to have a name for whatever I am. I was reading through a bulleted list of symptoms as a way of getting to know an acquaintance, and with each point, I felt a deepening sense of recognition. AHA! Suddenly, it wasn’t just me. I was just one of many, a type, a tribe member. I wasn’t even bothered by the idea that maybe there was something dysfunctional about me; heck, I already knew that. Rather, I was thrilled to see that along with the chronic disorganization came a lot of truly excellent qualities. Creativity, originality, curiosity, enthusiasm, hyper-focus, high physical and mental energy. Everything snapped into focus for me. If I could learn some practical ways to Get Organized, I could mitigate my weak points while amplifying my positive points.
It worked, too. Year by year, one issue after another, I finally did Get Organized, earn my degree, get on top of my finances, nail my nutrition and hydration, lose the weight, get fit, get rid of most of my stuff, learn to cook, and remarry. Getting my stuff and my information stream organized enabled me to start living the life of my dreams.
It would have happened a lot faster if I’d had this book!
Organizing Solutions recommends avoiding shopping in order to avoid impulse purchases. Agreed. It recommends limiting what you buy or keep to only the available storage. Agreed. It recommends taking your donation items straight out to the car where they will annoy you until you drop them off. Agreed. Get rid of excess stuff on a regular basis so there’s less to clean. Agreed. I had to figure all this stuff out for myself. In fact, the only thing I don’t agree with in this entire book is the thing about reusing towels and wearing clothes multiple times. That may be fine for most people, but I personally am very tough on clothes and our climate is too humid. Instead, we’ve started using hand towels rather than full-size bath towels, and they don’t get funky.
There’s some great advice in Organizing Solutions on how to make decisions about memorabilia, children’s artwork, toys, et cetera. There’s a discussion about how to confront the chilling prospect of identity theft and how that impacts the way we process papers. Susan Pinsky clearly understands her audience. I recognized myself all over this book, and I recognized my organizing clients even more.
As a group, we tend to prefer initiating things to finishing things. We’re more comfortable having tons of projects going on than we are winding any of them up, feeling like we’ve closed off options or that we’ve “finished” something before it reaches its apotheosis of perfection. It can be hard for us to feel like we know where to start, and we infinitely prefer research or planning or daydreaming to action. Take it from Susan Pinsky: start with your home and work from there.
“Inventory shouldn’t just conform to storage but should be less than storage, so that it never requires a multi-step dance to put things away.”
“...any well done organizing job should result in the re-acquisition of a few mistaken discards. It is proof that you applied the Brutal Purge sufficiently enough to make a difference.”
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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