Autumn Check-In

We’ve reached October, and somehow I can’t believe this year is three-quarters over. Didn’t we all have high hopes for 2021 being better than 2020? What happened?

Of course, in a lot of ways, 2021 has been better, but I’m having a hard time reconciling all my emotions about October 1, 2021. In less than two weeks, I’ll turn 45. A month from now, I’ll be starting NaNoWriMo, and for the first time, I’m nervous about that. In just three months, it’ll be 2022.

My mental and physical health are better by far than they were two months ago. My blood pressure is back where I need it to be. I’m relying less on my anti-anxiety medications than I was a month ago. I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage for almost two months. And yet…

And yet…

And yet I’m feeling some regret for things I haven’t gotten done in 2021. I’m somehow managing to balance in the middle of experiencing quiet contentment on a daily basis and still feeling restless while I work. I’m exercising more and sleeping well, but my dreams are unsettled and often revolve around imaginary conflict at my job.

Autumn Reflection

One thing that’s on my mind a lot this week is wrapping up the third quarter of the year and embarking on the fourth quarter. Emily P. Freeman’s Next Right Thing podcast episode A Soul Minimalist’s Guide to Autumn is resonating with me. In part of the episode, she says,

Maybe there’s some invisible goals that you had for the year, things that either you wrote down at the beginning of the year that were intentions that have sort of fallen by the wayside or been forgotten. Or maybe they’ve changed. Or maybe you had some goals for the year that you never articulated, and now as the year begins to wind down, you’re starting to feel some  disappointment and you don’t know why. It could be because you had some things you wanted to do this year, but you didn’t really have a plan to carry them out, or maybe just the state of the world got in the way

I had some goals I did articulate, and I definitely didn’t accomplish a lot of those. When I did a soft reset over Labor Day weekend, I extended grace to myself and set out some more manageable goals for September.

Just September.

I didn’t plan ahead of that, because I wanted to try to be more present on a daily basis. And it sort of worked. At least, I’m aware of many more moments when I was completely present.

Part of reviewing my summer and planning my autumn involves looking at September's habit tracking and sleep logs

Autumn Quarterly Planning

I won’t do my task migration in my Bullet Journal until tomorrow, because I always hold out hope that I’ll get one last thing done before the end of the month! But in the meantime, I’m looking ahead to Quarter Four and I’m trying to set reasonable goals for the next 90 days.

I just finished reading Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. In it, they lay out useful criteria for creating better goals. “The new goal has to be soon, certain, specific, concrete, positive, and personal.” To me, these criteria make more sense than SMART goals. I’m trying to use those methods as I plan.

My goals for October include writing a short story, creating some winter-themed sticker packs, making sure my 2022 dated items are listed and updated, and scheduling time to rest each week.

My November goal is to win NaNoWriMo and finish my Christmas shopping before December 1.

Other Fourth Quarter goals include taking time each day during Advent to spend time with Tsh Oxenreider’s book Shadow and Light: A Journey Into Advent. I also recently purchased Tsh’s Rule of Life course, and I’d like to work through that by the end of 2021 as well.

Autumn 2021 Reading

A lot of the books I’m reading and podcasts I’m listening to advocate for slowing down and living in the season of life we’re in. I’m currently reading The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman, alongside The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz. I’m also still working through my Daily Grace Co Bible study on depression. Through all of these, I’m feeling more introspective on a daily basis. I wish I could say that was leading me to answers, but right now I’m just living in the questions, and I’m trying to learn to be okay with that.

I’m also reading Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov. September brought two lovely novels that I greatly enjoyed: Maggie Stiefvater’s Mister Impossible and T.J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door. T.J. Klune gave everyone a great gift last year with The House in the Cerulean Sea, and at that point I preordered this year’s book. I’m very glad I did. I also hope this month to revist a book I read and loved years ago, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

My autumn reading list

Summer Review

So I’m planning my autumn season, but as part of that, I also want to look back on my summer. This coming weekend I plan to work through a summer review and reflect on what I learned this summer. I want to list with what was life-giving and life-draining over the past three months. As I work through what reflection questions I need to ask, I’ll create Quarterly/Monthly Review stickers for the Etsy shop.

What have you learned this summer? What are you looking forward to in autumn? Comment and let me know!

Goal-Setting in my Bullet Journal

I do a lot of goal-setting. In addition to running an Etsy shop, I have two part-time jobs and am also a published novelist. I have a lot of tasks and projects to keep track of, and there’s no way I can keep track of them all if I’m just relying on my own brain.

Brain dumps ftw

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with everything life is throwing at you? Stuff is coming at you from every direction and you can’t spin around fast enough to catch everything. I occasionally feel like life is a cosmic game of dodgeball!

When it gets overwhelming like that, I sit down, switch on the Focus mode of Brain.fm, and do a total brain dump. Just write down all the crap that floats through my head, all the things that are taking up space in my mental RAM, and quantify them.

I generally use a separate notebook to do my brain dumps because they can take up a lot of space! But as soon as I’ve finished, I start categorizing everything I wrote down (highlighters are good for this), and that’s where my Bullet Journal comes in.

Once I’ve quantified everything I need to do, I can start figuring out what the next concrete step is to take on every outstanding project.

Sometimes I go through the brain dump in the order I wrote things down and sometimes I skip around. Sometimes I realize that several items in the brain dump belong in a collection in my Bullet Journal. Sometimes an item just needs to go on my monthly or daily task list.

As soon as I’ve recorded a brain dump item somewhere in my Bullet Journal, I mark it out on the braindump list.

Not only does that help me see where I am in the planning process, but it also has an immediate psychological effect. I’ve written it down, I’ve put it where it needs to go, so I can release it from my immediate attention. (If you’re sensing echoes of GTD in this, you’re right!)

So What About Project Planning?

Projects with a lot of steps are different beasts from a simple to-do, that’s for sure. But they’re not really the gargantuan, out-of-control monsters they can feel like.

My rule of thumb is to write down every big step. Sometimes I realize the list I’ve been working with doesn’t have all the steps, so I add them in–even if I add them after completing the step.

I confess I don’t always write down every single tiny step because that would take a lot of paper! But if a project is starting to feel overwhelming, I sit down and do it, even if I have to set up a separate collection just for that project.

A picture of my Quarter 1 Action Steps - Track goal-setting and projects in Bullet JournalI currently have two major projects listed on my Quarter 1 Action Steps page in my Bullet Journal, and I have the components broken down on that page, as you see in the picture, though there are actually lots of little steps to each component.

For example, under “2018 Exhibit” the component “Title banner” actually involves several steps:

  1. Coming up with a title (in collaboration with other museum staff)
  2. Choosing banner images
  3. Choosing a font
  4. Choosing a color
  5. Choosing a vendor to print the banner (or consider printing in-house)
  6. Creating the graphic
  7. Proof-reading title banner
  8. Uploading the graphic to printer/printing graphic

I don’t have this goal broken down into all those steps because this is the sixth exhibit I’ve helped design, so a lot of those steps are internalized for me. On the other hand, I often end up breaking those components down on my Monthly Task List.

If you need to break down the components into every step on your project page, do it! The best thing about Bullet Journal is how you can customize it to work best with your style of work.

Tracking Goal Progress

I tend to use two different methods for tracking my goal and project progress–I’ll call them passive tracking and active tracking.

For active tracking, I’ll actually design a tracker to fit that project. For instance, another project I’m working on for work involves going page-by-page through a book we’re publishing. It’s a huge task, so I drew a special tracker for it–just a set of boxes that are numbered with the chapters of each book. As I finish each chapter, I fill in the box and I’m able to see that I am actually making progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Passive tracking, on the other hand, is basically just me paying attention to what tasks I’m migrating from day to day, week to week, or month to month.

One of my favorite things about Bullet Journal is the migration process. Ryder Carroll points out that migration is “a cornerstone of Bullet Journaling.” I know a lot of people dislike the migration component, either because they think it’s redundant and/or pointless or because they don’t like taking the time to do it. For me, the redundancy and time-consuming nature of migration is exactly the point.

Text from the official Bullet Journal website explaining how to migrate a goal

Repetition and redundancy actually make me aware of what goal-oriented tasks I’m not getting done and force me to be mindful of those tasks. I have to consider:

  • Why am I putting off this task?
  • Do I need help from someone else?
  • Am I waiting for something?
  • Is there a step I actually need to do first?
  • How long do I need to complete this?
  • Will it really take me longer to do this task than it will to migrate it to yet another page?

A lot of times, after considering these questions, I either buckle down and do the task or strike it off my to-do list entirely.

Whew! This is a longer blog post than I set out to write! I hope it’s helpful for you to see how I do goal planning and task/project management in my Bullet Journal. If you have any tips, let me know!

And if you’re looking for a sticker set to help you record your goals for 2018, check out my Goal-Setting and New Year’s Stickers set on Etsy! Until March 31, 2018, you can get 18% off your $5 order by using coupon code NY2018.