Sunday, October 29, 2017

My Bullet Journal presentation from the 2017 Moonlight & Magnolias -- part 2

Hi, all! Last time I talked a bit about what a bullet journal is. This time I'll talk about why I started using one.

super-cool powerpoint outline
I’m sort of a plotter in my writing, but pantser in my life, which is not a great way to get things done. I’m bad at goals, so I sort of drift around, wondering why I can't seem to finish anything. (Am I the only one who thinks it's more fun to begin things than to finish them?)

About a year ago, was having hard time falling asleep – I would go to bed and then lie awake thinking of all the things I had to get done the following day, or the rest of the week, or sometime in my life. When would I get them done? How would I remember all of them? “I have to do A and B, and oh, crap, I forgot about C, I need to remember to do C….” So this would go on for an hour or two, and then I'd finally fall asleep. Then I'd wake up at 4:30 AM (as women of my age tend to do :) ) and it would all start up again: “Must remember to do A, B, C, must remember, how will I remember?” And that would keep me awake for another half hour or so.

You're probably wondering why I didn't just write everything down on a To-Do list. I've tried To-Do lists in the past, and here's how they tend to go:

I would create a To-Do list on a piece of paper, then lose the paper.
I would create a To-Do list in a Word doc/google docs then forget to look at it.
OR I'd remember to look at the list but the same long-term tasks would loom, so a) I didn’t want to look at it, or b) they’d be there so long my eyes would stop seeing them.
The same thing happened with computer desktop post-its. The were so pretty and fun, but eventually the last two would just sit there on my desktop and my eyes just stopped seeing them after awhile.

When I explain this to people who use To-Do lists well, they ask incredulously, “But doesn’t it feel great to cross off a finished item?” For me, the answer (weirdly) is "no". I don't see my accomplishments. All I see is everything else that's still on the list. It's like I've reached what I thought was the peak of a mountain only to find out the rest of it was hidden in the clouds and I still have 5000 feet to go. I guess it's some weird psychological thing. Maybe I should try therapy someday....

Another weird psychological thing is the feeling that crossing off a task from a paper list or deleting it from an electronic document means it never existed, so I don’t get “credit” for completing the task. Again, not how To-Do lists are supposed to make you feel.

Shorter version: To-Do lists don't work for me.

So there I was about a year ago, not falling asleep and panicking about how I was going to get everything done I needed to get done.

One day I was perusing Facebook (hey, it's part of my social media presence! Certainly not just another method of procrastination!) and I happened to see a post from Andrea Judy, a local writer whom I met at Moonlight & Magnolias a few years ago. She was asking her fb friends what planner she should get for the following year. Being perennially interested in getting organized, I read the replies. The first one said "Bullet Journal."

(I just have to add here that when I told this story during my presentation, a girl in the third row waved and said "That was me!" So thank you, Vikki Perry, for setting me on my Bullet Journal path! :D)

I read Vikki's comment and thought “WTF is a bullet journal?” So I googled "bullet journal" and found a Buzzfeed article entitled “WTF Is A Bullet Journal And Why Should You Start One? An Explainer” and I thought, "This is the article for me!!"

Here's the says-it-all graphic that accompanies the article, used entirely without permission:

image by Ellie Sunakawa / Buzzfeed

I read the Buzzfeed article, went to the official Bullet Journal site to learn the basics, and read a few other articles. Then I bought myself a cheap composition notebook and started my own BuJo. That night I vomited all my thoughts into it. Everything that needed to be done at some point, everything I was stressing about remembering, literally every worrisome thought that crossed my mind went into that notebook. Basically, I emptied my brain.

And that night I went right to sleep for the first time in months.

I remember getting into bed and waiting for the thoughts to come and keep me awake like they did every night, but my mind was blissfully empty. I'd written down all of my worry-causing thoughts. They were all safely tucked away in one place, so I didn't have to hold them in my head, repeating them to make sure I remembered them. It was almost like I had permission to forget about them.

If you remember from my last post, the reason we write things by hand is because it helps us remember them better. So you might think it's a bit paradoxical to write things by hand in order to remember them, but then allow yourself to forget them because they’re written down. But think of it this way: your brain should be used for thinking and solving problems, for useful knowledge and memories, not for storing to-do items.

Now when I go to bed, I work out story plots instead of trying to remember that I have to pick up the dry cleaning I dropped off two months ago or the vet appointment next week or the food in the fridge that should be used up before it goes off. And actually, I don't usually get too far with the story plots, because I fall asleep pretty quickly most nights.

So for me, To-Do lists were intimidating or useless, but now I actually like writing things down. It gets all those thoughts and worries out of my head and someplace where I can do something about them. I don't have to stress over trying to remember all of them. And I get "credit" for the things I get done. I'll explain that in a future post.

Now you know why I started a Bullet Journal. The next post will be about why YOU should start a Bullet Journal! :)

If you've already started a Bullet Journal, please let me know how it's going. And if you haven't started one yet but these posts are persuading you to do so, go get yourself a journal, because we'll be doing Reader Participation in a couple weeks. The journal doesn't have to be expensive, just something you're willing to carry around with you most of the time.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Tim Urban, Master Procrastinator (TED talk video)

I saw this video last week. I'm finally getting around to mentioning it here.

Anyone else recognize EVERYTHING he's talking about?

(And of course the embed url doesn't work....)

Tim Urban: Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

Sunday, October 15, 2017

My Bullet Journal presentation from the 2017 Moonlight & Magnolias -- part 1

Hi, all! I did my presentation on Bullet Journals at this year's Moonlight & Magnolias (thanks very much to Ryder Carroll for permission) and it went over really well!

Several GRW members who were unable to attend expressed an interest in learning more about Bullet Journals, so I'll be blogging my presentation over the next few weeks. Welcome to part one of "Bullet Journals: Getting Control of Your Life and Your Writing with B. Snow."

follow along with the handy-dandy outline

First off, the What: What is a Bullet Journal?

A bullet journal is a highly customizable organization system.

(Yes, that sentence deserves to be in bold, purple, different font. I will come back to it several times over the course of these posts.)

The official Bullet Journal site calls the Bullet Journal "The analog system for the digital age."

That might sound complicated. To translate for non-science types like me: 

"The Bullet Journal is a notebook you write in."

my first BuJo (Yoobi composition book from Target)
 and my second and current BuJo, received at a Dreamspinner Press Authors Workshop
index from first journal, recent pages from current journal

The bullet journal (or BuJo, for short) is a notebook you write in, but there is a system to it, created and trademarked by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer. Yes, a guy who can actually do technology, and yet he chose to go low-tech with the bullet journal.

[Note: if an app or electronic planner, or traditional planner works for you, you probably don't need a bullet journal. :) But! You can combine your bullet journal with calendar or planner apps and reminder alarms to help you get things done. And now there's a Bullet Journal companion app with reference materials and reminders to help you get the most out of your BuJo.]

One reason to go low-tech is that we remember things better when we write them by hand than we do when we type them.  

Writing by hand takes some time and some effort. Part of the bullet journal system is doing things with intention, reflecting on what you're doing so you can focus on the things that make your life better and get rid of the things that just clutter up your days.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the past couple of years have seen interest surging in bullet journals, Marie Kondo's Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, facebook gratitude posts, and hygge. They all have to do with focus, intention, and making one's life simpler and better. 

As you write things in your bullet journal, think about 
     a) what tasks/goals you want to achieve,
     b) how you'll achieve them, and
     c) WHY you want to achieve them, i.e. if they are adding to the quality of your life.

So yes, you'll spend some time writing. But I hope this writing will end up helping you declutter your mind and your life, so you can focus on the things that will make your life simpler and better.

There is one more bonus to the low-techness of the bullet journal: it will help you fall asleep for two reasons. I'll discuss the first reason in my next blog post. The second reason is that bullet journalling before bed means no electronics at night. Clinical psychologist Anne Bartolucci, who specializes in behavioral sleep medicine, gave a great presentation a few years ago at M&M on sleep problems. One of the things she mentioned is that blue light pouring into your eyes within two hours of going to bed will make it harder to fall asleep. Guess where blue light comes from? Pretty much every electronic item you own that has a screen. Yes, you can set your tablet or kindle app to sepia, but it would be even better to shut off all electronics and look at paper.  

In the next blog post I'll talk about why I started a bullet journal, including that first reason a bullet journal will help you fall asleep.

Just out of curiosity, were you at my M&M presentation? If so, what came up that was helpful? What questions did you have that I didn't cover, that I might be able to talk about in these blog posts?

Thanks for reading! 


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bullet Journal: habit tracker tries and fails

I finally did something I should have done a long time ago: allot time to my Dailies page.

"Dailies" is what I call my habit tracker. I've seen beautifully colored habit trackers on other people's BuJo blogs and wanted to have that, so I created a version that fits in my journal.

The try: create a habit tracker in my journal.
The success: fitting two weeks of habits onto a page of the journal.
The fail: not getting my colored pens/pencils so I end up with a bunch of one-color boxes (and a bunch of empty spaces, but see below).

okay Dailies
also okay Dailies

 The success: listing everything I want to do each day.

The fail: having WAAAAAY too many items.

I just read somewhere (where??) not to put too many items on your habit tracker. That is good advice.

When I threw some minutes on for each line on my Dailies -- 20 minutes of writing per story I want to get done, 5 minutes for scheduling tasks, .5 minutes to take a pill -- I ended up with 247 minutes for everything I want to get done each day. (That does include working on the Bullet Journal presentation for M&M, a task that will last only until I give the presentation).

huge fail Dailies

That's 4.05 hours of just daily tasks. And while some of these happen in the morning or during the day (reading, drinking water, checking email), the bulk of them are supposed to happen in the evenings.

No wonder I've been failing.

We usually get home after 8 PM. I feed the cats, which takes about 30 minutes to wash the soaked bowls, play with them, feed them, feed Diana, and if there are foster kittens, add an extra 15 minutes to wash their bowls, feed them, scoop their litterboxes, and cuddle them. Add a few more minutes to that if they're on medications. So I'm up to 8:45 by now.

Then dinner -- make or heat up something and watch a 44-minute TV show. That takes me to 9:30 or 10 PM.

Even if I go to bed at 1 AM, which is not unusual, that's only three hours. No wonder I've been failing.

Why did it take me so long to think about how long each of these tasks takes?!?

Maybe I'm overestimating some of them -- dishes won't take 15 minutes, right? -- so maybe I could pare it down to 3 hours. (Let's not even think about the non-daily tasks that are supposed to fit in there somehow....)

I could do 3 hours of something that's not TV every evening, right? Especially if it means I get stuff done?

I need to revise that page, to call it a habit tracker to remind myself that these aren't just tasks I'm trying to complete, but actual habits I'd like to cultivate. Words matter, people!!

Now...which habits are worth cultivating, and which should be left behind (or at least until I've sort out my free time)?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Piper and Xara's Project Fierce Chicago story

Project Fierce Chicago was released about a year and a half ago. Plenty of time to read all the stories in it, right?

Not if you're a master procrastinator.

Anyway, I'm FINALLY getting around to reading Piper Vaughn and Xara X. Xanakas' story "Finding Home". They've painted their homeless character so realistically, with all the little details we don't think about when we have a home, or even just a place of residence. It's giving me slightly traumatic flashbacks to writing my own Project Fierce story, when I was really working to get into the head of someone with no place to go and no way to find work. 

I'll shut the fuck up about my process now, because writing about being homeless is not even in the same universe of trauma that actually being homeless is.

Back to the amazing "Finding Home". It also reminds me of a character from my YA murder mystery (at the completed first-draft stage), because he has some of the same resources as Piper and Xara's character. Maybe those reminders are a gentle nudge to get off my rear (or rather, get my rear on a chair) and revisit that story, see if I can't get it into some kind of shape for submission. 

Any suggestions for someone who gets paralyzed by the thought of revisions?

And do check out the anthology (link at the top of this post). All proceeds go to Project Fierce Chicago, a non-profit organization that helps homeless LGBT youth in the Chicago area. Or if you want to donate directly, you can go to their website:

I forgot to add other places to get the book.
Amazon, All Romance eBooks, and Barnes and Noble. Maybe other places as well, which I should know but I don't.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In search of concentration, and the Zeigarnik Effect

I heard about the Zeigarnik Effect for the first time today, from an article about earworms.

"In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks....The Zeigarnik effect suggests that students who suspend their study, during which they do unrelated activities (such as studying unrelated subjects or playing games), will remember material better than students who complete study sessions without a break." (from Wikipedia)

Back when I was consuming tons of fanfic, I got in the habit of STOPPING when the story got really good and going to do something else, probably to prolong the fun of the story. 

(pics not mine; will remove upon request)
But now I can't stop doing it. It's become almost a compulsion to put a story aside just when it's getting really interesting, which is NOT how it's supposed to work!!! 

I've lost my ability to concentrate on one thing for a long time, for which I totally blame the internet. And now I wonder if it's a vicious circle: I interrupt a task, which causes me to keep the task in my head, which causes me to stress (consciously or subconsciously) about the unfinished whatever, which makes it even harder to concentrate.

I'm trying to re-learn concentration, by forcing myself to continue with reading or doing whatever task I' working on. It helps if it's a good book (I've been catching up on Rhys Ford's Sinners and Cole McGinnis series) or if it's something at work that HAS to be done. But it's rough.

Anyone else out there have problems with concentration? I don't think I have ADD; I used to do one thing at a time for hours when i was a kid. But that was before the pretty, shiny internet, and when there were only seven channels on TV.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015