How I Organize My Life

August brings a new year for my bullet journal. I buy a gorgeous new Leuchtturm 1917 dotted notebook and begin planning and organizing using this “analog system for the digital age”.

I’ve gone through lots of different systems over the years. Once upon a time it was a Daytimer. I loved my little binder with its looseleaf pages and used it through many years of teaching. Later, I was given a Palm Pilot which was pretty cool at the time. I started to get into the whole electronic calendaring thing. Fast forward through BlackBerry, First Class, the iPhone and MacBook and now into Outlook 365 for work. Each one is full of interesting features and I used them all diligently for planning, reminders, calendaring, and note taking.

About 8 years ago, I found “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity” by David Allen. This book is worth reading to help you deal with the whirlwind of our daily lives. Allen advocates a pretty simple system. I remember taking about 5 hours to completely re-organize my filing cabinets, reminders, calendar etc. One of his key concepts is to set aside times to deal with your to-do list, like last thing on Friday before you head home for the weekend. I’ve heard this idea referred to as “power hour” (not the drinking game!) by others where you schedule an hour to deal with the important but mundane tasks that need be done. Another Allen idea is to go through your task list and do anything you can do in two minutes or less – everything else is organized for a future time. This reminds me also of the “one minute rule” where if something can be done in one minute, you just do it – no procrastination. It’s useful for me as I am a procrastinator extraordinaire!

But despite all these great ideas, tools and systems, something was missing. I first heard about the bullet journal from Frances Nicolaides, a teacher in our district. She was experimenting with a bullet journal on Instagram and it looked intriguing. So I dove into the website. Something about this way to get stuff done and know what was going on my life really appealed to me.  I love notebooks, pens, coloured pencils, in fact, office supplies of all kinds. (It’s a bit of a weakness, like socks) My digital systems had robbed me of that. The bullet journal gave me permission to go back to them in clear, organized way.  Each year, I use the Future Log, the Monthly Log and the Daily Log. I experiment with different headings and different colours. It makes it a bit more fun. The photo to the left is a sample of my daily task list.

I also take many notes during meetings, conferences or key notes using my bullet journal. I can incorporate fun little sketchnotes (another trend creatively exemplified by Beth Woof, a principal in our district as well as Sylvia Duckworth). The photo below shows my attempt to take these kinds of notes, which I really enjoy.

I still use my digital calendar and OneNote, but they’re better integrated into my life and make more sense for me now.

I’ve shared the bullet journal concept with colleagues and some have found it really useful too. If you’re looking for an analog way to get yourself on track, you might consider the bullet journal.

How to Unlock Your Creativity

Kevin Ashton says creativity isn’t magic. His book, How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery explores many examples and shows that humans don’t wait for some kind of divine inspiration and then mystically start creating. The idea comes first, but it’s only a seed. Tenacious hard work through a series of small steps creates the final product.

When I create, I make something new. Most of us have some experience of this through cooking. We get the idea, we assemble the needed materials and we work through the steps of a recipe to make something yummy. But becoming a good cook doesn’t happen magically. You need to create many dishes, and you’ll have some failures (maybe some spectacular ones – like a cake I made as a teenager where I used salt instead of sugar. Oops!) before you can call yourself a cook.

Yup, I made this!

My writing is the same. I love it, and it’s a satisfying way to take an idea, expand it and synthesize previous thinking. But I’ll tell you, it’s hard work. Successful writers back this up when they talk about the discipline and time needed to create an article, essay, poem, novel or story.

I have lots of ideas from many different sources. Ideas are easy, they’re lying all over the place. I’ll confess that there are 37 draft ideas waiting in my blog draft folder. It’s another thing to work them up into a post.  I try to nail down the purpose of my post and sketch out a framework before I begin. I want to write a good lede.  What actually happens is a lot of back and forth. I write, I delete, I cut and paste, I preview the post, I re-read and rewrite until finally it’s good enough. Once I hit “publish” there’s a lot of satisfaction. I created something new for me.

Creativity isn’t something only special people are born with. We all have it. It’s in the ideas we see and seek out. It’s in the time we insist on setting aside and spend working through the steps to figure things out and make something new.  We cultivate it by trying and failing and trying again.

Maybe you’re an educator creating a blog for your classroom community or an amazing learning experience for your students. Maybe you want to write a YA story. Maybe you want to check into the maker community.  Go for it. Start with the idea and get tenacious.

It’s Summer – Take Some Time Off

Everyone needs vacation. There is no substitute for forcing your mind and body away from work, even if just for a week. (For the record, I believe people need way more than that.) Some folks say they just can’t. I don’t get that.

Photo Credit: anna_t via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: anna_t via Compfight cc

There was a recent exchange on Twitter about the following blog post, first shared by David Didau and Julie Balen.  Conspicuous Work: Do We Compound the Work Issue Ourselves?  (by James Theobald) It’s worth a read.We live in a world where those perceived to work hard get lots of kudos, including educators. Sometimes I feel as if we’re all part of a giant, unspoken conspiracy to work harder and get less sleep because that’s just what we do. I don’t get that either.

Reactions to the article from Julie and others in my PLN centered around whether doing what you love is “work.” That’s an interesting question. It reminds me a brief Twitter conversation I had with Gerald Aungst about compliance vs. commitment. He helped me see that compliance is when others make us do it, even if we know it’s good for us, and commitment is when we make ourselves do it.

Every summer there seems to be some handwringing by educators and other members of the public about teacher vacations. Most educators don’t go into work in the summer. After the craziness of the last month of school, they head home and can do what they wish for the next 9-11 weeks. It’s one of the fantastic privileges of being an educator.  Many choose to take courses, work on prep for September, read professional books, noodle around on their blog – there are lots of options!  Some of that stuff is fun, and some you have to do so you feel energized and prepared for the first day of school. That’s commitment. I totally get that.

Still, I stand by my first sentence.  Whatever we decide to do with vacation, we need make sure that some of it is really vacation. Don’t think about your job for a week (or three). Can you do it?