Though I intermittently engage in New Year’s resolutions, this practice is one that I increasingly follow without holding the outcome too tightly. As an example of this fact, it’s almost March and I am just now talking about New Year’s. What is time anyway, amirite? This year, however, after having formally exited my shitty job after about 11 months of feeling rather rudderless and without direction, I started a Bullet Journal. I recall saying at the start of the blog endeavor that this was not going to be a lifestyle blog [still true], but also, sometimes certain popular movements appeal for certain reasons and you just have to go with it [all you Wordle players attest to this]. This is the time in my life where I apparently need the structure of a bullet journal and I am not going to be a hater about it just because some kid on the internet will call my preoccupation with it “cheugy.” I am, officially, too old for that shit. My life is about trying too hard, because it’s the only life I’ve got, I’m not here to sit around cynically judging other people [or myself] for caring about things.
During the last 11 months of my shitty job, I got abruptly reassigned from the information system that I was administering to another enterprise system. This was for a lot of reasons, but the largest one was probably that my employers got hip to the fact that I would not actually be as easy to fire as they had thought [gods bless the union] and that they had to do something with me until which time as I got fed up working for them and was able to find another job. In the span of a week I went from supporting a system that was very important and constantly under pressure to be conflicting things for many stakeholders, to a system that no one had any real sense of, no expectations for, no direction. I was given a nebulous training assignment with no end date and no deliverables and told to “learn it.” Basically I became Milton getting his office moved to the basement in Office Space, with only slightly more awareness that I as being made irrelevant in principle if not on paper.
As an individual, I have [I would say] an above-average amount of will-power. I was going to list some examples of this and decided that actually, I do not need to prove that shit to anyone. Suffice it to say, during challenges large and small, the things I can make myself endure because I have a goal are massive. And, perhaps more impressive, I do not use shame to leverage this will-power. If I want to do something, I am going to fucking do it and I don’t need to bribe, cajole or berate myself to accomplish it [though chocolate is appreciated]. And what I decided was that I was not going to give my best at work anymore. This sounds pretty straightforward. In fact I know a lot of people who are truly mediocre at their jobs, they get paid really well, think they are exceptional workers, and their bosses think they are amazing because they have a miscalibrated baseline. So sure, my current supervisors had seen me work myself to the point of exhaustion for a project that was [for so many reasons] destined to fail miserably, [but actually met criteria for success in the narrowest sense of the word], but this was a new project that no one really knew that much about. They had no idea what my best work was but I’d be damned if I was going to give it to them anymore.
That left me with a lot of free time. When you have no deadlines and no expectations other than watching some training videos and your main work responsibility is making sure that the little green light next to your Teams avatar never goes yellow for 8 hours every day and saying, “I have some really great notes from my training,” at every standup meeting and you have decided that you are not going to work that hard, the world really is your oyster. Early in the pandemic, when I was working 10+ hour days and my hips were falling asleep in my non-OSHA-approved chair and I was forgetting to brush my teeth every day, I would occasionally have a second to consider all the other people out there collecting unemployment and watching Netflix, and I decided I didn’t feel too guilty about my choice to work halftime. Because a) I never got to bake sourdough in my yoga pants and pick up a pandemic hobby, b) if there is no ethical consumption under capitalism than there sure as shit isn’t any ethical work under it either, c) our Bureau Chief was an actual idiot who knew nothing about our work and got paid almost twice what I did to have people who made $10 less an hour than me fix her Outlook every day and there was no readjustment for that [she got promoted recently]. Maybe that is a rationalization: I do not care. It also made no difference. Developmentally, I needed to reach a place where I understood that my worth was more than my work, because our management overlords had already decided that I was worth less than it.
What does this have to do with bullet journals? Well, not working very hard [in fact choosing to work halftime while appearing to work full time] takes a certain amount of work. I had to structure my weeks very carefully because I did still have to do some things [in fact I built an entire workflow for HR so that hiring managers could initiate filling vacancies and actually knocked that shit out of the park], but I had to ensure that I left half my time for me. What things did I want to accomplish with my free time? I wrote a lot. I polished my resume [but did not apply for that many jobs]. I had a fair number of phone calls and group texts with friends [who also have jobs]. I listened to audiobooks and did some crafts. But mostly I observed how much I had let someone else take over my life goals for me, and how I really had lost almost all semblance of enjoyment from my life as a result. So I started to make to do lists for my own enrichment, because sitting at your desk for four extra hours every day is kinda boring.
A lot of my lists items were very aspirational like, “start a morning routine.” I needed to do this because that work from home life and all the stress had made it so that I logged into my computer at 7:59 every morning in my PJs and didn’t take any time to start the day for me, just my stupid job. This sat on my list for like 2 months, because as with a lot of the list items, it was too large for me to break it down properly for myself. Things like “research drop spindles” and “make allowance plan” and “inventory wardrobe” and [as it turns out] my least favorite “blog post.” This is part neurological, because knowing where to start with large projects like this is supposed to be something that autistic people struggle with, but the rest of it was really a sort of ambivalence about what I wanted to do or a lack of energy for anything that was not reading the internet and jiggling my mouse so I didn’t go idle. Things made it to the list because I wanted to be a person who did those things, or I felt like I had to do the things, not because I had the ability to be particularly reflective about why they were worth doing.
As with many people [most of whom I intuit are women], I get a little dopamine rush when I cross something off my list list. But after about 3 or 4 months of this, I was also having a lot of anxiety about things that sat on the list for weeks, or things that never happened, and I started to worry that I was over-extending myself in these parallel-to-work pursuits just as I had with work a few months earlier. It was like I lacked life-life balance even though I had achieved work-life balance. In performance management they tell you to set SMART [Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound] goals, and this is not terrible advice as far as it goes. But those things are easier when you have things like corporate charters and mission statements and quarterly reports. And, one of the main problems that I had with my to-do lists was that these tasks were not just what I needed to do that day, or that week, but things that I wanted to do [maybe months] in the future. I lacked a system to prioritize things, to consider them seasonally [like a proper urban homesteader], to track progress on things that I had been thinking about for weeks even if they were not done.
Bullet journals can put a lot of structure around these problems. They can have reflections about why goals are hard to attain built in. And they have the little “In Progress” icon, which has revolutionized how I think of a to-do list. It’s not just the imperative “to do,” it is also a record of how I am spending my time, which is to say that it takes the sting of productivism out of how I consider my tasks. Instead of “do this,” it became “think about this,” “start this,” “evaluate the ways you could do this.”
Chances are [very] good that I overthought the structure of my particular bullet journal. It has 9 life domains and they are all color coded. I researched bullet journaling over the month of December while I was onboarding at my new job. It is not a shitty job, and I work my full 40 hours, so I wanted to be sure that I didn’t lose the sense of progress toward goals and keeping myself accountable to my larger goals that I had begun with my to lists while I knew I had less overall time. What I like about the bullet journal is that it has these built in times to consider things like Mondays and ends/beginnings of months. I can set intentions for the new month, look at what I did well or poorly and sort of in-source a lot of my executive functioning for the upcoming time period. “This week, Me of the Past decided that I wanted to do these things because they align with the goals Me of the Further Past decided were meaningful to me. Me of the Near Future will decide what comes next.”
It does not accomplish everything. I still have not bought December Present’s Day gifts for my best friend. I also have not finished knitting this interminable sweater that I hate [but am so close to getting done]. I have not called my mother. But that is really because I don’t want to do those things. I want my best friend to feel loved, but I don’t want to do it with with a thing [but I will]. I want to use up this luxurious impulse yarn I bought 10 years ago and underestimated my hatred for having to purl every other row in the round, but I won’t let myself start a new sweater until I have finished it. Calling my mother is always unpleasant, better to text. But what it has accomplished, because of the priorities that I have set, is a way to see how small tasks add up to big ones, that I do not need to do everything right at the moment but can let myself do it later if it aligns with things that are important to me [I hear they call this saying “No” to things], and [AND] because I have put restorative rest [yes I needed to say rest twice here] on my weekly to do list I have made doing nothing an achievement [it’s possible this is cheating, but it is really helping].
And that brings me to the real point of this fangirl post about bullet journals: the future of this blog. I love to write, and I cannot help but think deeply about nearly everything, but I am not sure that this blog is meeting any of my long term goals for myself. It’s not so much about engagement, which is to say I did not expect to get internet famous for writing about things that are interesting to me on the internet, but I did expect to have some more conversation about these ideas. I wanted to foster community, maybe a silly thing since many people already have one of those. People do read my blog, especially when I post a link to a new post on Facebook, and they will often tell me in person or via text that they read it and thought things, but once I have written something I have mostly thought all around it and am sort of done thinking it. It’s possible that reading this blog is enjoyable to the people who read it, but curating it might not be worthwhile for me anymore.
Also, I don’t know. Maybe it just needs to change and find its central voice. Is it a parenting blog, or a homesteading blog, or some other type of blog? There are dozens of posts I have written through and not actually posted because I don’t like them anymore, am not sure they are interesting, can’t tell if I am being too self-indulgent [a blog is already pretty self-indulgent], might be taking a cheap shot at someone who doesn’t deserve it. I’ve written a lot of things already, and don’t just want to pitch it because I can’t understand what it is for right now. I suspect that I am thinking about it too hard.
I’m in the process of designing an adult religious education course for my church related to personal and local solutions to the Climate Crisis. While I work on that, I am giving myself permission to not write here. I might be back in the summer, but I also might be in the garden, we’ll see what happens. I am interested in hearing from people who do read my blog about the value that they see in it and what they might like to see more of in case I do come back to it.
Otherwise, see you IRL.
3 thoughts on “Life-life balance, OR Does this meet my strategic goals?”
I find a bullet journal a bit daunting. However, having revived my website and blog, I have been fairly reliably entering a post once a week. This week’s post definitely had it’s own flavor of apathy, I find writing and creating content without interaction to be Sisyphean and pointless. I read your posts and comment mostly because you and I have very similar views and similar enough experiences (hello mom calls!) and I feel less alone in this very strange, disconnected time. So, selfishly, I hope you continue to write, at least until we can stitch and bitch together again.
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I love your blog for lots of reasons. I understand the need to put something down and potentially return to it later. Here or IRL, I’ll continue to enjoy the thoughts you share.
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