Category Archives: General

Forward into April

When I created my Bullet Journal spread this month, I looked over previous diary entries and recorded thoughts to see if a recurring theme would reveal itself. 

The one that caught my eye was the word “Forward.” I’d been making a lot of progress in various areas – losing weight (lost 30 pounds over the last six months), improving fitness, accomplishing personal goals, participating in more events that matter to me… 

At the same time, I realized I waste too many hours on stuff that doesn’t matter, and I make too many spontaneous or thoughtless choices that hinder progressing in the areas I say are important. 

“I could write…” but I play a couple hours of video games.

“I should eat the healthy meal I planned…” but I reach for cheap junk food.

“I’ve got more exercise to do if I’m gonna meet my goal for today…” ehh, but there’s always tomorrow.

“I’ve had enough food. I should drink water and let my body realize it’s full…” but another slice of pizza is sitting right there and I think I heard it beg for death.

Point being, if all these little things are like running a race, I don’t want to step off the track or leave the course when the finish line is in sight. And while it’s sometimes frustrating to realize that there is no true finish line, just a good habit that I continue doing into the future, I realize I’m only tripping myself up and pushing the short-term goals further away when I make bad decisions. 

So this month’s spread is trying to capture the idea of stopping the old habit of “two steps forward, one step back” — or more true to my life, two forward and three back. 


We also watched Moana near the end of March / beginning of April, so that influenced my pictures. Hei Hei is there because he’s awesome and hilarious, and an Alan Tudyk character is always a good choice. The quote I found which I put above Moana’s sail is: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” – Jimmy Dean.

I picked up a pack of Stabilo markers from the base art supplies store, and I love the colors. While I enjoy colored pencils (which I used for the Moana and Hei Hei pics), I hate scratchy media. The Stabilo markers don’t seem to bleed through the paper so long as I’m not going over the same spots, and the colors show up brighter in my opinion. 

Sorry for the quality of the pic – it’s just off my iPad.

Bullet Journals are Fire

I added a couple adjustments to my Bullet Journal process since my last post on the subject. Here are a couple quick tricks that I think work for both the minimalist version and the artsy / time-consuming arrangements.

Track the workplace “fires” that you put out

If a task is REALLY frustrating, actual fire is also an option.

Office workers know the pain of watching your organized, planned-out schedule burst into flames as managers or circumstances bring you all sorts of “fires” to put out. Urgent tasks demand attention. Surprise emails reprioritize your day. The boss comes in and says “Drop what you’re doing, I need you on This now.” 

Bullet Journal is about tracking what you’ve done as well as organizing your future effort, so from the beginning I’ve written down the unplanned or unexpected tasks I accomplish. But I decided to capture these random “opportunities” with a symbol all their own: a little flame on the task. Not only does that identify the task as HOT but it also shows that I didn’t plan for this… which might explain why other tasks get migrated to the next day (yet again). 

Even more rewarding? When that surprise tasker is completed, I can draw a squiggle on the fire to show it has been put out properly. We joke about putting out fires all day—why not incorporate that into my BuJo?

Yep. I still hate the term “BuJo.”

Color code or number your top priority tasks 

When I first started my journal, I picked up a set of five ultra fine point gel pens with different color ink: black, blue, purple, red, and green. I thought I’d use them more often, but I prefer colored pencils for anything artsy. So I’ve had these things sitting in a pen case doing nothing. 

The other day, I think a motivational video or article suggested organizing or identifying certain tasks as the priorities for a given day, and hitting those first. I could use numbers, of course… but why not the pens? Now I look over my to-do list for the day and underline four tasks in priority order—red, purple, blue, green—as my primary focus items. It’s an added satisfaction to check those off as done.

Sometimes you just have to punch Monday in the junk.

Today, I knocked out everything on my high-priority list before my lunch break. Now I can get to some of the other tasks in the afternoon, with the satisfaction that the big items are out of the way.

Time Management

On a side note, when I reviewed February’s journal entries, I found a lot of references to using the limited time we’re given wisely. As I considered how to lay out March’s monthly calendar and tracker, I decided to incorporate that message into my spread as a constant reminder this month. I found a few sweet quotes that spur me on to do the most with each day:

And naturally, as a Whovian, I had to incorporate the Doctor and some items related to his adventures. Here’s my timey-wimey March page:

The trouble is, you think you have time. -Buddha

Some of the applicable motivational quotes that have come my way include:

  • The billionaire and the beggar each are given the same 24 hours in a day.
  • You will never “find” time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
  • We hold other people to guarantees and promises, like “30-day satisfaction or your money back.” Why don’t we hold ourselves to that standard? You owe you, you owe it to yourself to set such a standard.
  • It’s not a last minute “fire” task if it’s a “waited until the last minute” task. That’s just poor planning or poor execution. (That’s my own, in light of the fire symbol idea.)

Bullet Journal Part 2: Personalization

In my first Bullet Journal post, I talked about the results I tracked during the first month testing out how I liked the system.

In this post, I wanted to share a few of the personal touches from my journal. 

A look through social media or Google Images for anything “bullet journal” might return wild results that look more like a scrapbooking site than some quick and easy system for tracking tasks.

Some argue there’s a difference between bullet journals (which have little to no complexity, basic subjects, simple uses) versus the “omnijournals” where people are tracking anything and everything, from books to read, to which episodes of Dexter they’ve watched, usually with impressive calligraphy, artwork, colorful inks, and even art supplies like stamps, stencils, and washi tape. It can get expensive if you go all out, but the system can function just as well in a 69 cent memo pad. 

While I think the minimalist version has great usefulness and merit, I’m too artsy and doodle-prone to be content with that. So when I found an article called “The Comic Book Journal” on the bullet journal site blog, I decided that was closer to what I wanted. This allowed me to capture some moments and memories, like a family trip to a restaurant, some time relaxing in the shade of Okinawan banyan trees, and a silly drawing to remind me to avoid superficial garbage and distractions. 

Here’s what worked for me: 

Beyond the basics (index, future log, monthly spread, daily entries), I adopted a more complex monthly format that allows tracking of recurring activities–great for building habits and checking progress toward goals. 

A lot of the purpose of the bullet journal is to serve as a brain dump memo pad which can quickly feed into indexed sections based on the content. Someone recommends a good book? Jot it in the daily notes, so that later you can put it into the “books to read” spread. Hear a line that inspires you? Add it to a motivational quotes spread for mental fuel when you need a pick-me-up or a kick in the procrastination. When the spouse says “We need toilet paper next time we go to the store,” or when you realize the car needs a tune-up next month, put those on financial spreads split for short-term and long-term expenses. 

I loved pictures I found of a bookshelf spread with books you color in as you finish reading them, or popcorn kernels for movies you want to watch.  

Watching movies is clearly easier than reading books…

I have some fitness goals I want to reach, so I set up a tracker for push-ups, sit-ups, planks, and generic strength-focused workouts. I also put in a page for meal plans, so I can easily grab the right ingredients and put together lunches for a few days at a time. For my writing efforts, I put in a year-long word count spread with a color code for how many words I manage on a given day, and space to jot down writing ideas.  

It turns out twelve hour fly days don’t help me get a lot of writing done.

Some of the artistic pages incorporated ways to track or focus on gratitude, which I thought would help me maintain positive energy. I liked the gratitude “sunburst” the most, with rays for each day and then some.  


I viewed that as part of my month-long tracking, so a new sunburst got added for this month right before my February spread. The habit trackers have been great for pushing me toward making better decisions and achieving my goals. For example, last month I tracked whether I logged all my meals in my fitness pal, but this month I added a box for which days I kept below my calorie count. And while I don’t drink alcohol all the time and keep it to a small amount (a couple shots max) whenever I do imbibe, I decided a box for “no alcohol” was a way to force a conscious decision of “do you really want a drink?” The mental reward of checking a box that said I didn’t partake is enough to make me hesitate and actively consider the question rather than drinking just because it’s there. 


The artistic aspect of the way I’m doing my journal lets me capture memories and moments in pictures. Maybe it’s a character’s silly expression or a mindless doodle, but sometimes it’s an attempt to capture the way the sunrise painted amber on the tips of purple clouds, or the hilltop view overlooking the ocean with islands on the horizon. For me, these also break up the monotony of tasks and appointments in my journal, giving me something cool to look at when I flip through the pages.

A drawing of some sunrise clouds with touches of amber on the tips.
A view from a high hill overlooking the sea on the horizon

All of that said (and shown), this is just what I found kept me motivated and engaged in these areas I wanted to track. My format might not work for every reader. 

The personalization makes all the difference. 

I have a co-worker friend of mine who started setting up his Bullet Journal, and he paged through mine to get some ideas. We talked at length about what I used and why, but from the get-go, he proclaimed he wanted the minimalist arrangement, nothing elaborate or frilly. I stopped in his office today and saw a Leuchtturm 1917 opened with a number of familiar spreads–all of them clean and neat, black and white, crisp and sharp. Most of all, I noticed the bright smile on his face as he showed off his work in progress. I recognize that happiness–it’s the same sensation I feel about my Bullet Journal, even though mine is full of varied letter shapes, random doodles, and colored pencils. 

Do you “BuJo” ? (confession: I hate that word and I won’t be using it any more.) What have you found works for your needs? Do you go artistic or minimalist in your journal? Let me know in a comment. I’d love to see how you set up yours–maybe I’ll get a new idea for mine!

My Brain on Paper

About a month ago I found an article introducing the Bullet Journal, which is an old-school pen-and-paper method for organizing tasks. The original system put to the public three years ago was designed to be minimalist and quick, allowing one to track past tasks completed and progress toward goals, organize current schedules and priorities, and plan for future efforts or upcoming issues.

The Bullet Journal is essentially your brain in a notebook

…except it remembers everything perfectly.

It’s quick to start and manage, and flexible enough to adapt to any number of specialized uses.

The “Bullet Journal” concept has since grown into a large community of people who incorporate a wide variety of artistic designs and complex tools into their bullet Journals. Instagram, Facebook, and the bullet journal site linked above all have an array of photos and ideas ripe for the picking.

I started mine in a cheap notebook to get used to the idea, then upgraded to a long-term version.

the Leuchtturm 1917 lines of dot grid notepads are popular choices.
 

I decided to give it a shot for a month before posting my thoughts on the process, along with an intro of my journal and an explanation of what I found worked well for me. 

The system feeds off the satisfaction that comes from the visible reminder of task completion, the mental reward of checking off tangible lists, and the relief of jotting down notes to reduce the busyness in our scattered minds.

(Pic)

All those efforts go back to one concept:

  • You can’t make progress when you’re not aware of your current circumstance.
  • You can’t be aware of what you don’t monitor.
  • You can’t monitor what you don’t track.
  • You can’t track what you don’t measure.

Similar to the year-long word count spreadsheet (which I posted about at the start of the new year), my Bullet Journal gives me more insight and detail on what I’m doing that is or isn’t intentionally moving toward the goals and desires I say I want to achieve. 

In the end, after a month, I looked back and discovered I had done the following:

  • I watched 10 movies with the wife and/or the kids.
  • I recorded and posted 8 songs with my wife or on my own (not counting instrumental jam sessions).
  • I wrote 32,887 words and kept above the 1K / day goal I set for this year.
  • I did 1,140 push-ups, 2,180 sit-ups, and 39 minutes of plank.
  • I filled a gratitude log with daily entries and several bonus lines.
  • I logged 24 of 31 intentional morning routines.
  • 17 of 31 days writing 1K words or more.
  • 25 of 31 days logging all food intake for weight loss
  • 26 of 31 days walking 5K steps or more
  • 17 of 27 days drinking >64 oz of water (added this a few days in)
  • 10 of 21 days doing 100 push-ups (added a week and a half into January)
  • 10 of 21 days doing 200 sit-ups
  • 7 of 21 days doing strength workouts
  • 7 of 21 days doing 5 minutes of plank
  • and 10 of 12 days being intentionally outdoors for >15 minutes (not just walking to my car, etc)

Looking back over the journal entries, I saw trends and thoughts that needed repeated emphasis. I also saw places where I came up with a solution or plan, and found that it worked.

All in all, like many systems, gimmicks, and gadgets, it comes down to individual preference.

A Bullet Journal is great if it works for you, and if you keep it up. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and intend to continue using the system. In my next post, I’ll show some ways I adapted the journal to my interests and needs.

Dear United States,

Saw this on a friend’s FB wall and thought of this post:
http://www.humansofnewyork.com/tagged/refugee-stories

Cherry-picked instead of the “randomly selected” that the page implies? Sure. Maybe. Cynical me admits that’s possible.

BUT these stories are also just as likely true. These experiences I’ll never understand are some people’s daily life. If I can talk about how pro-life I am and how much I love Jesus and how bad the world needs the Gospel, then maybe I can look at these people’s desperate needs and not see only an ISIS ploy.

“We should be careful, though,” caution says, parroting the words fear whispers. “We should be wise as serpents.”

Yes, let’s. Wise as serpents, we’re to be–but not actual snakes.

Intentional

Early this year, a click-bait style post came across one of the writing groups I follow. “This one notepad will get rid of all your productivity apps!” or something like that.

For whatever reason, I clicked and watched the introduction to the Bullet Journal (a.k.a. BuJo).

The system is intended to be minimalist: fast, easy, helpful for tracking what you’ve done, focusing your efforts now, and planning your future.

“Interesting,” I thought, and moved on with my mindless Facebook browsing. But then the concept kept bouncing around in my head. Soon I found myself looking at ideas in their blog posts, discovering co-workers who already follow the system, then looking through piles of new ideas posted to Facebook groups. The artistic versions caught my eye.

Also a set of colored pencils and pens appeared randomly, demanding use. (And I learned to make an origami bookmark, because reasons.)

One of the spreads I’ve seen in numerous Bullet Journals is the “word of the year,” something that captures a person’s intended focus area for attention or improvement. I liked the concept, but there are so many words! Who could choose just one to capture everything they really want for 2017?

I chose intentional as my word of the year, because of how often I find myself wasting time and energy on superficial garbage through lack of decisions or purposeful effort. For example: “I never have time to write, I’m sooo busy. I think I’ll take this hour to play phone games and scroll through Facebook some more.”

Googling images others have used to capture the idea of “intentional” resulted in two personal faves: a brick wall being built out of Lego, and a direction sign shaped with a pointed end. The bricks convey the idea of step-by-step effort toward any goal. Results don’t appear out of thin air, but usually out of doing the same, simple task over and over until it becomes easy. I liked the sign as a way of capturing motion in a chosen direction instead of flailing around aimlessly through life.

To incorporate both, I drew a brick wall with the pointed sign hanging on it. Over the year (or however long my journal lasts) I can incorporate new words that strike my fancy or contribute to a fuller picture of what I mean by intentional living.

img_2326
A more complicated BuJo is also a fun artistic outlet.

All of it goes back to my favorite verse right now: 1st Corinthians 9:26 (ESV) – “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” The Chinese translation puts it, “So I run not as one without a destination.”

I’m still digging into what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ll do a full intro / personal take on the process once I get my new journal set up and going. (The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 dot grid seems to be the most popular option.)

Anyone else BuJo? What spreads work for you? Let me know in a comment.

Cacophony

I’m enjoying an afternoon with the wifey at an on-base coffee shop. It’s built into the Airmen’s Club, as an off-shoot of the snack bar. They renovated a few months ago (or more?) and the atmosphere is usually perfect for a quiet relaxing coffee outing or for some focused writing.

That back corner screams “writing nook” in my mind.

The Club’s PA system is playing a steady stream of 80s and 90s music, stuff you might hear in any store. And the snack bar / coffee shop has their own music playing. Loudly.

I’ve got a lighthearted yet punkish rock song playing at a decent clip in three-four time with some heavy bass, and on the other side is Take a Chance on Me.

Sitting where I am, I’m right between both sounds and it’s atrocious. The snack bar’s music is loud enough that I’m pretty sure it can be heard anywhere in their section (kind of the point, I suppose). But regardless of the comfortable, cozy atmosphere of that picture, the sound is just wrong.

I’ll mention it to the managers. It makes everything seem off. Ever been in a place like this, where one easily corrected aspect ruins all the hard work that obviously went into the rest of the setting?

Calm Before the (self-inflicted) Storm

I regret not participating in BlogBattles or posting, but I am enjoying a week off of work and a relaxing vacation to Okuma, the beach resort at the north end of Okinawa.

img_2230
Here’s the view from the cabin porch. It’s ok, I guess…

Also my mother-in-law is here. At least that’s not a bad thing like the stereotypical joke might imply.

After this week, I jump back into a flying schedule with double the standard workload and none of the additional support to make it work. So work is going to be crazy for a good while. And I still have an office to run when we’re not in the air doing the mission.

On top of that, I go to my PT test next week knowing I’m doomed to fail based on gaining too much weight and too much waist over the last several months. I don’t have any excuses; I know that if I log everything I eat, hold roughly to the suggested caloric intake, and get a decent amount of exercise, I can pass the test. The diet is the biggest part of achieving success, and it’s tiring to live like that for months on end. So my next few months will be not just flying but incorporating more exercise while watching and logging every calorie.

On a more positive note, prep for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is in full swing, and I’ll be participating in that again this year. During November, people around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and 30th. That works out to 1,667 words a day, assuming life never gets in the way. I’ve been planning a story and a setting with a friend, and I’m ready to dive in. I’m also the Okinawa Municipal Liaison, one of four for all of Japan, which means setting up meetings, posting messages to all of the participants in the region, and trying to help the whole event go smoothly. I love doing this but it’s a workload.

More important than all of the above, I have a wife and four kids that deserve attention. I can’t just write and workout when I’m not flying. (But I can write while getting some light exercise on a bike or a walk on a treadmill, so that’s one way to kill two birds with one stone.)

So we’re making the most of this down-time. We built a fire at sunset and roasted marshmallows, after I grilled some dogs, burgers, and corn. Last night, my wife and I enjoyed some quiet time just chatting on the porch, enjoying the cool breeze.

We’ll build a fire tonight if the rain stays away. Swimming one more time is on the menu, as is cycling around the resort. If the rain gets bad, we have some card games to play — we might get to those anyway, since my middle son is begging for them.

And maybe I’ll get some writing done. My NaNoWriMo project isn’t going to prep itself.

Japan Living

My family and I have been fortunate throughout my military career, and one such blessing is that the Air Force has seen fit to station me in Japan for the vast majority of my 20+ years.

Japanese culture is amazing. Honor and courtesy matter a great deal. Service is valued and something people take pride in. Offering a tip at a restaurant, for example, is frowned upon. The workers know the quality of their product and their service, and they charge you for what is fair. They don’t need a tip as a bribe to put in good effort nor do they want you to feel like you have to help them out financially. (I’m probably vastly misunderstanding the reasoning behind this but the point is, you don’t tip like you would in the States.)

It sometimes seems like the treatment or culture that is too good to be true.

There are some downsides… Traffic laws are such that any accident is partly your fault even if it’s clearly entirely the fault of the other party. If you hadn’t been where you were, they wouldn’t have hit you, or so I guess the logic goes.

So when a landscaping crew’s high-power weed whacker accidentally launched a rock into my minivan’s passenger side window, shattering it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

whoops!

While stopped and waiting for the light to turn green, I certainly didn’t expect the sudden pop and Pssshh of crumbling safety glass falling into my car. I may have said something unkind to the worker who–back turned to me, oblivious to my plight and rage–continued trimming the plants on the sidewalk’s edge. His co-worker noticed, called his attention to the situation, and helped start a rough conversation involving contacting his manager’s secretary who thankfully is bilingual. On the phone, she apologized and said someone was coming to take a look. 

In the States, I could almost imagine getting the finger and being sent on my way to sort matters out on my own. I worried that, like a traffic accident, this might fall into some mystical category of “But did you not contribute to the damage to your vehicle by placing your vehicle at that intersection, at that exact moment?”

The company offered to repair the window, which I at least hoped would be the case. I was happy enough with that.

Then they offered to get me a rental car in the mean-time. 

They repaired the car in less than half the expected time.

Then they cleaned out my car and (I’m pretty sure) filled up the gas tank. 

They paid for the rental–or technically, I paid for it on my credit card then they paid me in cash.

And then the manager handed me another envelope that looked like money. With some help and laughter from the bilingual ladies at the car rental office, I found out this was “for dinner.” It was a 10K yen note, which is roughly $100. I mean, the minivan might indicate a large family, but still… That’s a pricy dinner!

It would have been rude to refuse, because this is another custom. When you make a grievous error or do someone harm, you apologize and bring a gift of some sort to smooth the relationship.

As I type this, the taco style brick-oven pizzas my family loves are being cooked, purchased with the “dinner” gift, to be enjoyed with a family movie. Not too shabby. 

(Okay, being honest: the teens will probably thieve some pizza, opt out of family time, and hide out in their rooms watching YouTube videos. Just because we live in Japan, that doesn’t mean everything changes from what you might expect in the States.)