Category Archives: General

Toward a New Normal

To those who faithfully or even occasionally visit this page, thank you.

This is less a “Why I haven’t been posting” blog and more of an update on my personal life for those who value that sort of thing.

I’ve spent some time juggling and reevaluating where all my efforts are going, so I thought I should post an update to projects I’m involved in and commitments I am pursuing, as so much of my life is currently in flux. Most of these changes come from one primary cause:

In the next three months, I will retire from active duty in the United States Air Force after 24 years of service. 

All the chaos of the ever-changing flight schedule with my squadron won’t be a factor anymore. I’ll have a relative stability to my future planning that I haven’t known for a long time. My wife jokes that every appointment or get-together we plan has an asterisk next to it, with the caveat “unless the flight schedule changes.” That will be a thing of the past… and I don’t think I’ll miss that part at all.

We finally get to focus more on family matters. While I’ve had it pretty good as far as not having to deploy repeatedly for months or years, I’m excited to think I can be around more for the time and activities my wife and children desire.

Right now, I have a couple job opportunities that will enable me to continue supporting my military friends and squadron family in some capacity, which thrills me. I’ve seen our squadron crush a demanding and ever-changing mission even when we ramped up to more than double our usual workload. The number of operational sorties is never going to decrease, so any way that I can help keep some aspect of squadron life a little more together is exciting to me.

Meanwhile (and starting next week), I will be more involved in music ministry than I have been in the last ten years. While I love filling in and helping out at local church services or gatherings, I haven’t found a reliable, recurring need, until a month ago, when an opportunity dropped into my inbox out of the blue.

I’ll be performing every week as a contracted musician for the Contemporary Worship Service on Kadena, and while I’m excited and passionate about that, it comes with a learning curve as I learn to work with the Choir Director and look for ways to fulfill the chaplain’s vision for a service that is on a restricting schedule (sandwiched between Catholic masses).

I’m excited about this because having an upcoming worship service in mind on a regular basis usually keeps my attention and thoughts on grace and the Gospel more than the garbage and glitz that beckon from everywhere else in life.

Additionally, the band is full of amazing talents both on vocals and on their chosen instruments, so I’m eager to jam with old friends once more.

In the writing world, I have a number of friends who routinely ask me about Book Two of my fantasy novels, and I don’t want to keep letting them down. I also have a number of projects incubating in OneDrive files and Scrivener folders into which I would love to invest time and effort.

The local writing group has really become that critique group I always wanted, with a core group of four writers sharing chapters every other week.

NaNoWriMo 2018 is rapidly approaching, and that has been a fantastic experience for me every year I’ve done it. I will continue working as a Municipal Liaison for Japan – specifically Okinawa. While I don’t know how much of a chance I’ll have at cracking 50,000 words in the month of November, I will be able to facilitate and support regular meetings and ‘Come Write In’ events for those who can pour words onto the page.

Additionally, infrequent but recurring events like BlogBattle give me a chance to write something disconnected from bigger projects, so I’ll probably continue posting Grant & Teagan stories once a month at a minimum.

My experience with tabletop roleplaying games has shown me that it’s a wonderful opportunity to gather friends around a table for laughs, snacks, excitement, and fun. I’ve got a growing list of co-workers and friends who express interest in an ongoing campaign, but I have barely been able to keep the one group I’m running going.  On top of that, I have a few settings and two or three systems I really want to run. (BattleTech… D&D 5E Curse of Strahd… those 5E Lord of the Rings setting books…)

Once my schedule finds smooth air and level flight, I’m looking forward to arranging some gaming groups where I can commit to bringing my best to the table.

Maybe I can finally work out some opportunities to be a player as well. There’s nothing like being a Storyteller or Dungeon Master (or whatever your chosen system calls that role)… but it’s nice to be on the other side of the screen sometimes and react to the game without knowing what’s lurking beyond the next fork in the road.

In other words, all of this mess of conflicting interests and passions will still be simmering in the crock pot of my life, but the sliders for various activities and priorities are going to shift a lot in ways I don’t fully know just yet. All of this adds up to a lot of reasons to say, “No, sorry” to things I might otherwise enjoy or participate in, especially in the short-term.

I appreciate your thoughts, encouragement, friendship, prayers, and any other support you might offer during this period of instability.

An Invocation of Connection

Invocation: the act or process of petitioning for help or support; specificallyoften capitalized a prayer of entreaty (as at the beginning of a service of worship)
– Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

After a quick introduction, almost every military ceremony officially begins with the National Anthem (plus the anthem of the host nation when stationed overseas), followed immediately by an invocation or prayer, usually offered by a chaplain.

“Let us pray.”

Though we gather, often in the same uniforms, adhering to the same standards, sworn to the same commitment of service to the same nation, these three well-intentioned words can sometimes create a divide when we should be united in celebration.

The religious will bow their heads in reverence, and no doubt a good many people with no particular faith will go along with what they deem a harmless gesture. However, more and more, there are a group of servicemembers who hold no faith or spiritual belief and find themselves staring ahead, waiting for the actual content of the ceremony to begin. They stand in silence, ignoring what feels like a strong nudge of “official” religion… perhaps making furtive eye contact with and recognizing like-minded individuals.

Look at this amazing, lifelike image of an invocation in progress which I totally didn’t make in five minutes in MS Paint!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the purpose of a ceremony is to honor an individual, such as retirement from military service, that person has a huge say in how their event will take place… including whether or not to begin with an invocation. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a few ceremonies begin without one. Some people feel no need for a religious gesture, and that’s understandable. After all…

What would a non-believer “pray” for? 

Religion or no, we have a shared humanity–a connection of experience and interdependence. By definition, no one gathers by themselves. Honoring and celebrating achievements is best done by others, not oneself.

With all the bustle and distraction of modern life, an invocation doesn’t have to be a call to worship or a prayer for help from the Divine. Instead, it can be a means of reminding all present of the meaning behind the moment, the sense of community within our diversity, the shared purpose represented by the proceedings.

Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of delivering an invocation for the retirement of a dear colleague and friend. As a believer, prayer seems pretty normal… but I haven’t offered a non-religious invocation before, nor do I recall ever hearing one given.

Figuring out what to say without suggesting that everyone bow their heads or close their eyes took a few moments, but when I thought of my friend and his impact on our unit, the words flowed freely.

I later discovered that there are in fact some secular invocations online. (That middle link even has some invocations given by a David Williamson. That’s not me! How unexpected!)

Even so, I offer a modified version here that can be easily adapted to a retirement ceremony:

(UNIT or ORGANIZATION) family and friends, let us pause for reflection.

On this momentous occasion, in this beautiful location, we gather to honor the service, dedication, and bond of friendship we share with (RANK NAME).

We take this moment to reflect with gratitude on our time spent with (NAME)  – for a constant smile that softened the frustrations of difficult days, for a wise voice that offered rational perspective to challenging issues we faced, for a bright light of joy in spite of the myriad stresses and struggles to which aircrew life is prone. (1)

We take this time to honor (NAME’S) sacrifices and steadfast devotion, and we celebrate the impact of his career on so many present and distant in our community. We draw inspiration from his example spurring us toward better action and deeper passion for excellence in our own service, in all the varied capacities to which we are called.

We rejoice at the blessing of companionship we’ve enjoyed, and cheer as (RANK NAME) now crosses this finish line. It turns out that things will, in fact, ease up. (2) 

As he moves forward to a much more relaxed pace – probably set to a Jimmy Buffett tune (3) – we express our shared hope that he and (NAME OF SPOUSE / PARTNER)  will enjoy the rewards and satisfaction so deserved for all their effort to advance the cause of the Air Force, and his contributions to the grand endeavor of manned reconnaissance. (4)

Family and friends, thank you for sharing this moment.

Naturally, you’ll have to change pronouns and such. (Seriously though… people forget this all the time in drafts for awards and citations.)

1 – Be specific about a few qualities for which the individual is known and appreciated. We’re a flying unit with dynamic needs and a demanding schedule, so my friend’s great personality helped ease that stress.

2 – Make the speech personal to the organization as well. Our unit has an old joke from the Vietnam War era, where someone in charge promised that “Things will ease up.” Now we’re working harder than ever.

3 – My friend is a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, and I totally see his retirement plan as a lounge chair on a beach with a margarita in hand. This invocation is about connection;  personal touches and laughs will help.

4 – Capture the broad overview of what the individual has done. It should feel like breaking the tape at the Boston Marathon.

A Year of Bullet Journal: Lessons Learned

“This one notebook will make you delete all your productivity apps,” the clickbait headline promised. It came from a writers’ group, so it couldn’t be all bad…

So began my Bullet Journal experience about a year ago.

Side jaunt: What is a Bullet Journal?

A Bullet Journal is a paper brain that never forgets, so that your real one doesn’t have to juggle so many reminders, priorities, and worries. When followed, Ryder Carroll’s system is quick, easy, and efficient at what it’s designed to do: track what you’ve accomplished, record what goes on throughout the day, and assist future planning.

Today’s notes, events, tasks, and questions are recorded as they happen. At the end of the day, unfinished business is evaluated based on “Is this worth my time in the future?” If so, it gets migrated to the next day or scheduled for a later date. Notes about upcoming events feed into the monthly calendar, which also feeds back into the new day to assist with planning one’s schedule and efforts. Notes taken today can also be added to pages set aside for certain projects or areas of responsibility–a page dedicated to writing, perhaps, or to a list of references and rules for a program at the office. The brief few minutes of planning in the morning and reflection in the evening are crucial to making the system work as designed, but other than that, there’s no significant commitment.

As originally designed, it’s minimalist. However, it’s also individualized and customizable. The Bullet Journal website has links to a variety of blogs and videos with advanced options people can incorporate. Some are elaborate and artistic, others are crisp and functional, but all are optional.

Don’t be fooled by Pinterest-perfect pages and Instagram-worthy layouts. No one needs 50 water-based Stabilo pens and mild-liners, nor is a degree in art required. You don’t have to buy a special notebook from a German company or the Bullet Journal site store in order to make the best use of the system… though I do like the dot-grid pages.

Over the course of the year, I went from artistic to… we’ll say “thrifty with my time.”

Pros: The basic system works great at what it’s designed to do.

  • I tracked a bunch of tasks, events, and projects throughout the year–professional work, personal stuff, and random things.
  • I had a personalized schedule that covered my days, month, and year–and it wasn’t tethered to my phone or wi-fi access (I work in a facility where I can’t have those things on hand).
  • I expressed my creative side while keeping the system fast and effective.
  • I can review everything I invested my time in over the last year.
  • More importantly, notes of fond moments and special experiences with my wife and kids bring those memories back.
  • Tracking efforts, habits, and tasks revealed several times when parts of my life went off-course.
  • I invested positive energy into my journal, which fueled me later when I needed it.

Cons: Anything I tried beyond the basics fell apart over time through neglect.

  • For the first half of 2017, I used a bunch of artsy spreads and habit trackers I’d seen online. That turned into more work than it was worth for me.
  • Looking back, I find several pages half-filled with material on particular projects or areas of interest. I didn’t go back to those and put them to use like I thought I would.
  • I had a great many lofty ideas which never came to fruition. “I’m going to read all these books… I’m going to write these other books… I’m going to document my daily word count… I’m going to fill up this list with songs recorded and posted on my Facebook page…”
  • If I wasn’t working at the office, it was easy to ignore the Bullet Journal. My holiday weekends are often blank gaps in my daily entries.

As you might guess from the above lists, the pros far outweigh the cons. In fact, part of the benefit of a journal or tracker system like this is seeing where efforts go half-finished or forgotten, and deciding if those efforts are worth continued investment. I could argue that some of my cons are the system showing me exactly what it’s supposed to about my actual commitments and priorities.

All told, my Bullet Journal experience has been positive. It’s a beneficial tool I will continue using for years to come.

Want information on how to set one up or adapt the system to your needs? Give yourself a Christmas present of better organization and time management. Start here.

A Bright Future

Netflix released Bright starring Will Smith the other day (Dec 22nd), and I found some unexpected free time today where a 2-hour movie could fit.

Vanity Fair reviews Bright here
“Be nice if you could do some of that magic $#!+ right about now…”

The above image comes from Vanity Fair, who are far less flattering in their review than me. I might be biased, wanting a movie like this to work more than I care about whether it deserves a place in a cinematic hall of fame.

Here are my spoiler-free thoughts:

Bright is a good movie–not amazing, not without some obvious faults–and I look forward to more of this fresh setting and novel concept.

I say “novel” because I can’t think of a modern fantasy movie that’s worth its entry fee. In books, video games, and tabletop RPGs, modern fantasy has long been a thing. Shadowrun springs to mind, though Bright lacks the cyberpunk flair.

Pros: Will Smith is Will Smith. He can’t help but shine. I already mentioned the novelty of the setting, but I like that they pointed to a history they didn’t bother to fully explain. It feels more like a real world that way, and the few times they slipped exposition into the dialogue didn’t feel too painful or forced. Bright touches on the expected themes: racism, privilege, tensions between communities and police forces. For the most part, I think it does this believably and effectively. The action is entertaining, a nice mixture of magic and gunfire. Most of all, Bright scratches an itch I didn’t know I had and makes me want another installment without leaving big questions unresolved. It’s almost like a good pilot for a series, and instead, you’ll get another sequel with Will Smith and presumably the rest of the main characters.

Cons: It felt like a really slow build. I didn’t really care about what was happening until a good half-hour in. Some of the “reveals” felt all too obvious and expected. You’re probably going to call a few things as soon as you realize they are part of a subplot, and you’ll be right. I guess it IS fantasy so certain things are going to go the main characters’ way, or else we wouldn’t be reading about them. This is Tolkien in the modern world, not Game of Thrones… not that Tolkien is a bad thing, but I know it’s not what some people want. Somehow our heroes survive fights with creatures that can breeze through LAPD SWAT teams. The villains felt a little hammy and made some really stupid decisions–or failed to take action when they should have. (Kill your foe, don’t gloat.) Finally, either magic is relatively tame unless you have sweet gear, or nobody really unloaded their magic skill… and I have no way of knowing which is the case.

None of that detracted enough to make me regret watching, and I heartily recommend a viewing. However, I’ll caveat that with…

Bright is definitely for mature viewers. Depending on your taste in films, you might balk at the strong language throughout the film, or the frequent graphic violence, although the latter is more tame than what makes it to the big screen. The characters do enter a strip bar at one point and breasts are shown.

My two cents. Your mileage may vary.

If you watched it, what do you think? Let me know how wrong I am in the comments section.

Life’s a Beach

How to Run a Navy Recreational Facility:

Congratulations! You’ve now assumed responsibility for and management of the fabulous White Beach Naval Getaway. It’s a proud location with a rich history, and not much else—you’re going to love it. Here are some pointers, some dos and don’ts to get you started on your adventure serving customers as a Navy Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facility manager.

First, keep in mind that the customers are probably mostly sailors. They’re used to a level of suck that you and I don’t put up with in our day-to-day lives, so when you need to cut corners and save some money, don’t hesitate to take it out of services you provide your guests.

In fact, if you’re honest, you’ll quickly learn that needy, whining guests are the cause of most of your headaches. They’re always wanting stupid things like someone to answer the phone at the Reservations desk, or to be there when it’s time to check in. You don’t actually have to put someone there all hours of the day; after ten or twelve unanswered rings, most customers stop calling.

Email is another dangerous means by which customers will contact you. Not only will they try to use the Reservations mailbox—they might contact your staff members directly. Here’s a pro-tip: no one has to actually read anything customers send. For example, when a customer mentions a problem with one of your required forms and asks for help, ignore that part and send them a six-word email to tell them you still need that signed form. Three exclamation points should convey the right professional sentiment.

Occasionally one gets through to reserve a room. That’s where your fun begins! People will show up expecting something like a hotel room or typical lodging experience, with basic provisions like soap, TV programming, or Internet access. Maybe something as simple as paper towels. You’ll save money and channel more customers to the overpriced mini-mart if you don’t provide standard accommodations. Kill two birds with one stone–after you squeeze some blood out of it.

It’s not really up to you, but if you can help it, make sure there are swarms of ants everywhere guests might go—zigzagging across the walkway leading up to the door, marching in columns up the doorframe, wriggling into the room, running on the walls, climbing on the couch or the bed or the people on those pieces of furniture. Don’t ever mention this—it’s part of the excitement of “roughing it” that guests obviously expect from a Naval Getaway. We have some standards to uphold, and they are low. You’ll do great.

This will be a great pic for the safety brief when I fall off this 15 foot wall…

When you advertise services, here’s a neat trick: don’t give specific details like hours or days of availability. At the check-in desk, for example, we’ve placed a convenient ad for breakfast in the solitary restaurant—which is really just a bar that also serves a variety of greasy food. Let the customers see that and plan for breakfast, then surprise them in the morning with locked doors and darkened rooms. “That’s just on Sunday,” you can explain, with a shake of the head and a condescending tone. Moments like that give you a chance to vent frustration while also channeling customers to the Subway stand—it’s good for everybody! They’ll serve up a freezer-aisle-style breakfast sandwich, “toasting” the frozen meat on top of the bread to keep it soggy and soft—easy on the gums!

When asked if everything is open, say yes, but mean no. For example, the beach is “open” but you can post signs with big red letters warning swimmers, “Jellyfish, swim at own risk.” They might see the enclosed pool across the street and think, “That’s okay, I’ll swim there.” That’s when you can spring the news on them that the swimming pool is closed… like the cable and Internet service in all the cabins. Be sure to remind them of all the ways they can incur additional fees, though, as this is valuable information—unlike interruptions of expected service you advertise as available.

You can throw guests a bone and place complimentary Keurig coffee next to the posted warning about lead in the water—you might help someone kick the caffeine habit! Now you’re paying it forward.

You’re off to a great start thus far, but there are still more corners to cut. Housekeeping workers shouldn’t actually have to scrub the shower clean; a slimy floor can be a fun adventure. A little dirt on the toilet seat never hurt anyone either, so you can leave those weird stains to set into the plastic. If you don’t put light fixtures into the shower, people will only use the water in the daytime instead of running up the electrical bill during the night. You know what would be a good thing to have in the shower? A towel to dry off while still getting sprayed. That’s why we feature a conveniently placed towel rack on the inside of the shower door.

On top of that, as long as there are no visible stains, bed sheets can totally be reused by multiple sets of guests. A stray hair or two in the already-made bed can be the source of fun contemplation as your tenants sort out the mystery of how it got there and what they might be sleeping in.

Beyond that, the little details and subtle touches are what separates your Naval Getaway from all the other available options. Ideally, your ceiling tiles should have a variety of shades ranging from peppered grey with mold or dust, to water-stained brown at the edges, to gleaming white like new. Think of it like a mosaic, and raise the price of your artistically designed and decorated cabin.

Griping aside, the views here really are quite lovely.

Armed with these ideas as a foundation, you’re ready to lead this facility into a mire of mediocrity… which is good in its own way. Even if customers don’t repeat their visit, the advertising and the panoramic vistas will still lure in enough unsuspecting sots to fleece. Striving to be the best on island would waste a lot of time, effort, and resources. Someone has to come in last place, and it might as well be you.

Beach Day

The clouds streak across the grey sky, obscuring the sun’s light if not its heat. Sea-birds squeal and call as they glide over the wide patch of coral-studded sand. Purple flowers pop in the clusters of green leaves that form a line to separate the grass from the advancing beach. The waves rumble at the shore in a soft rhythm like a drum swell to fill the silence every few seconds. And I sit on the cabin porch in the thick. humid air, looking over the scene when I’m not staring into the darkness behind my eyelids. 


This is a day “off” from work, the one full day of a visit to the resort at the north end of the island. I’m on leave from military responsibilities, though they still hover over my mind like a swarm of the mosquitos and gnats that nip at my exposed skin. 

Work duties may be on hold, but that doesn’t mean their voices remain silent. One of my programs requires more attention–something unimportant but neglected too long. Mysteries and technical difficulties loom over one of my aircrew duties–and another program that falls under my purview. We’ve asked for aid and channeled our questions in the right direction, so now we wait for additional details. I have personal responsibilities calling for attention, and my transition to retirement, put off as somewhere forever down the road, approaches next year with the inexorable passage of time. 

The waves crash in their unchanging pattern, one after another–splash… splash… splash…

“Later,” I tell the myriad concerns. “It’s a beach day. I’m taking a day off. You should too.” 

I hear their laughter as they continue their slow, constant pace. 

Commitments pepper my mind like a nagging wife, while my actual wife sits on the porch with me, chortling and giggling at hilarious videos on her smartphone. The woman I love is happy that I have this time to relax, happy that I have no timetable or schedule or task calling for my attention. “You probably need this,” she said as we made ourselves comfortable in our home for a day and a half.

I need to get caught up on weeks of writing courses I’ve neglected. I need to keep up with planning for the National Novel Writing Month events kicking off this week. I have to post something to a blog I’ve ignored for weeks, or perhaps finish one of a half-dozen drafts and concepts I’ve jotted down in various notes.

We snack on sandwiches of turkey and Colby-jack, food brought from home since everything on the resort is so pricy. I look over the groceries in the kitchen—more than we need—and the gym duffel full of too many clothes for the short stay. 

We dragged plenty of bags into the cabin last night, a couple pieces at a time, one trip after another from the minivan.

I always seem to bring too much. “What if we need this? What if we want that tomorrow?”

Urgent news from home occupies my thoughts. My mother is in the hospital, and needs a pacemaker. I’m on the other side of the world, unable to do anything but pray and wait for news. Suddenly some of the “important” things in life lose a little bit of their precedence. 

Wave after wave, worry after worry, tiny little turmoils and troubles that fill the background noise.

My smallest son, age six, proudly displays his catch–this time a water bottle full of hermit crabs, scrabbling and scratching over each other trying in vain to find freedom. “They can’t live in there, honey,” Mom tells him. “You need to let them go.”

“Oh,” he says with barely a tinge of disappointment. He dashes off in the direction of the repetitive rumble and disappears behind the slope of sand that leads down to the water’s edge. The concerned parent in me knows that his older brothers are looking out for him, watching to make sure he doesn’t go too deep or too far into the blue water.

To be young and fearless once again… but that would mean forgetting the truth: some concerns and fears are protective, instructive, the result of experience or maturity, an acknowledgement of reality. Some worries are voices to which we do well to listen.

The buzz of cicadas fills the air, and the noise of the sea dies down. The slight breeze falters, gives up, as if the oppressive humidity is too much to push through. The children return, their hearts light, their voices loud and silly. Water rushes from a hose to sweep away the sand, and then it becomes a puddle in which they splash and play while “drying off.” 

It’s a beach day, a day of rest, free from concerns and cares. We’ll roast marshmallows and make s’mores over a bonfire at sunset, then wonder in awe at the array of stars filling the night sky. In the periphery of our attention, in the background of my mind, the waves will continue their perpetual, rhythmic chant.

“Tomorrow,” I’ll tell them, like I always do… and they’ll laugh as they rumble ashore, one after another after another. 

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.