Bullet Journals Arent Too Shabby

Pink journal, notebook

How do you organise your working notes?

Do you use Word docs, notepads or lots of pieces of paper? Or perhaps you use desk planners, whiteboards, wall calendars, big diaries, little diaries or the calendar on your phone or computer. There’s also the floor, the wall, the dog and anything you can stick Post-it notes to, or attack with a sharpie.

Keeping track can be a bloody nightmare.

Personally I’ve always wanted one of those clear stand-up walls that you see in those CSI type programmes – what the hell do you even call them? I Googled ‘clear stand-up perspex board for writing on like CSI’ and it came up with nothing. Nada. So I extended my search to include anywhere in the world and Google came up with instructions on how to actually make one! Yaas! It also had a link to the ACTUAL company that makes the real deal, the ones you see in the crime series … but it’s in America … and I seriously can’t afford one of those beauties.

markerboard Numbers

I will never understand the numbers, but would love a markerboard.

I just don’t have the room (or the cash), or believe me, I’d have one!

Anyway, I digress. Keeping track can be a pain.

I know some of my colleagues use online trackers, or excel spreadsheets.

Some use Toggl for tracking time, but I have a spreadsheet I’ve set up that works just as well. I just open the timesheet for the job I’m working on and with one click I start tracking my billable hours and I can see how long I’ve worked on a certain part of the project at a glance.

But what I’m talking about is the time-tracking that shows you what jobs you have lined up, where you are with each job and what you need to do each day, week or month.

Some people use Trello or Evernote and they look pretty good, if you like everything on the computer. But I spend ALL DAY on the computer. Honestly, some days I can be staring at a screen from 9 am–10 pm, not always working (no-one can work for that length of time) but always plugged in.

I need something physical, that I can carry with me, that I can touch.

And that’s where my newest fad comes in.

Everyone has heard of them by now, so it will come as no surprise to you that I have made myself a bullet journal.

image

My journal, at the beginning, when I had a week off.

If you haven’t heard of them, basically a bullet journal is a notebook that you customise with months, weeks and days, a bit like a traditional diary. But you put in the details that are most useful to you. I’ve got a section to see at a glance what work I have lined up, there’s a page or two for useful websites (you know, the ones you write down on the nearest envelope, which is promptly lost when you need it), and for writing ideas.

I know, I know … you’re probably thinking what I thought – duh, it’s just a diary with room for notes. But actually, the way you customise that blank notebook makes it useful to YOU. It’s yours to do with what you will, and you can customise it to get the most out of it.

It’s a stupidly simple idea. Someone just had to put a name to it to give us the newest productivity fad. That person was Ryder Carroll, and you can check out the system on his website.

Strangely enough though, it works and although I’ve only had mine since mid-January, it’s something I’m finding incredible useful. There are pros and cons though:

Pros of a bullet journal

  • Forget reaching for your laptop, your journal is right there beside you so you can quickly pick it up and see where you are, add notes, or just admire the colour (I picked a cheerful cerise for mine).
  • It unplugs you, even for a little while. It grounds you in the real world.
  • No more searching for bits of paper/envelopes/bills that you’ve written on. Everything can be put in your journal.
  • It’s more personal than a computer app. Pick a nice journal that appeals to you and set it out in a way that works for you. Use colour, or just a ballpoint. Use tape, stickers, ribbon bookmarks, doodle in it, write randomly in it, just make it yours.
  • Everything is all in one place. This, for me, is the most important. Instead of hunting for notes, to-do lists, my calendar, important things that I need to remember and work incoming and due dates, it’s all there in one little book. It organises my tired little mind.

Cons of a bullet journal

  • If you are hooked up to your phone you may have everything you need right there (it’s just not as pretty or tactile).
  • Forget about all the pretty bullet journal images you see on Pinterest. Seriously. Unless you are supremely arty, have a few days to play with it, or like to use lots of stickers and washi tape, you are never going to get it looking as nice as those YouTubers do.
  • You need to take time at the beginning to set out your journal and write bits in there. In our times of instant gratification this could get you annoyed (I dashed mine out and you can tell. It’s not pretty).
  • You start getting journal envy when you see all the lovely variations out there. If you’re a perfectionist you might want to throw it away and start again, to make it pretty, or more useful.
  • Unlike a computerised to-do list, once it’s written down it’s there. If you aren’t careful it can become a messy blob of coloured pen.

Whether you have a bullet journal or not, the most important thing is to be able to keep track of your work and your time. I just like the fact that it’s a notebook. I like notebooks.

I’m forever grateful to my colleagues for showing me this new shiny way of keeping up with my world, and for this Buzzfeed article for breaking it down for me.

Now that you’ve heard how useful they can be, why not watch the video by the master, and let Ryder show you how to make one:

Have you jumped on the bullet journal fad? Do you find it better than all the computerised bits and bobs or do you find it hard to pull away from the technology?

No Bullshit Please

cow, bull, bullshit

Last week I wrote about having a bad year.

It wasn’t a massively thought out post, it was just a ‘no bullshit’ scribbling when, being perfectly honest, I could think of nothing else to write about. But it turned into one of the most popular posts I’ve written in a while. Just like a lot of my other, similar, posts it resulted in feedback both on my website and through personal communication. It led me to the conclusion that people prefer a no bullshit approach to business and writing these days.

Colleagues and clients like honesty and authenticity.

But why be honest and open in my blog posts (attached to my business website) when it would be so much easier just to keep quiet? Isn’t it career suicide? I’d say no to that.

Reasons to be open and honest professionally:

bull head

It shows people you are real.

We are all human (mostly) so we like to do business with other humans. How many of you honestly like those auto DMs on Twitter? I’ll bet even if you use them (please don’t) you don’t like getting them. No one likes speaking to a robot unless they are in the cybernetics business (or sci-fi nerd like me). By keeping my blog real and by ‘talking’ to you I’m letting you into my world a little and we can hopefully build up a rapport.

bull head

It shows that life isn’t always rosy.

Unless we are supremely blessed in life things don’t always go the way we want. By writing an honest, no bullshit blog, I am happy to spread the love but also show things the way they are. Are people too frightened to say it like it is? Is it from fear of being seen as weak, as unprofessional or being afraid to show failure? Or is it the great British reserve? After 16 years as a freelance I know there are ups and downs and I’m not afraid to document it. Last year was bad, this year will be better.

bull head

It builds trust.

I much prefer to do business with people I know and trust, as I expect you do too. By writing honestly on my blog I can share tips and tricks with clients, help and inform fellow freelances (and learn from them too!) and show that I care about my work, my colleagues and my clients. I offer a bespoke service, and with this comes a level of professionalism that includes trust between myself and the client. So what if the client can see if I’m having a bad week (or a good one)?, they can also see that I never disclose confidential information and that I value my client list. As a genealogist I am privy to a LOT of potentially personal information, and as an editor I am allowed into my clients’ heads. If I thought for one second that my clients, or my colleagues, felt they couldn’t trust me I’d close my laptop on my work and walk away from it for good.

bull head

It helps others to feel they can share.

There is nothing worse than being a freelance, locked away from the world, with no one to talk to. Freelancing is isolating, it’s lonely as hell and it can lead to all sorts of problems – less of the ‘hey, I’ll ditch my job and live the high life’ please (yes, I’m looking at you, online journalists). I’m lucky that I found the SfEP, but before I was an editor my life as a genealogist, isolated at the top of Scotland, was a lonely one. I had no-one to talk to (this was before such things as online forums, although there were snarky email lists) and I may have been going slightly mad. Especially when armchair genealogists, spurred on by Who Do You Think You Are and the rise of internet resources, decided to stop paying for research and did it themselves because it was all ‘so easy’ (to get it wrong). If, by being honest and open, I can make just one person feel less alone then that is worth it in itself. And if I can let some fledgling editor realise that there is the SfEP, EFA (for those in the US) and others (here’s a handy links for those of you outside of the UK) who are there to offer friendship and advice, then that’s good too.

bull head

It’s just a no bullshit policy.

I’ve got a bullshit detector. I can smell it a mile off, just like I can usually tell if someone is on the level. And I know I’m not the only one. Why pretend? I really can’t stand websites that write about someone in the third person (when you just KNOW they’ve written it about themselves), or ones that say ‘aren’t I fabulous, hire me, I’m perfect’. Get over yourselves, no one is perfect. No one. Not even that gorgeous guy you idolised as a teenager who was perfect in your eyes. Perfection is a myth. I don’t ever want to offend anyone, I’m too nice for that, but I just say it as I see it. Hell, I’m in my late 40s, life’s too short kids!

blank face

Show them your face, not a professional mask

So there you go. Those are my reasons to be authentic, open and honest in business. If people judge you for being honest, that’s their problem not yours.

If you think you will lose business by being honest, ask yourself why. Ask yourself if you could work with that client anyway.

You don’t need to be brutal, and you don’t need a ‘tell all’ policy. We need to remain at least a little mysterious, and over-sharing is not cool (I really don’t need to tell everyone that I love all things paranormal and that I binge watch RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix).

If you are honest with yourself and with your clients, whether that’s on a blog or in your business communication, everyone can concentrate on just being themselves and you can concentrate on offering great service.

In Response To 2016

old books on a shelf

This year may very well be a make or break year for me.

Like all self-respecting freelances (or whatever we may call ourselves) I have a business plan. It’s a pretty loose plan if I’m honest, but it’s still there sitting in my work documents folder, silently brooding.

I look at it, tweak it, ruminate over it. Business plans are a map to our professional future, if we stick to them.

 

But no matter how much we stick to them, sometimes it just isn’t enough.

 

I never lie to myself, but I am often overly optimistic, and 2016 was a dire year no matter how I look at it. It’s not through lack of trying, but figures simply don’t lie. Last year was punctuated by a lot of what I call work avalanches – work is provisionally booked in, then it slides sometimes by a week, or two, or more. This year a fair few projects slid so far they didn’t materialise at all, or were put off by months. Leaving me with huge gaps that simply were not filled. And that means lack of income.

This last year I would have been better off getting a part-time job in our local Tesco. Seriously.

Now normally I try to keep upbeat when writing, but after the year from hell this post is a realistic one. It’s all about a promise to myself and I hope it may spur a few of you on to make promises to yourselves.

 padlocks, promise

This year I promise to:

 

  1. Market myself more. I hate marketing, everyone hates marketing. But it has to be done.
  2. Not be self-deprecating. I provide a valuable service and I will no longer say ‘it was nothing’. I have trained hard to be able to do what I can do and not everyone can do it.
  3. Be more assertive. I know I can be a pushover but I must work hard not to be.
  4. Do more of what I like and less of what I don’t. There are things I love doing, mainly copy-editing, writing and interior book design, which I will market more than my indexing.
  5. Concentrate on earning a decent living. I’ll be honest in that I don’t know how I’ll do it, but it has to be done.

 

I realised last month that I have been in the book business for thirty years. THIRTY YEARS! I started my librarianship degree in 1987. I have worked in archives, art libraries, and a marine laboratory library, and have been a university librarian and I’m still a genealogist. I copy-edit, proofread, index, write and design. What I do is valuable and the time has come to acknowledge that.

It’s tough when you look back on a bad year, and realise how bad it was. But, if anything, it must spur you on to make the next year better. I am lucky in that I have a wonderful support network of freelance colleagues – they are incredibly supportive and are there to give me a swift kick up the bum if I need it. So although 2016 was the year we would all like to forget, I know that 2017 will be better.

I will make it better by:

 

  1. Taking on some more professional development that will enhance what I already offer my clients.
  2. Continuing with my creative writing once I’ve finished my Advanced Creative Writing course. It’s true that the more you write for yourself, and the more you study writing, the more empathy you have with other writers. Sharing your creations is scary.
  3. Sticking by the promises I’ve just made to myself.

 

I’m positive for the year ahead, and have already adjusted my business plan for 2017.

If you are an author or publisher looking for someone to copy-edit for you, drop me a line and say hello.

If you are a freelance tell us in the comments below how are YOU going to make this year better if last year was a dud?

 

Let’s make 2017 great!