I love gadgets and tools. I love my leaf blower and my cordless drill. I took my Instant Pot to the beach a few weeks ago. I’m eternally grateful for my refrigerator, washer and dryer, my laptop, Kindle, iPad, and camp stove. I love my kitchen gadgets too: my microplane, tea bag buddy, and rice cooker. I’m sure we all have favorite tools and gadgets.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about what’s important to you and what changes you’d like to make in your life. As I’ve been working through that series, I promised you a practical episode about the tools I use in pursuit of a better me. We’re actually going to spend a few weeks here. Your toolbox is really important. There are some key items you need to have available to be successful in making changes. This particular episode is actually the least important of the next three, but fun for gadget and tool loving people like me.
As we talk about these tools, something else you should know about me is that I love well-designed things. I’m also very tactile, so how something looks and feels matters a lot to me. I want to curate an environment filled only with things that I really love to use or to look at. Are all the things I’m going to talk about necessary? Nope. Are they the best options? Maybe. Maybe not. These are the things that I’m using right now. Your mileage may vary.
Let’s talk about planners. A million years ago, when I got my first real job and needed to be able to keep track of tasks and appointments, I began using the Franklin Covey planners and materials. I used them for years. They’re effective and useful. I don’t use them right now because they don’t fit my lifestyle. They don’t work as well for what I need. I’ve used an awful lot of different planners and systems since then. I mention that to explain that all of them are more effective than nothing and all are perfectly suited to someone. So, if my tools don’t appeal to you, just try something else until you find something that works perfectly for you.
Standard calendar-based planners don’t work well for me anymore because my life is really variable. Sometimes I need a daily calendar system and sometimes I don’t. So, all planners that are based on a calendar only get partially used and because I don’t need it all the time, I don’t carry it with me and so even when I would need it, I don’t have it along. Usually, around February or March, it becomes buried on my desk, never to be used again. If you need a calendar-based system, there are many to choose from.
Here’s what I do instead. I use a combination of a Google calendar, a journal, and a goal-planning system. I use Google calendar for appointments and long-term plans, like vacations. I check it every day and have it available on my phone. It’s with me all the time when I need it.
I got intrigued by bullet journaling a few years ago. I did a ton of reading, understood their philosophy, saw beautiful examples and decided to try it. Very quickly I realized there were things about it that made sense for me, but most of it did not. I do use my journal for to-do lists, brain dumps, tracking things, and daily calendars when I need one. But, I also collect notes, thoughts, lists (like books, I’ve read or art projects ideas). I use it to think through life questions. To brainstorm plans and to keep track of things I want to remember. I use it to get ideas out of my head so that I can move past them. In these activities, it more resembles a commonplace book than a planner. Commonplace books are typically collections of thoughts, ideas, recipes or things to be remembered that you might gather as you go through life. I do create daily calendar entries when I get especially busy and need to plan how to get everything done.
My journal of choice is a Leuchtturm1917. They have hard covers and come in a variety of sizes, colors and page styles. I use a medium size with a dotted page. I like them because I can choose a different color for each year – I tend to go through at least two per year. Last year was lime green, this year is emerald, which really is more like a seafoam green and reminds me of the ocean. I like the dotted pages because it gives me some guidelines without being as rigid as a graph or lined page.
But, the best part about them is that they have numbered pages and several blank tables of contents pages in the front. As I use pages, I can choose to enter them in the front with the page number or not. I don’t need to know where my daily calendar-type pages are, because once past, I shouldn’t need to reference them again so I don’t note those in the front. But, lists, plans or ideas pages…those I can enter on the contents pages and they’re much easier to find in the future when I need to reference them.
I’m also partial to colored pens. I’m an artist and love art supplies. When art and office supplies intersect, I’m even more of a sucker. So. I have a pen holder with a jillion colors of pens. My favorites for daily use are Pentel EnerGels in a variety of colors. If you do any research at all on bullet journaling, you’ll find beautiful, elaborate, lovely journals with colors, stickers, washi tape and gorgeous design. While mine has lots of ink color, it is not like that at all. Those journals are impressive. I love looking at them. But, my journals tend to be raw, messy, and not designed. You have permission to use your journal however you want. Other than one particular kind of entry, I use color completely randomly. I’m messy. My journal is a tool to keep my head and life organized so that I can do my art – live my life – out in the world. Many people’s journals are their art, and that’s a wonderful thing. But, they don’t have to be like that. Mine is definitely not.
Before I leave the topic of my journal, there are two things that I used to do in my journal that I’m separating out this year. I’m adding two other journals to my toolbox. One will be a book journal and one a sketchnote book. I read a lot and I read fast. Two years ago, I decided to read 100 books a year. I didn’t do it. Because I realized during that time that that’s a really bad goal for me. I was reading just to meet the goal. I wasn’t absorbing the information from the books the way I should. So, I’m planning this year to have a dedicated place…my book journal…to slow my reading down. I’m going to record the books I read and either take written or visual notes as I read or at a minimum write a synopsis and my thoughts about each book when I’m done. Instead of a particular quantity of books, my goal will be 30 minutes of reading a day with the note-taking helping me to absorb and apply the information. This journal will stay at home.
The other thing I want to separate out is a note-taking journal that will stay in my bag. I’ve started taking visual notes of speakers at workshops, sermons, and meetings and I want a different type of paper for that, so will be putting that into a separate journal with art paper.
That’s the practical everyday side of my tools. But, there’s a planning side too. I’ve tried a lot of different planning systems over the years, but my favorite right now is Lara Casey’s Powersheets. You can find out all about them and her philosophy at cultivatewhatmatters.com. The 2018 Powersheets are sold out (I know, I should have done this episode a month ago, right?), but you can always get the non-dated six-month version, it will work just as well. The powersheets mimic much of the planning approach that I have found to be effective in the past. They’re about cultivating the life you want. Lara has also written a few books, the most current is Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life.
The Powersheets are a really thorough, powerful planning system based on cultivating the kind of life you really want. It’s a planning system only, there’s no calendar in it. However, there are activity sheets for each month that help you figure out what you need to be doing each month. I highly recommend it. By the way, I don’t get anything from talking about these products, they’re just what I’m using right now.
One of the monthly activity sheets that I’ve found especially helpful in the Powersheets collection is the Tending List. It’s essentially a goal tracking list of daily, weekly and monthly goals for each month. I mention it because a daily habit tracker is something that I have always drawn into my journal each month. The things I track often change month to month, but I got tired of drawing the chart…it gets messy and always looks the same anyway. I don’t always have the powersheets with me and I usually track more things than the powersheets have space for. So, doing it there is kind of a pain. Instead of redrawing it every month this year, I decided to create a tracking chart document that I can print and tape into my journal. Then I don’t have to repetitively draw it and it looks neater. So, that’s what I’m doing this year and you can download a copy of it below if you like. It’s simple and functional and not cutesy or fancy…but, if you decide to track some habits in the new year, it might be helpful for you. You can print them off, cut them out and tape them in a journal or leave them as is and put them in a three-ring binder.
There are a few miscellaneous items I want to mention also. I add a pen loop to my journal and usually have one pen hooked to the outside of it (my pens don’t fit inside the loop well). Most of the pens I carry in a RusticTown pencil case. It’s a brown, vintage leather zippered roll and one of my most favorite things ever. The leather feels wonderful, it looks like a well-traveled vintage piece and I have about 12 colored pens and sketch pens in there right now.
Another random item I use is a chalk marker. I have a set of MooMoo Creative chalk markers and use them to write notes to myself on my bathroom mirror. In November, we write things we’re grateful for. Right now, my 5 commandments are on the mirror. It’s a good way to remind yourself of attitudes you want to have, quotes or verses you want to memorize or things you want to do or aspire to.
I’ll probably be mentioning these tools in the upcoming series on making lasting change and I wanted to give you an overview of them. You don’t need any of these to make changes in your life, but Leuchtturm journals, Pentel EnerGel pens, and Cultivate What Matters Powersheets are some of the tools I have in my toolbox. Tools I use to organize my head and my life.
What are your favorite tools?
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