Journaling has become part of my routine for day-to-day pandemic survival.
It’s been a year since the pandemic upended life as we knew it.
At first, it made sense to buckle down, grit our teeth, and get through lockdown however we could. Remember when we thought this whole thing would only last a few weeks? *le sigh*
Of course, we now know this is a long-term problem requiring long-term solutions.
You might be surprised to hear that one of my solutions has been bullet journaling. Bullet journaling has become part of my routine for day-to-day pandemic survival.
Last spring, I wrote a guide for managing depression and chronic pain during quarantine. That guide focuses on creating and implementing a daily routine that nurtures your mental wellness and physical health.
Think of this BuJoy article as a companion piece to that guide: a way to track and manage that daily routine.
All you need to get going is a blank journal — preferably dotted — and a pen.
Open to a blank page in your bullet journal, or BuJo, and give it a heading that feels right to you.
Here are some suggestions:
- lockdown stuff
- things to work on
- how to feel safe in an unsafe time
It can be simple. It can be complicated. It can be full of dorky puns that make you laugh. You can even title it “This is stupid, but some internet writer made me do it.”
I don’t mind! The only rule is it needs to work for you.
Under your title, make a list of what you want to focus on. For me, this looks like:
This list is simply a brain dump. There are no right or wrong answers. And writing an idea down does not mean you have to commit to doing it. Ideas are not mandates, merely suggestions.
I like to break this list into categories, like:
- mental health
- health habits
You can do this, or keep it all in one general list.
My example of a brain dump is below. You’ll note that my hand lettering is far from perfect, like how messy and crowded the “s” in household is.
Luckily, it’s not about perfection, it’s about getting your ideas down. Embrace your mistakes and focus on quantity over quality — even if some ideas feel stupid or embarrassing. You don’t have to act on every idea.
As Jack Donaghy of “30 Rock” says, there are no bad ideas in brainstorming.
Review your list and determine what’s most meaningful to you. Don’t just pick the easy stuff. Challenge yourself to pick at least one area that feels overwhelming or out of reach.
The idea is to reduce that overwhelmed feeling by taking small, manageable steps to help you reach your goal.
I recommend picking three, because I’m a big fan of the Most Important Tasks strategy for list making.
You can focus on more or less, but try to keep it around two to five goals. If you take on too much, it’s difficult to give each goal the proper attention, Plus, you’ll be more likely to get overwhelmed and give up.
I’ve added a heart next to the three things I want to focus on right now: daily meditation, cross stitching, and framing the box of art prints currently gathering dust in my closet.
With your top three tasks in mind, start reflecting. Ask yourself:
- Why is it important for you to get into a routine of [X]?
- What held you back from following through in the past?
- What are you worried might go wrong?
- How can you stay accountable to yourself?
Devote one to three pages to this, either in your BuJo or in a separate notebook.
When you feel like you’ve written enough, step away for at least a few hours. Do some work, watch TV, take a nap, call a friend, or walk your dog.
It doesn’t matter what you do, just make sure that you aren’t obsessing over what you just wrote. Set a time to go back to your reflection page(s), whether that’s in a couple of hours, 2 days, or a week. Then go back and read what you wrote.
Highlight or underline what jumps out to you. Whatever your answers were, let them guide you in your next steps.
When you know your “whys,” it’s time to focus on your “whats.”
Keep intending to start meditating, but it never gets crossed off your to-do list?
Make a commitment to do it every day for a set timeframe. In my experience, 30 days is a great starting point. It’s a significant commitment without being too extreme.
It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit.
If you want to really geek out about the science behind forming habits, I recommend the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” It’s full of useful anecdotes and research about how and why habits — both good and bad — are formed.
To start, pick one challenge. Maybe you want to try a month of not drinking alcohol, 30 days of yoga, or a week of daily meditation.
You could also make a year-long, monthly tracker, like reading every day for a year. I’m working on that exact challenge in 2021, and included my tracker below.
I stylized this tracker to look like a shelf of books, because it makes me smile. Your tracker can look however you want it to.
What would be motivating and enticing for you? For me, it’s pretty colors and washi tape. For you, it might be minimalism or pasted-in images. To get more inspiration, check out Instagram or Pinterest.
Extra credit: Make a daily routine tracker
If you’ve already established regular routines or habits, or if you’re feeling especially motivated, you can take this a step further.
Instead of tracking one thing, you can track your entire daily routine.
Every day I aim to do all of these tasks:
- meditation through the Calm app
- 10 minute trigger point self-massage
- clear my inbox
- take a walk
- drink plenty of water
Do I do all of these things every day? Heh, I wish. But tracking these tasks gives me an idea of what’s possible — and what’s not.
So far, my suggestions were of the responsible, grown-up variety: meditating, exercising, reading.
Don’t forget to make time for recreation, too.
Physical distancing reduces the spread of COVID-19, but it also leaves us isolated. You may be longing for concerts, in-person shopping, or coffee with your bestie.
Try making a list of all the things you miss. Pick your top three, and then brainstorm alternatives. Here are some examples:
- Missing the exhilaration of live music? Try searching YouTube or archive.org for live recordings of your favorite bands.
- Pining for the camaraderie of group fitness classes? Try ClassPass, Joyn, or YogaAnytime for subscription-based online classes geared toward various fitness levels and goals. For free options, try YouTube or podcasts.
- Longing for the shared laughter of moviegoing? Get the TeleParty Chrome extension (formerly known as Netflix Party), which lets you virtually watch movies with friends. It syncs your video, features an integrated group chat, and works with multiple streaming platforms.
Take advantage of extra time at home by diving into all those TV shows and movies you’ve been meaning to watch. If you’re into lists, you can keep a record of everything you watch, albums you listen to, and books you read.
You can also make lists of things you want to watch and read. For the past 2 years, my husband and I tracked every movie in a shared Google Keep list.
Not only is it a fun little time capsule, but it fills my neurotic, list-loving brain with glee.
Gratitude lists emerged as a popular self-help tool in the past few years. They can be a great way to shift your thinking or mood, especially if you’re experiencing loss or loneliness in the pandemic.
Even if the last year has been an unending series of bad, demoralizing, devastating, depressing ugliness — actually, especially if the last year has been all those things — a gratitude list can help ground you and improve your mood.
Get started with these steps:
- Open a new page in your BuJo or separate notebook to start your list.
- Put some extra love into making this page pretty: Use washi tape or fancy pens to make it appealing to you.
- Decide how often you want to contribute to your gratitude list. Daily? Weekly? As needed?
Pro tip: A good time to make a gratitude list is when you’re feeling particularly sad or angry. Remind yourself what’s good in your life, such as:
- loyal friends
- a potential job opportunity
- the roof over your head
- a cuddly pet
- your family
- your favorite book
There are no limits or rules to your gratitude list. You can be grateful to be alive.
You can be grateful for something that happened to you 10 years ago. You can be grateful for a bottle of delightful-smelling soap. You can be grateful that “The Simpsons” has been on the air for 32 years.
Always remember that your BuJo is for your eyes only. There’s no wrong or right when listing, tracking, or doodling in this nifty planner.
It’s been a rough year, and we don’t yet know when things will ease. Though the effects of the pandemic vary from person to person, we’ve all been affected in some way.
Even if you’re gainfully employed, robustly healthy, or live with someone you adore, remember that you’re still experiencing an unprecedented and destabilizing global crisis. It’s okay to not be okay.
Taking time every day to focus on yourself and tend to your mind and body is good. It’s not too late to form good habits, and you’re not too old to break bad habits.
I hope that whatever you’re doing to get through the pandemic, you’re healing and finding hope. I may not know you, but I do believe in you. Feel free to roll your eyes at my sentimentality. I get it: I’m a big sappy dork.
You’re going to get through this pandemic, and you might even emerge with a healthy new habit or two.
Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living in Portland, Oregon. The light of her life is her corgi Vincent. Learn more about her on her website.