I’m a control freak.
Some say it’s because I’m passionate. Others say it’s because I’m neurotic. My mom would say it’s probably a mix of the two. Whatever the reason, the fact is that I have “zero chill.” I’m constantly trying to have it all—all meaning all of the travel, adventures and social engagements necessary for a perfectly curated Instagram feed along with all of the success in writing, in school, and in my career to earn the praise of my friends and family. My pursuit of this “perfect” life has led me to live my life at a hundred miles an hour.
However, when I moved to Texas and started my first full time job, the usual pace of my life became unsustainable. I was in a new state, working in a new job, attempting to navigate an unfamiliar world surrounded by unfamiliar people. I no longer had enough hours in the day to go out, keep in touch with friends back home, explore, write, keep up with the demands of my job, and take care of myself. I was overcome with anxiety at being unable to maintain the speed at which I had always lived my life, and was unable to adjust to the twists and turns of my job in the ways I was able to as a student. I was becoming forgetful, unreliable, inflexible, and inconsistent, and, as someone that has a freakish need to be in control of everything and to be efficient at everything, I found myself overwhelmed and resentful of my inability to efficiently control my own life.
My anxiety manifested itself in mood swings and anti-social tendencies. Some days I would be excited about the opportunity to find solutions to the unexpected challenges of my job, while on other days I would be overcome with panic at the prospect of facing those same challenges. I withdrew from my friends and withdrew from my writing—the two things that had always been my source of emotional support—and, soon, I was unable to recognize myself.
After months of feeling overwhelmed by my to-do lists and constantly feeling like I was two steps behind in my professional and personal life, I realized I needed a new approach to how I tackled my responsibilities.
I’d read a lot about Bullet Journals online, but I felt that I wouldn’t be able to put the time in to create one and maintain one. Why would I handwrite and create a planner with time-consuming, seemingly impossible Pinterest-worthy layouts when I could just buy a planner that is all laid out for me? However, after finding five different notebooks for five different parts of my life in my backpack (along with multiple sticky notes with random, unfinished to-do lists), I decided to at least try consolidating the mess of my life into one single journal.
In true control-freak fashion, I spent hours planning and creating my Bullet Journal to make sure each page was perfect and that I made space for all of the things I could possibly want to include in an all-in-one journal. I wrote down all of my appointments and meetings for the upcoming week, along with an immensely long to-do list that felt impossible to complete in a week’s time. Given how time-consuming the process was, I began to doubt that this would do anything other than create more anxiety for me.
However, as I began filling out the journal throughout the week, I found that the overwhelming to-do list was not as overwhelming as I imagined. Many of the tasks were simple, and once I stopped panicking over doing the tasks and just did them, I saw my to-do list start to shrink—along with my anxiety. At the end of the week, when some tasks were left over, I realized they weren’t as important as I had initially thought they were and either dropped them or “migrated” those tasks to the next week.
Additionally, being able to keep everything in one place—whether it was my to-do list, my random reflections on the day, or my ideas for articles to write—provided me comfort in the knowledge that no matter what I needed, it was in my little beige book. Even the 15-minute process on Sundays of setting up my journal pages for the upcoming week felt therapeutic—it allowed me to focus on what really mattered for the upcoming week and to prioritize without feeling overwhelmed.
Slowly, I began to feel like I had control over my life—even while being surrounded by constant change. I realized it is OK not to “have it all” and accomplish everything I want in a picture-perfect day, week, or month, and I began to accept that I need to prioritize in order to make the most of the time I have.
A lot of people hate over-planning because it means that they are closing off options, or can’t be flexible. But, if anything, the micromanagement of a Bullet Journal has made it easier for me to cope with last minute changes and has made it simple for me to reroute and re-strategize every time I’m faced with a road block, whether at work or in my personal life. Before, I never felt like I had a plan or direction in which I was going. I was so overwhelmed with everything I had to do with no idea of what or when to do it. Having a Bullet Journal forces me to take time each week to sit down, come up with a game plan, set goals for myself, and figure out what the hell I’m doing.
While my Bullet Journal hasn’t exactly helped me “have it all”, it’s helped me care less about it. More importantly, while my Bullet Journal hasn’t made me a chill girl, it’s made me a happier one. And at the end of the day, being happy is the best thing that I can ask of myself.