In these dreary not-yet-spring days, I’ve been enjoying the simplified rhythm of a journal re-vamp I did last October. I’m so excited to share it with you now that I’m comfortable with it and have had time to tweak it here and there.
This spread is the backbone and where I come back to again and again during the month. When I set about this refresh, I knew I wanted to scrap the daily and weekly spreads I used to do. While they were really fun and it felt like I was getting a lot accomplished, it wasn’t long before I was spending more time maintaining the layouts than I was using them. By paring down to just a monthly spread, I have one place with everything I need. Ten minutes of set-up, a whole month of organization.
I’m particularly in love with the limits that having two pages puts on me. My to-do list stays far more focused and I am continually encouraged by being able to see what I have already finished instead of constantly having to deal with and re-write what I have not done yet.
By listing the current month’s focus right front and center, I am also able to keep it in mind and tailor my to-do list accordingly.
*a note on the habits: I have really really loved limiting and then separating my habit trackers. As the month progresses, I can much more easily see how I am doing on each individual habit. That way, rather than having one habit make me feel like I’m failing at all of them because they’re all mixed up, I can instead get excited about how one of the habits has been going really well. It’s also proved really helpful as well because I can look for different “ideal patterns” for each habit. While I want my scripture and chore habits to be full every month, I don’t necessarily want my reach out habit to be full. That would mean that I spent every single day of the month with someone else which quickly leads to burn out. By separating them, these patterns are easy to see and I can adjust focus mid-month.
At the end of each month, before writing the next monthly spread, I write out a quick review of the past month. I note that month’s focus, write in successes and challenges, and then evaluate what I want to keep, start, and stop doing. From there I look back at my yearly goals (that spread is coming next) and think about what’s coming up in order to create a focus for the following month that will go right into the new monthly spread. At the bottom I write down moments to cherish to keep me from getting caught up in the do do do of planning and refocus on gratitude.
While I have used the basic elements of this spread for years, I have loved adding a little whimsy this time around. I use ten categories to separate out realms of life and then write in goals for each. Currently I am using friends and family, career, home, play, health, spirit, mindfulness, community, creativity, and finances. As soon as I start putting in goals, it’s very clear which areas I tend to skip over. As the year goes by, my goal list grows and changes. I also make sure to take extra time and thought to go back to the boxes that are empty or only have one goal in order to consider what I can add or work towards in that area. Again, the limitation of having only having four possible goals a year in each category keeps me focused on the big picture rather than getting lost in the nitty gritty. Nitty gritty is for my monthly to-do list.
The new dash of whimsy comes when I mark a goal as completed. As soon as it’s checked off, I get to draw a single branch onto that categories corresponding pot. As the year goes by, my little shelves of plants grow and expand across the page! It is ridiculously motivating for me.
At the turn of the calendar year, I also write out a reflection for the past year. To create it, I went out and looked at all of the end-of-year journal layouts I could find and snagged my favorite reflection questions. Each one became a box for me to fill with my response. I’m excited to see how it changes over time, though I really do love the questions I ended up with this year. My favorite are three words for the year, when i lost track of time, and money well spent. I also slipped in a timeline of events. I love seeing such a zoomed back view of how the year was woven together. The very bottom two boxes are grateful for and next year, which help launch me into writing my January focus!
Sometimes I want to focus in on a new habit or strengthen an old one. For this I use a habit layout heavily influenced by The Full Focus Planner. It provides structure and encouragement by forcing me to be explicit about my motivations and then constantly reminding me of them as I check in every day. It also shows an end point to the highly-focused season of developing a habit. Three months often feels like a long time to do anything every day and I always like being able to see that it will end. I also love that I have to be explicit about how I will reward myself when I accomplish the streak.
*a note on not completing a streak: I am usually intrinsically motivated by the journal itself to complete a streak because I don’t want to have to set the page up again (haha) but when I do fail (and I have…often) I’ve made it my practice to speak kindly to myself on the page before moving on. I beat myself up a lot when I fail at I’ve set out to do. I work at remembering to speak to myself as I would one of my elementary students. “Uh oh, try again” is my current go-to.
Very similar to my habits layout is the one I use for goals I am particularly focused on. The top box includes what I want to accomplish and, very importantly, when I want to accomplish it by. Then, just like the habits page, I have to write down why I want to do this thing which, again, I have to see every time I work towards reaching the goal. Goals often have several steps to keep track of so I leave a generous box to note them. It helps a great deal with forward momentum as you start. Then, again as before, the reward sits at the bottom, just waiting for you.
*a note on rewards: make sure it’s something you really do want…something a little bit extravagant that you wouldn’t usually do or get. Also, tie it into the goal. The one below is not very well written for me. Thankfully, the goal itself is VERY motivating so it isn’t a matter of not accomplishing it. Rather, the reward isn’t as powerful because it isn’t tied into the goal. A better reward could be “buy a ship’s bell for the front door.”
As needed, I include various types of lists. The ones below are a Christmas gift tracker, notes on a book I read, my want vs. need list (so so helpful to keep perspective before purchasing something), and a page to consolidate all of the random mini-lists I might want to make. These are the only pages that I put into my table of contents. Because everything else is date-marked, these are the only layouts that can get lost in the shuffle.
I use this particular layout for a great number of things from lecture notes to personal reflection. The simplicity of the flag at the top followed by whatever happens to be on my mind is flexible enough to adapt to anything and simple enough to be incorporated on-the-go.
A couple other things I’ve changed in my journal practice is a limited color pallet (four colors focusing on only two of them) and using markers instead of paint. While I still adore the look of watercolor details and the depth of categorizing one can reach when you have ten colors to work with, the paint and water and focus it takes to do that is no longer where I want to spend my energy. I still chose colors I think are gorgeous (a must) and every time I work on it I enjoy not having to make any decisions.
So there you have it! A journal chock full of structure and yet pared down so that it needs next to no maintenance leaving me the time to focus on reflection and action instead.
Do you use a journal? What have you been loving about the process lately?