bullet journal

When You Need to Get Organized

“The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious”.  This quote, often mistakenly attributed to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, holds many promises for the reader.  Doubtless, the author meant something along the lines of victory in war or battle.  But the idea can be applied to just about anything.  The secret of all victory?  So, victory in writing?  In budgeting?   In getting through those difficult parent conferences?  Sweet.  But, what is the non-obvious?  How can you organize something if you don’t realize it needs to be organized?

Here is where the wonders of planning and bullet journaling can come into play.  Writing things down in a “brain dump” style, letting the ideas flow from pen to page, can give you a start on figuring out these “non-obvious” things.  Let’s use budgeting for an example.  When creating a budget, the basic idea is to figure out how much money comes in each month, and then how much goes out for bills and such, and the rest is what you’ve got to use for food, gas, fun spending, etc.  Starting with a brain dump, write down a list of everything you associate with your spending.  Here’s mine.

Reread the list, and think back.  If you have trouble thinking back, look back at your bank statements for the last few months.  What have you spent money on that you missed in the initial listing?  Write it down.

So, my initial brain dump missed a bit.  I don’t buy new clothes very often, so I completely forgot that I bought new shoes last month.  I need to buy them every six months or so, and that unusual spending has to be accounted for in my budget, so I have the money when I need it, and don’t just drop it on the credit card.

Last month was also the end of the school year, and I went to several retirement parties for colleagues.  I brought food to one, I contributed to gifts for others.  This isn’t something that’s going to come up all the time, but it’s these small amounts that are my “non-obvious” when it comes to financial organization.  The things that are a few bucks here and there, or one-time under $20 purchases that I don’t always think about.

And then there are the rare, yet large, expenses.  My wife and I are both in professions where we are required to hold licences to work.  My license renewal comes up every five years.  Hers, every two.  Each of those is over $50, and has to be paid so we can continue to work in our chosen professions.

The biggest point of “non-obvious” things I finally noticed when looking back over my bank statements was the number of times fast food purchases showed up.  Seeing those, I remembered that I swung through the drive through of one of our local fast food places about a week ago, and paid cash for a meal.  Cash is part of our budgeting process – my wife and I each take a certain amount for the month – but I don’t really track where that cash goes.  Another “non-obvious” thing ripe for organization.

The next step to organizing this “non-obvious” stuff is to see just how often and how much money I’m really spending on these categories.  Ideally, I’ll do this for everything, but since this is a sample, I’m going to just go through fast food/restaurant eating from May.

Now, keep in mind that the majority of this was 2 people eating meals.  But that still averages out to just over $100 per person last month.  How did I spend a hundred bucks on eating out?  Well, this list just told me how.  I can go back and do the same with my April statement, and my other recent statements.  From here, I can get an idea of how much I’m really spending on eating out every month, and that “non-obvious” category of spending has become patently clear.  Now, I can organize it.

It’s very easy to say, “Well, I just won’t eat out.”  And there may be times I can keep to that.  But if my choice is staying home to eat, or getting to spend a little time with my sister, I’m going out to eat.  So I have to make sure to budget some money for that.

The same principle can be applied to cleaning.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am constantly battling my clutter.  I look at what is meant to be our guest room-cum-crafting room-cum-office-cum-toy room, and go, “Where on earth do I even start to clear this clutter?”  If I look at the room, I can see the obvious – put the yarn in the yarn bins, sort through the papers on the floor, put the books on the bookshelves, clear away any trash.  But, that’s surface level.  If I’m going to do this properly, I need to look at the “non-obvious”.

Let’s start with papers.  If I’ve followed the obvious, I’ve sorted the papers that aren’t filed away into “recycle”, “shred”, “keep”, and “keep nicely”.  Where do I keep papers?  I’ve got a 2-drawer filing cabinet, folders around the room, and a plastic file box that’s the equivalent of a 2-drawer filing cabinet.  “Keep” papers go somewhere in there.  But, what’s in there already?  Looking just at the file box, because it’s the most easily accessible thing, it’s already pretty full, and there are several boxes stacked on top of it.

Looking at the picture, I can see photo envelopes from high school and college.  I probably thought it was safer to keep the prints in the envelopes from when they were developed, and just put them all in there at some point.  I’ve also got lots of hanging files in the box, and I know that some of them contain work from college – papers I wrote that I’m really proud of, my senior thesis notes, drafts, and final copy, articles from classes I thought might come in handy one day, etc.  And they’re organized.  I remember going through and sorting all of that a few years back, when I moved them out of binders because the binders took up too much shelf space.

But, I have to ask myself, do I really need all that?  When was the last time I really looked at any of the articles, aside from when they first went into the bin?  Are they still relevant in my field, or has new scholarship come out that makes them obsolete?  Even in a field looking at things long-gone, there are new discoveries or theories that make older ones irrelevant.  Any articles in that bin are at least 20 years old, if not older.  So, I’ve found another “non-obvious” area to organize – all those papers from years ago.

If I go through that bin, and do a bit of research regarding the articles and such I’ve kept, I can claim “victory” by recycling the out-of-date materials and clearing space for papers that are relevant.  I can also see if any of those articles are freely accessible online, and if so, bookmark them or download them, and then recycle the hard copy, making more space for the papers I’ve decided I do need to keep, and thus making my all-purpose room that much more able to work for me, rather than against me.

A lot of the ideas I’m mentioning also refer to what UFYH calls “the hidden corner” – the place in the house where we know things pile up, but that our eyes glaze over.  The “non-obvious”.  A victory there would be taking the things from the hidden corner and putting them in their proper homes.

How can a bullet journal figure into this equation?  Scheduling time to actually do the “organization of the non-obvious”.  If, like me, you keep a bullet journal with a task list – either a daily or weekly – you can see where you have the time to brainstorm, and then to implement some of the changes in your routines, to get the “non-obvious” squared away.

I’ll leave you here with a translation and paraphrase of a quote from Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius (a work also sometimes called The Emperor’s Handbook):

“Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer. Then remind yourself that past and future have no power over you. Only the present—and even that can be minimized. Just mark off its limits.”