Journal to Increase Your Productivity and Creativity, with Shelby Abrahamsen

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We recently enjoyed a conversation with Shelby Abrahamsen, founder of the life style blog, Little Coffee Fox. Shelby is a young entrepreneur with a talent for art and for inspiring others. We talked recently about the ways journaling has helped her find her way in the world, create a meaningful career, and increase productivity. It’s a joy to welcome Shelby to Journaling.com 

Shelby is a 20-something who has always struggled with productivity. After years of struggling with goal setting, time management, and productivity, she finally sought out a solution. She figured out a way to use her own creativity and hobbies to whip her life into shape with the help of a bullet journal, and it completely changed her life. Now, she’s a full-time lifestyle blogger who focuses on helping others manage their time, explore their passions, and build the lives they want to lead.

To listen to the audio podcast, click on the play button below. And continue reading to discover the highlights from that interview.

Shelby began blogging after college. When she started, she never dreamed she’d turn this pastime into a career, but today she works full time, along with her husband, creating content for her dynamic website, Little Coffee Fox.

Writing about a wide range of subjects, Shelby especially enjoys sharing new approaches to organization and regularly offers readers ideas to help them set and achieve their goals.

At the moment, Shelby describes herself as being in a highly creative space. She is passionate about water coloring and brush lettering, which she writes about on her blog. She adds, “I have time to do these fun things because of the organization I did back in January.”

Growth, not perfection, is the goal.

Shelby Abrahamsen

To help get organized and to keep herself on track, Shelby’s preferred method of choice is bullet journaling.

After graduation from college, bullet journaling helped Shelby navigate challenging new waters. “Bullet journaling was like a life boat for me. When I got out of college I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was floating with no direction or ambition.” Shelby found herself in professional limbo as she waited for her husband to finish law school. “I was struggling and couldn’t ignite the passion to do the things I loved.”

Always drawn to paper, pens, paints, and highlighters, Shelby began to experiment with these tools. Along the way, she discovered bullet journaling. This popular method helped Shelby organize her time and her thoughts while it also provided her with an outlet for creativity.

Through this process Shelby learned that planning and establishing goals didn’t have to be an arduous chore. In fact, she found these acts were engaging and exciting. A single positive journaling experience led to another and another which helped Shelby build better habits and ultimately, she tells us, become a better version of herself.

Shelby often hears from readers who struggle to organize their lives doing the “digital thing.”  This makes sense to her. While Shelby acknowledges that digital tracking systems are fine task management tools for many, she says it’s not a method that works for everyone. Shelby cites the research that shows people retain more information when they engage with the physical act of writing words down. For this reason, journaling is a regularly scheduled part of her self-care routine and a practice she encourages her readers to cultivate.

Shelby is passionate about the use of  Morning Pages, a method developed and described in Julia Cameron’s ground breaking book, “The Artist’s Way.’ Cameron’s method has the journaler wake up in the morning and  immediately write, by hand, three pages of  unedited stream of consciousness. Shelby appreciates Cameron’s emphasis on removing anxiety and self-censorship from the process and finds the fact that these pages are completely private and quite liberating. “Morning Pages have played a huge role in my growth,” Shelby told us. “I discovered Morning Pages at the same time as bullet journaling. I’ve tried a lot of different things, but these were the methods that stuck.”

Shelby enjoys experimenting with materials and this shows in the colorful, creative results of her work. For journaling, her favorite notebook is the Leuchtturm1917

“This one is handy when it comes to bullet journaling because it has page numbers which help you keep perspective on where you are at.  I’ve tried others, but this is the one I use again and again.”

Along with helping Shelby organize ideas and grow her productivity, bullet journaling reconnected her with her love of art and proclivity toward creativity. “I had a revelation around the time I discovered journaling. I realized it’s not about whether you make money, it’s about how the work you do makes you feel.”

Partly through journaling, Shelby recognized that although the artist’s life is filled with challenges, it’s what fulfills her, and she became determined to organize her days in order to prioritize her craft.

Shelby ended our discussion with wise words of advice. “Don’t aim for perfection. Create something and then move on.”

When people strive for perfection, she notices they get overwhelmed and eventually stuck.  Shelby describes how this tendency has even shown up in the ways people bullet journal. “Many people have written to me to tell me they are terrified of ruining their journals, and so they never start.” Shelby inspires people to shift their perspective on perfection. “Growth, not perfection, is the goal,” she reminds us. 

Your Action Plan

Ideas and Insights from the Creator of the Bullet Journal, with Ryder Carroll

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Ryder Carroll’s bestselling book The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future has transformed the journaling landscape. Ryder’s innovative approach to productivity and mindfulness, through a method he calls Bullet Journaling, has contributed significantly to the rising number of people journaling today. He’s been featured by the New York Times, LA Times, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Vogue, Bloomberg, and others. If you aren’t already familiar with Ryder’s groundbreaking work, you are in for a treat. It is a huge pleasure to welcome this visionary thinker to Journaling.com.

You can listen to his interview by pressing the play button below, or continue on to read the highlights of our conversation.

The Early Beginning

Ryder describes Bullet Journaling as “a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system.” Interestingly, when Ryder set out to develop this system, mindfulness was not foremost on his mind. Growing up with a diagnosis of ADD, Ryder often struggled to keep up with peers. This challenge eventually inspired him to design a productivity system to assist with becoming more efficient and better organized.

The methods Ryder developed helped him attain his professional goals. But despite numerous work-place achievements, Ryder recognized his accomplishments weren’t yielding personal fulfillment. “I realized a lot of my goals were appropriated from the world around me—namely peers and media. I never asked myself what I wanted or what was important in my life.”

A New Direction

Ryder returned to the productivity tools he’d developed and began to use them for inward self-reflection. Bullet Journaling, he discovered, not only helped increase productivity, it also provided a foundation for rigorous self-examination. And that, he tells me, is when things got interesting!

The words we write down are experiences waiting to be born.

Ryder Carroll

A New Approach to Task Lists

Ryder observes, “We live in a time when productivity is worshipped.” Indeed, we oftentimes equate a mile-long to-do list with our level of significance in the universe.

As our to-do lists grow, so too does our anxiety. This insight led Ryder to ask, what if the task- list were to become part of an “existential” exploration that assesses the quality of experiences that fill our days?

Today Ryder helps others contemplate their task lists in order to maximize their time spent tending to activities that provide fulfillment and meaning. He explains to his readers, “I can’t tell you what will make your life better, but from my own experiences, I can share ways of thinking that may help you find those answers for yourself.”

Shift Your Perspective

Ryder’s message to journalers is an uplifting one. “The words we write down are experiences waiting to be born not just a list of stuff we have to do. Our task lists are a preview to the life we are building.”

When we think of to-do lists in this new light, it helps us to:

  • ask why we do the tasks we do each day. In turn, we become more selective in choosing which tasks we can commit to.
  • clarify what’s important in our lives on an ongoing, regular basis so that we focus on tasks that have the greatest meaning and value in our lives.
  • reengage with the content we write down in meaningful, deeper ways.

Ryder’s Tips for Reengaging with Content

Your journal is a treasure chest filled with nuggets of wisdom and insight. Reengaging with your journal’s content on a regular basis helps you assimilate deeper understanding.

  1. Keep your journal nearby:  Throughout the day, jot down tasks, ideas, and questions to pursue later on. These notes can be brief. The goal is simply to capture these thoughts on paper in order to preserve them and to free up your mind for other thoughts.
  2. Daily Reflection:  Before bed, review the content you’ve written down that day. Use this moment to observe and clarify how the day’s tasks moved (or didn’t move) your life in a meaningful and desirable direction.
  3. Monthly Migration: Once a month, review the previous week’s journal entries. After some contemplation, rewrite only those words that still have value and purpose in your life. Vital tasks and thoughts will migrate with you into the next month. Leave unnecessary obligations and distractions behind by omitting them from this migration process.

Evaluate Your Task List

We are a culture on auto pilot trying to accomplish an infinite list of tasks. Streamlining task lists so they are an approximation of the life we want to cultivate is vital. To help with this process, Ryder recommends considering these questions:

  • How do the tasks on your list make you feel?
  • Which of these responsibilities do you want more or less of in your life?
  • Of the tasks you completed today, which ones were essential? Which provided you with fulfillment, pleasure, and meaning?
  • What would have happened if one of the tasks on your list was not completed?
  • Which of the items on your list could be eliminated without any negative consequences?

Put your To-Do List into Context

Whether or not an act is vital is sometimes unclear. To help untangle this ambiguity, Ryder uses the example of washing dishes. Theoretically, this task is not vital. Nothing catastrophic will happen if you never wash a dish again. You could simply use paper plates or eat all of your meals in restaurants. But context, Ryder explains, is what matters here. If you live with someone you care about who cooks dinner every evening, in this context, washing dishes is vital because it’s a way for you to reciprocate that person’s act of kindness.  

Seeing a task in its own unique context, Ryder points out, infuses even our most base chores with new meaning.

Why It Matters

In the midst of crisis, people are often compelled to face life’s “big questions.” They ask themselves what in my life matters most to me? What are my regrets? Who do I love, and have I adequately cared for these people? Have my actions made a difference in the world?

Instead of waiting for a moment of crisis to contemplate these issues, checking in regularly, asking these questions frequently, alleviates pressure and makes these inquiries less daunting.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Fancy

We see them on Instagram and YouTube all the time—those gorgeous Bullet Journals that make us swoon. Elaborate interpretations of the bullet journaling method are great fun to look at and can be a tremendous source of inspiration. But Ryder wants to be sure users remember that Bullet Journaling is based on particular methods that do not rely on looking a specific way. “Bullet Journaling is a paper mirror there to reflect your choices, responsibilities, and the things that matter back at you.” How this paper mirror looks is not an important part of its functionality, Ryder reminds us. Instead, he insists, your Bullet Journal should look however you need it to. Every life has unique requirements and so a journal should be customized for the individual it serves.

Your Action Plan

Start your own bullet journal with help from the official Bullet Journal notebook which was designed by Ryder to support your individualized needs.

  • Listen to our entire conversation on our podcast, The Power of Journaling.
  • Make space in your writing life to integrate Daily Reflections and Monthly Migrations.

In talking with Ryder, it became clear that a productivity system is only as effective as the level of mindfulness it inspires. How does mindfulness inform your own productivity? We’d love to hear all about it. Reach out to us on Facebook.

Expressive Writing: A Tool for Transformation, with Dr. James Pennebaker, Ph.D.

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We recently sat down to interview Dr. James Pennebaker, a leading thinker on the impact expressive writing has on our physical and emotional well-being. His message is inspiring, and we are pleased to share it with you.

Dr. Pennbaker is a Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a social psychologist and the author of hundreds of articles and many books includingThe Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us and Opening Up by Writing It Down.

Listen to our interview on Journaling.com’s podcast, The Power of Journaling or read highlights of the interview (below).

Engage with Trauma and Grief in a Bold New Way

Expressive writing is a revolutionary act. It can be done anywhere, takes less time than a cup of coffee, it’s free, and, best of all, scientifically proven to improve how we process issues that compromise one’s quality of life.  

Dr. Pennebaker explains that expressive writing helps us reevaluate sources of grief or trauma. He refers to this process as “life course correction.” 

His suggestions are simple:

  • Set aside fifteen minutes for three or four consecutive days.
  • Use this time to write freely about a single issue that’s causing anxiety or pain.

Can Expressive Writing Help You?

Research shows that people who think, dream, or worry about a specific concern with intense regularity can benefit from expressive writing.

Expressive Writing Improves Health and Ensures a Better Night’s Rest

Since the 1980s, Dr. Pennebaker has measured the outcomes of expressive writing and discovered those who practice this technique may experience:

  • Stronger immune health
  • Better sleep habits
  • Improved mental health
  • Regulated blood pressure
  • Reduction in pain caused by chronic diseases

Expressive Writing Helps Us Make Sense of Unexpected and Unimaginable Events

Why does expressive writing impact us in such meaningful ways? Dr. Pennebaker’s explanation makes perfect sense.

One of the brain’s functions is to help us understand events in our lives. Writing helps construct a narrative to contextualize trauma and organize ideas. Until we do this, the brain replays the same non-constructive thought patterns over and over and we become stuck.

Writing about grief and trauma helps achieve closure which tells the brain its work is done. This closure frees us to move forward.

Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to stand back and reevaluate issues in our lives.

Dr. James Pennebaker

You Can Start Expressive Writing Today

If you would like to incorporate expressive writing into your own journaling practice, Dr. Pennebaker offers the following ideas:

  • Write for fifteen minutes a day for three consecutive days. Give yourself enough time to write uninterrupted.
  • Identify a single issue you wish to address. Thoroughly explore the emotions and thoughts attached to this issue.
  •  Ask yourself why you are experiencing particular emotions. Connect the dots. How does this event relate to relationships or events in your past?

It’s Okay to Experiment and Play

Dr. Pennebaker explains there are different ways to maximize the benefits of expressive writing. Everyone is different. Play with methods and see what works best for you. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • Write with your non-dominant hand.
  • Finger write (mimic the act of writing without actually putting pen to paper).
  • Alternate between typing on a keyboard and pen and paper. Which do you prefer?

The key, Dr. Pennebaker explains, is to slow down our thinking. This shift in gears helps us to understand feelings in new and productive ways.  

Your Action Plan

For more ideas and information, listen to our interview.

If Dr. Pennebaker’s research has sparked your curiosity, I hope you’ll give expressive writing a try. And please do let us know how it goes. Share your experience with me at rebecca@journaling.com or on our Facebook page.

Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act, with Carolyn Koehnline

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Author and certified journal therapist Carolyn Koehnline wrote Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act to help people approach the act of decluttering with mindful intention. Carolyn’s collection of essays, paintings, and poems provide comfort in the midst of decluttering. She’s written a marvelous book, and it was a pleasure to talk with her on our podcast, The Power of Journaling.

Carolyn is a certified journal therapist, licensed psychotherapist, personal coach, and the creator of Gentle Approach Coaching. For twenty-seven years, she’s supported people in clearing clutter from their homes, heads, hearts, and schedules. She is the author of three books: Confronting Your Clutter, a children’s book called The Bear’s Gift, and her newly released book, Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act. Carolyn is a faculty member of the Therapeutic Writing Institute and the Journalversity. In addition to her private coaching practice, she offers self-paced solo courses, group online classes, and provides workshops in a wide variety of settings.

To hear our discussion, listen to the podcast below. Or continue reading for highlights of our conversation.

Defining Clutter

Carolyn describes clutter as a subjective term which she defines as any object, emotion, or commitment that drains energy or distracts us from priorities.

Kinds of Clutter

Clutter can appear in a variety of forms which are oftentimes interconnected. Carolyn identifies its most common manifestations as:

  • object clutter
  • head clutter
  • heart clutter
  • calendar clutter

Often, she observes, the old items that wind up in our attics and basements represent decisions we don’t want to make or experience. These objects reflect internal conflict and confusion and can come to symbolize a former profession or relationship or any passage of time being grieved.  

In her work as a decluttering coach, Carolyn finds that turning toward an object with full attention, and taking time for a meaningful goodbye, can help release this kind of emotional clutter.

Make decluttering a transformational act

Carolyn Koehnline

Journaling to Make New Space in Our Lives

Journaling plays a meaningful role in Carolyn’s clutter-clearing practice. To help untangle and resolve conflicted feelings, she recommends writing for 5-10 minute stretches when possible.

To decide whether an item should stay or go, Carolyn suggests reflecting on a few simple questions which can be used as writing prompts.

  • How does this item make me feel?
  • Does this object deplete or boost my energy?
  • How does the stuff I’ve accumulated impact important relationships?

Customize a Plan That Works  

A number of impressive decluttering experts are writing books to spread the message, less really can be more. What stands out in Carolyn’s approach is her emphasis on the idea there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits all approach. Rather, she shares methods and tools to help determine an individualized approach to the decluttering process. “We are all different,” she explains. “The more you tune into your inner voice the better the process with go.”

Decluttering is a Sacred Act

Carolyn inspires us to make the act of decluttering a joyful, sacred process. When we clear out clutter, we make space in our lives for something new. She offers a few simple tips to guide our thinking.

  • Dedicate this process to a meaningful objective such as spending more time with family or pursuing creative endeavors. Infuse the process with meaning.
  • As you work your way through piles, avoid negative thoughts which deplete you.
  • Along the way, energy may slag. Pause. Repeat your intention. Write it down in your journal if you like. Remind yourself that the purpose of this action is to grow spaciousness in your life.

Create a Soul Space

In her book, Carolyn describes the soul space as any place that nurtures curiosity, inspiration, and reflective thinking. Children are master architects of this sort of design—they know the magic of a well-engineered blanket fort or treehouse where possibilities for playful exploration feel infinite. As adults, a decluttered space which reflects who we are and what we care about can serve a similar function. When we establish a sacred space, Carolyn explains, we make room to go to a deeper place in our selves. The voice that emerges will be a voice we can trust.  

Pace Yourself

As we work our way through piles of “stuff” it’s easy to think we should be farther along than we are. Carolyn urges us instead to trust the pace with which we work.

It’s helpful to check in with your journal periodically. Track progress there. Record when you’ll take your next break. Write down small goals that can be checked-off when completed. Use your journal to celebrate decluttering victories—large and small.

Action plan

  • Learn more about Carolyn’s work. Visit her online at Gentle Approach Coaching.
  • For a limited time you can order a signed copy of her new book, Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act.
  • Create your own soul space, and spend meaningful time there regularly.
  • Write about any object, head, heart, and calendar clutter in your own life and make a plan to tackle these at a comfortable pace.
  • Listen to my interview with Carolyn (above).

In creating spaciousness in our lives, we invite new opportunities and experiences. Be kind and compassionate to yourself as you work your way through this process.

If you enjoyed this interview, you might appreciate listening to Lea Fransisco’s podcast. We discuss how to write your way through challenging life transitions.