Posted in lifestyle, Planning and journaling, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 5 things to do in the evening to ensure a restful night’s sleep and a productive next day

Photo credit: Greg Rivers for Unsplash

A while back, I shared my newly set up evening routine which I recorded in my bullet journal during the month of May. For today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to look at some of the points in more detail as I’ve found them to be super beneficial to ensure I have a really good night’s sleep and they might work for you too.

Get chores out of the way

I always make sure I’ve finished chores by 8pm, two hours before I go to bed. Anything that doesn’t get finished can wait until tomorrow. I dedicate half an hour to emptying the dishwasher, doing a quick tidy up and completing anything that absolutely needs to be done that day. My husband also helps too so we are super quick. Tasks that didn’t get done are migrated to the next day in my bullet journal spread.

Turn your phone to silent and take a social media break

At 8pm, the blue light filter kicks in on my phone and my tablet computer. At this time, if I remember, I also put my phone on silent and try to resist the temptation to check emails or use any form of social media. I do admit, however, that this second part is a work in progress as I think when you finally sit down on the sofa for relax, it can be seen as the perfect opportunity to do a little check in with Facebook / Twitter / Instagram or whatever after a busy day.

Take time for journaling and reflection

Next, I put on my PJs and take some quiet time for journaling and reflecting on how my day has gone. Unfortunately, this is usually the time when our hamster wakes up and starts begging to be out of her cage by knocking her wheel over or biting the bars! Anyway, I digress… I tend to write a few lines in my bullet journal at the end of my daily plan and I also have a little 5 minutes before bed book that gives prompts such as Smiling at…, Reminiscing about… Grateful for… etc which I’ve been filling in nightly since the beginning of April. This quiet time allows me to make a note of any problems I encountered and good things that happened. I see it as a way of emptying my head of clutter so I don’t lie in bed thinking and analysing.

Do a little planning for the next day

After I’ve done my reflection in my bullet journal, I write the next day and date and check out what the weather is going to be doing tomorrow. Then, I add a few things to my plan which I really want to get done. So, for example, I might want to complete some of my college assessment or might want to take photographs of some new products for my Etsy shop. At this time, I also add any chores that I didn’t get done that I would really like to complete e.g. I might decide to do a machine load of washing if I know that the weather is going to be fine or I might want to clear clothes from the drying racks if I know that it’s going to rain and the laundry basket is overflowing. Writing some loose plans for the next day and transferring any appointments from by monthly overview really helps me have a productive morning the next day as I know exactly what I want to get done when I check my bullet journal after my morning meditation.

Choose relaxing activities

By 8.30pm, I’m chilling on the sofa with my feet up ready to relax. The activities change day by day but might include watching some TV (I love psychological dramas), reading my book or playing cards with my husband whilst listening to some music. Directly before bed, I often do a short meditation or some basic stretches – anything that will completely calm my mind. My 10pm I’m usually totally ready for sleep but I do like to read a few chapters of my current novel on my kindle before drifting off.

I hope you find these ideas useful and that, if you put them in place consistently, they help you to get a wonderful night’s sleep and ensure you wake up refreshed and ready for action on the morning of the day after.

Sweet dreams,

Posted in bullet journal, Bullet journaling, watercolour painting

Setting up my bullet journal for September: hedgehog theme

Hi everyone, hope you are all doing well and finding plenty of time to explore your creative side. For next month’s bullet journal spreads, I took inspiration from our garden again. I mentioned a while ago that we have a cute night time visitor who we have started putting biscuits out for each evening (specially formulated little hedgehog ones I should add!). We love getting all wrapped up and sitting on our patio watching him (or her) feed. My husband bought me a wildlife camera for my birthday and so I now have some gorgeous photos and videos of our spiny friend in addition to my creative journaling page records. I hope you enjoy looking through my hedgehog themed pages and I can’t wait to see what you have all chosen for your bullet journal spreads this September.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

For my cover page I wanted to have a go at a little watercolour painting. As my current bullet journal is a Leuchtturm 1917 and the pages don’t hold up too well with paint, I decided to use watercolour paper and then scan and print my finished art work to stick in.

My original watercolour painting. Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative.
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Next is a motivational quote that I found on Pinterest. It’s there to remind me to keep working towards my goals a little each day. I didn’t want to take the focus away from the words so chose not to add an illustrations.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve just bought a circle making tool and I’m having great fun using it. For my calendar, I decided to go with a completely different layout, a circular design which fits on one page. What I think is great about it is that the space needed for the dates and days is minimal and there are no empty boxes like on the month on two pages grid that I usually use. I drew a relaxing hedgehog in the centre and added autumnal elements. You’ll notice that I’ve done the picture on a while piece of paper and glued it in the centre – this is because I wasn’t happy with my initial décor so I started again.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Even though Autumn officially doesn’t start until 22nd September, the weather is certainly getting cooler and it looks pretty Autumnal outside already. It feels like Summer is over and it won’t be long until we get those gorgeous shades of red, yellow, orange and brown that we all love to see. I had a little space at the bottom of my calendar page so decided to take the opportunity to do some lettering.

Next are my habit trackers. Some of them are a continuation of last month as I want to make sure I’m keep up with my studying and blogging and also finding regular time to be creative. I’ve got lots planned for my Etsy shop and so will have to make sure I put the hours in to achieve my goals so work on my business is on there again. The other two habits are related to my Level 10 Life goals where I’m aiming for a tidier home and even more exercise by making sure I get a decent walk in each day.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

My next page was inspired by one of vlogger and bullet journaller Caitlin Da Silva‘s September spreads where she created a Fall Reading List. I thought it looked really cute with the little book covers (which I rarely get to see as I generally read on my Kindle Paperwhite) so decided to make my own. I went for a nice mix of fiction and non-fictions and all of the authors are completely new to me.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

It’s been a while since I had a monthly expenses tracker in my bullet journal but I decided that I’d like to be more aware of my spending habits so I drew up this simple spread. I covered the left and right edges of the page with washi tape temporarily whilst I drew the lines of Tombow pen to keep it looking a little neater.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

That’s all of my main spreads for September. I haven’t done any fitness trackers this time as I’ve not really kept up with them this month and they became a bit of a chore. I may do a running list of my workouts which I can add to as I do them. I’m also debating adding a Pinterest stats page as I’m using the platform to advertise some of my Etsy shop items and I also pin all of my blog posts on there.

Until next time,

Posted in bullet journal, Bullet journaling, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

My new circle drawing tool plus setting up Level 10 life and goals spreads in my bullet journal

As well as my amazing birthday gifts, I was also given some money and I knew straight away what I wanted to spend it on. As well as getting this gorgeous Finetec metallic gold watercolour set, I also ordered the Helix Angle & Circle Maker tool which has been on my wish list for quite a while now. After experimenting with how to make angles and circles, I use my new stationery must have to create a new Level 10 Life assessment wheel and identified some steps and goals for making improvements. In today’s blog post, I’m going to talk about various ways of using the Circle maker in your bullet journal and I will also share my Level 10 life spreads.

The Helix circle and angle maker is great for creating different sizes of circle and angles which makes it really easy to produce circular habit trackers, birthday spreads, mood trackers, monthly calendars (I’m just in the process of setting one of these up for September which I’ll share very soon), a decorative wreath outline or even a future log that’s a little bit different. You can also use the smaller circle templates in your weekly and monthly spreads, for example when labelling the dates in your month at a glance or to add decorative elements. I’ve collected some examples and added them to a new Pinterest board which you can check out here.

I’m sure many of you who use a bullet journal will already be familiar with the concept Level 10 life. If you’ve not heard of it and have no idea what I’m talking about, basically it’s all about living your best life by evaluating the life you have currently and setting mini goals to maximise a feeling of satisfaction and work towards your best (Level 10) life. The idea was created by popular author and entrepreneur Hal Elrod who outlines it in full in his book The Miracle Morning. He invites you to assess your life in 10 categories (or you can choose your own ideas if you wish) and give each a score out of 10. This can be recorded on a wheel of life so you can see where you stand at the moment. The categories are as follows:

  • family and friends
  • personal growth and development (which I labelled as personal development)
  • spirituality
  • finances
  • career / business
  • significant other / romance (which I labelled as marriage)
  • fun and recreation
  • contribution / giving
  • health / fitness
  • physical environment (home / office)

I created my wheel of life using my circle drawing tool to create 11 circles which provided me with 10 ring spaces. I began with the hole nearest to the centre and worked outwards. It’s a bit tricky to hold the thing in place but will a little practise on some scrap paper I was confident enough to go straight in with pen. I divided the circles up into segments of 36 degrees each which was easy enough to do with the angle measuring and drawing part of the tool.

When you’ve set up your wheel, you can then evaluate your life under the different headings to see what you’re doing well at and which areas would benefit from some attention. I’ve done one of these diagrams before and it’s best not to spend too long thinking and just go with your gut instinct. Here’s a close up of my scores:

When you’ve established your current scores, you can then work on setting some mini goals or things to do to improve them. I’ve just written my initial ideas here and then I can look into them in more depth later and set some actionable and measurable goals using my thoughts to help me.

When you’ve done these spreads, you can use them to set yourself mini goals for each month – maybe choosing the section with the lowest score to focus on first. Then, as long as you revisit regularly, you should find you make good progress towards your ‘Level 10 Life’. After a given amount of time, say three months, you can either record your progress on the same wheel by colouring further up the segments or you can make a new wheel of life and compare it to your old one.

That’s all for today but if you have any questions about the circle tool or Level 10 Life, feel free to drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to help.

Posted in lifestyle, meditation, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 10 practical tips for starting an effective daily meditation practice

This month, I decided to implement a daily meditation routine and have spent some time researching how to get the most out my mindful minutes and encourage consistency. Today’s Monday Matters post shares some tips on creating an effective daily practise and how the different types of meditation can have a positive impact on your life.

Photo credit: Ben White for Unsplash

Why meditate?

Research has shown that there are a huge number of benefits of regular meditation for mind and body. Some of the main positives are:

  • Improves your self esteem and confidence and increases your levels of optimism
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Can make you more productive
  • Improves your brain function
  • Helps you appreciate your life more
  • Increases your attention span
  • Provides a sense of calm, peace and balance
  • Reduces pain and improves the immune system
  • Makes you feel more energetic, creative and spontaneous
  • Helps to control your thoughts
  • Decreases depression and anxiety
  • Reduces cravings such as for junk food, alcohol and cigarettes
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases compassion towards yourself and others

but there are many more and once you start to fit meditation in your life, you will soon reap the rewards.

How can I fit meditation into my busy life?

When I attended a mindfulness class through wellbeing services a few years back, everyone talked about how wonderfully calm and relaxed they felt after each meditation. Yet, when asked if they’d used the CD full of mindful practises at home over the rest of the week, most of the participants said that they didn’t have time! However, with the benefits listed above, surely taking ten minutes each day to meditate is worth fitting in to your schedule? I bet if I’d asked the attendees if they’d had time to mindlessly scroll through social media for half hour they would offer a different response. Hopefully the following tips will help to commit more easily.

10 tips for starting a daily meditation practise

  1. Start small Like with any new habit, it’s best to start small and create a mini goal to work towards such as to meditate for a few minutes each day. There are plenty of 5 minute meditations on YouTube to choose from and a variety of different apps which offer free trials.
  2. Make it a routine There are some things you do automatically every day without thinking e.g. brushing your teeth, taking your mediation, applying your make up etc. These tasks have become a routine and you can easily add meditation to this list too. I recommend choosing a set time and sticking to it. I like to do mine first thing in the morning before I start work and then I can be sure it doesn’t get bumped off my to-do list. You could choose last thing before bed if you want to get all relaxed ready for sleep. Find out more about the science and practice of creating habits here.
  3. Choose a comfortable place Where you meditate is up to you but try to pick a place where you will not be distracted and feel at ease (not too relaxed that you begin to feel sleepy though!). You can sit in a comfortable chair, curled up on your sofa, on a cushion cross-legged on the floor or even lie on your bed. You can also use props such as a cushion, bolster or blanket to help you get nice and snug.
  4. Try out different meditations to help you with different aspects of your life There are so many kinds of meditations available – breathing, gratitude, compassion, confidence, focus etc. Think about what you’d most like to instil in your life right now and work from there.
  5. Use guided meditations at first When I first tried meditation a fair few years ago, I used to think it was all about just sitting their cross legged and completely emptying your mind. I used to get really frustrated and eventually decided it was impossible and wasn’t for me. Now I use the audio tracks from the class I attended as well as the Calm app and short guided sessions on FitBit premium. I have a free trial for both apps and I particularly love using my FitBit app as it logs all of my sessions for me so I can check my progress and how consistent I’m being.
  6. Journal about your experiences Take time to reflect on your practice, what went well, what you struggled with, how you felt during and after, if you came up with excuses to miss your session and why this might have happened etc. If you felt really relaxed, it helped you have a more productive day or you enjoyed a wonderful night’s sleep, celebrate your achievements and use them to motivate you to continue. If you found it really difficult to switch off and ended up feeling really frustrated, think about what you could do differently next time or accept that it is all part of the learning process and it will become easier with time. Or, if you forgot to do your daily meditation this time, how could you make sure you stick with it? Could you set an alarm or get a reminder from the app you are trying out? Might you attach the practise to another of your daily routines e.g. do your session straight after your morning cup of coffee?
  7. Remember repetitive activities can be meditative too If you find you’re struggling with just sitting and meditating, remember meditation is all about attention and awareness and you might find that doing a mindful activity such as colouring in is much easier for you. I wrote a post full of ideas earlier this year which you can find here. Movement meditations are also an option such as tai chi, yoga or mindful walking.
  8. Be kind to yourself Remember to treat yourself with compassion as you develop your practice. Accept that it might not be easy at first and that your mind will keep wandering. Know that it’s okay to find it difficult and you’re not doing it wrong (try not to judge yourself). Just bring your mind gently and kindly back to your breathe and start again.
  9. Apply your mindful practice to other activities Meditation is all about focus and so is a kind of mindfulness that can be applied throughout your day. For example, when you shower, really concentrate on what you’re doing and how it feels, use your senses to immerse your thoughts in your experience – inhale the scent of your shower gel, observe the water running down your tiles or the screen, listen to the sounds the water makes as it hits the bath or the shower tray. You can even get into a meditative state as you do your daily chores as I explained in this blog post.
  10. Use a habit tracker (but keep it simple) If you’re a bullet keen bullet journalist like me, you probably know all about habit trackers and have seen many examples on Instagram and Pinterest. Habit trackers are great for monitoring your progress and consistency and keeping you motivated. However, if you add too many habits, the filling in process can become an onerous task and you are likely to get sick of colouring in boxes, adding dots, ticks or crosses. I recommend tracking a very small number of habits and only choosing one or two new ones to focus on and selecting other things that you want to become more consistent with.

So that’s it, lots of reasons to add meditation to your daily routine and my top 10 practical tips for beginners that will hopefully help you develop a successful meditation habit that you can stick with. Let me know in the comments if starting a daily practice is something you’re interested in and today’s blog post has either given you the motivation to get started. If it has, I hope you are soon on your way to enjoying the benefits for body and mind.

Until next time,

Posted in bullet journal, Bullet journaling, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: Making it stick, how to form positive habits and keep them going

Checking out Pinterest last week I found so many pins about habits and habit trackers. Habits of highly successful women, morning habits for a productive day, habits for a healthy mindset and so on. There’s also a plethora of bullet journal habit tracker examples and so many different beautiful and useful layouts to try. But what I wanted to know was, how to ensure that productive and positive habits stick. I found a few books on the subject and have added them to my TBR pile. I also found some useful diagrams that show the science behind habit formation but decided it would be really good to create a practical guide to instilling new habits to go with the theory. So let’s dive right in…

What is a habit?

According to the online Cambridge dictionary, a habit can be defined as ‘something you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it’. Habits can be good and really helpful e.g. flossing your teeth, getting regular exercise, drinking plenty of water each day, keeping a gratitude journal, or can be bad or unhelpful e.g. eating too much junk food, criticising yourself, biting your nails or always being late. Some habits are really hard to break, such as smoking, being self critical, and drinking too much alcohol and may need help and support or a structured plan to enable you to make changes. Others can be difficult to keep up with for many people, such as eating a healthy and balanced diet, maintaining a positive mindset, having a good exercise routine and always being grateful for what you have.

The habit formation loop

The habit formation loop was first explained in detail by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. The idea is that each habit is made up of three parts – The Cue (or trigger), The Routine (physical, mental or emotional behaviour that follows the cue and The Reward (a positive reinforcement which tells your brain that the routine works well). Here it is in diagrammatic form in my bullet journal:

Putting the theory into practice

So, the theory is easy enough to understand and has been widely accepted as a good explanation of how habits are created. But how can we apply the science when trying to form new habits? Here are some tips:

Start small

Choose one habit that is realistic i.e. one that motivates you and can relatively easily slot into your life. For example, if you want to start on a fitness journey, you might set a goal to go out for a brisk 20 minute walk each day at 11am rather than saying that you are going to go running for an hour three times a week, to the gym five days a week and swimming at weekends. In other words, take baby steps and take it slow!

Plan what your cue will be

I’ve found that the best thing to use as a cue is a given time. So, for example, I do my yoga at 11am each week day so I can make sure I don’t eat anything for a few hours before and I only drink squash and not coffee prior to my practice. I also make sure that my workout gear and the equipment I need is readily accessible – and I chose my favourite colours for the items for extra motivation too. My clothes are super comfortable and flattering and I treated myself to a good quality yoga blanket in a gorgeous minty green colour plus blocks and a bolster in a wonderful berry shade.

Know that it will take time

It takes time to develop a habit and it’s different for everyone. Don’t expect it to become automatic straight away – you need to work at it and train your brain! For a few months, I would write yoga on my daily to do list in my bullet journal to remind me that I needed to do it. Now, it’s part of my routine and something I do without thinking. If the habit is important to you, and you remain focused, you can do it. If you’re not really interested in making the change, then you will be less likely to achieve your intention. However, you should also be kind to yourself and not berate yourself if your habit formation doesn’t go as smoothly as you would like.

Hold yourself accountable

There are a number of ways of holding yourself accountable. You could share your intentions with a partner or friend and ask them to check on how it’s going. You could arrange an accountability partner who is trying to instil the same habit as you and motivate each other as you go. Or you could set mini goals to work towards and reward yourself each time you reach a milestone. I know of people who have shared what they hope to achieve in a group on Facebook and then updated everyone on their progress regularly.

Expect to have blips and work through them

Accept that there will be days when you don’t do what you set out to do or feel resistant. For example, I was feeling under the weather for a whole week at the end of last month and didn’t do my aerobic workout, toning exercises or daily yoga for five days. I could have quite easily continued the habit of not doing my workouts, but instead, I recognised the reasons for me not keeping up with my practice and made a promise to myself that I would start back up again when I was feeling better – and I did. I also reminded myself of the benefits of my routines for body and mind and this helped me get back on track.

You can also produce a written record of your intention in your planner and then evaluate how you’ve done each week. You can even give yourself some written feedback including what you did well and a couple of suggestions for improvement a bit like a work performance appraisal!

Write a plan using the habit formation loop as a guide

On his website, Charles Duhigg provides a number of resources to help you with breaking, forming and changing habits. The plan can be written in the following form: When (cue), I will (routine) because it provides be with (reward). So, for example, if you want to adopt a daily yoga practise, you could write the following plan: When it gets to 11am, I will change into my yoga gear and set up my equipment and do a 20 minute routine because it provides me with better focus and improved body strength. Or if you want to start keeping a gratitude journal you could develop this plan: After I finished the final daily chores, I will spend 5-10 minutes reflecting on my day and then jotting down at least 4 things that I am grateful for because it helps me look for positives in my life and reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for.

Track your habits

Writing down your habits in your bullet journal and tracking them is a great way to stay focused. I’ve tried various layouts in the past and my experience has taught me that it’s best to have a very small number of habits which you are really motivated to stick with. So, for example, you could choose a few things which you already do but want to engage in consistently e.g. meditation, in bed by 11pm, face cream, 10K steps etc. If you are wanting to instil a new habit, I recommend just selecting one that you can easily incorporate into your current lifestyle and that you are really highly motivated to put into place.

The first photo here is an example of a habit tracker that I tried in the past and found really overwhelming. You can see I had so many habits listed that just filling it in was hard to keep up with never mind actually doing them all. Needless to say, I regularly forgot to fill it in and gave up on it in the end! The second image is the one I have set up for next month. The new habit is studying for my distance learning course and I put it at the top as it is to be my main focus. The other habits are things that I do already but want to do consistently and preferably on a daily basis.

An overwhelming habit tracker that didn’t work for me
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Final thoughts

If you want to make changes to your life by instilling new habits then the best way is to keep it simple and achievable, develop an effective routine and record your progress. I also think sharing your intentions with others is a great way to keep yourself accountable as you can often rely on family and friends to ask how you are doing and keep you in check. However, ultimately, it’s up to you to keep yourself motivated and regularly assess things and evaluate how your new habits are affecting your life for the better.

I would really love it if you took the time to leave me a comment telling me what habits you want to form next month and how you’re going to go about sticking with them. I hope you’ve found my ideas useful and that they help you work towards your goals.