Posted in goal setting, life hacks, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, productivity, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: A guide to the Pomodoro Technique and how it’s helping me to increase my productivity

It’s been over two months now since I bought a countdown timer from Amazon to use for the Pomodoro Technique which aims to increase productivity. I already felt that I got plenty done each day but I loved the idea of breaking down work into intervals, having regular breaks and knowing how long I’d been hard at it for. I’ve been consistently using the time management method, apart from a week off for Christmas and I thought I’d share what it is and how I feel it’s helping me.

Those of you who have never heard of this technique may be wondering if it is named after a particular person, but you might be surprised to know that pomodoro is actually Italian for tomato. What does a tomato have to do with productivity? Read on and you’ll find out!

What is The Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method which was developed by Italian Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. At this time, Cirillo was a university student and was struggling to stay focused on his studies. He challenged himself and posed the question ‘Can you stay focused for two minutes without distraction?’. To check if he could, he grabbed his countdown timer from the kitchen which was red and shaped like a pomodoro, or, in English, a tomato. He set the timer, and after two minutes of focused activity, the timer rang and he had achieved his mission. After this, he considered why the use of a timer had worked and he experimented with gradually upping the time and reducing it when it became too much. In the end, he decided that 25 minutes was perfect and that a short break (5 minutes) was required before continuing.

Cirillo carried on experimenting and came up with some basic principles. The timer was an important part but only one element of the method. He suggests the following:

  • Pick one task you want to work on.
  • Set your timer for 25 minutes and place it somewhere highly visible (so you can see how much time remains).
  • When the buzzer goes off, have a 5 minute break.
  • Repeat this with 3 more periods of 25 minutes and 5 minute breaks.
  • Mark each pomodoro with an X when you’ve completed it (this could be on a mini whiteboard, a post-it note or in your planner.
  • After 4 ‘pomodoros’ (work periods of 25 minutes and 5 minute breaks), take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.
  • Once your longer break is finished, go back to step 1.

But what if I have a really long project or lots of short tasks to do?

For complex projects, you should break things down into smaller actionable steps. This will help you avoid overwhelm and ensure you make good progress towards your end goal.

Any tasks which will take less than one pomodoro should be combined with other quick tasks. This might include a range of admin such as book a hairdressers appointment, reply to an email, making a shopping list for the supermarket and reviewing your bank statement.

If you finish your chosen task before the pomodoro timer rings, you should continue to use the rest of your time in a productive manner e.g. by going over what you’ve just learned, making a list of next steps, reading up on a related topic etc.

What should I do during my 5 minute breaks?

When the timer goes off, it’s sometimes tempting to continue working, especially if you’re in a flow state. However, taking breaks is really important if you want to stay productive. What you do during your short breaks is up to you but here are some suggestions that you might find helpful. For me, taking time away from screens such as my computer or my phone is super important and gives my eyes a good rest.

  • Do a short guided meditation
  • Get out in the garden and reap the benefits of fresh air
  • Do some stretches
  • Put on an upbeat track and dance about your kitchen / living room or anywhere with some space to move
  • Take a quick walk for a serotonin hit
  • Drink some water, squash or a flavoured tea
  • Sit in a comfy chair and read a good book
  • Do a mindful activity such as a spot of doodling, a word puzzle, jigsaw or some colouring in.
  • Listen to some music – trying closing your eyes so you really tune in.
  • Watch birds in your garden.

How is the Pomodoro Technique working for me so far?

So far, I’ve found the method to be incredibly effective. I bought my timer hoping that it might help in some small way but I didn’t realise how beneficial it would be as it’s such a simple idea. Here are some of the advantages I’ve experienced so far:

  • Makes it easy for me to get started. When you have a big project to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by its size and this can often lead to procrastination AKA putting things off. Contrary to popular belief, for most people, procrastinating is less about laziness and lack of self control, and more about fears of failure or feelings of self doubt. Knowing that I can do things in baby steps where I only have to do 25 minutes before being allowed a break is all the encouragement I need to get started.
  • Increasing my awareness of time. Using the timer makes you really aware of time going by and this encourages you to really focus in on your chosen tasks.
  • One thing at a time. The method encourages you to work on one specific task or a group of related tasks at one time and this helps to prevent the urge to multitask or context switching (where you jump from one task to another) which studies show is detrimental to productivity.
  • Great for avoiding distractions. In some ways, 25 minutes feels like plenty of time but if you don’t use it wisely, it can soon be gone. Because of this, I’ve taken steps to avoid anything which might interrupt my work flow. Depending on the type of work I’m doing, this might include putting my mobile phone in another room, adopting pen and paper methods for recording, switching off notifications and playing background music to block out other sounds.
  • Encourages me to plan my day. Before you start work, you’re encouraged to plan your tasks in advance. This helps you to decide what you want to get done, at what time and how long you think an activity is likely to take. At the end of your working day, you can evaluate your progress and consider if you overestimated or underestimated how much time tasks took. This can then inform your future planning.
  • Ensures I take regular breaks. Taking regular mental breaks from your work helps you to stay focused and remain efficient and productive during your 25 minute time blocks. If you’re working at a desk, it’s really beneficial to get up and move around as this improves your circulation and helps to combat fatigue.
  • Helps me maintain motivation. Seeing the time counting down on the timer in front of you is great for ensuring you work at a good pace. Also, after each session, I mark my progress in my bullet journal and this in itself makes me feel good and gives me the encouragement I need to keep going.
  • Encourages me to be self-evaluative. On days when I feel like I haven’t been super productive, despite using the Pomodoro Technique, I always question why. Common culprits include distractions from notifications or social media (especially if I’m researching something online), working in an untidy environment (meaning I can’t find things I needed) not taking my 5 minute break (or unconsciously extending them), deviating from my plan when I get back to work (because I found something else much more appealing, or when taking a break, engaging in something which didn’t allow me to relax and recharge (e.g. reading news articles online). When I’ve established what the issues are, I can develop strategies to combat them.

Final words…

I hope you have found today’s blog post useful, especially if you are looking for ways to beat procrastination, become more time savvy, and generally work more productively each day. If you want to know even more about the Pomodoro Technique you will find Francesco Cirillo’s book available in e-book format or paperback on Amazon. Also, feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments and if you already use the Pomodoro Technique, let me know how it’s working out for you.

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

Monday Matters: How to create and use a vision board so it actually works

My vision board for the start of 2023

I’ve created quite a few vision boards over the last few years and some of them have worked better than others. Often, I find I have manifested some of the things I’ve visualised for myself, whilst other dreams have been forgotten or have not totally come into fruition. Before I create a new board in my bullet journal, I always reflect on the previous one, thinking about which of my desires and goals have been met, which I’ve made progress towards and which either didn’t come true or are no longer in line with what I want for my life. Today, I thought I’d share some of my best tips for creating a vision board and ways in which you can use yours as an effective tool for manifestation.

What is a vision board?

In brief, a vision board is a visual representation of goals you want to work towards to create your ideal life. This can include inspiring images, text which states what you desire for yourself and also messages to yourself such as affirmations and motivational phrases and words. Vision boards can be created in a range of different formats and some of these are discussed a little later.

What do we mean by manifestation?

Put simply, manifestation is the act of materialising or bringing into fruition you deepest wishes, desires and dreams, so they become your true reality. So, for example, you might wish to be a more organised person and this could be shown in your home and work systems, the way you manage your time, the plans you put in place, your goals and priorities, your decision making skills, your self awareness and ability to evaluate your situation etc. There are a number of ways of manifesting the above and creating a vision board can be a really geat tool if you use it properly and effectively.

Where to begin

Before you even start creating your vision board, you need to get clear on what you want to prioritise for yourself right now and in the future. A good way to do this is to schedule some time to quietly think about and evaluate your current life with a view to considering plans to work towards a few goals and small changes that will help you on your way towards your dream life. The following journalling prompts and questions which I’ve collected from a range of sources and created myself will encourage this. You don’t need to answer them all, but they should help you orientate your thinking and ease you into contemplation, evaluation and reflection mode. I recommended writing down some or all of your responses (preferably on paper rather than using a tech device) as part of the process because this enables you to slow down and carefully consider things.

  • What did I do last year that made me happy? Why did these things make me feel this way?
  • In which ways was I successful in 2022? Which goals did I meet? How did I effectively deal with problems which came my way?
  • What was my greatest accomplishment of the year? How has thinking about this helped with my self worth and feelings of purposefulness?
  • What challenges did I face last year? What did I learn as a result?
  • What kind of self care activities did I regularly engage in? (if any) Which of these would I like to continue with or do more of? Which new self care activities might I like to try in 2023?
  • What did I spend too much time and energy on in 2022? As a result, what would I like to do differently in 2023? How might I go about this? Do I need to learn something new or create some sort of plan of action?
  • What is a new skill I learnt last year? Which skill / skills would I like to learn or develop in 2023?
  • Name 5 of your core values e.g. positivity, helping others, social connection, looking after the environment, growth, adventure etc. Am I living in alignment with these? What changes would I like to make in relation to my values and beliefs?
  • Do I feel in control of my life right now or do I feel like others are controlling it for me? Are there any changes I wish to make as a result of my answer?
  • When do I feel most fulfilled? Why?
  • What do I want to leave behind in 2022? This could be anything – an attitude, a toxic relationship, poor self image, negative thinking, lack of self compassion, saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say no, being overworked and underpaid etc
  • What do I want to take forward into 2023? (What do I want to continue doing? How do I want to continue being? Which goals do I want to continue to work towards? etc)
  • What new practices / attitudes / ways of being / skills etc do I want for myself for 2023? How might I implement these? (e.g. do some self development reading, work with a therapist, change up my routines, attend a class or do some distance learning, place more emphasis / importance on something etc)
  • What limiting beliefs am I holding on to? Why? How can I work on changing my beliefs about myself / others / the world? (This might be something that you need help and support with, in which case, seeking out therapist or life coach can be really helpful)
  • What does success look and feel like to you? Why?
  • If you change one thing about your working life to make it better, what would it be? What impact do you feel this would have?
  • How do you respond to criticism? Do you feel this is helpful / unhelpful or could be improved in some way?
  • What qualities do you admire in other people?
  • Is there a skill you have always wanted to master? What could you do to make a start with this?
  • What bad habits would you like to break?
  • What new habits would you most like to instill?
  • What would you like to be doing in 5 years time? Why?
  • Who could support you in working towards the different goals you are considering?

Another activity which you might like to try is filling in a ‘wheel of life’ or ‘life balance wheel’ to assess how balanced the different aspects of your life are. There are lots of resources online for this, including blanks which you can print off. Commonly used categories are:

  • Career / business
  • Health/fitness
  • Spirituality
  • Fun & recreation
  • Finances
  • Giving / contribution
  • Personal growth and development
  • Significant other / marriage / romance
  • Physical environment (home/office)
  • Family & friends

The category names can be tweaked to make them personal to you, so, for example, I would have marriage as a category, would choose business rather than career and have physical environment labelled with home / workspace. The idea is that you evaluate the aspects and give yourself a score out of 10 for each. This is mine from 2018 and it’s amazing to see how things have changed for me since then.

My wheel from the end of 2018 which I found in an old Bullet Journal

My new Wheel of Life!

When you’ve finished your wheel of life, you should see some categories that might benefit from a little bit (or a lot!) of work in order to level them up. For example, in mine, upgrading of the physical environment part of my life is my priority and I’m going to start with the part of my home that I spend most time in.

Personally, I prefer to work on tweaking things for the better rather than having grand ideas which are miles away from my current life. So, for example, if one of my current desires for myself was to have a healthy body and mind, I would think about things I could put in place to work towards this with small and achievable being the key words such as exercising for 30 minutes each day, making sure I eat at least 5 fruit and vegetables, having a balanced plate for my meals and doing at least half an hour of mindful activity each afternoon or evening or scheduling in other regular self care activities. This makes more sense than choosing what for me would be unreasonable goals such as losing loads of weight (unmeasurable), being a size 8 (not going to happen anywhere in the near future if ever,), eating a diet with no foodie treats (unmanageable) and spending two hours in the gym every day of the week (too high expectations).

One little word

Another idea you could try is to use a word to orientate you for the year / month / quarter. This was a tradition coined by Ali Edwards and is described on her website as ‘a word to focus on, to live with, to investigate, to write about, to craft with, and to reflect upon as I go about my daily life’. There are literally hundreds of words you could choose and if you want some inspiration, you’re welcome to check out my Pinterest board.

Vision board format

There are lots of different ways of making a vision board and some may be more appealing to you than others, so start asking yourself a few questions about what would work best for you and would be highly visible each day. Ideas include:

  • A vision board Pinterest board on your computer
  • A large A3 / A2 wall display which can easily be seen in a room of your choice
  • A collection of pictures and words added to a blank page in Canva and then used as your desktop on your personal/work laptop
  • Pictures and words surrounding the mirror where you do your hair/make up each day
  • An A4 sheet stuck onto your fridge with a magnet
  • A double page spread in your notebook or bullet journal

Whatever style you choose, it definitely needs to be one that you’re going to look at on a daily basis. It’s no good creating a vision board in a beautiful notebook and then placing it on a shelf to collect dust – that’s not going to help you manifest anything!

Collect your words and pictures

When you’ve become clear about what you want for yourself right now and have decided on an appropriate format, you can start to collect images and words which reflect this. There are a few different ways you can do this – you could get together some wellbeing related magazines, flick through them and cut out words and images which resonate or you could use Google or Pinterest and search for words and images related to your core values and ways of living you want to move towards. So, for example, if you want to increase the time you spend outdoors in nature, you might search for ‘woodland’, ‘outdoors’, ‘countryside’ or ‘walks in nature’ and then collect images that are the most visually appealing to you. I find it’s best to choose one image and a few words to represent each of your visions. You could even add an affirmation for each such as ‘I am a tidy and well-organised person’, I always take time to look after myself’, ‘I can do anything I put my mind to’, I dream. I believe, I receive. Personally, I like to type out words and phrases on my laptop, but an alternative method is to use letters and phrases from magazines in a kind of ransom note style!

Whilst collecting your words and pictures, try to avoid picking too many things to work on as this is the fastest route to overwhelm and lack of clarity. For my last vision board, I chose just five things to work on and a few mindsets which will help me progress. I selected two motivational images for ‘tidy and organised’ as this is my number one priority and what I want to spend the most time on. As you can see from my vision board at the start of today’s post, I print my photos on glossy photo paper (using my Canon Selphy) and try to choose images which really pop and little bits of décor here and there to try to make my board attractive to look at. If you love the way your vision board turned out, you’re much more likely to want to look at it every day and it’s more likely to inspire you to take action to reach your goals.

A few hints and tips to ensure your vision board works

For a vision board to be classed as working, it needs to be helping to motivated you to work towards your goals and to provide inspiration to keep you heading in the right direction. As I said earlier, I’ve had mixed success with mine through the years and have definitely learnt what helps and what hinders me in making progress. Here’s some tips and tricks which will hopefully help you manifest effectively:

Focus on one thing at a time. Take a look at your vision board and decide which item you are most drawn to right now. This could be something you feel would be easy to implement as a great way to get you started or it could be something which you believe would have most impact. For example, if I had a tidy and well organised craft room, it would certainly make it easier to do my current creative craft project and find and make a start on one of my sewing kits. You can still do things which contribute towards achieving your other goals but try to make one element your priority for the next few weeks or month.

Devote time (at least 5 minutes every day) to look at and think about your vision board. You could also try closing your eyes to visualise what you want for yourself and how you would feel / act / think if a particular vision became your reality. Research shows that visualisation is a powerful tool for manifestation.

Ensure that any goals you set as a result of your vision for the next month / quarter / year are SMART. Make them:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Use the acronym to help you flesh out each of your goals and identify some steps to success. This might take a while – another reason why it’s best to work on one aspect of your vision board at a time.

To help you to instill new habits and or break old ones, try reading up on habit formation. I’m currently reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits and making notes on what I’ve learnt but there are plenty of online resources available too.

Schedule in time to reflect on what’s working, what’s not and your progress each week. If things aren’t working, consider why not and then think of new things you could try. How could you increase your progress? Might you need to create smaller steps and celebrate the tiny achievements to spur you on? Will scheduling in blocks of time each day to work towards your current focus help?

Try creating a ‘highlight‘ each day which will lead you towards your goal. This is a method discussed in the book Make Time by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky and involves choosing a single activity to prioritise and protect in your daily calendar. When you are engaging in activity for your daily highlight, try to rid your space of distractions so you can really focus on the task at hand.

Don’t be afraid to make updates as you go. You can add things, remove things, tweak things or even start again from scratch if necessary. It’s your vision board and if you decide that one of your images just isn’t inspiring you or that a motivational quote someone shared on Instagram is perfect for your needs – make the necessary changes and hopefully reap the rewards!

When motivation does dwindle, go back and look at your journalling that you did at the beginning of the progress and re-read the answers you wrote to particularly pertinent questions. This should provide you with your ‘reasons why’ and help you to get back on track.

Final words…

I hope that today’s blog post has encouraged you to have a go at creating a vision board for yourself which will help you work towards your goals and desires and ultimately work on designing a life which matches your core values and helps you manifest the aspirations you have for yourself. Wishing you lots of success with meeting your goals for 2023.

Posted in art, bullet journal, Bullet journaling, creativity, goal setting, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, productivity

My new slightly later than mid year BuJo and Setting up for August – birthday balloons theme

I’ve just finished my previous bullet journal and I’m excited to be moving in to a brand new notebook. This one is again from Notebook Therapy but the cover is white vegan leather with a beautiful butterfly on the front and gilded edges to the pages. I’m already wondering how long it will stay mark free for!

As we’re off on holiday shortly I’m going to keep this post picture heavy with minimal explanation. If you want to know anything about the spreads you can always ask in the comments.

Key and index pages

Future log

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Grid spacing cheat sheet

Vision board

I love how my vision board turned out. Some of the goals are ongoing from earlier in the year, some are new aspirations.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

August front cover

For my theme for August, I went for birthday balloons as my niece and our share our birthdays on the 3rd August. I completed my cover page on return from our holiday to Amsterdam. To make it quicker and easier, I used a tracing paper balloon shape to create the balloons but slightly altered them when I inked them in for a hand-drawn look. I used a 0.3 Pigma micron for each balloon and a 0.1 for the strings.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

August calendar pages

I haven’t managed to get chance to do the front cover page yet but it will feature lots of colourful balloons in the colour palette used for the calendar.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Reading log

A space for me to record books read in August and September and rate them out of 5 hearts.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

When did I last? spread

I found this really useful in my previous bullet journal, particularly for stuff that doesn’t get done that often so I’ve created a slightly more compact version.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Packing list

I do one of these every time we go away and refer back to previous ones each time. Obviously things depend on the season where we’re going and how long for but there are some items I take on each holiday. The lists help me feel more organised and mean I don’t forget things.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my new bullet journal and my spreads. I always find it exciting to start a new notebook but at the same time I worry about making mistakes (which I inevitably do!). However, then you have the opportunity to get creative with how you fix the problem(s). Wishing you all a wonderful August.

Posted in lifestyle, productivity, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: 7 benefits of decluttering and some ways to get started

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been making a start on decluttering and re-organising some parts of our home. So far, I’ve got rid of some unwanted clothes, purged my vast collection of magazines and begun the mammoth task of clearing out and re-organising my craft room. I have a lot of ‘stuff’ and, at times, the process has been overwhelming and stressful but I’m doing a little bit each day and slowly, I’m seeing the difference it’s making. For today’s Monday Matters, I thought I would consider some of the main benefits of decluttering your home as I feel that knowing the effects it can have on health and wellbeing will help me to keep going and also might encourage some of you to dedicate a small amount of time each week to tackle an area of your home or a particular type of clutter. I’ll also offer a few ways to get started including some ideas based on the popular ‘Kondo’ method.

So, let’s start with some of the main benefits which can make a real difference to your life…

  1. You’ll have more energy

A house full of clutter is very draining. There’s always things out of place and constantly seeing your stuff everywhere will likely consume your thoughts as soon as you enter your home or spend time in a particular room. Also, you’ll regularly have to make decisions about where to put things and this can cause stress and deplete your energy levels.

Clutter can make you feel both physically and mentally tired and can also prevent you from relaxing and replenishing your spent energy after a busy day. On the other hand, a tidy and clutter free home lowers stress levels as it is an inviting and calming place to be, where you can fully wind down.

2. Your sleep is likely to improve

A tidy and clutter free bedroom promotes peaceful sleep and allows you to switch off more easily. Whereas a cluttered environment fills the mind with uneasy thoughts and has been found to cause disrupted and less restful sleep. You might think it doesn’t matter if you have lots of stuff in your bedroom because you can’t see it when you turn out the light but your brain will be stimulated as soon as it sees the ‘chaos’ causing feelings of overwhelm and stress.

It’s best to make sure most of the items in your bedroom are put away and that a small number of carefully chosen objects are on display which reflect the style you want to achieve. So, for example, your bedside cabinet or table might have a pretty lamp, your Kindle or book and a single framed photograph.

3. You’ll feel more organised

Having an orderly home will mean that you can find things more easily. If all of your things have a particular home and similar items are grouped together, you’ll feel super organised and you’ll know exactly what you have and where each item is located. Less clutter will help you feel in control whereas an excess of stuff will have the opposite effect.

You’re also likely to feel extremely proud of your home and want to show it off!

4. Fewer allergens will be present

This is a really important one for me as I’m asthmatic and have a condition called allergic rhinitis which is triggered by dust and molds. If you have stuff everywhere, it’s very difficult to keep your home free from dust. Also a build up of clutter has been shown to contribute to poor ventilation in your rooms which can cause mold. Surfaces with only a select few items on them can really help reduce the number of allergens in the air and on your furniture which is great for anyone with asthma and other similar health conditions.

5. Cleaning and tidying will become a breeze!

Whilst I was struggling with depression and anxiety, my support worker helped me to plan some small housework tasks throughout the week to encourage me to contribute to the many chores involved in running a home so I was able to feel a sense of achievement. On one of the days, in my weekly plan, we decided that I would dust and vacuum our bedroom. When asked the next week how I’d got on, I mentioned that I’d got overwhelmed and upset because just tackling my dressing table had been a gargantuan task as there was so much clutter to clear before I even attempted to clean the dusty surface. I ended up just doing the dressing table and my chest of drawers when all of the other furniture really needed doing too.

Having less clutter will make keeping your home clean much easier and so much quicker. I’m not saying that dusting, vacuuming or mopping floors will become enjoyable, but it’s likely to be much less of a chore.

6. You’ll be more productive

If you want to get things done quickly and easily you need an environment with as few distractions as possible. This is why many offices have a tidy desk policy as it promotes efficiency and effectiveness at work. Less clutter in your home has the same impact. It means you can focus on the task at hand rather than being drawn towards your stuff which needs sorting out or has just become too much to deal with.

7. Overall, you’ll feel happier in your home

Clutter is known to fuel depression and anxiety as it promotes feelings such as sadness, stress, guilt, despair, shame or inadequacy. It can also make you feel embarrassed and apologetic if you have any visitors. A clutter free home, however, can have a really positive effect on our mood by freeing us of these negative emotions making us feel more content and generally happier.

As you can see, doing a spot of decluttering can really help improve your physical and mental health and generally make your home a more pleasant place to be. But, getting started isn’t easy, especially if you have a lot of stuff. Here’s a few suggestions to get you going…

Visualise what you want

Once you’ve committed to decluttering, try a little visualisation exercise. Think about your ideal lifestyle and create a picture in your mind of what it looks like. Also, imagine how decluttering will help you work towards or achieve this and how you will feel as a result of your improved home. Perhaps you’ll have a well-ordered space where everything is neat and tidy. Maybe you’ll feel more organised and happier. Or, you might be able to relax more easily when you finish work. You could even find that you have more time to do the things you love with the people you care about. Obviously, this will differ greatly depending on your personal goals and the lifestyle you want. You might even want to write down some of your ideas after visualising so you can re-read them to help you stay motivated. If you prefer pictorial representations, you could make a vision board for your bullet journal or to pin to your wall.

Dedicate some time

It’s a good idea to regularly schedule a block of time in your bullet journal or diary and think about what will work best for you and your lifestyle. You might choose 10 minutes and set a timer for a quick spot of decluttering or an hour on a Sunday afternoon if you want to tackle your entire wardrobe. If you have a family and the stuff doesn’t all belong to you, try to get everyone involved in the process ensuring everyone takes some responsibility and can reap the rewards too. Make sure, whatever timeframe you choose, you stick to it, just like you would any other commitment.

Start small

In her popular first book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying, Marie Kondo identifies a particular order to decluttering your home. She suggests starting with clothes and invites you to get all of your clothing together and work through it to decide what you want to keep based on if each item sparks joy. However, if you have lots and lots of clothes like I do, it might be worth starting much smaller. A good way is to categorise your clothing and just working on, for example, t-shirts or trousers. Working on a small number of items can help to prevent overwhelm and make the process less stressful.

Think about what bothers you the most

Although organising expert Marie Kondo suggests a set order for decluttering, you might want to start with something else or a particular space. For example, if the mess in your living room stresses you out when you sit down to watch TV, you might want to start with visible clutter in there. Or, if the state of your bedroom may be contributing to a less than restful sleep, you could tackle this first. Whatever would have the most impact, as long as it’s not too big a job, may be the best area to start.

Deal with visible clutter first

Also related to impact and choosing what to work on is visible clutter. You might have a cupboard under the stairs which is full of junk but does it bother you all the time or only when you need something from the back of it? You might be best off starting with your desk top, your dressing table, the top of your chest of drawers or floor space if you want to really see your progress. Then, when surfaces are cleared, you can tackle cupboards, drawers and cabinets.

Make a decision about the items you don’t want or need straight away

As soon as you’ve decided what to keep, including what sparks joy and which items are useful in your life right now, make plans for your discard pile. Some of your stuff will be fit for the bin (and you’ll wonder why you still have it!), some might be perfect for donating to charity, and a small number of items could potentially be sold on ebay (but only if you have the time to photograph and list them straightway and then deal with them once they sell / don’t sell). It’s really important to take action on the items immediately, so take the bin bag(s) out as soon as you can, place donations in a box and head straight for the charity shop that same afternoon and create your ebay listings as a matter of urgency. The quicker the items are gone, the sooner you can start enjoying the benefits.

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading today’s Monday Matters post and it has prompted you to do some decluttering. Let me know in the comments if you’re already enjoying the benefits of less clutter or if you are keen to get started. It would also be great to hear any other tips you have for beginning the process.

Happy decluttering!

Posted in Bullet journaling, life hacks, lifestyle, Mindfulness, productivity

Monday Matters: 8 wonderful benefits of listening to music

Photo credit: Lee Campbell for Unsplash

Back in October of last year, I found my mental health deteriorating, and, once again, started to have difficulties with anxiety and depression. I’m now (thankfully) feeling much better and my improved wellbeing has enabled me to start blogging again. Whilst I was struggling, the main focus of life was on doing any little thing I could either to distract myself from how I was feeling or to improve my mood. I found music was a huge help and so, for today’s Monday Matters post, I want to focus on the benefits of listening to music. The following are applicable whatever your musical preferences and can be utilised whether you are finding things difficult at the moment or feeling happy, content and positive, like I am currently. Let’s get started..

1. Elevates your mood

Whatever our taste in music, I expect we can all name at least one song which, when it starts to play, is able to shift our mood in a matter of seconds, making us want to turn the radio up, jump to our feet and start dancing around the room or burst into song. It may be the tempo, the lyrics or the sparking of a happy memory which uplifts us. Whichever of these it is that gets us going, scientific research proves that these tunes promote the release of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine into our bodies and it is this which is responsible for making us feel so good. If you do find yourself singing or dancing along to the music too, you will be doing yourself the extra favour of encouraging happy hormones known as endorphins to flood your body as well!

Making a playlist for times when you are feeling a little low or even depressed can be really useful. This can either be on your phone, your IPod or even in your bullet journal so you can seek out those songs on Spotify, YouTube or whatever is your music player of choice. Having them written down is particularly helpful for those times when you are struggling as, at that time, you may not be able to recall songs which are able to make you feel more upbeat.

The following page was inspired by one created by @sunshine_journal_ on Instagram.

A page from by current bullet journal. Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

2. Improves your workout

According to my Fitbit app, which has just this second provided me with an activity tip (it must have somehow known I was writing this blog post):

‘Listening to music can help exercise feel easier, and even boost your speed. Songs with 120-140 beats per minute appear to have the biggest motivating effect’

Source: Fitbit app info.

Clicking through to the information, which was written back in 2017, I learnt that music can increase your speed, make you feel more powerful, make exercising feel easier (wahoo!), boost your mood and help to keep you motivated. When I was battling with my mental illness, I didn’t have the energy to do my Zumba workouts but I did make sure that I went for at least one long walk per day and my playlist helped to put at least a little bit of a spring in my step. Now I’m back to good health, the music is really motivating and some of the track make me want to break into a run (luckily I haven’t acted upon the urge as I don’t wear my sports bra whilst pounding the streets or the paths of my local park and don’t want to be off to the doctors with detached boob syndrome which I’m sure would be the resulting affliction lol!).

Here’s a list of some of my motivational music, many of which I copied into iTunes from some old CD singles which I believe I purchased whilst at uni many moons ago:

  • Choose Life – PF Project feat. Ewan McGregor
  • Forever – Dee Dee
  • Another Chance – Roger Sanchez
  • Alone – Lasgo
  • Beautiful – Matt Darey Feat. Marcella Woods
  • Treat Infamy – Rest Assured
  • The Night Train – Kadoc
  • The Silence – Mike Koglin
  • Kickstarts – Example
  • In For The Kill – La Roux

They’ve been put into a playlist on my old Apple iPod, aptly called ‘On The Go’ as I couldn’t work out how to give them my own title.

3. Boosts your concentration levels when working or studying

When I’m struggling with anxiety and depression, it becomes very difficult for me to concentrate on the simplest of tasks and even harder to be motivated to do things in the first place. Studies have shown that particular types of music can be really useful in encouraging productivity and creativity. Some tunes can also be quite therapeutic, reducing stress levels so that you are able to concentrate better. Personally, I prefer instrumental music as many lyrics can be more of a distraction than a help. Whilst conducting online research for today’s blog post, I discovered that the best types of musical accompaniment were suggested to be the following (one of them may surprise you like it did me!) :

  • classical music
  • ambient music
  • nature sounds
  • between 50 and 80 BPM (Beats per minute)
  • video game music!

You can find many different collections of classical music for work or study on YouTube but I like to create my own playlists as there’s nothing worse than a tune coming on that you simple don’t like. My absolute favourite has to be Fur Elise by Beethoven, but, my musical choices are often dependent on the type of task I’m working on.

Ambient music is a genre that is generally identifiable as being atmospheric and environmental in nature. According to online definitions, it is gentle and largely electronic with no persistent beat. One of my favourite pieces of ambient music is Porcelain by Moby and, although mostly tracks are instrumental, this one does have minimal lyrics. If your chosen music does have words, I think it is best to have the song on at a low volume so they don’t distract you.

I love listen to the sounds of nature in my local park or in the garden on a fine day. When you’re working or studying, apps such as ‘Calm’, ‘Sleep sounds’ or other relaxation and meditation focused packages, are great for providing nature sounds such as rain on leaves, Autumn woods, water flow, coral reef and wind in pines. I’m not sure how much of the Calm app is accessible for free ordinarily because I’m currently making use of an extended free trial but the sleep sounds app has lots free to use (my phone is Android but I expect there are iPhone Apps too).

According to my research, music at 50-80 BPM is good for stimulating the left side of the brain for information processing and problem solving. Again, collections of tracks can be found on YouTube but I would definitely recommend you create your own playlist of music you love. For sparking your creative juices, more upbeat, faster music is suggested (more BPM).

Who knew that music created to accompany video games could help boost your output? I certainly didn’t. The ones that I play tend to get on my nerves and I mute them but apparently they’re designed to enhance your gaming experience by stimulating your senses and blocking out other stimuli which may distract you. One game that both my husband and I always have the music on for though, is Angry Birds 2 but I’ve never thought of listening to it when working or studying – that is, until now (I may just have it playing in the background as I type away on this blog post!).

4. Calms the mind and relaxes the body

Some music can be really soothing when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or uptight. According to a number of studies, listening to calming tracks can help you relax by slowing your breathing and heart rate, lowering blood pressure and reducing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (AKA adrenaline). Try searching for ‘peaceful music’, ‘soothing music’ or ‘music for relaxation’ on YouTube (I found some wonderful extended compositions by talented Norwegian musical artist Peder B. Helland whose videos also contain beautiful imagery), create your own playlist or check out some of the music on apps such as Calm.

5. Great for mindful listening

Music can be a great part of your daily mindfulness practice. Mindfully listening grounds us in the present moment and, by paying attention to what’s going on currently, you won’t be focusing on ruminating about the past or worrying about things in the future. Mindfulness is obviously a huge topic which I couldn’t possibly cover in this blog post but with regard to mindful listening to music, you can start with really paying attention to the piece, noticing its melody, rhythm, tone or lyrics and tuning in to how it makes you feel or what emotions it evokes. And of course, if your mind wanders off, as with all mindfulness practices, gently and kindly bring it back to the music without berating yourself for losing your attention or starting to think things such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘why do I have the concentration skills of a goldfish?’!

6. Combats isolation and feelings of loneliness

Many of us will be struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness right now due to the effects of local lockdowns and social distancing as the result of Coronavirus. Studies have shown, however, that listening to music can combat these by triggering the release of a hormone called oxytocin which plays a key part in cultivating empathy, trust and compassion for others and creates a sense of belonging and connection.

7. Brings back happy memories

Sometimes, when you hear a song on the radio, it evokes happy memories and has the ability to transport you right back to the time when you first heard it or to a particular occasion (e.g. your wedding day, a night out with friends in your early 20s, or a family get together. Adding these to a playlist can evoke fond memories or help you recall and remember happier periods of your life when you’re feeling down. Research has shown that just replaying music helps us reconnect with the feelings we were experiencing at the time.

Talking of memory, there’s also scientific evidence that listening to music can help us retrieve memories and is also good at helping us to lay down new ones. For this reason, music can be wonderful resource for elderly relatives or those who have dementia.

8. Helps you to process difficult emotions and heal from heartache and grief

I’m sure most, if not all of us have experienced the heartache that goes with losing a loved one at some point in our lives. Although music doesn’t have the capacity to make the feelings of emotional anguish or grief go away, it can certainly help us process and make sense of things. Seeking out and listening to tracks where the lyrics seem to be describing our situation perfectly is something many of you will have found yourself doing automatically. In the past, following the breakdown of a romantic relationship, I would always find myself reaching for CDs of sad songs and having a good cry. I wasn’t sure that choosing such tunes was helpful, but according to my research, it definitely can be. In fact, listening to music which matches our mood (either in terms of tempo or lyrics), whether that be sadness, anger, excitement or joy, benefits us by activating our limbic system (the section of our brain which is directly related to emotional processing).

Final thoughts…

I hope you have found this music focused post helpful in some way and that is has encouraged you to think about using songs and instrumental pieces to benefit your mental health and wellness. Let me know in the comments if any of what I’ve said resonates with you.

Happy listening!