There’s a trend in the blogosphere for lives that are pristinely planned and impeccably tracked. We see it in each perfected bullet journal spread posted to Instagram or Pinterest; in every shiny new tracking or list-making app; in every self-improvement how-to blogpost or airbrushed morning routine. This constant sense of the need to better oneself can be seen as aspirational, but it also encourages a culture in which nobody can ever be good enough, however much they plan.
I started thinking about this when I scrolled through Pinterest the other day and stumbled across a pin detailing 40 habits I should add to my habit tracker in my bullet journal. Something in my head clicked – you might have seen my brief Twitter rant on the matter – because a) not everyone has a habit tracker and/or a bullet journal and b) who really has the time to be trying to implement upwards of 40 habits into their daily life?
I feel as though the blogging and vlogging industries instruct their audiences to spend their lives planning. You need to watch picture-perfect morning routines to work out how you’re going to fill your time before eight-am according to the lives of other people you know only through a computer or phone screen on a variety of social media platforms. You need to read a series of blogposts to plan out how to organise your to-do lists on multiple apps, half of which are only compatible with the latest iPhone. You need to list seemingly endless habits you’d like to break or include in your daily life, attempt to implement them, and then track them daily via colour-coding in a brand-new notebook you’ve bought just for the purpose.
Take the bullet journal, which started out as a planning method to enable uses to maximise their time productivity. But nowadays you can’t just start a bullet journal – you have to plan how it will be organised; what you’re going to put in it; how you’re going to lay it out; what colour scheme you’re going to use, and so on and so forth, all in advance of actually starting to use it. And once you do start using it, each page should be beautifully designed or eccentrically decorated to demonstrate your fun and creative personality. It’s easy to see how it can take over your life.
I don’t believe anyone really lives like this, and I also think more and more people are waking up to the fact that the pictures they see on Instagram and the lives they read in blogs and watch on YouTube aren’t 100% authentic. How can they be? It’s more important than ever now that audiences of all types of media think critically about what they’re viewing and why they choose to see it. And I also believe that many, many content producers are becoming more aware of their own inauthenticity, and are learning to be more self-critical as a result. All of these things are positive and important.
All the same though, glorifying this kind of behaviour where everything in life is 100% structured and organised and exact isn’t a constructive step for the blogging industry. I read a number of impressive mental health blogs which discuss the struggles of living alongside conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Nicole in particular comes to mind – and it really is key that we don’t normalise, let alone praise or extol as ideal, potentially damaging behavioural patterns like routines that cannot be deviated from or a never-ending reach for unattainable perfection.
I’m sure habit tracking is really interesting. Studying one’s own patterns of behaviour over an extended period of time is always fascinating personal project, and it can be the key to making more positive decisions for ones health or time management. I don’t habit-track in a notebook, but wearing a FitBit 24/7 and food logging on MyFitnessPal are both clear forms of this kind of habit tracking.
But whilst it’s helpful and insightful, I’m aware of the potential consequences. If I take my FitBit off to charge and forget to put it back on again before I go out, I have to work hard not to become frustrated at the loss of steps. Likewise, towards the end of term I missed a few days of food logging, breaking my daily streak, and this really knocked me. As a result I decided to take a break from logging, because it was clear I was relying on it for self-validation, rather than just information.
Posting about this stuff, then, becomes a very difficult line to tread, and nobody will get it right all the time. But this idea that we need to plan and track every aspect of our lives is so much more time-consuming than if we all just got on with actually living. The fact is, life just doesn’t work in that way.
Ultimately, how you plan your time can come from you and nobody else. I used to be an avid daily bullet journaller; before that I had post-it note systems, to-do list apps, timed-to-the-minute morning and evening routines. Some of them worked in the situation I was in at the time; others I just couldn’t keep up with so they fell by the wayside, and I felt like I’d failed. Nowadays I use Sticky Notes on my laptop for a quickfire list of emails I need to send and other web-based to-dos, and then quick post-it notes on my desk for others.
Perhaps the biggest shift of all is that I’ve worked harder to rely on my memory rather than writing things down all the time, which for me jolts the flow of my day. A case in point is that I used to be a big list-maker when it came to packing, but as I put my suitcases together to come home from university a week ago writing a list of what I needed to bring didn’t cross my mind – doing so would have taken thirty minutes out of my packing time and not been necessary or even particularly useful. But a few years ago it would have saved me time to write up that list.
My point is that nobody can or should tell you how to plan out your life, and aspiring to a time-stamped structure of every day is probably not worth your while. Even in an ideal world I really don’t believe we’d all wake up and go to bed at the same time every single day; tick everything off our bullet-journalled to-do lists; colour in everything on our habit trackers from hydration to exercise to watering the plant to washing the dishes to meditation and beyond. If I’m honest, I can’t imagine anything more dull.
Yes, it’s good to be productive – I thrive on that feeling of waking up early and getting everything done. But, even if it’s just once in a while, you need something different, something exciting. You need to stay up late. You need to go out. You need to say yes to something you didn’t plan for. You need to change schedules last minute. You need to be able to turn your back on your plan, to screw your habit trackers, fuck your to-do list and actually just live.
What do you think? Are you a life-logger or do you think we should all be more flexible with our plans? Do you rely on habit tracking for motivation? Let’s have a chat in the comments!