Journaling and Planning: a journey

My planners for 2020, 2021 and 2022
My planners for 2020, 2021 and 2022

As soon as we see the Halloween decorations come out, a lot of my stationary obsessed friends start scrambling around for their planners or journals for the following year. It’s like clockwork. Both of these activities have become rather popular with dancers of late, and it’s easy to see why. Both can help you develop, in very different ways.

Journaling has long been a staple, and books like The Artist’s Way support a form of journaling as part of their process. I have personally found journaling a bit weird, mostly because I grew up with issues around privacy, and it’s difficult to start the habit. I’ve no issues writing back on my LiveJournal, my facebook account, or even in here. But I am aware I should try proper private journaling. I know a lot of my insights have come when discussing issues that bothered me with my husband. Or more accurately, when monologuing to my husband while he interjected a well-timed comment. As it is, I’m not the best person to ask about this, but I can see how a tool for self reflection can help you figure things out in your dance journey.

However, I have become rather good at planning and I now find it invaluable. I’ve been asked to describe my process, and I think it’s important to describe the journey that took me there, because what works for me is not going to be what works for you, but maybe what I figured out along the way might help you figure things out on your end.

Growing up I had tried keeping daily planners without luck. They went barely touched, even while at University. I could never get along with their structure, expecting my day to be divided rigidly and my tasks to be neatly assigned. These days I work as a 3D artist, often under commission, and my work is rarely structured this way. So I’d given up on planners, and went by on a combination of Google Calendars and memory. And a lot of Hail Marys.

And then I discovered Bullet Journaling. What attracted me was the flexible approach that allowed for it to work the way my brain works, and the way my work develops. This happened shortly after I was invited to teach costuming at Gothla 2018, and I wanted to do Ashley Lopez’ Integrated Dance, and I decided that I needed something to keep me on track to get everything ready for the workshops, and to do the extra training I would need for ID . So I bought a dotted paper book and tried things out, but decided to go with a system close to the original BuJo system and not the pretty pinterest/instagram ready artsy options. (if you want to bypass my detailing on *how* I reached where I am right now with my planning, just go here)

My first couple of weeks were a disappointment. In November, I got a soft tissue injury on my right hand that was getting worse with use. By end of December it made any weight bearing impossible. I was told would take a few months to heal. There went my Integrated Dance prep training! My first lesson on planning, before even I started to use the planner, was to keep my options open. I had to rip out the first few pages, re-evaluate my objectives, and start again. I decided on a simple monthly log as per the original method, with one double-page spread a week to handle the day-to-day, and to analyse how my plans were going. Instead of separating into Tasks, Events and Notes, I would separate them into the the three spheres of my life that needed attention: Work, Dance, and Personal. The Big Gothla Plan was part of the “Dance” sphere, outlined at the back as a collection, with a full outline in stages. It involved documenting the process, beginning to end, for making a bra and belt, from scratch, with photographs along the way. Plus editing and layout, purchasing materials for the attendants, and the extra fun of creating a choreography for the main show, plus whatever else I would need for the costume. It was the equivalent of a 100-pages book, plus a full costume, plus a choreo, on top of my day to day work and household and classes. It was a *lot*.

My second lesson on planning was a bit more subtle, and took about a month to sink in. As I said, I’d decided I would divide my planning in 3 main sections: Personal, Dance, and Work. And then that first month proceeded to load my “personal” section with things like planning weekly menus or taking the cats for their boosters. Then it dawned on me: my *personal* tasks are not my household tasks, and I was feeling I was spending a lot of time on myself… except that it wasn’t on myself. This second lesson was, then, that I needed to account for household work, and assign it its own column/priority, and consider it a separate sphere of my life. I also added a bunch of collections on the back, for things I wanted to keep tabs on: exhibitions to attend, other dance events, performances planned, costumes worn, books on my reading pile… you get the idea.

This worked relatively well for 2018. 2019 I added some refinement but kept pretty much the same format. I was not happy with how I was tracking or not certain things. I also realised I was finding it difficult to pinpoint events for a particular day, because much as my schedule can be loose, I am also subject to objective time like every mortal. I was not sure what to do, and in December that year I experimented a bit more, adding a small section for each day of the week, and using a variation of the Alastair Method for certain repeated tasks. I bought a lovely new journal from Compoco, set it up fully with this new layout that I was certain would be brilliant

this is an actual spread on my 2020 Planner.
sums up exactly how bad it was

And then the pandemic hit, and all plans went out the window.

I barely touched my planner. It was painful to look at all the cancelled events, rescheduling, birthdays I could not be with my loved ones. However, it did help me realise which connections I wanted to nurture, what was important to keep myself healthy and sane. It also helped me realise that the “goals” that were getting accomplished were mostly those outlined and planned in detail, in a measurable manner. Yes, I’d heard of SMART goals, but I was sure I was doing them right. Except that I was still a bit vague and needed fine tuning. I’ve got InDesign, I was not dancing due to lovely COVID side effects, and time was something I had tons of. So I designed my own planner, working from that layout that I’d liked. I printed it all on A5 refills and put them in its own ringed folder. The rings allowed me flexibility, I could move things around or reprint if necessary. The InDesign template function allowed me to set up the main areas easily, and all I had to do was to add the days of the week, fixed events, titles, and I was good to go.

I kept my 4 spheres of interaction, I kept the wishlist and goals, but now I added plans, outlined in general, and set up in separate small steps over the year. They are not set in stone, of course, but it’s much easier to see if you are not where you want to be when your monthly milestones are missing, rather than suddenly reaching July or December and going “where has the time gone!”.

Which brings me nicely into the Dancing aspect. Yes, my personal journey into planner enlightenment must be *absolutely fascinating* to you all, I’m sure (weren’t you here for my personal ramblings? My bad!). But how can something like this help you?

An example week of the dance section in my planner.
  • obvious one: plan your goals and set up small steps to achieve them. You have a wishlist, you can work out the steps towards it. Make them gradual, and achievable. Check with yourself regularly, it’s easier to make adjustments as you go along. And be *kind* to yourself as you do so. Example: you want to improve your spins. Figure out what needs doing e.g. adjust technique, correct angles, check arms, improve speed. How will you monitor that? You will work on that technique x amount of times a week, then have a video review at the end of each week, then work on corrections first and improving speed afterwards. There you go, plan, spread out over a month. enter each process and milestone for that week, evaluate on Sunday evenings, adjust the plan for the next week. And writing it all down keeps you accountable to yourself. I set this overall arching plan as a “collection” at the back, then use the “dance” box in my layout for the weekly details
  • same for conditioning: it’s easier to track your progress, and far more rewarding, if you make sure to note down minutes trained, or number of repetitions or weight increases if you are using weights.
  • write down what you are doing already in class. This can help you track your progress, figure out whether there are “blind spots”, steps that are not getting equal attention, areas that are not trained equally, even if you are training more on one side of your body than the other!
  • linked to the above, if you are prone to injury, like a lot of us are, tracking down what you’re doing in detail can help you figure out where you might be overtraining a certain step or muscle group (yes, there is such a thing), or what might be contributing to flares. If you are doing other training, note that too, see where things overlap. You can also note incidence of cramps, pain, or swelling if you are recovering. Thanks to tracking both of these over a few months, and reflecting on it all later, it finally became clear to me where the issue lay that triggered my constant Achilles flares, and I could plan a suitable path to recovery.
  • plan REST AND RECUPERATION. Most proper training programs include resting, and if you are constantly running from class to workshop to home practice to challenge to prep for performance, you might notice that if you don’t plan on these yourself, your body will eventually plan them for you. Build these into your routines and stick to them.
  • juggle tight schedules. It’s far easier to have a consistent practice if you have some time set aside for it. But if you’ve got a tight work deadline plus a party in the evening, planning a half hour practice for that day might not be the best idea. Or if you have to prepare for a performance in a couple of weeks, adding an unrelated online daily challenge on top of your workload might need rethinking. Use your planner to see all you have going on, and plan wisely
  • become more confident with long term planning, and avoid last minute rush. I know this sounds difficult to believe, but the more you are aware of what you have to do, the easier it is to plan long term, and spread the work in a more even manner. Example: I knew I was dancing on the main stage at Gothla in 2019. I needed a piece to perform, a suitable costume. I started planning that in January, I had milestones for selecting fabric by April at the latest, patterns by May, full costume made by late June. Track edited to size in February, choreography finished by April. I wanted to have two performances of it under my belt before the big one to iron things out, so the first one was in May, second in June. No last minute scrambling or practicing, it was all well in my body and brain. And it helped me avoid the endless spiral of trying to chase the next best thing, to instead focus on working to make what I had better.
  • same but costume-related. I know this is difficult, particularly if the decisions on what to wear fall on someone else who often leaves it until last minute. But there is some prep you can do: if you know you often dance outdoors at least a couple of times in the summer, and all your cholis right now are velvet, pre-emptively making a jewel or black stretch cotton one will help avoid that last minute panic. Same with making sure bras and belts fit properly, have all ties, no broken threads, missing beads, zills have the right elastics, etc. It’s easier to say “I’ve got this in these colour options” than to pull out last minute costume magic. And guess what? If you are always rising to the occasion and sleeping 3 hours to make those last minute adjustments to accommodate, there is a high likelihood that you will always be the one who is asked to do the last minute miracle. I’m not advocating being an inflexible asshole, but covering reasonable bases and saying “no” to unreasonable requests might go a long way towards your sanity. Also, schedule a day for inventory and fixes. And if you are a teacher reading this, please stop expecting your plus sizes to always be the only ones having to make last minute expensive purchases or spending lengths of time for your costuming requests. I wrote a whole separate post about this.
  • track down performances, costumes worn, and other details that will help you build a clearer image of what you might need more or less of, what goes constantly in rotation, what you are always needing to borrow, and where you dance regularly enough that you might want to include variety when you perform. Track which costume items you wear the most (and will therefore need replacement sooner), what you are always missing or need to loan, what others are missing. If there’s often talks of flat colour pantaloons, but you only have brocade ones, make some while there’s a lull. And finally, if you are always loaning the same pieces to certain dance friends, write that down as a possible birthday gift!

I’ll leave you with a few pdf printouts from InDesign to show my layouts. You can view the full layouts by clicking on the images, or you can download the example pdfs from the text links. If you’d be interested in proper blank layouts for these, costume sheets and other relevant blank pages, leave me a comment below!

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