I like lists. Especially To Do lists. They make me feel like I've achieved something. I've even been known to get something done, and then add it to my To Do list retrospectively, just for the pleasure of crossing it off. I know I'm not the only person who does this. Making lists is essential in both my jobs - as Chief Herder of Cats here at Cult Pens Towers and as a parent with three daughters in different parts of the country and a husband who would forget his head if it wasn't screwed on (he uses a different phrase, which I won't repeat here). Anyway, suffice to say that - until recently - my lists were just that: lists. Perhaps entitled 'To Do' or something equally obvious. Sometimes I'd embellish them with a dot at the start of the item, or even a small square if I was feeling flamboyant , but that was about it.
But like I said - until recently. BHC (before Helen Colebrook) I was just your average - probably below-average if truth be told - list-maker. I used paper rather than electronic devices because you can put a piece of paper in full view as a constant reminder (on my desk, or the kitchen table) and it won't switch itself off. And I used whatever writing implement came to hand, from a cheap biro (yes, sorry, I know I work at Cult Pens…) to a fountain pen.
Well, I still use paper, but it's now in the form of a dot grid notebook, and the writing implements have got a little more appropriate for the task. And it's mostly thanks to the aforementioned Helen Colebrook.
By day, she's a mild-mannered HR Consultant; by night, she's an avid, and very talented, journaler, and she kindly agreed to leave her bit of Devon and come to our bit of Devon, to show us how it's done (journaling, that is, not travelling from one bit of the county to another).
It was December, and we'd just had a really rather gruelling week supplying the world with stationery. It was a case of all hands on deck (or all hands in the warehouse) as we frantically picked, checked and packed to the tunes of Radio 1 (or 2, depending on who was in charge) and the back doorbell which some wit had programmed to belt out 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'. Graphics people and Marketing people - and even Director people - became picking and packing people, putting all the right pens into the right envelopes and boxes, and the biscuit supply took a severe battering. So when we got the chance of a sit-down in a nice warm meeting room with a selection of pens and dotgrid notebooks, we couldn't have been happier.
Helen soon got us started. She'd prepared a little booklet on layout ideas (complete with a picture of a light bulb) and we knuckled down. We soon realised that a pencil was probably our most useful piece of kit; we could sketch in our layouts with the knowledge that mistakes could easily be erased, so a scouting party - Helen (our Helen not Journaling Helen) - was despatched to beg, steal or borrow (mostly steal) a variety of Staedtlers, Caran d'Aches and Derwents from the desks of unwary staff members. And then we realised that we needed a better quality (ie, less wobbly) meeting room table, as the consequence of erasing errors was that the table shook - vigorously - and was in danger of turning somebody else's carefully-drawn line into something more at home on a ECG machine. Strangely, Amanda wouldn't let Helen go to the nearest B&Q for a replacement, so cries of 'two second warning!' had to suffice every time somebody needed to rub something out. It worked quite well.
Having mastered layout - or at least got an idea of how to go about it - Helen (journaling Helen, not gofer Helen) went through what she personally uses her journal for, and how we might go about adapting her methods to suit ourselves. The beauty of it is that you can use it for just one thing - Things to Do lists in my case - or every aspect of your life, from planning the gardening year and the corporate calendar, to compiling bucket lists, health goals and holiday destinations. Making it visually pleasing is a major draw (if you'll pardon the pun) for Helen, and she enjoys spending time making it so, but we are all different, and while Amanda and I are quite content to keep ours very functional, apart from the odd bit of colouring in, Becky couldn't resist making hers pretty - and if you saw her fingernails you'd understand (they're polished, sometimes with glittery bits on them; I wasn't implying that they were dirty… oh dear, best intentions and all that.)
Anyway, Helen's first piece of advice was 'start simple'. No need to rush straight in with fancy lettering or elaborate borders: you might forget what you were going to use your journal for. Let it evolve. Write down what you want to try and achieve from creating a journal, and go from there. Don't feel that just because somebody else is using it for every aspect of their life, that you should, too. It's your journal. Do what you want.
Next up were pens. As you should know by now, we sell a lot of pens, but not all of them are really journaling-friendly. It was a bit difficult for us to see the wood for the trees, so Helen's advice was invaluable. Top of her list are Staedtler's Pigment Liners: not only do they come in different tip sizes, they don't bleed when used over ink or paint. She also likes Artline 200 fineliners and Tombow Fudenosuke brush pens. And she's become a bit of a fan of pastel highlighters: they do a great job of, well, highlighting words or passages, but without inducing a wince and the need for sunglasses. And they don't have to be specifically highlighters, either. Pastel-coloured Tombow ABT pens, for example, do a pretty good job.
Finding time. This was the biggie, certainly for (gofer) Helen and me, as we tend to pick up a book during chunks of spare time. But journaling Helen works it into her day, in much the same way, I suppose, as you'd make time to empty the dishwasher or walk the dog (if you have one). She also does a weekly round-up (think mowing the lawn or washing the car) and it's now second nature for her. Almost by accident, setting aside half an hour or so has made her more disciplined, and more inclined to create deadlines, and therefore more organised overall. She advised concentrating on things you'd like to do, rather than those you have to do, as the 'have to dos' will probably get done anyway. That way, your goals will be pleasurable ones, and will help you focus on tasks that are easy to let slide because they're 'not important'. OK, your cooking won't be flavourless if you don't plant that herb garden you've always wanted, because supermarkets do a pretty good job of supplying the likes of fresh oregano and sage, but you want that herb garden for your own pleasure - so do it.
Helen's journals basically apply to her entire life, both professional and domestic. But, she said, even if you're going for the minimalist approach, she recommends including a Daily Achievement list. This is where you note down what you've done that day, even if it's only 'wrote in my journal'. It's particularly useful for those days where you don't feel that you've achieved anything, but it makes you really think about your day, and with any luck you'll realise that yes, actually, you did get some stuff done! ('Watched The Matrix for the fourth time and actually understand it now!' and 'Looked up prices of flights to Paris - ouch!' - it all counts…)
But now there was homework to do - oh no! I thought that had gone forever sometime during the 1980s when I left sixth form college, but I now realise I was wrong. However, this was homework that promised to be fun. We all left the session clutching various dotgrid notebooks, and lots of ideas on how to go about creating our own journals, to suit ourselves. This had got to be the most open-ended homework I'd ever been set! Amanda's got new ideas for her ongoing journaling career, Becky went home and filled five pages, and James has been happily scribbling away in his lunch break. And me? Well, thanks to my new, improved Things to Do list, there's a sound system in the garage (don't ask), the kitchen wall has been painted, the bookshelves in the lounge have been rearranged to make room for more (told you I like reading…) and I managed to write this. And that was just last week! I have to admit, I do rather like looking at all my coloured-in check boxes (yes, I've progressed from careless ticks or crossings-off to employing coloured pencils). It makes me feel smug.
We're very grateful to Helen for coming to visit. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and at this time of year, that's the only type of infection we actually welcome. Her Instagram page is just amazing: her attention to detail, her meticulous layouts and her super-neat writing are all down to a lack of talent in the art department. Well, that's what she told us. We don’t believe her.
What we do believe, though, is in the sheer power of journaling. Who would have thought that filling a notebook with things to do, things to aim for, places to go, records of achievements… (the list really is endless) would bring so much personal satisfaction and enjoyment to so many people? Like Dyson's bagless vacuum cleaner, it's such a SIMPLE, OBVIOUS concept! One that countless numbers of us have been employing for decades (I'm talking about the basic Things to Do list here). For some people it's now a career (doesn't that make you sick?), but for most of us mere mortals, it's an enlightening experience, one that brings not only order to chaos, but relief from the Pressures of Life. For many, it's simply a tool in organisation. For others it's a relaxing hobby. For some it's an essential weapon in the fight against mental health conditions. It sounds a bit extreme - claiming that filling a notebook with lists and goals and achievements will relieve the likes of depression, but even just emptying your head of all the worrisome stuff that's bouncing around in it, and writing it down in a notebook instead - preferably one with lovely smooth paper and a cover in your favourite colour - can make you feel less tense. Sometimes - like chocolate - the simplest solutions are the best.