Imagine Otherwise: Dolores Inés Casillas on Flexible Planning with Bullet Journals

by | Feb 17, 2021

Dolores Inés Casillas on Flexible Planning with Bullet Journals

by Cathy Hannabach and Ideas on Fire | Imagine Otherwise | ep 127

About the episode

Our systems for tracking and making progress on our goals are often deeply personal and idiosyncratic. How we organize our days to find motivation changes over time as well, as our lives and our worlds shift in ways we don’t always get to control.

In episode 127 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach talks to Chicanx media studies scholar Dolores Inés Casillas about the creative planning and project management systems that scholars use to get their writing done while navigating the rest of life’s adventures.

Inés shares how years of parenting taught her a method of flexible planning that has come in handy during the pandemic as well as how she uses bullet journaling to create her publishing pipeline and academic diary.

Cathy and Inés also discuss how Inés links her goal of telling the stories of immigrant communities to her writing practice by prioritizing morning pages and calling on a robust support network of editors, colleagues, and friends.

Guest: Dolores Inés Casillas

Dolores Inés Casillas is an associate professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies and director of the Chicano Studies Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on immigrant engagement with US Spanish-language and bilingual media, the representation of accented Spanish and English languages in popular culture, and the integration of ethnic studies in K–12 schools.

Inés is the author of Sounds of Belonging: US Spanish-Language Radio and Public Advocacy (NYU Press, 2014), a coeditor of The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Media (Routledge, 2016), a coeditor of Feeling It: Language, Race, and Affect in Latinx Youth Learning (Routledge, 2018), and a regular contributor to Sounding Out!

Her forthcoming book, under contract with NYU Press, investigates how Mexican immigrant communities interact with book-audio sets, WhatsApp, memes, and social media campaigns in creative, transgressive ways.

Inés is also a board member of Adelante Charter School, the only dual-language (Spanish-English) K–6 elementary school in Santa Barbara.

Episode themes

  • Parenting and writing during a pandemic
  • Using bullet journals to track publishing goals and life/work balance
  • Shifting from year-long planning to five-week planning
  • Building political goals into daily planning practices
Dolores Inés Casillas wearing a yellow shirt. Quote reads: I use editors for accountability, which scholars need so much more during the pandemic. We need to know that somebody is waiting for a draft, somebody is interested in our goals for that day. That’s really important for writers.
Dolores Inés Casillas wearing a yellow shirt. Quote reads: Sometimes life is unplanned, no matter how many colored pens and Post-its one buys. The pandemic forced me to think of planning not in terms of ten weeks (a quarter system) but to cut that in half. My long-term planning had to be shortened to be very realistic about all the things that have happened or could happen.

“My research and what I teach help me prioritize the kind of world I want: a world that prioritizes farm workers and essential workers for the vaccine, where immigrant families and communities of color aren’t at such a disadvantage with remote learning.”

— Dolores Inés Casillas, Imagine Otherwise

Transcript

Click to read the transcript

Cathy Hannabach [00:03]:

Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects, bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of Imagining Otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.

Cathy Hannabach [00:23]:

Our systems for tracking and making progress on our goals are often deeply personal and idiosyncratic. How we organize our days to find motivation changes over time as well, as our lives in our world shift in ways we don’t always get to control.

In this episode of Imagine Otherwise, I talked to Chicanx media studies scholar Dolores Inés Casillas about the creative planning and project management systems that scholars use to get their writing done while navigating the rest of life’s adventures.

Inés shares how years of parenting taught her a method of flexible planning that’s come in handy during the pandemic, as well as how she uses bullet journaling to create her publishing pipeline and academic diary.

We also discuss how Inés links her goal of telling the stories of immigrant communities to her daily writing practice by prioritizing morning pages and calling on a robust support network of editors, colleagues, and friends.

Cathy Hannabach [01:20]:

[to Inés] Thanks so much for being with us today.

Dolores Inés Casillas [01:22]:

Thank you for inviting me.

Cathy Hannabach [01:25]:

I’ve been talking with people this month and in the past couple weeks about how they’re approaching planning in 2021, particularly given that many of our publication plans, our writing workflows, our teaching situations, and our living situations have shifted rather dramatically over the past year. How has your approach to planning changed recently?

Dolores Inés Casillas [01:48]:

Well, I feel like my work schedule and flows have always shifted a bit every ten weeks, which is the quarter system here at UC Santa Barbara. I also had my first child during my second year on the job, which further forced me to consider how breastfeeding, teething, fevers, and other unplanned parenting events influence my writing deadlines.

I lost my father my fourth year on the job and, as so many of us know, grief can be very encompassing and intense. It arrives and stops. So that also impacted writing deadlines I had set for myself.

And then kid number two came before tenure.

What I learned early on is that sometimes life is unplanned, no matter how many colored pens and Post-its one buys. The pandemic forced me to think of planning not in terms of ten weeks, in terms of a quarter system, but it forced me to think of it and cut it in half in terms of five weeks. My long-term planning had to be shortened in order to be very realistic about all the things that occurred or could happen with the pandemic.

Dolores Inés Casillas [03:03]:

It wasn’t until…actually, I was thinking. This made me consider when did I jump into this planning mode? When did I convert it and have it be something that guides my day, my week, and, as I said, my quarters, my every five weeks, my month?

I think it occurred after I turned in my first book. It was such a stressful occurrence just to have it haunt me and think about it and want to wake up early on Saturday to finish it. I had decided that I just don’t want to do that again. It was way too stressful.

Dolores Inés Casillas [03:38]:

I used to always have this ginormous to-do list, which was just pages and pages of tasks. It always had a little square on the left that was always awaiting a little check mark. It was super simple, like a black pen and a notebook. But then I took the sharp left turn when I discovered bullet journaling. I think it’s been incredibly helpful during the pandemic.

Cathy Hannabach [04:06]:

I was hoping we’d get a chance to talk about BuJo because I know you are a fan and a lot of the listeners for the show are also fans. How do you use bullet journaling for planning out your various projects?

Dolores Inés Casillas [04:20]:

Well, I think I’m faithful to the bullet journaling, the BuJo method, for its flexibility. I love that it’s not already preprinted. Some weeks are busier than others so you can use four pages for two days or five pages for a week and then another week just use a couple of pages.

I use it to track my projects in terms of a publishing pipeline, much like Jenny Kelly explained in one of Ideas on Fire’s really helpful posts. I really like to see my projects move from left to right: it starts with an idea, it goes to an abstract, to an outline, to the methods, to a data analysis, to a shitty draft, to a revised draft, to somebody somewhere reading it, to submitting it, to in-press details, and then I always celebrate, which is usually where there’s a glass of wine once it was out of my hands.

Dolores Inés Casillas [05:24]:

It’s helpful to visually see things move from left to right. And it’s helpful to look at it and say, “God, I had that idea a year and a half ago. I need to get that started, that’s still a really good idea.” And thank goodness I wrote it down, it’s not buried in a Post-it note somewhere on my desk, it’s intentionally on this page. So I use a publishing pipeline.

I also used to do a twelve-to-fifteen-week big strategic plan. Now, it’s more a five-to-seven-week one. I agree that this long-term strategic planning is torture to draft. But it’s a really great gut check to remind me that I have way too much on my plate, I’m being too ambitious, what I need to ask for extensions for, what I need to move around. So I really like it, I really like having this big plan.

I also love to color-code, and I actually heard in a previous podcast episode that you do too?

Cathy Hannabach [06:32]:

I am a big fan of colors, yes.

Dolores Inés Casillas [06:34]:

It’s all about the color. I keep thinking about all those years I just used a nice black pen I’m like, “Oh, my goodness. I needed more color.” So, I tend to color-code my different tasks. Research and writing is bright pink, of course. Orange is for family or household tasks. Green is for service. I have four or five other colors, I won’t give you the entire coding system.

It helps to glance at a page. If I see way too much pink, I know that I haven’t taken a walk, I haven’t bought that shade of lipstick I’ve been wanting to buy. I haven’t done enough orange family, household, personal things. And likewise, if I see too much green, I’m doing way too many service tasks. What happened to my research? Where did that go? Why am I not seeing this? I like using the coding system for that.

Dolores Inés Casillas [07:30]:

I always tell people I’m nowhere near one of those fancy BuJo users with their own Instagram page or their YouTube channels. I don’t do elaborate drawings, either. I just like to get the tasks out of my head and organized. And, I like to see them looking pretty at me.

Cathy Hannabach [07:53]:

Is that aesthetic element something that draws you to bullet journaling in particular? I know a lot of people find that really appealing, particularly those of us who spend most of our days dealing with ideas and with words. There’s something tactile, creative, and colorful, as you point out, about the bullet journaling system that lets you use a different part of your brain and your body. Is that something that draws you to it as well?

Dolores Inés Casillas [08:18]:

It does. I like that every page can look different. I think it breaks up the mundane. I love that I can touch it and carry it, and I want to update it. I can update it while I’m downstairs with the TV on in the background or the radio on. It lets you play with color, while the only thing we can really do is play with fonts, I think, on the computer.

I love the washi tape. Is that how you pronounce it?

Cathy Hannabach [08:50]:

Oh, yeah. With all the designs and stuff on it?

Dolores Inés Casillas [08:54]:

Yeah. Which really are adult stickers, let’s be honest.

Cathy Hannabach [08:56]:

Yes.

Dolores Inés Casillas [08:57]:

I love using that.

In general, it acts like an academic diary of goals. It’s a messy archive of what happened, what I did last week or last month or last year. It’s like an adult version of the gold star system that we used to have in elementary school. There’s something pretty, something decorated. So as a daughter of immigrants, sign me up. This is going to work for me.

Cathy Hannabach [09:28]:

Do you find yourself looking through past bullet journals, seeing what you were up to last year or a couple months ago or something like that?

Dolores Inés Casillas [09:36]:

I do, actually. I have them all on this bookshelf in my office, the same bookshelf. I have new books because, of course, if there’s a particular planner and it’s on sale, I’ll buy three. I’ll buy more than one because I don’t know if it’s going to be on sale again. I have it on my bookshelf.

So when I have to switch out a new planner, which is about every six months I think, that’s when I pause and I look at the other planners. I look through them, and I really enjoy that a lot. I enjoy seeing how hard it took me to get to this one specific goal, and then I see it completed.

Dolores Inés Casillas [10:20]:

It’s interesting to see what my thought process, what my planning, was like back then. What was a priority? How my days were scheduled wrong—not wrong. It’s that how my days were scheduled differently when the kids were at daycare 9:00 to 5:00, whereas now I can be interrupted every sixty to ninety minutes with the kids. So, it’s a really interesting archive of my own self, I think.

Cathy Hannabach [10:47]:

One thing that I know a lot of scholars are figuring out right now is how to make progress on large projects like books when research plans are up in the air. People aren’t sure when they’ll be able to get back into particular archives or be able to do more fieldwork. Who knows when we’ll be able to travel again, these kinds of things.

I know you’re writing a book right now, so I’m sure this is something you’ve run into in some form. How have you found yourself adapting your research or your writing process during the pandemic?

Dolores Inés Casillas [11:20]:

It’s been challenging because different rhythms change with events that you just can’t plan. So, for instance, I can sit down and plan out the week. This recently happened two weeks ago. We’re at dinner. My mom lives with us as well and I have two young kids. My husband is also super busy.

We started talking about how busy then the week was going to be. Like, “Oh, I have four evening events, I have this long meeting, I have a presentation.” And then Monday morning, the youngest eight year old comes in and says he has a diorama project due. And I was like, “No, please don’t tell me I need to break out the hot glue gun this weekend.” The sixth grader, the twelve year old, tells me that he has to do this family interview and it needs to be recorded. And, that happens. All of a sudden, you just need to shift because they have deadlines too.

Dolores Inés Casillas [12:24]:

With the pandemic I’ve learned that I’m pretty good at multitasking work, but I’m not great at multitasking kids and work. I have had to be intentional about my research and writing, really prioritize that first thing in the morning. My goal is to always do thirty to ninety minutes a day of research and writing. I have to remind myself that I can respond to students later. I can write up that memo in my sleep. All those things can wait, but I need to prioritize my research and writing. Those first cup of coffee brain cells need to go on the page.

Dolores Inés Casillas [13:16]:

Of course, I’ve also had to lean on editors much earlier in my second book project than I did in my first, because of the pandemic. I’m fortunate to have the means to pay the good feminist editors at Ideas on Fire to play the role of what friends and colleagues used to offer.

Cathy Hannabach [13:33]:

Awww, well we love working with you.

Dolores Inés Casillas [13:36]:

You’ve been really good, because I just felt like six, seven months ago, it was like, “I can’t in good faith ask a friend who’s struggling with her toddler, or a friend who’s stressed out about their parents, to give me feedback.” I was like, “How did I do this before?” I was like, “I waited until I had a complete manuscript.” And I thought, “I can’t do that.” I’m just going to have to pretend they’re my friend and say, “Read this in two months, or this or that.” So thank you so much.

Cathy Hannabach [14:07]:

It’s been a pleasure working with you, seriously. And it’s been really exciting to see the trajectory of your work. We’ve done several chapters and different pieces with you, and it’s really fun to see your thought process and see your writing process through the drafts that you’re producing. I always find that really cool.

Dolores Inés Casillas [14:26]:

Yeah, it’s been really cool. It’s been great. I’m completely using you guys for accountability, which I think scholars need so much more during the pandemic. We need to know that somebody is waiting for a draft, someone is going to meet you online to write with you, someone’s interested in your goals for that day. I think that’s really important during the pandemic for writers, as well.

Cathy Hannabach [14:50]:

So this brings to my last and my absolute favorite question that I get to talk with folks about, which really gets at the heart of why you do all of the work that you do. That’s that version of a better world that you’re working toward when you prioritize your research because it’s important and it can change things. When you teach your classes, whether they’re online or in-person, or some combination thereof these days.

Cathy Hannabach [15:15]:

So, I will ask you this giant question that I like to close out every interview with: What is that world that you’re working toward? What kind of world do you want?

Dolores Inés Casillas [15:24]:

I absolutely love this question. I write and I teach about how Mexican immigrants turn to media to ask questions about immigration and education, and now, increasingly so, about how they use smartphone applications different than us, like WhatsApp, to communicate with family and friends separated by borders.

Recently I wrote about a specific audio piece—the leaked audio of children crying in detention on the US–Mexico border—and how that has galvanized a nation to insist that families belong together.

I say this because I feel that my research and what I teach help me prioritize the kind of world I want: a world that prioritizes farm workers and essential workers for the vaccine, where immigrant families and communities of color aren’t at such a disadvantage with remote learning and the turn to it with the pandemic.

Dolores Inés Casillas [16:32]:

In general, I imagine a world that’s much more just and that has much better pathways for access for everybody.

Cathy Hannabach [16:42]:

Well, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing all of the ways that you imagine and plan otherwise.

Dolores Inés Casillas [16:48]:

Thank you so much.

Cathy Hannabach [16:55]:

Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, and this episode was created by me, Cathy Hannabach. Audio editing was provided by the awesome folks at Pro Podcast Solutions.

You can check out the show notes for this episode on our website at ideasonfire.net, where you can also read about our fabulous guests and find links to the people and projects we discussed on the show.

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