Being frantically busy isn’t the same thing as being productive.
This hit me hard last night when I migrated to a new Bullet Journal notebook last night. My old volume was full.
The migration process takes about an hour. It’s an hour that makes you think.
was nice to review the notebook. I can get caught up in the day to day
and forget what I’ve accomplished. The old Bullet Journals, especially
when I am migrating to a new one, are an amazing way to review the past
few months, take credit for what I did do as well as figure out where
I’m falling down on doing what I want done.
As I was migrating, I noticed I’ve not been giving a project the attention it deserves as I was migrating different collections and projects from one notebook to the other. It got me to thinking about how important that project really was. Maybe I need to let it go.
I migrated the collection about that project. If I took the trouble to hand-write all that stuff, it’s still important. If I let things slide until the next time I migrate, I’d say that’s a clear signal that it’s not something all that important to me any more.
I love that clarity.
joke, sometimes, that the Bullet Journal changed my life. It’s
hilarious, but it did. It brought a lot of clarity to not only what I
want, but how I actually spend my days.
I think it’s funny that this little system and notebook, so low-tech, has been so useful to me. I mean, I love gadgets. I love beepy reminders. I love all the new tech. I’m an early adopter as often as my purse allows. You wanna talk “sparking joy?” Tech is it for me.
notebook surpasses it all. The reality is that it works because I am
not consistent. Some days I’m on the ball and focused. Other days, I
am not on the ball at all. Most digital systems don’t seem to allow for
the ebb and flow of my energy the way my Bullet Journal does. Most
digital systems don’t allow for review, don’t allow for a reality
check. You get a snapshot of the present and that’s it.
For all that, yes, living in the moment is a good thing, when your moment is full of self-reproach about how you’re letting your life drift away, or that you never see your family like you want to, being able to review and say, “Well, you took a trip to visit them SEVEN TIMES last year!” or “You completed that course, wrote those articles, sewed that dress, and helped your son out where he needed it” it helps as a reality check, not only for the negative, but for the positive.
Tasks in Outlook don’t help with that.
They don’t show the shape of your days as well. Remember the Milk might
be amazing for scheduling recurring tasks. It’s not so great when Life
None of them really encourage things like taking notes on one’s vacation to remember the good times. I mean, sure, sure, I’m an enthusiastic diarist, but in terms of referencing what I’ve done from anything but an in-the-moment rant, the Bullet Journal has it over the things I write in my daily pages.
The biggest power of the Bullet Journal system for me is that things don’t fall through the cracks. It is amazing the amount of time one wastes being reactive and scrambling to catch up.
The problem is I’m so used to things falling through the cracks that I’m still not used to being on the ball to the degree I am now. You wouldn’t think that you’d have to overcome that sinking sensation of “I know I’m falling down and forgetting something” but if you’ve experienced it for forty-odd years, it’s like this weird hole when you realize that no, for the most part, you’re on top of things.
I’m still not used to it, which is, I suppose, why I write about organization with such a sense of wonder. It’s new to me not to be frantically playing catch up on all the things I needed to do. Busy? Hell yeah, I’m often busy. But oh! there is such a difference between being calmly busy and frantically trying to stay on top of things.
I will say that being used to being frantic might give you the illusion of being actively productive.
My Bullet Journal has proved that to be a stinkin’ lie.
It’s not a secret that I love trying out life systems and self-improvement ideas. And Goodness knows it’s a weird hobby. Flylady, Konmari, Everyday Systems, Bullet Journals, you name it. I find these things interesting and enjoyable to play with.
That’s the thing. I’ve begun to look at it as a hobby. Not every system I’ve tried has necessarily produced the results I wanted, but you know what?
Some have. My homemaking skills are a lot more Flylady than Konmari, but wow was keeping my home tidy easier after I did the big ole tidying “festival” Marie Kondo suggested.
I like listening to self-improvement books when I walk alone.
None of this has exactly made me a paragon of virtue or excellence, mind. I’m not rich. I’m not skinny. I’m not famous. *wrygrin* My view of the improvement of the Self even questions how in the world these three big goals seem in any way to be listed as self-improvement.
Fine, your house is tidy now. But do you treat people kindly?
Okay, you’re rich. How did you get that way? Were you honest? Were you able to keep your integrity?
Great, you’re skinny. Is this a virtue?
Things I think would be better addressed in self-improvement literature:
What is your word worth?
How’s your compassion?
Do you have good boundaries and how do you enforce them with kindness?
What do you see as your duty, and do you fulfill it? If not, what’s stopping you?
Not ONE self-improvement book I’ve seen discusses these topics much. Though, Marla Cielly of Flylady fame and Reinhard Engels of Everyday Systems seem to strike me as people to whom integrity and kindness seem to mean something.
But most of the so-called self-improvement literature I see is a lot less about becoming virtuous and a lot more about becoming inappropriately selfish. I say “inappropriately” because boundary setting can look selfish to someone wanting to take inappropriate advantage of you.
Few of these books discuss one’s duty to oneself and one’s fellow humans.
I think these questions are considerably more important than whether or not you have enough self-discipline to stick to a diet. For my own part, I find sticking to a diet a lot easier than being patient with strangers who frustrate me, speaking up about an injustice, or setting appropriate boundaries with people whose real motive is to use me as a thing or resource.
I think being a size two, being well-known or having a big bank account is trivial compared to that.
And I find it interesting that the self-improvement industry is largely silent on it.
Just sat down with my Bullet Journal, as I do every Sunday, to plan out the next week.
I do this for a lot of reasons. I want to make sure I’m following up on everything I need to. It is very easy to allow things to fall through the cracks. This helps prevent it. I cannot say I always follow through on everything in exactly a timely manner. I don’t. Without something to keep me on track, I’ll follow my whims. That gives me about a 15% accuracy on my Get the Important Stuff Done score. When I use a tracking system of some sort, that brings the Get Important Stuff Done score up to between 75% and 90%.
Beepy reminders are usually at about a 75%. That’s still not bad at all, mind. But it’s stressful.
Sometimes I get tired, or depressed or whatever, and to be quite frank, I do not necessarily jump on everything I think needs to be done. A beepy reminder gives you a window of RIGHT NOW to do it before it falls off your mental radar. That’s fine when I’m all happy and motivated and shit.
I am not always all happy and motivated and shit.
The Bullet Journal brings me more up to that 90%, which is as good as it is ever going to get. One of the nice things about my Bullet Journal is its flexibility. The Bullet Journal means that I get more Important Stuff done while actually being less immediately on the ball. It’s forgiving. It’s imperfect. Things get crossed off when I decide it’s not Important Stuff after all.
If I lose interest in a self-assigned project, I have the material to circle back to it if I need to. It makes me less obsessed.
If I’m procrastinating on something I REALLY have to do, consistently migrating that task day by day does poke me to get it off my plate better but feels less emotionally fraught to me somehow. It’s there. I need to do it, but I can migrate it to tomorrow. You know what? It still gets DONE. That’s cool.
If I am Just Not Feeling It, the Bullet Journal waits quietly and without judgment until I go back to it — all necessary information and plans there. With most task management software, an overdue task turns red, or keeps beeping at you and making you feel bad in a way that the Bullet Journal doesn’t (at least for me).
I love the imperfection and messiness of my Bullet Journal. It helps me Not Waste My Life, but still allows for the dips and swells in my emotional energy. It’s such a beautiful reality check for me. When I start feeling badly about myself, I can look and see how I’ve been spending my days. I can sometimes feel like “I’ve gotten nothing done” and when I look back, I realize that no, I PLANNED to play that video game. It was on purpose, so that time was not wasteful.
Yes, I put more than chores in my Bullet Journal. For me, that’s part of what makes it such a wonderful reality check. Am I getting Enough Done? is certainly an important question. So is Am I doing things to recreate and enjoy myself? Did I do the laundry, pay the bills, and get to the dentist? Great! Did I take a walk, play a video game, or knit or see a movie? That’s important, too.
I think it helps me keep things in balance. The reality is that I have no middle gears, and am appallingly bad at moderation. I tend to want things to be perfect and have been known just to give up when I can’t do that. There’s a time and a place for shooting for perfection, certainly, though I’ve had it pointed out that shooting for excellence rather than perfection makes more sense.
Excellence is different from perfection. Excellence means you’re consistently striving for better. Excellence isn’t binary — either meeting the mark or not. It’s not a pass/fail proposition, but a fairly consistent effort. It cannot ever be “perfect” and even accepts that there is always something else you can do.
This is hard for me because I tend to be binary in my thinking. Of course, I do. It’s EASY to think in binary terms. Okay, that’s fine and even appropriate for some endeavors, but it really doesn’t reflect the realities of an entire life. There’s no such thing as a binary human life.
Which is exactly the point of the imperfection of my Bullet Journal.
We decorated for Christmas this weekend. Yes, it is absurdly early to do so, and in general, I do not like to decorate before December 1. Our son was up for a Thanksgiving visit and we wanted to decorate while he was here.
My Bullet Journal has a note reminding me not to fuss if my husband wants a live tree this year. I didn’t say a word about the tree, figuring I’d be back to vacuuming needles out of the carpet and notes to myself to water the tree again this year. In fact, he brought up the artificial tree. I think he wasn’t up for the Christmas Tree Hunt and was perfectly content to have a Balsam and Cedar Yankee Candle for scent ambiance.
This tree is one of the ones that comes with lights attached. I love this innovation, as it makes tree set up simple. However, one set of lights wasn’t working. My son patiently traced the problem to a missing bulb. He replaced it, and All Was Bright.
As we started to decorate the tree, we took out one of our ornaments – a model of the Enterprise (NCC1701-D) that plugs in to one of the light sockets, lights up and blinks. As my son pulled it out of the box, we all grinned sheepishly, realizing the reason the bulb was missing.
So, I wrote a note in my Bullet Journal for next December that we needed to remember about the missing light. (Or not be so lazy and replace the bulb when we take down the tree…)
I don’t remember things from year to year unless we’ve been repeating it for decades. If I think of something in January, I don’t remember its importance in June.
This has always been a big downfall for me in terms of organizing my life. Make my bed? No biggie. I do that every day. Wash the dishes? Not really going to forget.
But no, it is unlikely that I’m going to remember a tidbit of information that will save us half an hour or so for something I do once a year.
It’s not necessarily trying to be “Perfect” or anything. The reality is that perfect can’t happen and I don’t worry about it any more than I try to flap my arms and fly. Ain’t happenin’.
What’s nice is that when I lose focus or lose motivation, I don’t lose track. If I spend a day not feeling arsed to get something done (hey, it happens) I don’t lose a record of the things I really do want to get done. I can have my down day, and when I’m feeling up again, I can get to the things that are important to me done.
This is an advantage over the habit-based productivity systems that I like a great deal. You know the ones where you try to develop a chain of habit doing something Every Single Day or it’s All Broken? (Or stick to the diet perfectly or eat a whole box of oreos?) I’ve tried those systems and they’re good for some things. But they don’t allow well for the variability of personal energy, mood, or the fact that emergencies happen in life. If you break the chain, sometimes the goal goes bye-bye. (Or, is that just me? I’m far too inclined to binary thinking)
This gives me something to circle back to, whether it’s housekeeping tasks, experiences I’d like to have, or just planning for things in life. With my Bullet Journal, I just plain “get around to it” a lot more because I think about what’s important to me and write it down.
It sounds so absurd, but it’s oddly powerful.
If you’ve never tried using a Bullet Journal, I highly recommend you looking at Ryder Carrol’s video. You’ll notice this isn’t the art bullet journal you see in Pinterest. This is the system I use because I’m not an artist.
You’d think this is going to help you be all productive and stuff, and remember what you need to do. And so it does.
Oddly enough, that’s not why I love it. Yes, yes, yes, I have a mind like a sieve and being able to refer to things written down, to think and to plan and to have a concrete place where I keep all that planning is awesome, it really is.
That’s still not why I love it.
I love it because it lets me stop being a prisoner of “should.”
I should clean the house.
I should be working out.
I should be productive constantly.
I should make that phone call.
It’s not that my house isn’t clean (it is). It’s not that I don’t get in my exercise. (I do). What the Bullet Journal has helped me do, however, is focus on what I want to do and let go of what I don’t want to do.
I get a lot more done.
When you have a Bullet Journal, one of the things you’re supposed to do is review the tasks you’ve set yourself. If you didn’t complete a task, you migrate it to the next time period (week/month/year) that you intend to do it. I promise you that once you’ve migrated a task more than three times, asking yourself, “Is this really important to me?” becomes very easy. If it isn’t important to you, it is better not to clutter the journal or your life with it. You just cross it out.
I do more things I’ve been meaning to do and just put off or let go. When I started the Bullet Journal, I’d been meaning for years to do some seasonal decorating – nothing big, just some table runners and centerpieces for my dining room with a theme for the month or season. I have that now, and it’s a small thing that makes me happy. Instead of time getting away from me, I’m living through it consciously and deliberately.
Writing down the things I wanted to do in the Bullet Journal let me focus, though, on things that seemed nifty, that I wanted to do, and wanted to experience. It put a value on them instead of just dreaming. Stuffs what are writ down are Important Stuffs, yes?
It allowed my wants to become more important. To become Projects.
To be done.
I have a hobby of making bento. I also have a hobby of going for walks on some really great groomed paths I have in my area. I’d been meaning for years to pack a couple of bento for my husband and I, taking a nice walk and having lunch in some nice spot in the woods or by a river. We’ve done it a couple of times now and we’ve enjoyed it a lot. Is it a big deal? Not really. Just a picnic, really. Not expensive, not fancy. But it’s fun and we enjoy it.
I admire living deliberately. I admire and value choosing how you are going to live and then doing it. For me, the Bullet Journal has been an incredibly powerful tool in doing so.
I spend a little too much time on A Certain Social Media site where someone asked, “Is a Bullet Journal Worth it?” I passed on answering that question because I did not have a clear response. However, as of today, I filled up a notebook that I use for my Bullet Journal and spent an instructive hour migrating the material I still need from the old journal to the new one.
As I am doing so, I can answer an emphatic, “Yes!”
I have a couple of… I dunno if I’d call them flaws, exactly, but maybe… worries? Ideas that gnaw at me from time to time?
I worry that I am lazy. I also worry that I am wasting my life and being too caught up in the pleasures of the present to accomplish anything or move forward in any real way. I also don’t necessarily have the world’s most accurate memory.
This could be a perfect storm for self-doubt and frenetic, but useless, action.
You know how you might have a mental list of things you always mean to get around to, but never do? Little things, but that you think would either be cool to do or might improve your life. You get caught up in the urgency of the day and… well, you don’t do them.
I’m finding that for me, a Bullet Journal is preventing that.
For years, I’ve meant to have at least a few seasonal or monthly themed decorations around the house. Is it a big deal or important in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely not. But it’s a little thing that might make me happy or make me conscious of the passing of the year.
I now have at least a table runner and seasonal theme for each month for my dining room table. I’ve meant to do something like that for years and never really got around to it because I let time get away from me. This year, I’ve spend some time each month thinking about it, and getting a few decorations together so that I will have a different dining room table decoration for each month.
There are also projects of other sorts I’ve been doing or meaning to do. For instance, my Support and Defend series. Because of a tragedy in my life, and finding it difficult to think or write, yes, it went on hiatus for awhile. But I had not only the project in my Bullet Journal, but a clear outline of where I was in the project.
In going through the last nine months or so, I realize that this system is not only helping me keep on track for what I intend to do, but when I feel like I’m doing nothing, wasting my life or anything of the sort, I have a real day-to-day record of not only what I have done, but how much of it was things I’d always been meaning to do, but hadn’t been organized enough accomplish.
I like it better than a work to-do list or even some of the other organizational systems out there because it’s a good system to record the events of the day as well as the accomplishments. It’s meant to have notes about how you’d been doing that day that you can do in a short and easy-to-remember format that might be more difficult to analyze as a whole over a longer period of time than a diary.
Are there things I’d failed to accomplish? Well, yeah. It’s kind of hard to write a book about little girls when the granddaughter you’d intended to dedicate it to dies. So, no, it’s not that I necessarily accomplish everything I mean to. But it keeps me from spiraling and focusing only on the losses or failures. They happen, and they need to be recorded, but what also needs to be recorded are the good things that have happened as well as the achievements. It keeps me from dwelling on the negative or being falsely positive but is useful to get a realistic picture of what my life really looks like.
“Why is it called a Bullet Journal and not a To-Do list?”
When a friend of mine online asked me this, it stopped me short. As a teacher, I love questions like this. They force you to analyze what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and distill it down to an easily-digestible essence.
I would say that 80% of what I record in my Bullet Journal is, indeed, a to-do list in some sort or another. Another 15% of it is a time-planner. But that other 5%?
There are times when it makes me feel like Margaret Beaufort and her Book of Hours.
A Book of Hours is essentially a prayer-book and calendar. Lady Margaret, Mother to Henry VII, was in the habit of writing marginal notes for the great happenings of her life, though the casualness of the dating is enough to send medieval scholars to distraction when using it as primary source material. She recorded births and deaths in it, as well as other great happenings of the day.
This book with its notes in it also make me think of my own grandmother. Nanny did word puzzles when she was on the throne in the morning. She made lots of marginal notes – about the weather, who was due to visit that day, births of grandchildren… We sometimes look through them to try to reconstruct family happenings.
And this is where the “Journal” part of the Bullet Journal comes in. It’s not necessarily journaling like writing a diary entry, or spending a lot of time writing out your feelings. It’s merely meant to record things that have happened – dates and times, if you want to. But the idea is that you record what happened, not necessarily what you feel about it.
I don’t do it a lot – mostly for dates and times on The Big Stuff. It records my granddaughter’s birth.
It recorded my granddaughter’s death.
It was a tool I used to stay organized in the face of that, too. Lady Margaret might have spent her time kneeling in prayer during the great tragedies of her life. Not having servants to take care of my needs, I need reminders to take care of myself. So, my Book of Hours is quite short on Compline and much longer on lists of things to do, meals to make, and reminders to space the activity out with rest.
I know it’s Thursday, my usual day to post a piece on the US Constitution. As you can imagine I haven’t been writing much on the US Constitution in the past few weeks. It’ll start back up next week, but one’s granddaughter passing away does throw your cognitive capacity for a loop. I chose to spend what ability I had to think on things closer and more immediate to home.
I’ve seen something on boards that discuss Bullet Journals that make me a little sad. You’ll see these gorgeous layouts and artwork and suchlike that people post about when they show their journals. No, that doesn’t make me sad. I like pretty.
What I’ll see are people commenting that they don’t want to show or talk about theirs because of crap handwriting, or lack of artwork or lack of pretty layouts. Yes, artsy bullet journaling is a valid way to do it. If it wasn’t, who cares? It’s your life; organize it how you want to. However, I want to put out a much plainer version just to show that the idea of a bullet journal has nothing to do with the art. It is all about the structure and its flexibility. For reference, check out the original video on how to make a Bullet Journal.
Here’s my Index.
Figure 1: Index
There is nothing pretty or fancy about this. The handwriting is legible, although just barely, and I am even switching out pen colors, without using color as any sort of information indicator. I know it looks like I did a different color for a different month. I didn’t. My turquoise pen just ran out of ink, and I’m going to have to wait for the replacement I ordered to come in.
You want part of the beauty of a Bullet Journal for me? There it is. I have a notebook. I have a pen. I’m all good.
In fact, let’s talk notebooks. Yes, you can get yourself a fancy, expensive notebook. I might sometime in the future. This is the one I have. It has hard covers and paper that isn’t too ink-absorbent. But a thirty-dollar notebook, it ain’t. It works great.
Figure 2: Notebook Cover
I did draw out my November layouts a little in advance. I did this first because I don’t have a lot going on between now and the end of the month but routine chores and Halloween, and second because even if it turns out I need to take a lot of notes for something, I can add a module and put it in my Index. After all, that’s exactly the point.
Figure 3: Monthly Log
Figure 4: Menu Plan and Grocery List
Figure 5: Habit Tracker
Even my habit tracker is plain text. If I do what I intend to do that day, I just write a big X over the date just as I would over a task bullet when marking the task as done. The sole exception to this is exercise, as I do more than one sort.
So, for those of you who have very plain Bullet Journals without the artwork, don’t be ashamed of them. While doing the artwork and fancy layout thing is fine, you don’t have to, nor is it at the core of the system. It can work for you how you need it with just pen, a notebook, and text.
I’m the beepy reminder girl. My device goes BING! and I do stuff.
I’m learning that in many ways, this is something of a mistake. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to develop routine habits — making the bed, washing clothes, that kind of thing. It’s good for a cue to do routine maintenance.
Where it falls down is when you’re planning a project or working on something where you need to create or concentrate.
Can the beepy reminder go BING! and then you write 1,000 words?
Sort of. I mean, you can. But the problem is that attention, energy and mood matter to creative work. More, beepy reminders interrupt you when you might be deep in creative work.
I want my house clean, yes. But I also want to write books and articles. I want to do cognitive work. I don’t want a beepy reminder bugging me at 10 am that I need to go ahead and fold the clothes from the dryer when I am in the middle of torturing my main character or analyzing the flaws in an organizational system for an article.
I’ve talked about flow before, and how interruptible tasks have often been considered “women’s work,” which very much interferes with the flow state and creative work.
The Bullet Journal is better than beepy reminders for encouraging a flow state.
I have used the Bullet Journal for some really mundane stuff this month. Encouraging me to clean the house, stay on top of finances – that sort of thing. But I’ve also been using it for more long-term work. I have sections for business planning and for a book I am writing. I can always schedule specific tasks to work on for specific days, mind. And I do.
But one of the things that the Bullet Journal is really helping me do is plan my day for more, instead of less, focus. The beepy reminders, for all that they help me keep my house clean, completely screw up my focus for writing.
What I Don’t Do
I’ve been researching Bullet Journals online. There are a lot of amazingly creative people that will draw themselves time period layouts (days, weeks, months) in colors, use color coding, write some headings in calligraphy, draw pictures in their journals and other things. They look great, and I can imagine that it’s fun and soothing to do.
I don’t do this. Mostly I don’t because I can’t draw and my handwriting is terrible, as you can see in the images. I also don’t do it because the “art project” aspect doesn’t add to its usefulness to me. If I want pretty pages and so on, I have a million computer tools that I can use to do so, and it’s not entirely the point of this experiment.
So, if you find yourself drawn to the art project version of Bullet Journaling (and sorry, purists and minimalists, it’s just as valid a use of the system, so get off your high horse), I’m not going to be a very reliable reporter of the experience or the usefulness.
Figure 1: My wretched handwriting
What I Do
The Bullet Journal is a productivity tool that packs a subtle punch. At its purest, it’s absurdly simple to use. It also focuses your brain in a way that I’m sorry to say that computerized tools don’t. This is coming from the Gadget Queen. I especially adore electronic devices, and genuinely do use them heavily. I read on a tablet (or my computer, since there are plenty of e-reader apps for the PC, too). I use my tablet for knitting charts and use OneNote to keep track of where I am in a lace chart. My media collection is mostly digital. I loves me some gadgets.
Even in the face of that, I’m finding the paper journal is better for overall productivity.
Why paper is working better for me
The module layout of the Bullet Journal is quite fluid and allows for creating both date and topic collections of information. When I want to sit down and have a long planning session about a book I am writing, I can keep my notes in a single module. However, if there is something specific about that project that is conducive to a task, I can make that task and migrate it very easily to a specific day where I will be taking action on it.
This means that the actions I’m taking, instead of being “busy” for the sake of being busy, are actual things that will move my project forward.
There is a certain permanence that I tend to associate mentally with paper as well. Since I know it’s really only reasonable to have ten or so tasks to perform in a day, and I’m writing out my to-do list the night before, I’m thinking carefully about what I am going to do. The act of physically writing it seems more serious somehow, if that makes any sense.
This also means that I’m procrastinating less. Oh, I still do some of that, and even blow off tasks. But when I do, it becomes very obvious. I either have to migrate it to a day I will do it, or I have to admit to myself that I’m not going to do it and cross it off. Phone calls I’m avoiding, or tasks I need to do but am balking at? I’m quicker just to do it to get it off my damn conscience with that nice X beside the entry.
That X is also incredibly motivating. One of the things most electronic task managers do wrong is make completed tasks disappear. In a way, it seems good, but seeing what you’ve actually done in a day also can feel pretty good and be motivating.
What doesn’t work for me on paper
That being said, no one system is perfect. There are things the Bullet Journal doesn’t handle well.
The first on the list is a physical reminder. I tend to get absorbed in a task and lose track of time. As a writer, this is not a bug, but a feature. Even so, there are occasions in which I need to drop what I am doing and go to a meeting, appointment or whatever. I like the electronic calendar for that. The fact that the Bullet Journal is a very personal thing also can be a drawback when you are dealing with a group or family project. The fact I can share my electronic calendar with my family is very nice. It makes things easier on us.
It also isn’t too much use in my detail cleaning schedule. I have a list of chores I do quarterly (well, every thirteen weeks) that I find I’d never remember if I had to schedule them daily. I suppose I could make a module that listed these chores and migrate them to daily chores. I don’t, though. I have them set up in my electronic task manager to repeat every thirteen weeks, and I just add the relevant daily chore to my Bullet Journal when prepping for the next day. Anything that’s routine, but on a long cycle might to better in electronic format.
As a freelancer, I also get a lot of my work from clients in the form of email. I am more likely to flag the email to follow up at the appropriate time (I use Outlook) than I am to do anything else.
Better thinking regarding accomplishment over time
Some of the standard Bullet Journal modules – the Future Planner and the Monthly Planner, for instance, encourage you to look at things you want to accomplish over time better.
One thing I tend to find a drawback to the daily granularity is that I let time get away from me. I don’t necessarily think in terms of more than a week when I do this. With the Future Planner and the Monthly Planner, I really do think of what I want to accomplish over a month.
However, a couple of weeks in, I also realized that while the monthly and daily task lists are nice, I do like to see my week as a unit as well. So, I just added a module for the week and went on with my work.
For each unit of time, six months, month, or week, I will glance at what I am planning and migrate any tasks I want to accomplish during that time to the appropriate module. It sounds like a lot of work and migrating, I know. But it turns out to be less than you’d think. Why? It forces you to think clearly about what you need/want to get done, but also forces you to think about whether or not what you’re doing is going to accomplish any of your goals or is just busywork.
Since I was in my teens, I’ve liked playing with organizational systems. FlyLady, Konmari, a budget book when I was first married, Everyday Systems… I’ve worked with lots of them.
At first, I thought I was looking for The Perfect System. But you know, I don’t think I am. I think what it comes down to is that I like playing with ways to structure life. Which, regarding Real Productivity, would be considered a waste of time. The focus should be more on organization and productivity, not the system, right?
I started to feel guilty about that, but then I thought, “Well, of all the weird hobbies or obsessions one could have, enjoying exploring productivity and organizational systems is hardly a bad one. You do have a clean house. Your bills are paid. Obviously, this is not subtracting from your enjoyment of life, nor from living effectively.”
Which is the point. Playing with systems and routines over the years has ultimately gotten me some things I actually want. Whether or not I stuck with a particular one doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the play and exploration itself has taught me things and I have gained rather than lost from it (I do still shine my sink and question whether or not a possession sparks joy). Is it a weirdly obsessive hobby? Yeah, it sure is.
This brings me to the Bullet Journal. Do I really need this, since I’ve got OneNote and Remember the Milk and a Household Notebook and… Well, you get the point.
No, I don’t need it. I could get along perfectly well without it. My life is pretty organized and has been for some decades. I am productive. My business makes a modest profit and at least pays for our groceries, even in a bad month. Still, when you watch a video on it, and your husband brings you home a blank notebook in which to try it, we’re talking about a hobby/experiment that’s cheaper than my knitting or the books I buy. Why not?
What is a Bullet Journal?
Ultimately, a Bullet Journal is on paper. This is for the Luddite. Normally, I’m all about technology and beepy reminders, so this is going to be a very different experiment.
It is set up in some basic modules that you then use to organize anything you care to, but ultimately your life. It is meant to be quick-n-dirty. In its original form, you don’t need to spend a lot of time doing the logging.
A warning: If you look up Bullet Journals in social media, you’ll see pretty calligraphy, drawings and all kinds of nifty stuff. This isn’t what you’ll see from me. My handwriting stinks. I can’t draw. This is going to be a lot more basic than how many people with considerably more calligraphic ability and artistic flair will use it. My stuff is only pretty when there’s the aid of a computer available!
How does the Bullet Journal Work?
The Bullet Journal is broken down into several modules, but the basics are the Index, the Future Log, the Monthly Log and Collections. They work together so that you can integrate and update your work on the fly. This is meant to be dynamic and intuitive. I’ve already found it works well to organize the results of brainstorming.
The Index is exactly what it says on the label. A place to record information and where to find it. You list topics and then the page number of where you can find these topics in the Bullet Journal. The advantage here is that this can be a work in progress acknowledging you don’t know what the future will look like. If you need to add something, but there isn’t room, it’s easy enough to add and record where to find it in the Index.
After you’ve created your index, you turn to the next two-page blank spread and create your Future Log. While you can break it down however you want, I’ve taken the advice of the Bullet Journal originator and chosen a six-month period for my spread. As I think of things I need to get done in the future, this is where I can record it for future reference. When the month approaches, I can then copy what’s necessary to my Monthly Log. Remember to write down the location of your Future Log in your Index!
To create a monthly log, turn to the next two blank pages and begin. You’ll notice I did not do two blank pages for September. It’s almost over. When I get to October, I’ll do it properly.
On the left-hand side, you number the dates and then list the days of the week beside each date. For those of you who have packed days, THIS IS NOT A MEETING CALENDAR. You can adapt the Bullet Journal for that by adding a calendar module, and if you scan the Internet, you’ll see that many have. The point here is to record important, high-level highlights for your month.
On the right-hand side, you list the things you need to accomplish in the month. As you start to use the journal over time, if there are things from the previous month that you did not get done, you can migrate them to the new month. This sounds like a lot of tedious copying, but in fact is a feature rather than a bug. If you’ve postponed it month to month for a long time, is it really that important? Maybe you ought to cross it off your list. It’s a great way to evaluate what’s genuinely worth your time.
The Daily Log is where you focus on a day-to-day basis. Notice how you’re already encouraged to take a longer view, and then an increasingly more granular view of your time as you progress? This allows for both big picture planning as well as breaking this down into actionable items you can do on a daily basis. I really like how this works.
Sometimes you’re working on something that’s more properly a project and should be organized in a single place. This is where you can record your ideas, tasks you need to accomplish, any brainstorming or notes about the project. When you create tasks, you can migrate these to your daily tasks, thus keeping a daily to-do list pretty organized. More about migrating tasks under Bullets.
I decided to make a Collection to organize for the holidays this year. It’s a decent enough project and should be a good experiment.
The bullets are symbols or signifiers indicating what the entry actually is. You’ll start by listing tasks with dots. Then it is easy to change these symbols as you need to reschedule a task, or need to indicate it’s important, or just about anything else.
Task (Just a dot)
* = High priority task
X = Completed task
< = Migrated to Future Log
> = Migrated to Monthly/Daily Log
0 = Event
– = Note
! = Inspiration
= Explore/Needs research
In playing with the system for a day, I do find it kind of fun. It’s not yet ten in the morning, and you can see I’ve already completed a few items on today’s list as well as written this article. Over time as it becomes more mundane, I’ll do another article to report on how much I liked it, what works, what doesn’t and if I want to keep up with this.