The Bullet Journal changed how I handle productivity. I find it the easiest tool in the world. Yet people are nervous to start their own.
I had to get the bottom of this.
What I Found Out
The Internet was ruining the perception of the Bullet Journal. While I had heard about Bullet Journal from a podcast, most people I’ve talked to are familiar with them thanks to Pinterest, Instagram and maybe even Tumblr.
People who post their Bullet Journals online are sharing a piece of art. Sure, it may be functional to them, but it’s intimidating to everyone else.
To dispel the myth that Bullet Journaling is hard, I’m going to share what goes on day-to-day in my Bullet Journal to show that you don’t need to be a creative genius to get your life in order.
The biggest thing to remember is that Bullet Journaling should be messy if you’re messy. I can’t say that enough. Your Bullet Journal is a reflection of your brain and life, not what you aspire to be.
The Standard Stuff
Most people probably haven’t done this , but go read the original Bullet Journal syntax. There is a lot of insight into how The Bullet Journal works that I won’t be able to fully articulate here. What it boils down to, Ryder Carroll, the man behind the Bullet Journal, focuses on quick entry and simple organization for this system. That ethos is what drew me to the Bullet Journal in the first place.
What I love about the Bullet Journal system is that it’s modular by design. I use most everything that is laid out in the system with few additions. But really, the main power in Bullet Journaling comes from “logging” everything. From the daily log all the way up to the Monthly Log, everything gets written down. The concept of logging is modular as well, which I will explain later in this post.
I was never one to write down what I was doing or what I had done, but now, there’s just a new line in my Bullet Journal. Past, present and future, it’s all there.
At the core of Bullet Journaling is the Daily Log. This is where stuff actually happens. Every day, I add tasks, notes, events and appointments under the date. Throughout the day I can see what I need to work on or what I’ve got currently “open.” That concept is extremely important. If I’ve got too many things open, I know that my focus is all over the place. The visual indicator reminds me of what to actually focus on.
The Daily log is so important to getting tasks onto paper that there’s actually a ritual built into reviewing it.
Twice daily, I spend time reviewing my Bullet Journal. This simple practice has kept me using the system. The problem I usually have with task management systems is that I don’t actually look at what I need to do. By spending time right when I get into work and right before I go to bed, I’m able to set myself up for success.
This isn’t unique to the Bullet Journal system. However, the tactile nature of opening my notebook and writing down or checking off tasks makes it stick in my brain.
If you’re going to Bullet Journal, I highly recommend you work reflections into your life. These go beyond the Daily Log as well with The Monthly Log.
At the beginning of each month, I sit down, reflect upon the previous month and set myself up for a the month ahead. There are a few parts to this that comprise The Monthly Log.
The two main pages every month gets are the Calendar and Task List.
The Calendar is just that, a calendar. I usually just have a list of days running vertically which I add appointments to the specified dates. Nothing super fancy needed.
Opposite the calendar is the task list. Think of this like a big Daily Log for your month. This is stuff you’d like to complete this month. Simple right?
I never actually do everything on my Monthly task list which I should really get better about filling out. However, the system has my back.
When creating the monthly task list, it helps to review the previous month and close it out. Anything you completed, complete the check mark. Doesn’t apply to you anymore? Cross it out. Need to move a task to the future? That’s where the Future Log comes into play.
This is a feature I definitely don’t take full advantage of. While during my Monthly reflection, I do migrate things from the month into the future, but I don’t find myself actually accomplishing anything from my future log. Which is a bit upsetting.
I do love to plan, but I think my goals are too lofty. Unfortunately, I’m not as productive as I’d like to be outside of work. At least using the Future Log is good for some planning far off events like trips, concerts and other fun things to do.
Probably the most important part about Bullet Journaling, to me, is The Index. Journals should have page numbers. These books are meant to be used, and referenced. Having a running table of contents of what’s actually in the notebook makes a huge difference in finding old notes, ideas and projects.
Even if you don’t adopt the whole Bullet Journal system, number your pages and keep record. It’ll change your life, I promise.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the app provided by Bullet Journal. While I do use the app every day to remind me of my reflections, I don’t think it’s necessary. I do also use it to store notes, events and tasks if I’m away from my notebook, however, it doesn’t provide anything super useful. I mostly grabbed it to support the Bullet Journal cause.
The Non-Standard Stuff
As stated previously, Bullet Journaling is modular by nature. I’ve added and changed a couple things to suit my workflow a bit better.
Appointments and Signifiers
I spend a decent amount of time in meetings, so I adopted the suggested appointment signifier for my Daily Log. It helps to see what’s open and completed.
The idea of a signifier, beyond just appoints demonstrate the modularity of the system. You can stars or exclamations to important tasks or signify when a particular type of event happens. Figure out what works for you as time goes on. Don’t over plan at the beginning.
Due to how we operate at work, I have a weekly task list. This fits perfectly into the Bullet Journal system and something I would’ve added on my own regardless of my job. I like to see what happens at a bird’s eye view for my week as it’s a bit easier to plan than a month a time.
This is basically just a task list that I reference throughout the week. Adding a new place to log tasks is the perfect example of using Bullet Journal concepts and expanding upon them. I keep coming back to this, but make your Bullet Journal yours! It doesn’t need to be fancy.
The concept of Collections is one that I don’t follow exactly from the original system. I tend to have many pages of notes related to the same idea that don’t necessarily get referenced back into a collection. My Bullet Journal is free flowing and always moving forward. I do collect certain tasks together or break out projects onto their own pages from time to time, but that is rare.
Collections should feel natural. One thing I’ve seen a couple people around the internet do is force their collections to be all next to each other or make finite space for them. Don’t do that. Instead thread your Bullet Journal together by indexing pages and referencing pages numbers whenever you need to.
This isn’t an art project. This is your life.
All of these concepts are meant to help you stay more organized. The whole idea of a paper notebook organizer originally felt archaic to me. Why use some dead trees when you have a high performing computer?
How a Notebook Works in the Digital Age
Notebooks are difficult in the digital age. They don’t sync. They can be left places. There is no cloud. But they still work better than a phone or tablet in a couple of key ways.
There is something to be said about using pen and paper versus typing out your thoughts. For me at least, writing sticks in my brain better. The act of taking the time to focus on an idea while writing it down has “staying power” in my mind.
That focus aspect is why the Bullet Journal works for me. I can use an app to write down whatever I want, but if it isn’t stuck in my mind, it isn’t useful. Writing something out actually helps me remember it.
I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.
— Field Notes
Notebooks don’t require batteries. While everything else in our lives is connecting to the Internet, the humble notebook is staying dumb. But that’s a benefit! As long as you have pages in a notebook and pen, you’ve got your organizer.
There are definite limitations to keeping ideas in the real world, but having a passive “device” for storing my brain makes all the difference.
No matter how hard computers try, they cannot match the ease of customizing a notebook. You have a blank canvas when working in a notebook. Even if you have line, grid or blank paper, you can always break the conventions. Sure, some might say you need to be “creative” to make something you’re proud of on paper, but really, it just takes a couple minutes of forethought. Use a ruler and fine liner pen and I promise you can make something amazing. Or don’t. Keep your notebook in line with how your brain works. Just don’t fall into the trap of creating the perfect notebook that is actually unusable day to day.
So Why is the Digital Guy So Into Notebooks
I really like the separation of the analog and digital. We live in a world that isn’t virtual, that we know of, and having tactile feedback, something we can hold and create makes sense to me. I’m satisfied when using my Bullet Journal.
If you take one thing away from this article it should be this: Bullet Journaling isn’t sexy. It should reflect how you think and help you to organize your thoughts, obligations and ideas. Be messy because productivity isn’t meant to be shared on Instagram or Pinterest. It’s meant to help you get something done.