When I was in my fast-paced tech job and overwhelmed with shit to do, I became obsessed with time management systems. My first love was Getting Things Done by David Allen. It really helped me get through some crazy times but the process was pretty cumbersome and outdated (lots of calling people ON THE PHONE and filing papers in drawers). Over time I experimented with a bunch of different systems, including creating daily to do lists in every conceivable form — on paper, on the email I wrote each week to tell my manager what I was working on, on the giant whiteboard in my office, in Outlook using Tasks, or even creating an index-card-based Hipster PDA that was both incredibly simple and elaborate at the same time.
Then, early 2014ish, I came across bullet journaling.
Brilliant! I love that it’s entirely paper-based. That it’s simple. That you don’t have to fit your thoughts into preset templates and can write small or large or neat or messy and it still works. And I love that it has the potential to be beautiful.
I’ve probably completed four or five of these journals so far and over time have tweaked my usage from the original.
Here’s what it looks like for me today:
- I use a single notebook for everything. Grocery lists are right next to notes on the paper I have to write for my boss. This felt weird at first but has helped me become so much better at managing my home life. (The only exception is travel. For each trip I take I actually make a separate notebook. Tasks in these small notebooks are eventually transferred to my master notebook but the small travel book becomes a souvenir. Maybe I’ll do another entry on that some day.)
- Every month I start with a simple printed out calendar and an updated to-do list. I find it too time consuming to draw in my own calendar, even though it’s much prettier that way. The to dos, as per the original bullet journal video, are a result of going through all of the tasks from the last month and transferring any that remain open to the new month. I almost always come up with a few more to dos during this process as I sort of clean out my brain. I mark each new month by washi-taping the edge of that page. That way it’s easy to find when I need to check on to dos or see the full month view.
- I start every notebook out with a six-month forward-looking spread. This is surprisingly helpful to me — when I start it’s usually mostly empty but as I go I add in trips and big deliverables and important events and that six-month time horizon helps me see big things on the horizon.
- I used to write notes on the books I’ve been reading, but now that we’re using the Common Place Book, I probably won’t need to.
- I tape in photos of things I love here and there, especially after I return from a trip. Sometimes they’re actual photos but more often they’re just basic color printouts from the office copier. Super easy to do and it brightens the notebook and reminds me of how beautiful the world is every time I look at it.
- I use the back of the book for master lists. Sometimes these are pages dedicated to coworkers where I keep a running list of things I need to ask that person about (I did this a lot when I managed a team). Sometimes I keep track of big projects and goals here — more often than not these are personal. For example, you know I have this goal to go to every National Park in the US? I write out the ones I still have to go to in the back of each notebook. I don’t often refer to it but every now and then it serves as a little inspiration in a boring meeting.
- I take copious notes during meetings or when reading work documents. Sometimes they look good, usually they don’t. But I remember things when I write them down so this is an important step for me. Sometimes I am bored and have to write about that.
- I washi tape in business cards from new contacts. I keep the info digitally but I like having the cards and keeping them in the notebook serves as a visual reminder for who I’ve met and where.
- I love a good mind map. There are a bunch in my bullet journals.
- As you probably know, I am extremely goal-oriented. I like to use the journal to identify and track goals. Sometimes this is a yearly kind of thing, sometimes it’s printing out a list of all of the artwork from the intranet and checking them off as I find them (the place I work now has an AMAZING art collection).
I do NOT:
- Number pages or create indexes. I did when I started but found I never used them.
- Create weekly spreads. I rely on my digital calendars to manage meetings and personal events. I don’t get anything additional out of replicating them on paper.
- Use the full-range of cute shapes to mark my entries. As much as I like the little eye for explore further, I find myself writing out “need to learn more” instead of the shape. It’s a personal failure. My brain doesn’t work that way. I am pretty religious about the basics for tasks — cross out for complete, > for moved forward to next month, strike-through for no longer relevant.
- Digitize my bullet journal. I tried this after my first one — I snapped photos of each page and uploaded to my Evernote account. Evernote has OCR so I liked the fact that I could conceivably search my writing. It didn’t take very long and the OCR worked pretty well but I find that I never ever went back to look at these notes. It was easier and more enjoyable to just flip through the physical notebook on my shelf.
Something I haven’t done yet, but want to try:
- Habit tracking. I love the way these things look and I especially like going back and adding to a page over time. Don’t know what I’d track yet though. Going to yoga maybe? Riding my bike? Not sure. I need to think about it.
Let me know what you end up doing. I love talking about this shit. 🙂