A while ago I mentioned that I was dipping my toe into bullet journaling by trying it out only for work tasks and comparing it to OmniFocus to see if I could get out of my productivity rut.
Short summary: I did! And more!
I’m 131 pages into my bullet journal and I am loving it! The thoughtfulness required to set up spreads and optimise organisation has given me a new perspective. I’ve moved my personal life items into the BuJo alongside my work, with excellent success. The flexibility of the system has helped me stop over-planning. And, I’ve broken the BuJo canon in a few places to make a system that is mine and works for me.
The odd thing about the bullet journal is that you start with a notebook full of blank pages. It’s the ultimate flexible system. This allowed me to really consider how I think about my tasks and events and how they are organised (or not) in my brain. Then I just had to make it that way on paper.
In the beginning, I followed Ryder’s movie step by step to set up my bullet journal. I made my index and future log. The monthly log seemed like a repeat of the future log, so instead, I used that to make check boxes for annoying little chores I have to do every day or several times a week.
Then I moved on to weekly spreads. Since I was initially only using my bullet journal for work, I had tasks divided over a 5 day week, with a weekly to do list. That’s how my brain works. Some things need to be done on a specific day, and some things just need to get done. It doesn’t matter when.
This is where I started getting some perspective. On the weekly spread were the things I needed to do this week, spread out over the week. I didn’t have to do everything on Monday morning or wait until Friday at 4 pm. I could see what the week had in store for me, which both relaxed me and made me less prone to procrastinate. Setting up each week forced me to check out my future log and thoughtfully consider what the next achievable steps were for my work based on what I had actually accomplished during the previous week.
Since I was previously a die-hard follower of GTD, I had every project broken down to the level of a single movement and scheduled sequentially in OmniFocus. The bullet journal system allows a future log for things that have to be planned in advance, but for the rest, your focus is on today (or this week). That means I don’t know what experiments I’ll run next week until I see if this week’s experiment worked. Then I can look at the big picture of my plan, and decide what to do next. As a result, I am constantly considering how each small experiment fits into my larger research plan, rather than just following protocols.
Some weeks, it’s clear by Tuesday that things are not going as anticipated. A couple of times, I’ve crossed out the whole week, flipped the page, and re-planned my week. I love the freedom to do this. It makes me much more positive about things not working. Instead of looking at 20 crossed off tasks downstream of what went wrong on Monday, I flip the page and focus on the productive actions I can take to recover from Monday’s mishap. Even a normal agenda book doesn’t have that kind of attitude-adjusting flexibility!
Personal and Work Life
After a few weeks of using the bullet journal system exclusively for work, items of my personal life started creeping in. My yoga lesson at 6 pm needed to be in there so that I left work on time. Something I needed to pick up on the way home from work also landed in the #BuJo. Eventually, I gave in to the force and transferred my remaining OmniFocus tasks to my bullet journal.
Initially, I had personal items in one colour and work items in another colour but, since I usually only have about 8 items in a day, it wasn’t so difficult to tell them apart. Now I just use whatever colour ink happens to be in the pen I feel like using. I sort of like the chaos of colour amid the organization.
Making it mine
I’m not much of a decorator, nor does my journal have a stylishly minimalist aesthetic. But it is mine – in its disarray of wobbly lines and jumble of inks, block capitals, cursive writing, and crossed out items.
Though not strictly BuJo, I’ve added some spreads that have been useful.
This page has my major research objectives and big picture steps of each. I flip back to this a lot when planning my next week, to make sure I’m not neglecting an objective. This page is also helpful when getting ready for my weekly meeting with my supervisor. I can show that I’ve made, or at least attempted to make, progress on each of my objectives and I can identify next steps.
I have a whole host of things I need to do once a month or once every few months – sometimes on a specific day, sometimes just at some point. (Give dog tick meds, oil my bike chain, pay my cell phone bill, back up my computer, email my grandparents, change my toothbrush…). I have a list of all these tasks and a box for each month. I still tend to leave most of these to the end of the month, but at least I know they are getting done.
Trackers seem to be very popular in #BuJo forks on Instagram. I made one to keep track of when I exercise and take my vitamins and medications. I have become a diligent vitamin taker purely, I think, for the ability to check off a box first thing in the morning for almost no effort. It’s a good way to get my productivity rolling and have the illusion that I’ve done something good for my body.
I have a list of blog posts I want to write, with check boxes to say if I’ve drafted them, taken photos for them, published them, and whether I’ve posted on Instagram about them.
Birthdays and Anniversaries
Yes, these could go in the future log, but they clutter it up. I track them separately so that I don’t have to flip through 6 pages of future logs to figure out when my dog’s birthday is.
I made a list of my favourite things I cook, for days when I need inspiration. When I discover a new recipe I love, I add it to the list. This has seriously reduced the consumption of sandwiches for dinner. I should probably make a similar list for the contents of the black hole (a.k.a. our deep freeze), but that would require a massive archaeological excavation and forensic identification effort. I’m not ready to take on that project, yet.
I started writing out packing lists for trips in the BuJo instead of on scraps of paper. It’s really handy to look back on previous trips and see what I need to pack for next time.
We are doing some fixing-up of our house, so I made a room-by-room list of what needs to be done. It’s helped with batching tasks like taking down wallpaper since I can see all the rooms that need to be done in. I also made a master list of what we need to buy (primer, sanding machine etc.) so we can see what could to be bought in bulk when it’s on sale.
I think the greatest compliment to my new system was when my Significant Other picked it up and said: “Can you make me one of these?” I’ve noticed an improvement in my productivity, both at work and at home, and my stress level is climbing back down to a healthier amount.
In short, I’m afraid I’ve become a Bullet Journal Evangelist.