Productivity Notes: Bullet Journal

Bullet JournalI’ve been trying out Bullet Journal, a system that’s taking the productivity-nerd corner of the internet by storm.

The Basics

Check out the Bullet Journal website to get a better idea of how the system is designed, but it’s basically as follows:

  • The pages of your notebook are numbered. The first is the index, where you note what is on each page. You update the index as you add stuff to pages.
  • Everything you write is one of three kinds of data: tasks (actionable items), notes (non-actionable information), and events. Items of import are denoted with some sort of additional symbol of your liking.
  • The journal is organized by month. When you reach the month’s end, you migrate items to the next month (crossing off items that are now-irrelevant and crossing off forwarded items as you move them).
  • When you have a grouping of items you’d like to have together (such as items that end up being part of a larger project or plan), you migrate them to a collection instead of a month, and add it to the index like you do everything else.

I really do recommend watching the video — it gives you a really solid grasp of the system almost instantly.

The framework is incredibly useful, but over the last month of testing, I’ve had to make some adjustments. Like every system, it’s designed with the creator’s workpace and work-style in mind.

The Big Con

Future tasks/meetings are not accounted for in this system. It’s not a planning system: it’s a get-things-done-immediately system. If you want to plan for future events, you need to put them somewhere else. I’ve seen several other blogs suggest using the Bullet Journal system within a planner that has blank pages.

The Effective Parts: Migration & Tasks

I love the clear separation of tasks and notes. Migration — making time to decide what is and isn’t relevant for the future — is the system’s biggest asset.

My current boss once noted that “once things are on your to do list, I get the sense that they’re there until they’re done.” It’s my biggest strength as a subordinate (things always get done when they are my responsibility), and my biggest weakness as a manager (things can never not get done, and even tasks I reassign aren’t off my list until complete).

Migration is a great way to get a sense of my entire workload, and handle it appropriately as I move into the next week (which is, of course, filled with new things to do).

Speaking of weeks…

The Other Con: A whole month of to-dos

The first thing I did while experimenting with Bullet Journal was to change the migration timeframe from months to weeks.

The year is (relatively) cleanly divided into weeks, and my to-do lists in any given day are long enough that they span most of a page for the notebook I picked (A5 size). Forwarding a whole month of items — much less keeping track of a month’s worth of important items when each day spanned nearly a page — was overwhelming, so I decided to forward my to-do items each week.

Accordingly, my index is also numbered by weeks. (I used the back page for reference, and put the dates of each week there to ensure I wouldn’t have to try to maths them when I was migrating.)

One more note: Events are useless

As I process information, I tend to only ask one question: “Is this actionable, or not?” For me, notes are basically the same as events — it’s all non-actionable information that should be recorded. So I eliminated events.

All in all, I love the system — it immediately reduced the post-it clutter that was all over my work and personal life. It also allows for seamless integration of personal to-dos and professional to-dos.

Do you have a favorite way of tracking what you’re doing personally or professionally? How often do you try new systems?

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2 comments on “Productivity Notes: Bullet Journal
  1. John Doe says:

    So do you still use a bullet journal?

    If yes, (how) did you change it’s use?

    If no, why did you dump it? What didn’t work for you?

    • schufman says:

      I do still use it, and I love it. I kept with the “forward every week” instead of “forward every month,” and I added a handwritten calendar for appointments. It definitely needs to be tweaked for individual use — part of the beauty of the system is that it’s malleable. Have you tried it?

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"For the worthlessness of this life did strike Richard pretty forcibly — buying necklaces for Evelyn."
Elissa Y. Schufman
That's me. I write stuff.
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