Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been reliant on paper pads to track my daily to-dos. I quickly settled a pretty consistent process. Using the same 5×8 narrow-ruled notepad, I’d start off each day with a fresh page and list of what I needed to do that day – copying over uncompleted tasks from previous days, and adding to-dos as they came up in meetings. I also split capturing any meeting notes on the same sheet of paper, or in Evernote, or in Google Docs. I’ve tested out numerous digital tools for task management, but have yet to find anything that beats paper for day-to-day blocking and tackling.
I saw a number of opportunities to improve, so at the recommendation of a number of colleagues, I adopted Bullet Journaling halfway through 2019. So far, it’s been an incredible tool to keep capture to-dos and notes for current and archival purposes, as well as plan in advance. As I’ll share below, it has also been effective at other aspects of my day-to-day. Since it’s more omnipresent in interactions with me than my laptop or cell phone, I’m often asked how I’ve set it up. To aid others, I’m sharing how I’ve set mine up.
In short, Bullet Journaling is a way to structure and use a paper notebook. The structure makes it easy to plan ahead, execute consistently, and have an archive for long term reference. While there’s an entire book you can read, and many, many videos online, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with just how to set it up.
One key piece of guidance gifted to me early on was to find the system that works for you. In that spirit, I’m sharing with you the structure that works for me. Note that I’m only focusing on my monthly/weekly/daily usage, as that’s what is most critical to get into the flow of doing. Indexing is pretty important, although I have yet to master that, and year/quarterly planning could be done as well.
One doesn’t need much to get started, here are the key components for me.
- A journal. I use the Leuchtturm1917 Medium A5 Dotted Hardcover.
- Pens. You can use whatever pens you want, and go bananas with different colors if you want to get artsy. For me, I found these Uni-ball Ultra Micro Point do the trick.
- I have a basic 6″ ruler, and of course you can also keep all sorts of stencils.
Symbols are used to consistently create and identify different types of things in notes. I’ve deviated from the default symbol system to one that felt more natural for me. If I have a note, it has a dot next to it (or nothing at all). Tasks have a box next to them, which I fill in when completed. Inevitably, not all the tasks I create at the beginning of or in the course of a day get completed, so I’ll circle the tasks at the end of the day that should get forwarded for the future.
Months are a key interval for me to plan ahead, and my journal reflects it (now I realize why many journals have two tassels, as one is always kept on the month day, and one is moved around to the present day. On the first page of my Month spread, I’ll write out all the important things I want to accomplish that month, divided into whatever categories you choose (e.g. Work, Professional, Personal).
The second page is the full calendar for the month, split into numerous columns. The first column is a quick view of what I did (or have planned) that day (again, whatever is most noteworthy to log, as detailed notes will come later on. I’m tracking what I’m eating daily, so I have three columns for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The last n columns are one of my favorite tools – habit tracking. At the beginning of each month, I’ll list out habits I want to implement or maintain that month. Meditate, Exercise, Eat Well, Floss, Handwritten Card, etc. I’ll fill in the boxes as I complete my habits for the day.
At the beginning of each week (Sunday), I’ll use the left-most side of a new spread to lay out the tasks that I want to complete that week. Taking the time to look at my yet-to-be-completed tasks for the current month, the tasks from the previous week that need to be forwarded, and any other inputs, I can start each week with a clear idea of what I should be focus on – rather than just reacting.
As I go through the week, I rely on the left column to keep track of what I want to do each day (one of my newer habits is to create my task list the night before), and then fill in the rest of the page with notes from any meeting or project, which of course, may include tasks that I can add to my task list that day or in the future. This is where the symbol system is handy, as I can easily scan through a page and look for empty boxes to see what I have yet to tackle. Periodically I’ll update the index, so I can go back later on to see the details of any interaction.
Bullet Journaling has been a useful tool for me – hope you find the same.
Thanks to Eric for reading an advance version of this.