Or…how I found a way to make bullet journals work for me.
I have previously introduced the subject of Bullet Journals and how I personally found the system both appealing as a solution to becoming organised, but also how I found it too much work to actually do in any practical or useful way. Having found a way that works for me, here is a summary of what I do and I present this in the hope that it might inspire people to give it a go, and fine their own solution.
- A Bullet Journal is a system for making and managing lists of what needs doing (click here to find out more);
- I adapted it to make a more streamlined way of listing what I need to do and keeping on top of it;
- I made it work for me because I know what I am like, and so what I am likely to actually follow and keep using.
Why I use a Bullet Journal system
Put simply, I found myself overwhelmed with too much to do and a list that never seemed to get any shorter. Important long-term aims would be lost in the chaos of daily tasks that built up. I wanted a way to:
- Have an overall plan of where I wanted to be (or in my case where I wanted the business to be);
- Keep track of what I needed to do to achieve this;
- Be able to prioritise and ultimately get rid of unwanted tasks, or delay them until another day.
A pen, a notebook, a pen loop and some highlighters. Job done. In fact what I use is:
- A Rhodiarama soft-cover dot-grid extra-large notebook
- A Caran d’Ache 849 ballpoint pen
- A Leuchtturm pen loop
- A set of Faber Castell highlighters
See the notes at the end for more on these choices.
I set out my plans, from long-term to short-term so that I know what the overall aim is and what I need to do to achieve it. So I started with a list of what I felt we needed to achieve this year, anytime in the year. Big aims. About 20 of them currently. Things like ‘launch new website’. Which we are about to do.
I then set out a monthly to-do list – what I wanted or had to get done in that month. It can be a mix of big and small jobs, but it needs to be realistic. No point shoving everything into the list as it will crowd out what you need to get done. Some of the ‘year’ tasks were added to this list.
You might already be thinking it sounds like too much work, but it’s not hard really, and a bit of effort into the planning now pays off over the year. I am focused on what needs to be done.
After that, I start a new page each day and list what I need to get done, whilst adding new items that crop up.
Each month I do the same – I set out a new to-do list by reviewing the previous month’s list and seeing what I managed to do, or didn’t. I then check the ‘year’ to-do list for any items that I need to start work on, and add them to the monthly list.
I then scan through the daily pages and pick out all incomplete tasks, and either add them to the list (because they still need doing) or tick them off as being no longer needed or important. If it still needs doing but just not for the foreseeable future, just add it to the ‘year’ list.
I start each day and take maybe 2 minutes to plan out what I will do. A quick referral back to the previous list, sort out what still needs to be done, highlight it (see below on this), and then I make a 1-2-3 list. This is something I came across on a blog somewhere and it flicked a switch in my mind. Think of it in terms of saying ‘if I get nothing else done, what are the three most important things I must get done today?’. Of course some days you struggle to get to three, some days it’s impossible to limit it to three but the basic idea works for me. So my daily routine is:
- Check previous day and highlight any incomplete tasks
- Start a new page, date it at the top
- List 1-2-3 and set out the most important tasks to do today
- Build a list of to-do items below with tick boxes
- Add any useful information such as a great idea and mark this accordingly
- That’s it – below I explain the process for how I mark up items to keep on top of it all
Using the tools I set out earlier, I keep this to a minimal process. Each to-do item on any list has a simple square tick box. When the item is done, I tick it. Simple. If it’s not done, it’s not ticked. If I have a great idea (yes, it does happen) then I note it down in the list and highlight it in green. Any useful information is marked with the orange highlighter. Which leads on to…
I use my trusty pack of Faber Castell highlighters and make good use of all four colours. This is how I can keep on top of everything very easily and I don’t know it would work for me without them.
- Each day I look back at the previous day and highlight any incomplete item in yellow
- Any completed item that was marked in yellow I go over in pink
- Any idea I have (and there are a few!) gets marked in green
- Any useful information or data I have noted down gets marked in orange
This means at a glance that I can see which items are still to do, and also scan through ideas I have had over the past few months for inspiration. I also mark off each day in pink at the top when it is fully ticked off, again so I can see what’s done.
So why is this different to Bullet Journaling?
To be honest it probably isn’t that different – I use a system of lists of things that need to be done, day by day and month by month, review them, carry forward the ones I want and lose the rest. The difference as I see it is that a Bullet Journal in its truest form is quite a detailed process that involves marking out pages, using an index, carrying page numbers back and forth, using a detailed language to mark off items at different stages of progress, and more. This may work for you. It doesn’t for me. If you take out the monthly element of what I do you could create a truly streamlined to-do system although the monthly routine does help put regular checks in place. Without that I would drift from day to day and nine months would sail by.
If you, like me, are wishing you could find a way to stay organised and on top of everything you have to do then I would recommend giving this a go and finding a way that suits your personality – avoiding using a way of working that you know you will quit after a few weeks of well-meant endeavour! That’s why I dropped the idea of adding too much in like weather symbols and more which I know would give up on and it might have stopped the whole process.
For me, whatever the book it had to have dot-grid paper. It gives enough structure on the page to let you use it for lines or grids, for writing or for tables. It also allows enough ‘white paper’ to let you draw when the time comes. Most importantly it means I can keep myself to one notebook and not have several on the go for different purposes. All my important notes are in one book.
I did use a Leuchtturm A4 Master Book – gorgeous and serious, but it stayed at work as it was too heavy to carry. I then had a Leuchhtturm A5 medium-size version which I loved, but the new extra-large Rhodiarama books give just that bit more space, which I missed with an A5 book. I should point out that I only recently stopped using the Leuchtturm A5 book and I am still deciding whether I like the Rhodiarama book more or less. Look out for a head-to-head review before the month is out.
The pen loop means no fumbling for a pen when you need it. Sounds obvious until you need a pen. That said, you do need to put your pen back in the loop each time…
Faber Castell highlighters
These are the glue that binds my system together. Any ones will do, but Faber Castell make really good ones (award winning!) and there is a pack of 4 meaning enough colours for my needs.
I would highly recommend using a new page for each day as it helps stay more organised. I also mark each day as completed so it is easy to see which days are done. It may use up the book faster but I prefer it.
Projects and other subjects
If I am working on a specific project or theme then I use a page for that purpose as it really helps to keep all the to-do’s related to it in one place.
Page numbers and indexes
The one big advantage of the Leuchtturm notebooks is that they come with an index and page numbers. So if I have made notes on a project I can note the page number in the index and then one day when I am thinking ‘where were those notes on such and such?’ I can find them easily. You could make your own page numbers and index in any notebook, but this is where I get a bit bored with the time the whole process can take.
Another reason to use Leuchtturm books is that they come with stickers for the cover and spine so that you can archive it away, marking up the dates and that way it’s easy to find again.
This little marvel can be useful too. Just use it to mark page edges to act as a permanent page marker – maybe for the start of each month, or ideas or important notes. A huge range covers everything from plain to patterns to designs.