Is a Bullet Journal really going to make you more productive?

Whatever point you are at in your life, you want to be making the most of your limited time. To do that, it is vital to organise your tasks through diaries, note-taking, and habit tracking. Many people have multiple notebooks, apps, or post-it notes to keep themselves on track. However, recently, thousands of members of the online professional, creative, and student communities – all interested in being productive – have been raving about the benefits of keeping a ‘Bullet Journal’. But what is a Bullet Journal, and is it right for you?

What even is a Bullet Journal?

Broadly, the bullet journal is a way of planning all elements of your life in one single journal by using a series of shorthand codes. There are two ways of viewing the Bullet Journal: the official system, and the free version.

The official Bullet Journal was created by entrepreneur Ryder Carroll, who calls it “The Analog System for the Digital Age”: “It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above.”

Carroll began it as a way of streamlining multiple task-management systems. There are now official Bullet Journals which you can purchase from their website. However, one of the most useful aspects of the Bullet Journal is that it can be fully customised and adapted to suit what you need to use it for. If you strip back the embellishments, this minimalist system has a lot to offer the professional.

One book to rule them all

It’s easy to fall into the habit of using disjointed note-taking systems. But a single journal helps you regain simplicity: if it’s in your head and it’s worth keeping, write it down in one place. Organise these ideas efficiently using ‘rapid logging’.

Rapid Logging

The backbone of bullet journalling, ‘Rapid Logging’ is the use of 3 symbols for bullet points as a shorthand for different notes:

  1. Tasks – represented by a floating dot, are crossed when completed, or marked with an arrow when ‘migrated’.
  2. Events – marked by an ‘O’ bullet, are logged before or after the date.
  3. Notes – noted with a dash, are worth noting but not yet actionable.

However, you don’t need to follow Carroll’s set of symbols. Spend a few minutes brainstorming what matters to you. I like my tasks to have different sized boxes depending on how long they will take to complete, and I use colour to remind myself of urgent tasks.

Organising your Journal

As you use this journal for everything, you need to be able to navigate it easily and reliably. That’s why an index is useful:

Leave several blank pages at the beginning of your journal. Then, whenever you start writing a set of ideas, add a relevant header (the date, or project title). When the spread is completed, add the page number and heading to your index. This will only take a moment, and means you can find it efficiently later.

Other quick and simple ways to label information are:

Colour code: if you don’t want to overcomplicate but find visual learning stimulating, use a 4-way biro pen (which you can clip to your notebook) to colour code. You can steal mine: red for urgent, green for completed, black for general notes and blue for creative ideas.

Add post-it notes: these can be used to add more space to a full page, but can also be left sticking out of the side of a spread as a bookmark.

How to get started

One of the most off-putting things about the official Bullet Journal is the arduous set-up time, like creating sets of calendar pages or learning logging rules.

However, all you really need to get started is a notebook and pen. Don’t splash out on new ones until you know what suits you. Leave a few pages in case you want an index, but just start . Keep things as simple at first, and don’t worry about the ‘official’ code.

Ideas for productive pages:

Trying to form positive habits? Draw a calendar. Create a simple key, such as a blue triangle for exercising, and make a daily note when you hit your target. Seeing your previous successes will help your momentum.

Feeling overwhelmed and don’t know what to tackle first? Time 2 minutes, and write down every thought you have. Add task symbols to anything actionable, then prioritise them. Now you have a ready made to-do list

Do more with less

Continue to adapt, try new things, and see what you can make your bullet journal do for you. Before adding a new decorative heading, or complex coding system, just ask yourself: am I doing this for me, or for the journal? Don’t let the tool take over. As a productivity system, a Bullet Journal is most effective at its most minimal.



Photo courtesy of pixabay
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