Bullet Journals: an experiment in productivity

As I head into my vacations, I’m getting myself organized for the new year and for me, that starts in September. I would like to find ways to avoid both the organized disorganization and crisis-inspired chaos that always kills my best intentions to stay on top of my daily tasks and move my various pet projects forward.

Recently, a reader asked about bullet journals, so I investigated the Bullet Journal website created by the digital product designer Ryder Carroll. After poking around, I decided that I’m going to give this system a try. It’s going to be a challenge for me because there seems to be lots of parts to it and various stages. However, I’m going to go in with a good attitude.

First off, I will set myself up on the system before I go away on holiday so that I know exactly what I need to do the day I get back in order to hit the ground running.

My first task is to choose myself a notebook. At work, we have spiral-bound notebooks that have been branded with the company’s image, but I don’t think I will use one of those. The Bullet Journal website also sells their own book, but it’s a bit too expensive for me. Instead, I think I will go for my favorite writing notebook, the Moleskine Journal. It’s a good size, opens flat on the desktop well, and is about the same size as my iPad so can go into the iPad’s slipcover for easy transport.

While it might take me a while to get used to the various ways bullet points are expressed through rapid logging (there seem to be so many!), I rather like the idea of putting an ever-growing index at the beginning of the journal. Always in the past, I’ve made to-do lists and then once I’ve crossed off or migrated the task, I’ve forgotten about it, making it a challenge to remember the repetitive tasks that I do every year, every month, or even every week. By having an index that I can refer to at a glance, I’ll be able to remind myself of what sorts of things I need to be thinking about.

(On a side note, it has suddenly occurred to me that I should probably include personal topics in this journal as I’m notorious for forgetting things and thus leave organizing family events to the last minute, or not at all.)

I also like the next section of a monthly calendar with events to record (before and after) as well as a page for tasks in the month. This section will be extremely useful next July when I am organizing the 2018-2019 year. It does, however, take up a lot of space in the notebook, making me wonder if perhaps I’ve chosen a book with not enough pages.

Then again, when reading about the daily task lists, I won’t be using a full page each day. So as to not waste paper, each day’s list is created the night before, meaning I won’t need over three hundred pages to cover the whole year.

The notebook is now set up and ready to use. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I fear that it’s going to take some dedication to stick to the system, but in having organized the notebook, I can already see how it is going to help me. And most surprisingly, I believe it’s going to be more helpful in my personal life than at work.

I’ll let you all know how it goes. Have any of you had a good or bad experience using the Bullet Journal system?

9 Comments for “Bullet Journals: an experiment in productivity”

  1. posted by Art Gelwicks on

    Bullet Journaling (as with most systems) is a highly personalized process. Don’t restrict yourself to just what is commonly accepted as the core. Adapt and improve the methodology to your specific needs and cases. Trial, error, and improvement are the keys when it comes to analog or digital productivity systems. PRO Tip – if you’re trying a new layout, use sticky notes in your notebook as a way to play around with the layout structure before committing it to the page. Gets over the whole “I’m not sure I want this to be permanent yet” issue.

  2. posted by Michelle T Ross on

    BJournaling is a lovely process, totally individual, and amazingly effective. Take the time to try different layouts until you settle on the unique combination that works for you. Should you join FB pages devoted to Bullet Journaling try not to get sucked into all the “added” decorating craze at least until you have settled on what will work for you. While undeniably beautiful (all the decorating), it is a time suck when most of us are already working every day to find time to get done what is necessary. Kudos to those who have found the time to watercolor, glitter, color, draw, stamp, and sticker every page while maintaining 50 tracking pages tracking every aspect of their day to day lives while taking care of three ‘at home’ children that includes, homeschooling, farm chores, gardening, laundry, cooking, and cleaning. I suspect there are some fantasy lives happening, but more power to them all! There is enough pressure every day, give yourself time to enjoy the discovery process. 😀

  3. posted by heather on

    I whole-heartedly agree with both commenters above! I have about a year of bullet journaling under my belt—I started when I decided that the best way to fully understand the system would be to give it a shot. At times I really dislike it, like when days have been so busy that I haven’t been able to get to my journal and then I struggle to differentiate one day from the next when I go back in an attempt to log it. I don’t always have time to do the setup at the beginning of each month. Sometimes I struggle to find the best bullet journal way to do a thing that I know will be helpful for me, like running lists of chores, or how to assign a task for three days from now because I know I can’t do it until then. That said, I have really appreciated certain other planning aspects of it, and the flexibility to use a few pages for notes if I decide to do that, because I can add it to the index up front and continue on with my daily log after the notes section! I guess you could say I’m sort of on the fence but I have sort of committing to using the system until I’m done using up the books I bought for this specific activity. (Last July I bought a two-pack of cheapie Moleskines to get started, over the winter I bought two dot-grid journals so I can see if that helps me draw my habits grid more easily.)

    Earlier this year I met a man who lit up when I said the words “bullet journal.” He proceeded to show me his book and a hard-cased package of Staedtler pens. He had so much color-coding of his tasks going on that I couldn’t make much sense of it at a glance, but he enjoyed it. I suspect that color-coding may be one way of doing that decoration business without committing to the time-intensive effort of actually decorating your pages in the way you see on Instagram.

  4. posted by Kevin McCoy on

    Agree with the above – don’t restrict yourself to the core BJ “ingredients”. The ability to customize the system is what has made it so popular in my opinion. I don’t use the calendar or a Collection for my to-do list as so many do as those are better handled electronically for me. I also played around with several formats before settling on one that I’ve used for about 6 months now – 1 page per day, 2 column layout – bullets in one column, other column contains today’s to-do at the top right, with quotes/interesting passages I’ve read, and money spent each day underneath the to-do list.

  5. posted by M Vogenthaler on

    I agree with the above comments.
    The best thing about your bullet journal is that it is YOURS and is meant to work for YOU. I have been tweaking mine for a few years, and still don’t have a perfect system, but you know what? It works for me and I can change it whenever I come up with an improved process.

  6. posted by Monica on

    The Bullet Journal system works for me. The time I spend setting up the pages is meditational art therapy. I reuse unused space for notes on small projects, so if I didn’t record anything for Month Tasks, or whatever, I draw a line underneath, relabel the space, and update the index. I like the system because I can structure it any way I want, and can change and refine it as I go along.

  7. posted by Elena Murphy on

    I have used BuJo for about 3 years now. I went far afield thanks to Pinterest but eventually came back to the core basics. Give yourself permission to miss some days and then just pick it back up with no pressure or expectations that you log what you missed. That’ll just make you less likely to start back up again.

  8. posted by Pat on

    I’ve been using a bullet journal for a few months now, and I love it. For me, the beautiful layouts and color-coding that I see on Pinterest would be a waste of time. Mine is colorless and boring to look at, but that works for me. I prefer quilting for visual self-expression. But one of the great advantages of the bujo system is its adaptability.

    I’m already on my second notebook, because they fill up quickly. I switched from blank pages to a dot grid so I can quickly draw a tracker without a ruler. I track daily chores, physical and mental exercise, and watering the many areas of my yard.

    I only write with a mechanical pencil, which I keep in a pen loop. It’s all about efficiency for me. I also use Post-it tabs to easily find the trackers.

    I carry my bujo everywhere, and it serves as my notebook for committee work and brainstorm lists. This is where the index really helps. For example, everything I have recorded regarding the organization of our upcoming quilt show can be found much more easily than if it were on seperate pieces of paper.

    I am eager to read about the results of your experiment. I know we will benefit from learning about your experience.

  9. posted by Gloria on

    I played around with many versions of the bullet journal before deciding that a loose leaf binder type of system worked the best. I could move my sheets around, not have to guess how many sheets I needed for what, include printed out info (folded in half, hole punched). I use a very thin plastic binder found in Daiso ($2 Singapore dollars). I know there are Daiso’s in the States too. Good luck. Half the fun was figuring out a system.

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