How to be productive without changing your entire life.
It’s no secret that I’m addicted to bullet journaling. I first came across it on Instagram, and then I discovered the bullet journal YouTubers like Amanda Rach Lee.
October 2019 Plan With Me (Amanda Rach Lee)
I spent weeks watching videos and dreaming up the beautiful, productive bullet journal I was going to create, and I was exciting about the new, productive life I was going to have.
But let’s face facts: not everyone has the time to sit and spend 8 hours a day working on doodles and charts and lists and spreads about how many episodes of which TV shows we’ve watched. If only!
But, when I got my first ‘Bujo’ in January of 2018, it did change my life, for one major reason: Productivity.
I’m a Virgo, so I like lists. If you, too, like lists, then bullet journalling is definitely for you.
What is a Bullet Journal?
The concept of the BuJo came from a gent called Ryder Carroll, who needed to find a new way to track and maintain his productivity. From there, it became what some people see as almost a stationery cult. It’s huge. It’s a big deal. And it’s all to do with systems.
A person writes in a journal. A coffee and a smartphone sit on the white table next to them.
The basic idea is this: you write down the tasks you have to complete. Each one gets a little tick-box.
If you complete the task, you colour in the box (or whichever system you prefer). If you can’t quite get to it on that day, you ‘migrate’ it (move it to the next day) by drawing a line through the box, and writing it down on the next day’s list. There are a bunch more symbols so head over to Ryder Carroll’s website and jump into the rabbit hole that is BuJo culture!
So How Do I Do It?
There are a multitude of ways to bullet journal, and I really do recommend reading about it, then trying out lots of different systems until you find the right one for you. I took about 6 months to find the perfect system for me, and now I rarely deviate.
I have an overview of the year, where I write down things like birthdays, important dates and due dates, holidays, jobs, that sort of thing. Then, when I get to a new month, I draw up a box-grid monthly spread, which is basically the calendar for the month. I check back to the yearly overview, note those dates for the month in the monthly spread, and add anything new.
A wall of colourful post-it notes.
Then, as each new week approaches, I have a special weekly spread, which includes:
A small calendar to track where I am in the month
A to-do list box for my PhD
A to-do list box for my health
A to-do list box for general life admin
A to-do list box for work stuff
A habit tracker
A section for each day of the week, split into tasks and appointments.
Now, this habit tracker thing is contentious, because some people have a massive monthly habit tracker at the start of their month, and it has 30 different habits on it. I tried this: I failed. It was overwhelming, and I got in over my head, I lost track and I never used it. Once I cut the habit tracker down to just 5 things (health, PhD, work, growing my business, happiness) and did it weekly instead, I found that I not only use it, but, because I see it every day, I am more motivated to fill it in and actually track those habits. That keeps me accountable for staying on track with my goals.
My daily spreads alternate between 2 layouts, depending on how busy I am. For example, if I’m away on holiday, it’s unlikely I have 15 things to do every day. So I’ll squish the week onto a two-page spread. But usually, I do have 6789 things to do every day, so I use the dutch door system so that I can see my whole week’s tasks at the top and still have just over half a page to use for each weekday’s tasks and appointments, and a quarter of a page each for Saturday and Sunday.
Why Would I Bother? What Does It Achieve?
Friends, bullet journalling is like the magical key / gateway drug to organisation and the beginning of your productivity journey. I could literally go on for days, but I won’t. So here’s a list (yay for lists):
I don’t forget things anymore. As soon as I think of something I need to do, I write it into my bullet journal. On the monthly, weekly, or daily – wherever. It’s there in front of me, so I can’t forget to do it.
It holds me accountable to do my tasks. There’s nothing like a bit of self-guilt to make you actually do something that you don’t want to do. For example, I’ve had ‘finish 2018-2019 tax’ in my BuJo for 2 weeks. It keeps getting migrated. That looks bad to me. Nobody else sees my planner, but it annoys me. So today, I will allocate a day to finally finish that f*cking tax return so I can move on with my life.
It helps you plan ahead. Ever been so busy that you’ve suddenly realised it’s your friend’s wedding today and you haven’t got a gift, anything to wear, and you’re a 2 hour drive away? No? Me neither…(gulp). So anyway, that wouldn’t have happened if I had been using my bullet journal properly. And it will never happen again.
A person in an orange jumper with an open monthly planner.
Never miss a bill. If you have a direct debit coming out on the 21st of each month, write into your planner a few days ahead to make sure that money is sitting in the right account.
It’s calming. If you’re like me, you get stressed out by the unknown. This way, I know what’s coming up. I have this magical little book that has all the answers. I know which events, which writing deadlines, which notification deadlines are coming up. I also know which day my favourite TV show is coming back for a new season, when my friends’ birthdays are (so I can send a card in advance) and so on. This brings me a sense of calm.
It’s a productive way to be creative. The beauty of the BuJo is that you want it to look nice, but that just means it looks nice to you. So if you’re an amazing artist and you want to do some incredibly detailed and gorgeous spreads, spend that time doing it. If you like a minimalist-looking planner, do that. Because a) you’ll get to expend some creative energy, and b) you’re going to enjoy looking at that BuJo afterwards, and you’ll use it.
A pink background with white headphones, a white journal, a wireless keyboard and mouse, and a pen.
For me, I usually put aside Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee to plan my week ahead. I find it relaxing, and enjoyable, and a nice way to prepare for what the week is going to bring. It also reminds me of sh*t I haven’t done, so I can make sure to do them or to allocate them to a new day.
Anyway. If you want to know more about bullet journal, you should check the #planwithme #bujo #bulletjournal tags on Instagram and YouTube, but be warned: you might be scrolling for a few hours (days). I’ll get around to posting some pictures of my own BuJo at some point soon (see? I’m writing that down in my BuJo).
Are you a bullet journaller? Show me pictures!