How to organise time: My journey into the Bullet Journal


Analogue planning in a Digital Age – How I became a Bullet Journal junkie

I’m a bad juggler (literally and metaphorically)!  Lots of different projects on the go at the same time with different priorities often leading to feelings of not knowing where to start or where to place my focus.  The result – lots of time spent pondering and procrastinating over what to do and not enough time actually doing!

Bullet Journal NotebookI’ve tried outlook calendars. Google calendars, digital notebooks, project management tools but they have all gone the same way – NOWHERE!  After an initial flurry of enthusiasm, I’d very soon lose interest – they just seemed too impersonal, and whatever tool I was using, it never seemed to completely do what I needed it to.  I would have to adapt to fit the tool rather than having a tool that did exactly what I needed it to.  The only product that has consistently worked for me is my paper diary – but I needed something more.

I also make lots of notes, jot down ideas and plan things on paper an in notebooks.  I have notebooks with collections of quotations and notes taken on courses I have attended.  I’m not ashamed to say I PREFER the interaction of pen with paper over the endless tapping of keys on a keyboard.  The problem has been finding what I am looking for when I need it.

By chance, I came across a post on social media extolling the virtues of the Bullet Journal system – the simplicity of it, combined with its ability to bring structure and organisation to chaos intrigued me sufficiently to give it a go – and I haven’t looked back.  I am now more organised, I enjoy the planning process, I am celebrating success daily and my creativity is way up!

So what is it and why does a Bullet Journal work for me?

First the What…

It’s simply a notebook and a pen!  That’s it, just good old fashioned pen and paper – of course it hasn’t stayed that way, I have to confess there has been a proliferation of coloured pens and pencils but that’s just a choice thing.

The magic is in how you use the notebook.  The best explanation is in this video from Ryder Carroll – the originator of the Bullet Journal system.  You’ll also find lots more information on his website

That’s the basic idea – but the beauty is that it is infinitely customisable – just search for Bullet Journal on Google, YouTube, Facebook (check out the Bullet Journal Junkies FB Page) or Pinterest and you’ll see lots of variations and styles (here is my pinterest page with lots of samples and ideas).  So it’s easy to get the systems operating (and looking) the way you want it – you don’t need to wait for a developer to come up with a theme you like, or for an “app” to be developed.

Why does it work for me?

Here are just some of my theories – the list is not exhaustive and I’m sure if you give it a go, you’ll find others.

I’m planning ahead – setting goals for what I need to (or want to) get done each day. I spend 5 mins (max) each evening writing tomorrow’s daily list which includes meetings/appointment, tasks, reminders etc.  This is the process known as “rapid logging” – it’s just a brain dump, in no particular order – each type of task is given a different bullet symbol – I use circles for appointments, dots for tasks and dashes for notes or reminders.  Doing this means I can hit the ground running in the morning because I know what the priorities are for the day.

bullet journal - daily lists

A page of daily entries – with doodles!

I’ve also got into the habit of doodling on the page – often a representation of something significant about the day.

I no longer worry about forgetting things or losing my “to do list” – anything that has to be done or remembered goes in one of 3 places – either tomorrow’s log or, if it is further off, the monthly log (for the current month) or the future log. When I am writing my daily list, I check the monthly log for any tasks that need to be scheduled that day.

Bullet journal - monthly log

My future log

I am breaking tasks down into small steps. Big goals are achieved through a series of small steps.  Achieving the first step provides motivation for the next step, and the next.  Having small steps stops the feeling of overwhelm and not knowing where to start.  It stops you feeling “stuck” – after all, you can’t be stuck if you are moving!

I get lots of “rewards”. Every time we achieve a goal we get a dopamine hit – the body’s way of rewarding us.  Every time I cross something of the list I get a shot of this pleasure chemical.  I really didn’t think I’d get this much pleasure from such a small action!

I have always known I have a pretty good visual memory – when I have read a book and later want to find a favourite passage I can often recall whereabouts on the page it was. I like the fact that because I have written the list, and each page is different, usually with doodles or colour, I can remember it without even having to look at the page – it is like having a snapshot of the page in my mind’s eye.  This just doesn’t happen with electronic planners where every entry looks the same and you are simply scrolling through text rather than physically turning pages.

Even when I was at school, revising for exams, I used to take a lot of notes – the physical act of writing seems to encourage me to remember more

Everything is organised – the simple index means that I can always find what I am looking for without the need for separate notebooks or dividers. It also makes the Bullet Journal more interesting to flick through.  It is a source of inspiration as well as a planner – I have my collections of quotes, a gratitude log, trackers for students and coursework and other useful stuff and lists all in one place.

Bullet Journal - Quotations collection

Bullet Journal – Quotations collection

Bullet Journal - Student Tracker

Bullet Journal – Student Tracker

I am so much more creative. I’ve always been a doodler, but adamant that I couldn’t draw for toffee.  Adding visual reminders or decorations on the pages has been so much fun and has turned into a form of mindfulness meditation at the end of the day.  A little “right brain” activity when so much of the day is “left brain” really brings a sense of balance – and I can certainly say that some of my best ideas have come when I have a colouring pencil in my hand!  Oh, and maybe I can draw after all!

It’s allowing me to escape the grips of perfectionism! It is definitely an evolutionary process the layout I used at the beginning has developed over time – it wasn’t perfect, but that was OK, I changed it and now it works better.  Every time I am learning more what works and what doesn’t.  It is definitely encouraging a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed one (i.e. it is either right or wrong).  There have been weeks where I have missed a day, or numbered the days wrongly – but that doesn’t matter, sometimes I’ve covered it up with some colourful tape (did you spot the tape on my daily list?), other times I’ve just crossed it out and started again.  When I look at those pages now it is with a sense of amusement.

The migration of tasks is one of the key tricks of the system that really makes a difference. When I get to the end of a spread (usually 6 or 7 days) I review those days and check for items that have not been completed to carry over to the next pair of pages.  At this point there is a decision to be made – is the task still important (that means – is it important enough to take the time and trouble to write it again on the next page?) if the answer is “no” it gets deleted.  This means that the task list is regularly reviewed and refined and stops it getting out of hand or being populated by tasks with low urgency and of low importance.

And it seems I am not alone – just this week there was a piece in Vogue Magazine extolling the virtues of the Bullet Journal (here is a link to the article).  So if you too are feeling overwhelmed by to do lists and procrastinating over what to do next, why not give bullet journaling a go?



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