In 2016 we spent $19 billion on self-help products. From annual planners to getting stuff done to managing overwhelm - the list is endless. One of the most promising new entrants to the market is Bullet Journalling.
Bullet Journalling is a journalling method devised by Ryder Carrol. Struggling with ADD growing up, he started using an abbreviated journal to keep track of his thoughts, tasks and projects. As others saw what he was doing, he was encouraged to show them how to use his methodology. This culminated in him publishing his book, Bullet Journalling, and working with Leuchtturm (a stationery brand) to develop a journal specifically designed for bullet journalling.
I started using Bullet Journalling a couple of months ago in my never-ending quest for being more productive. The results, so far, are extremely promising - but I ran into a problem.
What is Bullet Journalling?
Bullet Journalling is a highly customisable, minimalist way of keeping a journal.
Some people use the Bullet Journalling method to keep a traditional "Dear Diary" journal, but it's main attraction is the way you can structure it to keep track of your goals, tasks, lists of things to do (for example, books to read or ideas to investigtae).
Ryder has some very clear videos and tutorials on how to use Bullet Journalling on his website - check them out here. In brief, the method works as follows:
- A notebook (any notebook) will do. Some notebooks are better than others; for example numbered pages help keep track of where stuff is.
- You start with a set of core collections - a set of related information. The core collections include an index, a future log (used to keep track of stuff happening in the future), a monthly log (used to keep track of what happened during the month) and a daily log.
- After that you can create your own collections. I have a weekly plan for every week of the year and sprint plans for my bigger projects.
- Daily and monthly logs are used to keep track of new tasks, ideas and what happened during the day. Rather than long-form entries, Bullet Journalling uses a set of bullets (dots, circles and dashes) to indicate the type of thing you're noting.
- One of the key concepts in Bullet Journalling is migrating tasks to collections or future dates. This helps to make sure you don't miss anything.
There's more to it and I encourage you to look at the tutorials on the Bullet Journalling website.
The advantages of Bullet Journalling
I've been a student of productivity all my life, and I've investigated, tested and used just about every system out there. With my software background I even created my own task management systems, and lately I've been using a combination of my calendar, a task management system (Things) and other bits and pieces to keep track of my work.
All of my current (soon to be old) systems are electronic, and the biggest problem I've experienced is that once it's in an electronic system somewhere, stuff disappears from your immediate attention. In some ways this is good, in others bad.
Ryder describes Bullet Journalling as mindfullness disguised as organisation. The process of keeping a paper journal, manually writing down things and migrating them at the end of each day, week or month brings them back to your attention. This forces you to be mindful about what you have on your plate; what you're committing yourself to do and what's coming up in the near future.
This manual process has already helped me to be more in touch with what I am doing every day and where my focus should be, and I can see making this a permanent part of how I run my life.
The problem with extreme customisation
While there are guidelines for how to use Bullet Journalling, the system is infinitely flexible and customisable. You design it for your needs as you go on, adding collections (I just added a list of Product Ideas to my journal).
But this extreme flexibility and customisation can be a problem.
To keep your Bullet Journal up to date and make sure you don't miss anything, you periodically have to migrate tasks, events or reminders to the next day, or the next week, or the future log. And the more collections you add, the bigger the chances that you're going to miss checking a collection at the appropriate time to see if there's anything that needs to be migrated.
To overcome this problem, I developed a visual roadmap for my Bullet Journal.
How to create a roadmap of your Bullet Journal system
I have a number of collections I have to check on a regular basis. They include:
- my future log (stuff happening during the remainder of the year);
- my monthly log (stuff happening in the current month);
- a weekly plan (what I need to get done this week);
- my sprint plans (plans for major projects); and
- my daily log.
Each of these collections need to be checked periodically to make sure I migrate tasks to the appropriate place. If I get this right, tasks or projects will always show up in the right place (usually the weekly plan) and I won't miss anything important.
My roadmap for my Bullet Journal. Click for a larger view.
To keep track of what needs to be migrated when, I created a visual roadmap. Here's what it looks like:
Using this roadmap, I can see that I need to check my future log once a month and migrate stuff from the future log to the monthly log. Every week, I have to migrate stuff from the monthly log to the weekly plan and migrate tasks from the current sprint plan to the weekly plan. Every day I migrate tasks from my daily log to the next day, week or future log.
I use this roadmap to create a checklist in my monthly log - that way I never miss migrating anything at the appropriate time (more about this in just a bit).
Creating your own roadmap
Creating your own roadmap is a simple four-step process:
- Write down all the collections you may need to consult on a regular basis.
- Draw arrows to show how things need to be migrated - from one collection to another (for example, monthly log to weekly plan).
- Label the arrows to show when you need to migrate the tasks (daily, weekly or monthly).
- Create a checklist to make sure you do the right migrations at the right time.
This may sounds complicated, but it's not - once you start you will quickly see how easy this is to figure out. You may have to draw the diagram a couple of times to get it just right.
The only bit that needs a little more explanation is how to make sure you do the right migrations at the right time.
Keeping track of what needs to happen when
My monthly log consists of two parts; the monthly log and a monthly habits and challenges tracker.
My monthly log is pretty similar to the monthly log as described in the Bullet Journalling methodology - here's what it looks like:
My Monthly Habits and Challenges tracker is my own invention (but certainly not unique). It helps me keep track of the habits I would like to build, challenges I set for myself, my daily startup and shutdown routines and my weekly planning checklist.
Here's what it looks like:
As you can see I'm not doing too well on my challenge to Doodle Every Day (I would like to illustrate my own info products, and this is how I challenged myself - I will have to find a way to make this work).
The important bit is at the bottom of the page where I keep track of all the migrations that I need to do on a weekly basis. For example, I can see that I need to migrate tasks from my Sprint Plan to the next Weekly Plan; from this week to the next week's plan, and so on.
This is how I keep track of what needs to happen at the end of each week. I can add tasks that occur at the end of the month; for the time being I actually use my visual roadmap to make sure I don't miss anything there.
Bullet Journalling has forced me to become more mindful of what is going on in my life. I can already see the benefits in being calmer, more organised and keeping better track of what I need to do, and my output is already improving.
Creating my own custom collections has helped me make my Bullet Journal my own, but that created a potential problem if I didn't keep track of what needed to happen when.
The visual roadmap solved that problem, and I can see Bullet Journalling becoming a permanent part of my life.
If you haven't looked at Bullet Journalling, I suggest you give it a spin. Creating more calm and organisation is never a bad thing.
Call to action
Using Bullet Journalling is part of how I organise my life - and the other parts are described in my Have a Life guide for 2019. Check it out here.
Have a wonderful year!