I have just learned about this technique called Bullet Journalism, which seem to have revolutionized daily planning for lots of people. I’ve tried it out myself and it has been definitely something to share. Let me tell you more about it.
The principles of Bullet Journals, created and explained by Ryder Carroll, are pretty simple:
- You plan your month as best as you can
- You plan your day as best as you can
- You index it to not get lost
- You come back to reflect every now and then
- And the rest is up to you
He then proceeds to explain which is the most appropriate way to signal tasks, and how to check them out when you finished them or when they are no longer relevant. He explains how should you plan your month so that you can look ahead for some days, how to handle inspirations or ideas. The rest is up to you, and there are lots of variations of what you can do. There are great communities out there telling about the tweaks that they had made and the way in which they plan their lives for that.
Most of this is done in a physical journal, for a couple of reasons:
- Writing it down has a releasing effect on you (read more about this on my previous post)
- The effort of writing it down physically allows you to get rid of the really trivial stuff
- Drawing, writing, doodling and such are totally valid, and usually easier with pen and paper
- Seeing the physical progress of a journal filling up is very rewarding :)
There are drawbacks, though, most of them recognized by the author himself:
- There’s no easy way to plan ahead. Let’s say you know there’s something you need to do tomorrow — but what if you’re still filling in today? How much space should you leave?
- There’s no easy carryover for tasks. What if you planned to do something yesterday but you finish it the day after? It’ll still be listed for yesterday unless you duplicate.
- There’s no easy searching. Although some people had addressed this with a mixture of physical journals and Evernote.
- There’s no sync or backup. Well, it’s a piece of paper. I never expected trees to do that.
- No collaboration, unless you want to share a notebook with people in your room.
I don’t think most of these are drawbacks but rather caveats that you need to consider when deciding if this is the method for you.
I have found the bullet journals really satisfying and useful. It’s more than a simple task list or planner, but closer to a journal where I can write stuff that I think will be relevant for the future. As such, I keep creating topics (related set of tasks or events that fall under a specific theme, rather than a temporal grouping). And I can use these topics through the index to keep several lists that don’t feel overwhelming, as it would feel with a task-list application like Trello or WunderList, or HiTask, etc. In these applications I just have lists that keep growing and growing. In my journal something that has not been done for a while is obviously irrelevant at some point (or about to become an emergency).
I actually keep some kind of journal for each day, with the main tasks that I think are important to achieve. Then I keep notes about things that are relevant to me (like, did I get an allergic reaction to anything? Did I rest well? Did I find something I want to research about later?). I also have a grocery list there somewhere, a list of software problems I need to solve with my home computer, a list of blog posts, etc.
As I had explained before, writing it down really helps, so this was a success factor into making bullet journals really help me out. It also helped me kickstart the process of each morning planning my day ahead and decide what’s going to be the important things for the day.
It has not replaced my other task-keeping methods, for which I had also made adjustments and improvements. I’ll need to document those later on, but the latest update is still pretty much valid.
All in all, it has been a positive and relaxing experience, but I’m still refining my process as I go on, finding out stuff, coming up with ideas and adjusting. Learn, apply, rinse and repeat.
Finally, the biggest change that this did for me is put things into perspective. Sometimes I have productive days, sometimes my days are not so productive. Sometimes I need to get a lot done, sometimes not so much. However, day by day, I can see the progress of what I’ve done, and that leaves my mind at ease. I achieved. And those achievements do not disappear: they are there for me to see. I can lay back a few minutes, pat myself in the back and say “you did good”. My days had been a little less stressful lately, and if bullet journals are what are enabling this, then for sure I’ll keep at them.