It’s 18:40 and I’m finally done with the last task for the day. I take the cap off my pen and cross it out in my notebook. I immediately feel like I’ve accomplished something significant. I feel a rush of pleasure. It’s intriguing how a small ritual can mean so much.
It’s been two and a half years since I adopted the Bullet Journal. It was love at first sight and we’ve had a special relationship ever since. As a handwriting aficionado, the practice immediately clicked with me. I’ve tested many different tools, setups, and combinations and I think I finally have my winning bullet journal combination.The Bullet Journal is no magic productivity tool - but it's still pretty awesome.Click To Tweet
The Bullet Journal pitch
So what’s the bullet journal all about? For me, it comes down to 3 things: focus, freedom, and ritual.
It’s not something unique to the bullet journal, but to writing in general. It makes you focus. It’s a well-documented effect and has a lot to do with synthesizing information and the way your brain works when taking notes. I’ve also felt it. It may be due to the fact there’s no way to go to Facebook overleaf. Or it may be related to how your brain is hung up on that specific curve in your capital “J”. But writing by hand helps draw attention to something that matters.
Freedom has to do with how versatile the bullet journal can be. There are tremendous amounts of #bujo setups that you can test, ranging from the simple format its creator intended to stuff that looks more like an art piece than a daily planner. Whatever you choose, you can be sure of one thing: the Bullet Journal will let you put down whatever notes come to mind, be it an idea for a new blog post or a reminder for a weekend coffee appointment.
The standard BuJo format consists of different signifiers. You can use them to record anything throughout your day. You’d also use collections to put a bunch of notes together in one place. Here’s the skinny on bullet journaling:
I’m a creature of habit and rituals keep me sane. I love going over my daily plan in the morning with my cup of hot coffee and a purring cat by my side. I madly enjoy crossing out tasks I’ve completed – it feels like victory. Since this habit of bullet journalling is already deeply engrained into my day, I am now confident enough to play around with the format, testing new ideas and putting some curious additions in place. Literally, everything can be put into the bullet journal. I’ve already integrated a spread where I keep track of my running data.
A work of art or a no-frills tool?
I’d like to say I’m a bullet journaling hipster – I started using it before it was cool. There pretty much was just the original version started by Ryder Carroll. That made me think of the bullet journal as a productivity tool. Form followed function and you would include something in your journal only if it helped your day in some way.
And then the planner girls came. If you look into bullet journaling now, you’ll get a much different idea of what it entails. You’ll see mood mandalas, popcorn movie collections and monthly log pages that must’ve taken as long as the Sistine Chapel to produce. Frankly, to me, that’s a load of bull. If you need more than one pen and pencil to do your daily spread, then you’re not seeking productivity – you’re after an art project.
To use the Bullet Journal’s full potential, just start with the original version of Ryder Carroll and pick up from there. First get into the habit and then add your personal twist to it.
My Bullet Journal
Here’s what my bullet journal looks like. First off, it’s a question of style. I’m no girly girl and I’ll never have the patience to learn calligraphy-style lettering. However, I do enjoy adding some flare to the pages. I rely on minimalist graphic lettering for headers and dates.
First comes the monthly spread. That’s the place for all upcoming events and monthly goals.
I use a weekly spread to plan… well, my week. It’s a nice thing to do on a Sunday evening – or even morning! You may think it adds to the anxiety of the upcoming week. But for me, it ensures a smooth start of my Monday, with a clear sense of direction.
In addition to the tasks for the week, I keep track of any current goals I’m tackling – a better phrasing could be “habits I’m forming”, but it sounds pretentious 🙂 Currently, those include meditation, exercise, writing posts for this little sucker, calling my mom (I know it’s lame, but keeps priorities in check) and reading (yeah, actual books!). The space that’s left is for a quote I’m currently pondering.
Then come the daily spreads. I do those each morning, putting down any tasks and appointments for the day. Any fleeting notes I want to put down will flow on the page and anything that needs to go into long-term memory will be included in my digital channels (more on those later).
I am also completely free to invent any additions to the bullet journal. I use a lightbulb for ideas that need further research, exclamation points for important things and a star for the most important task of the day. I’ve incorporated some ideas from the 5-minute journal. So now I add a note on a great thing from my day (marked with a sun) and an idea on how I could’ve made it better (marked with a plus).
A mix of offline and online
The one thing the bullet journal comes short of is forward looking planning. The traditional BuJo setup doesn’t really allow you to write down a task for next Tuesday. But I do feel that this isn’t necessary. You see, a bullet journal is a tool of the now and I can use digital tools for the future.
My digital setup includes 3 tools:
- All my appointments go into my calendar.
- All my tasks go into Todoist with a specific date attached.
- All notes that I feel I might need to go back to go into Evernote.
At the beginning of the week, I go through those three channels to create my weekly plan. Then each morning I’d compile a list of tasks and events, looking at my calendar, Todoist and the weekly plan. It’s a ritual that creates focus for the day and allows me to see everything in a couple of lines.
Any tasks that come in during the day go into one of two buckets. If they need to happen today, they go into the bullet journal. If they need to happen some time in the future, they go into Todoist. Simple as that!
I believe this brings the best of both worlds. It gives you a simple focus on what’s happening today and it allows for a simple noting technique for the future.
Put pen to paper
I don’t think I have any more arguments to give. The truth is you may not enjoy bullet journaling at all. But I’d urge you to try it. Get a good quality notebook, buy a nice pen and start practicing calming your mind with writing. And if you already use your own bullet journal, let me know about your setup in the comments below.