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7 Benefits of Bullet Journaling

7 Benefits of Bullet Journaling

I love a good planner. There’s just something about the physical act of writing that helps me remember things more clearly, whether it’s something I have to do, someone’s birthday, or just the name of that book that I wanted to buy. I’ve owned dozens of planners throughout my life, always started with good intentions, only to find myself abandoning them a few weeks later in favor of to-do lists on post-it notes instead.

That’s a problem, though, because I tend to lose my to-do lists. A lot. I started searching for a good planner system that really fit my needs. I wanted one that wouldn’t be expensive in case I ended up abandoning it yet again but was versatile enough to work for both my work tasks and my class schedule.

Eventually, I found an article about the bullet journal. It’s extremely customizable, because you just buy a notebook (or, like I did at first, just use some loose-leaf paper for a while) and fill it in the way you want it to look. After testing it out, I bought a hardback Moleskine notebook with graph paper and quickly found myself benefitting from my new system.

1. It’s customizable to your needs and budget

I needed a unique planner since I planned to use it for a full-time job and full-time graduate school. All of the other planners I had used were good for one or the other, but not both. Using the bullet journal meant that I could divide up the weeks, days, or hours exactly how I needed to, even if that changed week to week.

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It also helped me stick to my budget. I didn’t have to spend $100 on a planner with custom-designed pages. I just added a $1 ruler to my shopping cart and now I can draw in my own pages. Some people use washi tape to decorate their bullet journals or to help them color code things, but it’s just as easy to use inexpensive highlighters or colorful gel pens instead. For a first-timer, you didn’t even need to buy anything. You can use the system with paper and pencils that you already have around your house.

2. It’s easy to learn and set up

It can seem intimidating to look at a blank notebook and realize that it’s up to you to fill in the design and the content, but the bullet journal is actually very easy. You don’t have to make it pretty, even though a lot of the online inspiration is overwhelmingly gorgeous. The official website has a very simple design, with just a few different icons to keep tasks, personal, and notes visually separated.

The first page of my journal is dedicated to the key. It has each symbol drawn with the definition beside it, plus I have what my different ink colors mean (I have one for each class, so I can quickly see what homework is due). You can include whatever you want in your key – if you don’t like the official icons, make up your own!

3. It keeps everything organized

I love how simple the planner is visually because it makes the important part – my to-do list – stand out very clearly. It’s easy to see at a glance what you need to do that day, and you can create monthly pages so you can see more long-term what you need to be doing.

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It also keeps everything in the same place, so you won’t lose your to-do list between days. At the end of each work day, I make a short list for the following day about what I need to do. That way I don’t have to spend time first thing in the morning trying to remember what I need to be doing, or trying to remember where I left the list – it’s right there in my notebook, exactly where it’s supposed to be.

4. It lays everything out where you can see it

This is especially good for people who are visual learners. Everything is always within sight – something that you can’t get with a digital planning method.

I also like being able to track my productivity across time. Since everything is kept inside one notebook, I can see what I struggle with and what patterns I’ve fallen into. This was a great insight for me, and one that I would never have been able to get if I’d stuck with my haphazard post-it note method.

5. It inspires productivity

I hate seeing undone tasks in my planner. If I can see that I still have to email a professor because that box isn’t filled in, then I’m going to get it done that day so I can mark the task as complete.

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It’s also nice to get to the end of the day or the end of the week and see that everything has been completed. It’s a nice sense of accomplishment that can help me relax over a weekend.

6. It’s great for keeping lists

I find myself constantly adding lists to my journal. I just turn to an empty page and start making a list: a packing list, a list of books that I’ve bought but haven’t had time to read yet, a list of movies that I want to see, a list of article ideas that I want to write…anything that comes into my head has a place in the planner, so it won’t be forgotten or lost.

7. It’s great for tracking long-term goals

The third page in my planner is a calendar for 2016 with “write every day” written across the top. Each day that I get some writing done, I mark off on this page, and try to keep the chain going each day. This was one of my new year’s resolutions, and once December 31 rolls around this year I’ll know for sure how well I kept that resolution. I won’t have to guess, it’s plainly written out in my planner.

I also have a page of all of the birthdays and anniversaries in my large family so that I can try to get cards sent out in time. Each time I do, I can put a little check mark next to the date, so I know whether or not I’ve succeeded.

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I’ve used this planner every day for four months now, and I already don’t know how I lived without it. It’s such a versatile little book that I can’t help but reach for it whenever I have an idea or can’t remember something important – and without fail, whatever I need is right there on the pages.

Featured photo credit: taz + belly via flic.kr

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Kathryn Harper

Media Relations Manager

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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