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Published on September 19, 2018

How to Bullet Journal to Skyrocket Your Productivity: 17 Tips to Get Started

How to Bullet Journal to Skyrocket Your Productivity: 17 Tips to Get Started

With our busy lives, it feels harder and harder to plan our life effectively — to keep track of everything we currently have to do, and to plan the things we want to do in the future.

You may have invested in a paper or digital planner to keep track of everything, or a journal to note down your thoughts and ideas. You may have Post It notes on your desk or attached to your fridge or used an online project management tool such as Asana or Trello.

The thing is, we know what we want to do and resolve to do it but then life gets in the way and our initial excitement and commitment falls down.

In this article, I will help you focus on what matters despite the constant changes in life by knowing how to bullet journal.

How starting to journal changed my life

Now, I love using a planner and a journal and making notes of all my thoughts, ideas, goals and dreams. I’ve written about the power of taking notes and how to make it a habit.

Actually writing things down gives me a lot more focus and clarity. It increases self-awareness and allows me to truly reflect on everything that’s happening both internally and externally.

It has become an important habit in my life. I have found I’m more grateful because I capture what matters, remember things more clearly and have become quite creative in how I lay out the most important things.

The habit of updating my journal daily has become the catalyst for creating a successful life and kick starting my morning routine.

I start with exercise, whether that’s yoga or a run, then wind down by writing in my journal, capturing my thoughts or simply laying out my plans for the day.

Have you noticed in your own life how introducing one new positive habit can change other things in your life, for the better?

For me, that is journaling, and it has changed me on the inside as well as made me far more organised and productive. I am far more creative and organised because of my journaling.

Why does it seem difficult to take up journaling?

Journaling takes commitment. For many people, they have tried journaling several times and it hasn’t worked for them.

They may do it for a week and then get bored and try something else.

One of the problems people experience is that they’re trying to use too many tools to manage and plan their life.

You may be using a calendar to lay out your appointments, important dates and sometimes your daily tasks.

In addition, you may use a daily, weekly or monthly planner to lay out your goals, action plans and work and personal tasks. This may be through a digital app or paper planner.

You may have a vision board to map out your dreams, goals and aspirations.

You may also use Post It notes to remember important things that could be put up at both work and in your home.

With information captured on a variety of different devices sometimes, it can be difficult to really organize your life effectively.

To-Do lists can get lost and Post It notes can easily get thrown in the bin.

Discovering the bullet journal

Recently, I started looking for something that could capture everything in one place. My research led me to the bullet journal.

If you search Instagram or Pinterest or put in a google search for bullet journal you will be met with an abundance of neatly designed notebook pages designed to map out and organise your life or creatively designed ‘spreads’ full of colour coded notes and pictures that capture everything from life goals to inspirational quotes to your ‘Year At A Glance.’

What I’ve learned is that bullet journals can be an amazing productivity tool and life manager if you make it your own and learn to use it in a way that fits into your life.

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Why bullet journal is good for you

Essentially, it is just a simple notebook that allows you to include a huge variety of current and future planning techniques.

According to Founder Ryder Carroll it is a system to help you “Track the past, organize the present and plan for the future.”

“The Bullet Journal is a customisable and forgiving organisational system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.” – Ryder Carroll

The bullet journal is great for people who:

  • Want to get more organised
  • Like pen and paper to-do lists, planners and journals
  • Have lots of thoughts and tasks floating around but not written down
  • Love goal setting and tracking results and habits
  • Love planners
  • Are struggling to keep up with the habits of journaling or updating their planners
  • Want to plan their life more effectively
  • Want a place of self-expression and self-awareness

The notebook you choose for your bullet journal can be simple, with blank, lined or a dot grid pages.

You can use it to create yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly or daily calendars and to-do lists.

It can be used as a diary, vision board, brainstorming notepad or whatever you choose to use it for.

You can build out pages to create collections of the things that are important to you – inspiring quotes, bucket list, life goals, books to read, self-expression, personal and career wins as well as a place to express gratitude.

It is also a place you can use to keep track of everything that’s happening with you right now as well as goals for the future.

The key thing about the bullet journal is that it is a place to make your own – to capture what matters in a way that fits the way your brain and creative side works.

How to set up your bullet journal

Here’s a simple guide for setting up your bullet journal:

Lay out your index

This should ideally be on Page 2 of your bullet journal. This is where all of your plans and collections get organised and refer back to the specific page number.

For example, September may be on Page 6. Only Index the things that are important to you and that you want to refer back to.

I will have an Index that Includes plans per month, big goals, weekly schedules, gratitude log, inspiring quotes etc.

I show the start and end page number for each item, but adapt it to what works for you.

The key

It’s suggested that you keep a key at the front or back of your bullet journal to track what all the symbols mean.

There is far more information on symbols to use in your bullet journal in the video I link to below.

The future log

This is essentially how you lay out priorities, events and appointment for the months ahead.

This can be 12 months ahead or 6 months ahead. I personally prefer to go 6 months ahead and have this across two pages, 3 months on each page.

I will usually have 8-10 items per month listed here.

Monthly log

The monthly log keeps track of all your current priorities, events and appointments across the month.

The aim here is simplicity and to write succinct notes. Some people will write the date and day down the left hand side of the page for every day in the month.

Others will create boxes for each day to fill in and complete. Once you decide on which works for you, add in the actual event, task or project.

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The aim here is to start the next month at the end of the existing month, rather than at the start of the month. As the month unfolds you can update and add to it.

Daily log

You can fill your day with all of the tasks, events, appointments and other notes, listed under the day’s date.

For many, this is where the bullet journal is exciting as you can use the method of rapid logging and use the symbols (from the key).

Once a task is complete, it gets crossed off with a simple x.

17 Tips to start using bullet journal

Now we’ve touched on a brief overview of how the bullet journal works, let’s just into 17 tips that you can use to get up and running with your own bullet journal today.

1. Define your purpose

Be crystal clear on your objective for using the bullet journal. The core aim of the journal is to increase productivity but is that your main reason for using it?

Is it to bring together all of your notes, ideas and to-do’s in one place? Do you want to bring together your personal and business goals in one place and track your progress? Do you want to be more mindful about your day? Do better at remembering things?

If you know what is motivating, you then you have a better chance of really making it work for you.

2. Start at the source

The video below is from bullet journal founder Ryder Carroll runs through the conventions of how the bullet journal works. Spend a bit of time watching the video to know more about it:

You can also visit the Bullet Journal website as they do a great job of breaking everything down.

3. Keep it simple to start with

You can buy a simple notebook or invest in something like a Moleskin or Leuchtturm 1917 A5 Dotted Notebook.

Many people start with a simple pen or pencil to get going, while others invest a little bit upfront and buy things like artist pens, midliners and fineliner pens and washi tape.

Now you have your notebook, the next step is to number each of the individual pages.

Whatever feels comfortable at the beginning, go with.

4. Join a bullet journal group or community

When you’re just getting started, it’s a great idea to find a friend, family member or colleague to start the journey with you.

You can learn together, help each other out, hold each other accountable to keep going and inspire each other.

There are also some great Bullet Journal groups to join to where you can seek out help and inspiration.

Bullet Journal Junkies and Bullet Journal Society are both large groups and there is also Boho Berry’s Tribe Facebook Group.

5. Customize to your needs

Be clear why you are using the bullet journal and customize it to suit the outcomes you’re looking for.

You can divide up months, weeks and days exactly how you want them based on your objectives.

If you have specific things you want to keep in one place e.g. a vision board or bucket list, you can carve out space for that.

If you want to track specific habits such as how many hours you’re sleeping per night or when you’re exercising you can track that as well.

You can spend as much or as little as you want on the planner. You can keep it simple or be a bit more creative and use coloured gel pens, highlighters or washi tape to suit your style.

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When you’re starting out you can keep it really simple with a basic notebook and pen or pencil.

6. Create spreads that are important to you

There are specific things – Index, Keys, Future Logs, Monthlies, Weeklies, Dailies, Collections etc. that will make up a lot of the pages of your bullet journal.

However, the key is to create something that fits around what is most important to you.

If you have a head full of ideas and you need somewhere to get them down on paper create an ‘Ideas’ page or have that page sit next to your daily page.

7. Review quarterly

When I coach private clients, we always set 90 day goals and then review performance on an ongoing basis.

One of the keys here is that the goal stays but the path to achieving the goal can be fluid.

The same is true of your bullet journal. Sit down every quarter and review what’s working – what things do you love to do and what things aren’t going so well.

Think about how you can expand the great and remove the bad to keep momentum and fascination with your bullet journal growing.

8. Plan in advance

As with everything planning in advance will save you time in the long run and will reduce the chance of overwhelm, especially when you are starting out.

Plan your weekly or daily spreads in advance (I personally do my weekly on Sunday night). You will then have a clear picture of your upcoming week but still have time to add things in during the week.

9. Set up your layouts

There are two main layouts that almost everyone will use.

These are the monthly spreads, which give you a clear overview of the month ahead. This is very calendar style with each day in big blocks next to each other. You may, as you progress, choose to doodle and colour theme these months.

The next one is the weekly spread, where you lay out your week, typically on two pages and complete as you would a diary.

You may be more comfortable with horizontal layouts but it can be fun to experiment with vertical listing of each day of the month.

The key thing is what you are recording. It’s not style over substance.

10. Try new things (And stop what doesn’t work)

You may start out using the traditional Ryder Carroll method or follow a method being used by one of your friends at the beginning.

The key here is to find your own style, one that works for you. If things aren’t clicking, then stop and find something that does.

This may become a mix of traditional planning mixed with more creative collections and trackers.

Some people enjoy listing out the days of the month 1-31 down the side of a page whilst others prefer something different.

Find the best organisation and planning system to suit you.

11. Start with one collection

The bullet journal, at its core, is a productivity system so it’s essential to begin future planning and life management with monthly spreads, weekly spreads, habit trackers and dailies.

It is also a place to house your big ideas, a place for self-discovery and self-awareness and a home to your dreams and goals.

A collection is simply a gathering together of things that are important to you under a simple heading.

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This could be a bucket list of places to visit, a gratitude log, a list of books to read or podcasts to listen to, inspirational quotes, exercise regime, goals and dreams.

Start with one. Have fun with it and go from there.

12. Create a habit tracker

Having a habit tracker forces you to be honest with yourself and can inspire you to reach specific goals you may have.

Many bullet journallers credit tracking with helping to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

You can track whatever is important to you right now. So, on a spread, list out all the habits you want to track on the left hand side.

This could be related to sleep, exercise, running, blogging, meditation, journaling, whatever you want.

At the top list all of the days in the month 1-31. Then for each individual day, against each habit, colour in whether you ‘completed’ that habit.

At the end of the month you can see how you are tracking against the habits you wanted to improve. If you have missed a few against say getting 8 hours of sleep per night, look at ways that can improve next month.

13. Create a habit

To ensure that the excitement of starting your bullet journal doesn’t wear off after a week or so, commit to working on jour journal for a specific amount of time every day.

If tasks that you’ve entered haven’t been marked as complete or your collections aren’t updated regularly you’ll get bored quickly.

It’s also important to set your weekly pages up in advance so you are ahead of the curve.

If you develop a daily habit and enjoy the experience of updating your bullet journal, you will develop your own personal rhythm that will help you organise your time more effectively.

14. Don’t compare

Instagram and Pinterest are full of amazing images of other people’s journals so it’s important to remember that your journal is unique to you.

You will develop your own style along the way so don’t compare yourself to others. Motivation may drop and you may begin to ‘copy’ the style of others.

The important thing to refer back to is why you wanted a bullet journal in the first place. If the aim is to be able to plan more effectively, be more organized and productive, then that’s all that matters if it works for you.

Seeing other planners and procrastinating will stop you from simply just getting started.

15. Don’t overdo it

Start small and build from there. Ease into using your bullet journal and get to know what works for you.

Overloading yourself at the beginning with lots of collections, daily trackers and fully illustrated vision boards may lead you to abandon the bullet journal completely.

16. Give it time (And don’t be a perfectionist)

If you’re not used to using a planner or a journal, give yourself a good month to really get into it.

Don’t stress about your artistic abilities. It should be functional over beautiful every time.

If you’re worried about making mistakes at the beginning, you can simply use a pencil or an erasable pen.

17. Include fun stuff as well

To keep motivated and inspired, use the bullet journal holistically to cover both work and home life.

Include things like memories, motivations, goals, exercise, gratitude and dreams will balance out the daily, weekly and monthly work plans.

One of the great things about the bullet journal is that it should encompass your whole life and give you important events and achievements to look back on.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Mark Pettit

Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

There is a great deal of advice in the world telling us how to succeed in life, but often we are given advice that isn’t tailored to our needs, desires and priorities. Success means different things to each of us, and living a life that feels genuinely successful to me might be very different to your idea of a successful life.

Naturally, when we follow the advice of someone else, which is tailored to their life goals and personality, we can end up with something that doesn’t deliver on the promise. We don’t get rewarded with our vision of success: we get theirs.

This is why I’m a proponent of self-discovery, introspection and personal sovereignty. So how to succeed on your own terms?

These 7 essential steps are not going to tell you exactly what to do, but they will provide you with the tools and the questions to ask so that you can discover your own path, so you know how to succeed in life on your own terms.

1. Know Thyself

One of Socrates’ most well-known quotes is,

An unexamined life is not worth living.

I argue that an unexamined life is not a successful one. Self-knowledge is something we could dedicate our lives to, but I’m not suggesting you sit around and navel-gaze in order to find happiness and meaning.

Thankfully, there are people who have created techniques and systems that less us fast-forward through a lot of personal philosophizing, and quickly identify some key aspects of what makes us, us.

You might want to find out what your ideal daily schedule is,[1] and you can take tests that reveal just that. Or you might want to figure out what you need to get things done – and yes, there’s a quiz for that too.

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None of these tests are infallible, and some are more scientific than others, but the process of asking yourself questions about your behaviors and traits is invaluable when it comes to determining your path to succeed in life.

For example, if you know you are an introvert and are unhappy in your current workplace, it might be worth considering why that is (an open plan office space perhaps) and what you would prefer.

It’s these little questions that will provoke answers in you that can guide the decisions that truly improve your life now and in the future.

2. Figure out What Matters to You

What lights you up? This is a question that often gets forgotten as we age. A fortunate child will be given the stimulation they desire in the form of bright toys, affection and entertainment. Little by little, the things that bring a child joy get replaced by what society demands on their behalf.

When we return to that question, and ask ourselves what really matters and what brings us joy, we can move closer towards a successful life. It can help to think back to your childhood, and the times in your life when you were in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state.[2]

In a state of flow, time slows and our focus is directed like a laser. We are fully present.

Whilst not everything in life that matters to you will conjure up a flow state, it’s a good indication of the kind of activities and experiences you can try to incorporate into your life on a regular basis.

A successful life is made up of moments like this, and when you know what matters to you and brings you a sense of joy and purpose, you can go about creating more of that.

3. Play to Your Strengths

Why spend your time only on mitigating your weaknesses, only to feel average? Instead, playing to your strengths and amplifying those skills and qualities you already have will help you go from average to extraordinary.

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If you’re great at big picture thinking and love dreaming up new ideas, but often lack attention to detail, acknowledge that. Then instead of trying to improve your analytical skills, focus instead on developing your existing skills of imagination and insight. When you need someone with a keen eye for detail, you can collaborate with those people.

Jackson Pollock was an extreme introvert, with no real desire to get his artwork in front of people. Fortunately, he had Clement Greenberg, who was much further towards the extrovert end of the spectrum, to popularize his work and get Pollock the publicity he needed.[3]

Start by identifying your strengths and what comes naturally to you. Then work on developing those and becoming known for those strengths. You can always find someone who will help you in fill in the gaps.

4. Listen to Yourself

It isn’t always clear to us that we’re on a path that leads us to failure or to success. People can spends decades in a job that is unfulfilling and slowly breaking their spirit, without even realizing it – until it’s too late. This is usually because they haven’t learned how to truly listen to themselves.

The challenge we face is that we’re listening to so many other sources of information; whether it’s the news, television, social media, family, friends or colleagues. Many may want to help, but that doesn’t mean they know what’s best for us. Only you know what success means for you, and working this out begins with listening to yourself.

Listening to yourself requires practice. It’s a daily effort, which over time, does get easier. That inner voice of wisdom will get clearer, and the decisions you make will feel more convincing.

To start, you could try to set aside 10 to 15 minutes when you first wake up, in silence. Rather than look at your phone, checking emails or social media, simply sit in silence, listening.

Ask yourself a simple question like, what am I feeling right now, in this moment? Notice the answer that bubbles up, without getting lost in the story. Starting an inner dialogue, without judgment is one of the key tools you can use to start making better decisions in your life.

Learn more about listening to your true self in this guide: How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment

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5. Listen to Others (But Not Everyone)

Listening to yourself is one thing, but listening to others is crucial in order to learn, empathize and be of benefit to your community.

Truly listening to others is not just waiting patiently until it’s your turn to speak. Active listening requires focused attention, and the intention to understand where the other person is coming from.

When you do this, you can ask better questions and discover more about the world and everyone in it, as well as learn how to interact with others in order to succeed in life on your own terms.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone you come across. Trolls on the internet may come into the category of people not to listen to. Some people’s opinions will do more harm than good, as not everyone has your best interest in mind.

It’s worth identifying a shortlist of people whose opinions you will listen to. Brené Brown, author of the New York Times best-seller Daring Greatly, recommends taking a 1-inch x 1-inch square of paper and make a list of people whose opinions matter to you. These are the people who love you and will genuinely support and help you. According to Brown,

“If you need more paper, you need to edit.”

6. Make Time for Reflection

It’s easy to go through life without taking inventory of what you’re actually accomplishing. Missing this crucial step means we end up jumping from one goal to the next, without feeling like we’re getting anywhere.

Make time, ideally each day to reflect. You might keep a paper journal, or an online document. Either way, jot down:

  • What went well today
  • Something you’re grateful for
  • What would make tomorrow even better

Doing this can have measurable benefits to our overall sense of well-being, as well as keeping us focused for more success in the future.[4]

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It also helps combat feelings of lack and doubt, that arise when we compare ourselves to others. When we look at someone who appears to be more successful than us in an area of life, we can forget how far we’ve come and how much we have to be grateful for.

Making time to reflect on what you have accomplished is critical to keep you on track, and just not looking at what others are doing.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind

Arguably the most important step of all:

Remember that there’s nothing wrong in changing your mind and correcting course.

The path to a successful life is not straight and narrow. It meanders and there’s no harm in going back and picking a different (and better) route.

“I think our life is a journey, and we make mistakes, and it’s how we learn from those mistakes and rebound from those mistakes that sets us on the path that we’re meant to be on.” — Jay Ellis

Be willing to make mistakes, learn from them and change your mind. Ultimately, there’s no better way to succeed in life on your own terms.

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Featured photo credit: Shirly Niv Marton via unsplash.com

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