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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Bullet Journal to Skyrocket Your Productivity

How to Bullet Journal to Skyrocket Your Productivity

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. This is where learning how to bullet journal can come in handy.

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 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.

Setting 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 organized and refer back to the specific page number. Start at the top of the page and list down.

Include an index when learning how to bullet journal

    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, long-term goals, weekly schedules, gratitude log, inspiring quotes, etc.

    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.

    The Future Log

    This is essentially how you lay out priorities, events, and appointments for the months ahead using bullet points.

    This can be 12 months ahead or 6 months ahead. Then, choose how many items per month to list. Try to keep it around 10 in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

    Monthly Log

    The monthly log[1] keeps track of all your current priorities, events, and appointments across the month.

    The aim here is simplicity. 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 idea 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 and events, 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.

    How to Bullet Journal Effectively

    Now we’ve touched on a brief overview of how the bullet journal works, let’s get into 15 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-dos in one place? Do you want to bring together your personal and business goals to 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, you have a better chance of really making it work in the long run.

    2. Start at the Source

    The video below is from bullet journal founder Ryder Carroll[2], who runs through the conventions of how the bullet journal works.

    3. Keep It Simple

    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 that you have your notebook, the next step is to number each of the individual pages in your bullet journal.

    Whatever feels comfortable at the beginning, go with it.

    4. Customize to Your Needs

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

    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 by leaving blank pages 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.

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    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 colored gel pens, highlighters, or washi tape to suit your style.

    5. 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—which parts do you love to do and which 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.

    6. 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 journal on Sunday night). You will then have a clear picture of your upcoming week but still have time to add things in later.

    7. 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 often a calendar style with each day in big blocks next to each other. You may, as you progress, choose to doodle and color-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 a vertical listing of each day of the month.

    The key thing is what you are recording. Focus on substance over style[3].

    8. 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.

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    9. 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 for your dreams and goals.

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

    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, an exercise regime, or goals and dreams.

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

    10. 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 of those who use a bullet journal credit tracking with helping to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

    How to bullet journal to improve habits

      You can track whatever is important to you right now. 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, etc.

      At the top, list all of the days in the month 1-31. Then, for each individual day, against each habit, color 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, look at ways that can improve next month.

      11. 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 your 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.

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      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 organize your time more effectively.

      12. 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 try 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, then that’s all that matters if it works for you.

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

      If you’re in the habit of comparing yourself to others, this article can help you break that habit.

      13. 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.

      14. 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.

      15. Include Fun Stuff as Well

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

      Including 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.

      More About Journaling

      Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Bullet Journal: Monthly Log
      [2] Bullet Journal: The Analog Method for the Digital Age
      [3] Develop Good Habits: 132 Bullet Journal Layout Ideas & Images to Inspire You

      More by this author

      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 January 19, 2021

      How to Eliminate Distractions for Achieving Your Goals

      How to Eliminate Distractions for Achieving Your Goals

      We all have our own set of goals we want to achieve. Goals we have been working on for months, years and maybe even more. Goals that we keep chipping away at but are not able to make the necessary dent in, to make an impact and complete them.

      Despite all our late nights, early mornings and weekends of working in the perfect place, the precious timebox or updating our checklists – we simply cannot achieve the goals in front of us.

      Are we not good enough?
      Is our goal completely unrealistic?
      Are we not sure what it is we are actually trying to do?

      Perhaps. Maybe, it’s a combination of all of these put together and everything around us that keeps distracting us from our purpose, reducing our focus to the point where we can’t generate the internal focus and drive to accomplish what we want.

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      All those Notifications

      If you want to hit the low hanging fruit – start here. We are bombarded, BOMBARDED, with notifications 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Years ago, when my computer prompted me for updates, I would get notified of them and later walk away – letting it update in peace and quiet. Now, I get them weekly to my phone, update this OS, download this app – constantly staring me in the face asking me to click update, constantly reminding me. Add to that mix all the emails and social media notifications and the buzzing gets even louder. Sure “some” of it is is important but when you are trying to focus on the task at hand, you don’t need that email from work or friend request coming in. You need to eliminate that distraction to the point where it cannot be easily overridden.

      When I’m working on one of my important goals, I turn off my phone and throw it across the room. The throwing (perhaps, gentle placement is more realistic) is an important act. The goal is for it not to be in arms reach and if I feel the urge to check, I find myself feeling that pang of guilt of actually, consciously, making the decision to walk across the room to pick up my phone.

      On the web, I’ve played with a few applications and have found Strict Workflow to be the best tool to help here. Strict Workflow is a Chrome extension that blocks your access through your Chrome browser based on a timer. When the timer is active you can’t access those sites, when you are on break you can. The only way to override the change once it is active is to uninstall the extension.

      Uninstalling the extension is akin to walking across the room to pick up my phone. If I were to uninstall the program while it was active I would feel that pang of guilt again asking me, questioning me whether going onto Facebook was worth not achieving my goal. And the internal follow-up question to that?  Do you really not have 30 minutes to spend on this goal?

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      And I would figuratively hang my head in shame and mumble to myself – yes I do – and get back to it.

      Guilt isn’t the greatest emotion in the world, but when it is used to get you back to what you need to be doing, it can be quite effective.

      You are doing too much

      Even after you’ve taken away all those distractions, you might start to find something still holding you back. It might be a subtle hold, perhaps more akin to a tug at your heart, it will come and go but will always be there… nagging you… pulling you down… holding you back… distracting you from your real purpose.

      What is it?  One of your goals, maybe all of them?  Perhaps you have too much on the go?

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      This is the hard choice that many people struggle with, as we want to accomplish so much in our lives.  But we need to make hard choices to move forward in life and this sometimes involves dropping the goals that are holding us back. These are the secondary goals on our plate that we simply aren’t going to achieve.  I recently had to make this decision. I had a couple of technical blogs that were languishing. I had not been writing in one of them for a year. Every few weeks I would remind myself of this fact to the point where it would become this 30 – 45 min conversation about how I could do it, what would I write about, where would I find the time, etc, etc, but then never do anything.

      So I removed the distractions.

      I deleted both blogs about 3 weeks ago. I could have kept them up and running for the next 6 months, but I chose to take them down immediately. Out of mind, out of sight. At first, I was sad, feeling as though I had failed. But a week later, those distractions were no longer consuming me, I didn’t think about them anymore and my time, energy, and focus were directed towards where it needed to be – on the goals I really wanted to focus on.

      The Duality of Opportunities

      Isn’t it a great feeling when someone you don’t know has seen your work and says – “Hey, saw your work, can we have lunch or would you be able to help on this project or can you do this presentation with us, etc, etc” – so many great feelings start to churn through you at that point in time. I love that feeling, it’s a feeling of validation and acceptance in all that you are doing and gives you such an incredible push. But like any sword, opportunities also have a double-edge to them. Sure it’s great to be acknowledged, but if that project is too big, not in line with where you want to be focusing your time or simply too big of an undertaking – walk away.

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      Taking control of your distractions involves making tough decisions. You can’t do it all, no matter how hard you try, you can’t. So sometimes we have to be picky with what we choose to do and the opportunities we take. You don’t have to be rude about it, but you do have, to be honest with yourself about it.

      Pick the opportunities which are most aligned to your goals, toss the rest.

      There are some uncomfortable feelings here – frustration, guilt, forced loss – that you need to deal with when taking control of your distractions. The answers are not always easy and can involve some deep soul-searching on what you truly want to accomplish.

      Deleting all the games and unnecessary apps from your phone, that’s easy, but turning down opportunities or generating that feeling of guilt when start to waiver are feelings we don’t generally lean towards. If you are serious about achieving your goals – not only achieving but surpassing them – then you need to take control of what is holding you back.

      Because if you don’t, if you let them run rampant when you do realize it’ll be too late and you’ll know, in a heartbeat, that the feelings you have at that point in time (of not having met your goals) are infinitely worse than what you would have felt if had taken control of them from the beginning.

      Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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