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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Bullet Journal to Skyrocket Your Productivity

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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

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      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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      Published on October 22, 2021

      The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

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      The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

      Today, there are countless productivity techniques that claim to help you work at peak efficiency. Among them, few are more widely known and widely used than the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time management system that suggests that you break down your work tasks into 25-minute chunks and take breaks in between them.

      The idea revolves around the notion that most people begin to lose focus after 25 minutes of continuous work and will need a reset to remain productive. But there’s a problem with that idea: no two tasks are the same. And for that matter, neither are any two people! That means a one-size-fits-all productivity system can’t possibly be the best fit for everyone.

      But there’s an alternative that provides more flexibility and allows you to customize it for your specific use cases. It’s called the Flowtime Technique, and here’s everything you need to know to use it and start getting more done.

      What Is the Flowtime Technique?

      The Flowtime Technique, while not as well-known as the Pomodoro Technique, has been around for some time. In many ways, it’s a direct descendent of Pomodoro. It’s the brainchild of Zoe Read-Bivens, and she thought it up as a means of dealing with some of the shortcomings she experienced while using the Pomodoro technique.[1]

      She found that sticking to 25-minute work segments often interrupted her flow—the feeling of being immersed in a particular task—and ended up harming her productivity rather than enhancing it. To fix the problem, she sought to create a system that retained the beneficial aspects of the Pomodoro Technique while allowing her to get into a positive flow and stay there.

      The Basics of the Flowtime Technique

      To start using the Flowtime Technique, the first thing you’ll need to do is create a timesheet to help you manage your daily activities. You can do this with a spreadsheet or by hand, whichever you find most convenient. At the heading of your timesheet, include the following column headings:

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      • Task Name
      • Start Time
      • End Time
      • Interruptions
      • Work Time
      • Break Time

      Your timesheet will be the primary way you track your daily tasks and establish a flow that works best for you. Once you have it set up, here’s how to use it:

      1. Choose a Task

      To get started, choose a task you wish to get done. It should be specific, and something you can reasonably complete in the amount of time you have. In other words, don’t choose a task like “paint my house.” Choose something like “paint the front door of my house.” If you select a task that’s too broad, you’ll have difficulty sticking with the work. So, try and break down what you’re doing into the smallest manageable pieces.

      2. Begin Working on Your Task

      The next step is to start working on your task. Begin by listing the task you’re going to work on in the appropriate field of your timesheet. Then, list the time you’re starting work. Once you’ve gotten started on your task, the only rule you must observe is that there is no multitasking allowed. This will help you to focus on what you need to get done and minimize any self-imposed distractions.

      3. Work Until You Need a Break

      You may then keep working on your listed task for as long as you like. If you feel yourself getting fatigued after 15 minutes, take a break. If you get into a productive groove, lose track of the time, and end up working for an hour straight, that’s fine, too.

      The idea is to get to know your own patterns and work in segments that fit you best. If you don’t focus well on certain tasks, work on them for shorter durations. If you get absorbed in other types of tasks, maximize your output by working for as long as you feel capable of staying focused.

      You’ll likely find that the longest period you’ll be able to sustain is around 90 minutes or so. This corresponds to your Ultradian Rhythm, which are the alternating periods of alertness and rest that our brains experience throughout the day.[2]

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      There are plenty of case studies that demonstrate how taking regular breaks improves productivity. It’s one of the reasons that mandatory breaks are a part of the Pomodoro Technique. But there’s evidence that the less-structured Flowtime approach to breaks works just as well. One technology company that recently directed its employees to take breaks every hour as they saw fit saw productivity levels rise by 23%—with no mandate required.[3]

      4. Take an Appropriate-Length Break

      When you decide you need to take a break, go ahead and do so. Just make sure to write down your stop time on your timesheet in the right place. You can take a break that’s as long or short as you like, but don’t abuse the privilege. Otherwise, it won’t be long until your breaks eat up the majority of your time.

      As a general rule of thumb, try taking a five-minute break for each 25-minute work period, and increase your break time proportionally for longer work periods. You should use a timer to make sure you get back to your task in the right amount of time. And when your break ends, don’t forget to record the time you’ve resumed work and list the length of the break you took.

      5. Record Distractions as They Happen

      While you’re working, there are always going to be times when you’ll get distracted. It may come in the form of a phone call, an urgent email, or even the urge to use the bathroom. When these things happen, record the occurrence in the interruption column on your timesheet. Do your best to keep distractions short, but don’t try and block them out.

      The reason is that you’re unlikely to succeed and sometimes, the things that distract you will be a higher priority than what you’re working on. So, it’s important to deal with distractions as you see fit instead of trying to simply work through them.

      6. Repeat Until Your Work Is Complete

      All you have to do next is to repeat the steps above until the tasks you’re working on are complete. As you complete each task, be sure to record your final stop time. If you wish, you can calculate your total work time (and fill it in) when you finish a task, or you can do all of the math at once at the end of the day.

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      All that matters is that you don’t leave any gaps in your time tracking. Your timesheets, once complete, will become an asset that improves your ability to create a work schedule that maximizes your daily output.

      What to Do With Your Timesheets

      Although the act of recording your work periods and break times will help you remain on-task each day, there’s another important reason you’re doing it. It’s that your timesheets will gradually begin to reveal to you how to craft an ideal daily schedule for yourself.

      So, at the end of each week, take some time to compare your timesheets. You may see that certain patterns begin to emerge. For example, you might notice that your longest work periods typically occur before lunch or that there are specific parts of your day that tend to be filled with distractions. You can use this information to plan subsequent days more effectively.

      In general, you’ll want to cluster your most important tasks at your most productive times. So, if you are reviewing detailed property records, for example, you can set aside time to do it when you know you’ll be able to focus without interruption.

      Conversely, you should schedule less critical work at the times when you’re most likely to be interrupted while working. So if you need time to respond to emails or return phone calls, you’ll know just when to do it. This will not only make you more productive but will also eliminate mistakes in your work.

      Key Similarities Between Flowtime and Pomodoro

      If you’re familiar with how the Pomodoro Technique works, you may have noticed some similarities with the Flowtime Technique. As we’ve discussed earlier, this is intentional. The Flowtime Technique is specifically designed to retain three critical features of the Pomodoro Technique, which are:

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      1. Precise Time Tracking

      One of the reasons that the Pomodoro Technique is so effective for many people is that it creates a rigid system to facilitate time tracking. By having to split your work tasks into 25-minute segments, you become acutely aware of the tasks you have in front of you and how you’re using your time. That alone helps you to avoid wasting precious work time because you have to account for every minute. The Flowtime Technique provides this benefit, too.

      2. Eliminating Multitasking

      With the Pomodoro Technique, you have to choose a task to work on and use a 25-minute timer to measure each work period. This does an excellent job of keeping you on-task because you know from the moment you set the timer what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’re therefore not likely to stray onto another task.

      Even though you don’t need to use a timer with the Flowtime Technique, the very act of writing down your task accomplishes the same task. Because you know you’ll be tracking your time spent working on a particular thing, you’ll tend to stick with your task until it’s complete or time for a break.

      3. Facilitating Breaks

      One of the biggest killers of productivity is exhaustion, and there’s plenty of data to prove that taking breaks is essential to maintaining peak work performance. That’s the real secret to the Pomodoro Technique’s successful reputation—it makes breaks mandatory and unavoidable.

      The Flowtime Technique, by comparison, also insists you take breaks. It just doesn’t force them upon you until you’re ready to take one. In that way, some additional self-discipline is required to succeed using the Flowtime Technique. But if you can obey a timer, there’s no reason you can’t learn to obey the signals your body sends you when it needs a time out.

      Final Thoughts

      At the end of the day, you may find success using the Pomodoro Technique. There’s a reason it’s so popular, after all. But if you’ve been using it for some time and find yourself straining against its rigid structures, you’re not alone. So, consider giving the Flowtime Technique a try for at least a week or two. You may find it’s a much better fit for your work style and that you get even more done than you ever have before.

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      Featured photo credit: Fakurian Design via unsplash.com

      Reference

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