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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.

      The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours) How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work How to Help Anxiety When Life Is Stressing You Out A Lack of Sleep May Slowly Kill You: Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

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      Last Updated on April 19, 2021

      What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

      What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

      On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

      To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

      Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

      “As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

      Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

      I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

      What Is Block Scheduling?

      Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

      However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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      Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

      We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

      Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

      First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

      Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

      “Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

      Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

      Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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      How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

      We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

      What is time blocking?

        1. Assess Your Calendar

        Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

        Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

        2. Look for Patterns

        After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

        • Administrative
        • Meetings
        • Creative work
        • Email
        • Personal time.

        You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

        3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

        Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

        • 8-9am: Respond to emails
        • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
        • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
        • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

        However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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        Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

        Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

        Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

        4. Create Day Themes

        If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

        If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

        Benefits of Block Scheduling

        Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

        Battle Procrastination

        If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

        For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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        Create Realistic Time Estimates

        Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

        Develop More Focus and Attention

        When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

        Final Thoughts

        Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

        In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

        If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

        Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

        More Tips on Time Management

        Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

        Reference

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