I heart my bullet journal: an update on how I stay organized

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I don’t consider myself someone who gets caught up in fads. At least, I didn’t until I sat down to write this and realized that I’ve become completely obsessed with not one but two mega-popular movements, both in the organization world. The first is the Konmari method of housekeeping - where you touch every single item you own and decide whether it sparks joy or not. Despite intense skepticism at the idea of giving away half my belongs, I love it and have dutifully followed the instructions for purging and organizing my clothes, books, and papers. Soon I hope to tackle my electronics, kitchen implements, and sentimental items. 

The other system I’ve been using religiously is bullet journaling. The first time I heard about it, someone was waving a fancy ringed planner around and raving about this system where you could buy all these things and decorate your planner and blah blah blah. It sounded dumb. But then I did some research and it turns out that underneath all the stickers, gold lettering, and cutesy illustrations that pop up when you search #bulletjournal on Instagram, there is a rock-solid system at work. I tried it out back in January and it hasn’t failed me yet. 

Since I wrote this post about how I stay organized, I thought I would write an update on what I’m doing now. There was a lot that bugged me about the old system: I found that things were still getting lost and I often couldn’t figure out where to write down certain information. And even though I was carrying around four notebooks, I still didn't have a place to record observations, quotes, or thoughts as they came. Despite all my efforts, it still felt imperfect. 

Enter bullet journaling. It’s been eight months and it’s the closest thing to perfect I’ve ever found. 

The basic brilliance of this system is that you use one book for everything, but you have a system so that nothing ever gets lost. You don’t need to divide the book up into sections for to-do lists, notes from talks, ideas for projects, etc. You put everything down in order, as it happens so that no page is wasted. How do you then find the exact thing you’re looking for amidst the chaos? By numbering the pages and using an index. 

This blew my mind. Why had I never thought of it? I went out and bought a book (Leuchtturm 1917) specifically meant for Bullet Journaling (because I can’t resist the allure of a new notebook) and it has page numbers and an index already included. But you can turn any notebook into a bullet journal by numbering the pages and leaving space at the beginning for an index. All you do is enter the name of the page or spread, like “2017 long term goals” or “delicious meals” or “notes from grant-writing workshop” and the page number. So. Simple. 

The other clever foundation for bullet journaling is the bullets themselves. Instead of just the old routine of writing a giant list of items and then trying (and failing) to cross them all off, there’s a handful of symbols you can use to be even more specific. And you can customize them as much as you like. These help you determine whether what’s written is an open task, a finished task, a task that has been moved to another list, an appointment or event, or an idea.

The point is to look at the journal regularly so you always know what you have to do, and to write everything by hand so that you pay extra careful attention to it. You’ll notice if you’re writing the same task day after day or month after month, and you can decide either to finally get it done, or to let it go. 

For the basic instructions, watch the video below:

From there, you can customize it however you want! You can use it as described or choose to leave out or add things that matter to you. You can even go crazy like the folks on Instagram and illustrate all your pages with perfect little flowers and banners. As you'll see below, I'm not particularly interested in making mine pretty: for me, functionality is king. 

In my bullet journal I have the index page and the future log but I rarely use the future log. Instead I created long term personal and business lists, for ideas and plans that don’t have a specific date. I created some charts to track my daily meditation, my 100 asks for the year, and my 50 social events so that I can see where I’m at at a glance. Then I have a spread listing my goals for the year. 

In terms of logging, I do it monthly and daily, and added a weekly list as well. I’ve developed rituals around all these logs that help me stay on track. Every night I look at the day’s list and put an x beside any finished tasks. Then I migrate open tasks to the next day and mark them with >. In the morning, after I meditate, I choose my top three tasks from the day’s list, and write them below, along with the values that I want to take for the day (basically how I want to feel, i.e. space, joy, focus, connection, etc.), and one thing that I’m grateful for. 

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At the end of every week I do the same thing: put an x over any finished tasks and migrate the unfinished ones. Occasionally I decide that something is not as important as I thought and cross it off. Then I look at the monthly list and add a reasonable amount of tasks to that week’s list. Keeping it reasonable is important so I don’t feel overwhelmed. I used to feel like I needed to put everything on my weekly list so I wouldn’t forget about it. Now I feel comfortable with how much I can handle each week and I'm okay with saving the rest for later. 

Every month I write a list of what I achieved that month, which helps fight the feeling that I’m not getting anything done. I check my long term to do lists for anything that should be added to the month, and think about what needs to happen to get closer to my yearly goals. Then I write out my list for the next month and start over again. 

Interspersed between all this I have meal ideas, Instagram ideas, notes from workshops, sketches, quotes, ideas, a-ha moments, and more. I mark ideas or ahas with a big star, and put quotes down at the bottom of weekly or daily log pages. 

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I love this system because everything I need to keep my life and business running is in one book. I always know where to write something down and where to find it later. This year has been my most productive yet, business-wise, and while getting really clear on my goals played a big part in that, I think this system has also been a huge help. 

Have you tried bullet journaling? What do you think of it? Leave a comment below!