A Year of Bullet Journal: Lessons Learned

“This one notebook will make you delete all your productivity apps,” the clickbait headline promised. It came from a writers’ group, so it couldn’t be all bad…

So began my Bullet Journal experience about a year ago.

Side jaunt: What is a Bullet Journal?

A Bullet Journal is a paper brain that never forgets, so that your real one doesn’t have to juggle so many reminders, priorities, and worries. When followed, Ryder Carroll’s system is quick, easy, and efficient at what it’s designed to do: track what you’ve accomplished, record what goes on throughout the day, and assist future planning.

Today’s notes, events, tasks, and questions are recorded as they happen. At the end of the day, unfinished business is evaluated based on “Is this worth my time in the future?” If so, it gets migrated to the next day or scheduled for a later date. Notes about upcoming events feed into the monthly calendar, which also feeds back into the new day to assist with planning one’s schedule and efforts. Notes taken today can also be added to pages set aside for certain projects or areas of responsibility–a page dedicated to writing, perhaps, or to a list of references and rules for a program at the office. The brief few minutes of planning in the morning and reflection in the evening are crucial to making the system work as designed, but other than that, there’s no significant commitment.

As originally designed, it’s minimalist. However, it’s also individualized and customizable. The Bullet Journal website has links to a variety of blogs and videos with advanced options people can incorporate. Some are elaborate and artistic, others are crisp and functional, but all are optional.

Don’t be fooled by Pinterest-perfect pages and Instagram-worthy layouts. No one needs 50 water-based Stabilo pens and mild-liners, nor is a degree in art required. You don’t have to buy a special notebook from a German company or the Bullet Journal site store in order to make the best use of the system… though I do like the dot-grid pages.

Over the course of the year, I went from artistic to… we’ll say “thrifty with my time.”

Pros: The basic system works great at what it’s designed to do.

  • I tracked a bunch of tasks, events, and projects throughout the year–professional work, personal stuff, and random things.
  • I had a personalized schedule that covered my days, month, and year–and it wasn’t tethered to my phone or wi-fi access (I work in a facility where I can’t have those things on hand).
  • I expressed my creative side while keeping the system fast and effective.
  • I can review everything I invested my time in over the last year.
  • More importantly, notes of fond moments and special experiences with my wife and kids bring those memories back.
  • Tracking efforts, habits, and tasks revealed several times when parts of my life went off-course.
  • I invested positive energy into my journal, which fueled me later when I needed it.

Cons: Anything I tried beyond the basics fell apart over time through neglect.

  • For the first half of 2017, I used a bunch of artsy spreads and habit trackers I’d seen online. That turned into more work than it was worth for me.
  • Looking back, I find several pages half-filled with material on particular projects or areas of interest. I didn’t go back to those and put them to use like I thought I would.
  • I had a great many lofty ideas which never came to fruition. “I’m going to read all these books… I’m going to write these other books… I’m going to document my daily word count… I’m going to fill up this list with songs recorded and posted on my Facebook page…”
  • If I wasn’t working at the office, it was easy to ignore the Bullet Journal. My holiday weekends are often blank gaps in my daily entries.

As you might guess from the above lists, the pros far outweigh the cons. In fact, part of the benefit of a journal or tracker system like this is seeing where efforts go half-finished or forgotten, and deciding if those efforts are worth continued investment. I could argue that some of my cons are the system showing me exactly what it’s supposed to about my actual commitments and priorities.

All told, my Bullet Journal experience has been positive. It’s a beneficial tool I will continue using for years to come.

Want information on how to set one up or adapt the system to your needs? Give yourself a Christmas present of better organization and time management. Start here.

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