Tag Archives: productivity

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.


Early this year, a click-bait style post came across one of the writing groups I follow. “This one notepad will get rid of all your productivity apps!” or something like that.

For whatever reason, I clicked and watched the introduction to the Bullet Journal (a.k.a. BuJo).

The system is intended to be minimalist: fast, easy, helpful for tracking what you’ve done, focusing your efforts now, and planning your future.

“Interesting,” I thought, and moved on with my mindless Facebook browsing. But then the concept kept bouncing around in my head. Soon I found myself looking at ideas in their blog posts, discovering co-workers who already follow the system, then looking through piles of new ideas posted to Facebook groups. The artistic versions caught my eye.

Also a set of colored pencils and pens appeared randomly, demanding use. (And I learned to make an origami bookmark, because reasons.)

One of the spreads I’ve seen in numerous Bullet Journals is the “word of the year,” something that captures a person’s intended focus area for attention or improvement. I liked the concept, but there are so many words! Who could choose just one to capture everything they really want for 2017?

I chose intentional as my word of the year, because of how often I find myself wasting time and energy on superficial garbage through lack of decisions or purposeful effort. For example: “I never have time to write, I’m sooo busy. I think I’ll take this hour to play phone games and scroll through Facebook some more.”

Googling images others have used to capture the idea of “intentional” resulted in two personal faves: a brick wall being built out of Lego, and a direction sign shaped with a pointed end. The bricks convey the idea of step-by-step effort toward any goal. Results don’t appear out of thin air, but usually out of doing the same, simple task over and over until it becomes easy. I liked the sign as a way of capturing motion in a chosen direction instead of flailing around aimlessly through life.

To incorporate both, I drew a brick wall with the pointed sign hanging on it. Over the year (or however long my journal lasts) I can incorporate new words that strike my fancy or contribute to a fuller picture of what I mean by intentional living.

A more complicated BuJo is also a fun artistic outlet.

All of it goes back to my favorite verse right now: 1st Corinthians 9:26 (ESV) – “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” The Chinese translation puts it, “So I run not as one without a destination.”

I’m still digging into what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ll do a full intro / personal take on the process once I get my new journal set up and going. (The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 dot grid seems to be the most popular option.)

Anyone else BuJo? What spreads work for you? Let me know in a comment.

April Update

So I wrote over 21,000 words this month. 

On the one hand, that’s more than any of the previous months since I’ve started tracking my effort. 

On the other hand, it feels like so little progress being made on any of the various projects outlined in my head or my OneDrive files. Plus I totally failed at my Camp NaNoWriMo goal of 30K on a particular project. (I think I got about 9K done on that draft.)


I thoroughly enjoy the little games we play to get ourselves writing. My NaNo writers’ group tried doing word sprints a few times this month, and I enjoyed the camaraderie. The weekly (now bi-weekly) Blog Battle is another such activity, especially since the misadventures of Grant and Teagan is like a brief vacation for my writing brain. 

Great interpersonal interaction helped out this month. I had the privilege of meeting a Japan NaNoWriMo member who lives on the northern part of the nation–she came down to Okinawa for a vacation and was able to attend a write-in. I caught up with an old friend who happens to be in town–a guy who read my fantasy novel back when it was a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in story form. We chatted about character arcs and came up with some better ideas for where all the threads are headed and how they interact with each other. Then I sold a couple books and created a personalized art version of a signed copy.

And it looks like we might get a local critique group going finally.


I left my WattPad novella Echoes pretty much dead all month. I’ve got the last third of it outlined, just need to sit down and write it. I also have the last bits of PERDITION outlined (my NaNo sci-fi project about psychic reconnaissance). Same thing, I need to sit down and write. And I haven’t touched Diffusion (the fantasy sequel to Diffraction), since this month was supposed to be all about finishing off the NaNo draft.

Lots of ups and downs, “coulda, woulda, shoulda” moments, and a general sense of I could have done more.

But April is over and done, no changing that word count. I guess I have to go with my Mom’s old suggestion of “Why don’t you make this activity into a game? See how many (fill in the blank) you can do in an hour, then try to beat it!”

Alright, May. I raise my tasty Jack and Coke Zero to greet you. Challenge accepted. Out of sheer fairness, May, since you have an extra day, I wrote nothing on the 1st of the month. 30 days to do better than 21K. Let’s do this!

What’s your goal this month? Do you have one? If not, why not? Let me know in a comment.