Tag Archives: time management

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.

Good vs the Goal

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” 

The oft-quoted adage conveys important wisdom. In our efforts to make something the best it can be, we might pour too much effort or time into a project when “good enough” would suffice. Perfection is notoriously impossible to obtain, especially when we rely on our subjective judgment to make determinations. Most of us are never so confident as to say something we do or create is perfect… but it’s what many of us strive for nonetheless.

Wise people recognize when “good” is good enough, and refocus their attention or resources to accomplish the next task instead of perfecting the first.

Yet I find a related lesson as I consider that first quote:

We must not let good become the enemy of our goal.

In life, if we’re open to new ideas and watching for new opportunities, there are always choices and options available which seem appealing or even ideal. It’s too easy to follow these rabbit trails into tangential tasks and irrelevant efforts that feel good but never satisfy our deeper desires.

Motivational speakers and writers issue a common refrain: if you’re going to succeed at the most important thing to you, it has to become the most important thing to you.

Sometimes that means getting up earlier. Working on the weekend. Putting in some hours working at your passion, after you’ve already put in a full day’s work on the job. Other times, it means forsaking what’s appealing for what you’re accomplishing. While friends party or catch a movie, you grind a little more today so you start tomorrow further along the path to the goal. When genuinely good commitments are asked of you, sometimes it means saying, “I can’t do that right now.”

Speaking of financial stability and living within one’s means, Dave Ramsey puts it this way:

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

His program applies this principle toward financial management, and participants cut unnecessary or excessive expenses while planning and monitoring their budgets down to the penny. The same concept applies to anyone who sets out to accomplish some difficult and demanding long-term goal–except it means cutting irrelevant activities and expenditures of energy, and focusing in on the actual priorities we claim mean so much.

I’m presuming you’ve already made some goals and decided certain activities are worth your effort–perhaps fitness achievements or weight loss, perhaps a career in writing or art or music, maybe some professional education or advancement with a clearly laid-out path and requirements.

Step one is to figure out what matters to you and commit to it, not as some hobby, thing on the side, or “personal interest.”  Of this you can be certain: Make such a decision, and those good temptations and worthwhile distractions will come out of the woodwork. So what’s the way forward?

Make the most of your time.

Sometimes we can kill two or three birds with one stone. As I type, I’m sitting on the bike, finishing an hour pedaling away. I’m knocking out my exercise for today while getting a blog post typed up while taking time for personal reflection while meeting today’s word count goal.

In a similar vein, while waiting in line at the post office or grocery store, I’ve typed up blogs or short stories, outlined D&D sessions or book ideas, coordinated events or meetings, and so on.

When I feel rushed, I consider my YouTube video history, the “hours played” on various video games, or the Netflix log of shows I’ve watched. We all have 24 hours a day, with probably 8 hours that we allocate as we see fit.

Long-term effort made of small steps and good decisions is the only path to success and accomplishing some of our goals. I can’t get fit in a week of high-intensity workouts and crash-diets. I won’t write a novel by sitting down and cranking out 80,000 words in a couple days. I’m not likely to see a million dollars drop into my bank account so I can pay off all my debts and save for retirement. Regular, disciplined effort is the only way forward.

Small steps add up to big results.

A few hundred words isn’t much, but when I write 500 in the half-hour before work, then 600 at lunch, then 250 while waiting to pay my groceries, then another 800 before bed… that’s how progress is made.

Paying an extra $50 or $100 on a bill until it’s gone means that I have that money plus the amount of the regular bill available to apply elsewhere in the budget. This is a big part of how Dave Ramsey’s program eliminates debt: small steps that build momentum.

Still, all too often there’s a whole gang of “good” calling for my attention.

I may have to learn to say no.

What about you? How do you balance pursuing your interests and passions with the demands of “real life” and other commitments? Got any tips for readers? (That really means please can I steal some good ideas because I’m desperate.) Let me know in a comment below.

 

Bullet Journals are Fire

I added a couple adjustments to my Bullet Journal process since my last post on the subject. Here are a couple quick tricks that I think work for both the minimalist version and the artsy / time-consuming arrangements.

Track the workplace “fires” that you put out

If a task is REALLY frustrating, actual fire is also an option.

Office workers know the pain of watching your organized, planned-out schedule burst into flames as managers or circumstances bring you all sorts of “fires” to put out. Urgent tasks demand attention. Surprise emails reprioritize your day. The boss comes in and says “Drop what you’re doing, I need you on This now.” 

Bullet Journal is about tracking what you’ve done as well as organizing your future effort, so from the beginning I’ve written down the unplanned or unexpected tasks I accomplish. But I decided to capture these random “opportunities” with a symbol all their own: a little flame on the task. Not only does that identify the task as HOT but it also shows that I didn’t plan for this… which might explain why other tasks get migrated to the next day (yet again). 

Even more rewarding? When that surprise tasker is completed, I can draw a squiggle on the fire to show it has been put out properly. We joke about putting out fires all day—why not incorporate that into my BuJo?

Yep. I still hate the term “BuJo.”

Color code or number your top priority tasks 

When I first started my journal, I picked up a set of five ultra fine point gel pens with different color ink: black, blue, purple, red, and green. I thought I’d use them more often, but I prefer colored pencils for anything artsy. So I’ve had these things sitting in a pen case doing nothing. 

The other day, I think a motivational video or article suggested organizing or identifying certain tasks as the priorities for a given day, and hitting those first. I could use numbers, of course… but why not the pens? Now I look over my to-do list for the day and underline four tasks in priority order—red, purple, blue, green—as my primary focus items. It’s an added satisfaction to check those off as done.

Sometimes you just have to punch Monday in the junk.

Today, I knocked out everything on my high-priority list before my lunch break. Now I can get to some of the other tasks in the afternoon, with the satisfaction that the big items are out of the way.

Time Management

On a side note, when I reviewed February’s journal entries, I found a lot of references to using the limited time we’re given wisely. As I considered how to lay out March’s monthly calendar and tracker, I decided to incorporate that message into my spread as a constant reminder this month. I found a few sweet quotes that spur me on to do the most with each day:

And naturally, as a Whovian, I had to incorporate the Doctor and some items related to his adventures. Here’s my timey-wimey March page:

The trouble is, you think you have time. -Buddha

Some of the applicable motivational quotes that have come my way include:

  • The billionaire and the beggar each are given the same 24 hours in a day.
  • You will never “find” time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
  • We hold other people to guarantees and promises, like “30-day satisfaction or your money back.” Why don’t we hold ourselves to that standard? You owe you, you owe it to yourself to set such a standard.
  • It’s not a last minute “fire” task if it’s a “waited until the last minute” task. That’s just poor planning or poor execution. (That’s my own, in light of the fire symbol idea.)