Thursday, August 23, 2018

Bullet Journal: Organizing At The Next Level

"Let all your things have their place; let each part of your business have its time."

~Benjamin Franklin

A couple weeks ago I published Part 2 of a series called "Benjamin Franklin's Virtues."  The second part was entitled "Order" (you can read that article here) and I found a very powerful tool recently that I wanted to share with you that just might help you with establishing that order we're all looking for.

I'm an organized person.  That's how I manage to keep so many balls in the air at once: work, family, writing, my Masonic obligations as a secretary and Area Education Officer, reading, dog, and all the things associated with having a really big yard.  For many years, I've started my day with about a 1/2 hour of getting organized (sometimes longer depending on how busy I am that day/week).  I've carried a notebook, a calendar, and a phone for years.  My system involves keeping a detailed calendar and "to-do" list.  I start every day by updating the calendar, checking my to-do lists for unfinished tasks, and adding to it.  And I add and take things off my lists and calendar throughout the entire day.  That's how I manage my time, my projects, and stay on task.

The problem is, I carry three different things with me.  I've been using an electronic calendar for a long time, but it's such a pain-in-the-butt to enter and move things around in those calendars from my phone (because that's usually what I've got handy).  It became too tedious for me to keep up, and I'd forget to add events and appointments thinking I'd do it later.  It took me a long time to figure out that just wasn't working for me.  And to be honest about it, I get a little tired of my phone telling me what I should be doing day and night.  So last January, I went old-school.  I bought a good old fashioned at-a-glance calendar.  I only keep an electronic calendar now for work events and deadlines.  Everything else is on paper--but not all in one place.  Obviously, calendar appointments and events and to-do lists and project management are very different things--right?  So I've still got the phone, I've got a calendar now I carry, and the day journal with all my lists and project management details.  Don't get me wrong, it worked perfectly well, it just wasn't . . . optimal. 

Then I stumbled upon the bullet journal concept.  One notebook that contains absolutely everything I was keeping track of in my phone, my calendar and my day journal--calendars, to-do lists, project tracking, etc..  The "Bullet Journal" is not a new idea.  It's been around for awhile, I just happened to have stumbled upon it because somebody in my office has been using it for some time.  I'd formed a misconception about bullet journals.  I thought they were an outlet for creative types, but in reality, it's a powerful organizational tool (that some people get very creative with).  The thing I like about it, is that everything is in there, the pages are numbered, and there's an index page which makes it easy to find information recorded in your bullet journal (bujo) very quickly. 

Like most bullet journals, I set mine up very traditionally on the calendar side--year-at-a-glance, future log for events six months out, monthly calendar, weekly calendar, and then I keep a daily log of basically to-do lists that I keep up.

This is an example of how one bullet journaler keeps track of her reading list.  I set up a reading list, too, but I can tell you there is nothing in my journal that looks anything like this.  Mine's a little more function over form.
Nice thing with the index page is it makes it easy to find the information you've recorded on your collections pages (special pages).  You can keep special pages with specific information them, and customize them to your own needs.  I set up a monthly writing output log--helps me keep track of what I've got written and scheduled for the From Labor To Refreshment blog, and the Midnight Freemasons blogs.  I also track progress on education presentations I'm creating, and articles I'm working on for print publications.  I've set up a reading list page--books I've got piled up I've been meaning to read (and those invisible kindle books I've bought and are sitting on my reader unread), and I also write down books that are recommended to me.  I've got a page set up to track a few health goals I've been working on, and a page to track a few financial goals I've set up for myself.  The best collection format I've come up with is helps me keep track of the progress I'm making on my new book--unbelievably superior to how I was keeping track before.  I've got six or seven of these special collections pages set up, and in my index so I can find them easily.  I will warn you, it's easy to go overboard with these collections pages--my advice is, set them up when you discover a need rather than setting them up because you think it might be handy later.  
This is mine--a lovely olive drab Leuchtturm1917.  Two page markers, and an elastic band closure (like the Moleskins notebooks).  I use Post-It tabs to mark the pages I use daily like current month and week calendars, and my daily log.  I can take them off and move them as I move forward through the journal.
I've been using the bullet journal for just over a month now.  As a long-time list maker and calendar keeper, it was a very natural transition for me.  I've already figured out better ways to keep track of my monthly, weekly, and daily calendars.  My own system has evolved.  The other unique thing is that bullet journals use symbols for events, tasks, appointments, notes, deadlines, etc.  I've got a key of the symbols I use in the front of my bullet journal--again, easy to go overboard, you probably don't need twenty symbols to mark your entries.  I've got about six symbols I use as identifiers, and I can go back and find items I'm looking for on my daily logs by using those symbols.  Many bullet journal users get very artistic with theirs--draw pictures and use very ornate layouts for their calendar pages.  I don't.  Mine is actually very ugly inside and out, but it's one of those things that's become indispensable very fast.  

There's a lot that's been written about bullet journaling and getting organized using one.  Websites, blogs, and even books.  It's actually not that complicated, but I do highly recommend trying it.  Read a few of the blogs that are out there, and you'll be able to easily see how it works.  It's a very basic concept and very simple to use.  It's one of those things that once you start using it, you can't believe you aren't the one who invented it.  I've never found a better method.  Everything in one book . . . as one person wrote about his bullet journal "there's nothing that doesn't belong here."

Any notebook will do, but I've got to tell you, I'm very fond of mine.  It's a Leuchtturm1917 journal with dotted pages.  The bookseller at Barnes & Noble recommended it.  It's got the index pages set up already in the front, and the pages are already numbered.  There's different sizes, and if you don't like dotted pages, you can buy one with graph paper pages, or I believe they have a version with simple lines.  You can buy them at Barnes & Noble or order one from Amazon.  Well worth it.  Durable, and the pages are heavier than the Moleskin notebooks I've been buying for years--the gel ink pens I like to use don't bleed through those pages.

So give it a try.  And let me know if it works for you.

~Todd E. Creason, 33°

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