Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Taking a Look at Bullet Journal

While it seems so last century, you’d be surprised at how many people still use pen and paper to capture information. Everything from shopping lists to notes to reminders to task, and a whole lot in between. It’s not just older people who are (or who are perceived to be) resistant to technology’s charms. It’s people of all ages.

And there’s a good reason why they turn to pen and paper. Several of them, in fact. It’s often faster to write in a notebook than to type on a smartphone or tablet. Writing things down also has a number of benefits, including helping you better remember information and boosting your brain.

One simple but powerful use for pen and paper is to collect and organize your tasks. Sometime in 2013, I stumbled across a method for doing that (and more) called the Bullet Journal. Of course, I promptly lost the link to the Bullet Journal site.

Flash forward a few months, to near the end of 2013. Guess what? I dug the link up in a very unlikely place: a paper notebook. Yes, the irony was obvious. Even to me.

I took another look at Bullet Journal and (once again) came away impressed with the idea behind it. Bullet Journal is definitely a fast and fairly simple way of capturing information. Let’s take a quick look at it, along with a peek at how I use the method.

Stripping Things Down to Their Essentials

The next few paragraphs look at the parts of the Bullet Journal system that I’ve adopted. I’ll be talking about the parts I’ve discarded (and why I discarded them) in a little while. So, please be patient.

At the core of Bullet Journal are, obviously, a paper notebook and a pen. No mobile devices. No apps. Just you and the blank page. It doesn’t matter what kind of notebook you use, either. Just as long as you can easily fit it into a pocket or a bag.

From there, you use to technique called Rapid Logging to:

… quickly capture and parse all the different types of data we’re trying to digest on a daily basis. This technique provides insights that can help you identify what’s important and weed out the things that aren’t. Figuring that out will help focus your time and energy much more effectively. It’s the difference between being busy and being productive.

As I’ve written in the past, your task list should be short and should focus on what you need to do in the short term. I tend to only add three to five items to a task list for a single day. When working with Bullet Journal, each task has an empty box in front of it. When I’m done, I put a check in that box to mark it as being complete.

Adding notes to a page is one main area in which I deviate from the Bullet Journal method. The Bullet Journal method suggesting formatting notes using solid bullets within a list. Doing that, however, breaks up my flow. Instead, if I have notes related to my tasks I add them in a space at the bottom of the page.

Here’s a look at one of my typical task lists:

A sample Bullet Journal

Where Things Get a Bit Complex For My Taste

What I wrote in the last few paragraphs is the way in which I use Bullet Journal. I don’t follow the method step by step, if only because some of those steps add a bit too much overhead to my process. What kind of overhead? The idea of using thee different types of bullets — one for tasks, one for events, and one for notes. I don’t use bullets for events or notes, so I leave them out.

I have no real use for signifiers, which are symbols that put tasks or anything else into a context. If a task is important to me, I’ll mark it with an asterisk or a double underline. Or I’ll highlight it in yellow.

Finally, adding an index to the first page of my notebook, and setting up calendars and collections isn’t all that helpful to me. Doing that doesn’t fit into my workflow, and I don’t feel the need to shoehorn the way I do things into a different system.

Final Thoughts

The elements that I’ve taken from Bullet Journal are very similar to the way in which I’ve used handwritten task lists in the past. I’ve added my own tweak (the note area I mentioned earlier) to it, and adopted a couple of ideas from Bullet Journal which I think have made my lists a bit more effective.

The main strength of Bullet Journal, at least for me, is that it’s easy to customize. You can make it just about anything you want it to be. Try doing that with an app!

Even though I’ve cherry picked the elements Bullet Journal that are of use to me, the method’s relative simplicity meshes with my ideas about capturing tasks and information. And the emphasis on focus as the difference between being busy and being productive really strikes a chord with me. No need to jump on the productivity assembly line if you don’t have to.

If you’re interested in getting back to basics with your productivity, I suggest giving Bullet Journal a look. Use the system as a whole or pick and choose the aspects of it that work for you. Who knows, you might just find that using the old school analog method works better for you than any app does or can.

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