Write it down
I’m always on the hunt for new and innovative ways to stay organized. The sheer volume of studies on human productivity and the mind is baffling, but really what it boils down to is simple. (1) do what you love, love what you do. (2) write it down. (3) do less. (4) write it down.
I put “write it down” twice because it’s that vital.
When we don’t write things down, we forget them. On an enormous scale, if that weren’t true then written language would never have even come to pass. We’d still be surviving on word of mouth and oral storytelling of old. But on a more manageable scale, taking diligent notes frees our mind to focus on creating instead of remembering.
The caveat is finding a way to organize your notes that doesn’t include a life full of scribbles on the back of receipts, crumbled up post-it notes, two half-used planners and a few free pocket-sized notebooks (I’m speaking from experience here). This is where Bullet Journaling comes in.
Bullet journaling is a fad that started here. You can get the full scoop and surf their products, but honestly, I just stripped out what works for me and I use what I call Bullet Journaling Lite, which I’m going to share with you so you can hack it yourself.
I use bullet journaling to increase productivity by keeping everything I need in one place. And I mean everything. I never have to sweat losing a scrap of paper with a phone number on it, or a website someone told me in passing. Because if I wrote it down, there is a 100% chance that where I wrote it lies within the pages of my journal. It’s that foolproof. (Just don’t lose your journal).
The premise of Bullet Journaling is that everything you write has a particular type of bullet, and that bullet style helps you see at a glance what is a task, what is an event, and what is a note.
Empty bullets, like a task or event, leave the option for an action. Items can be completed, moved, or canceled. The idea is that everything requires action so that nothing slips through the cracks. You can look at your page and in an instant know that you still have 4 tasks to complete or 3 events before the end of your week.
Notes are solid bullets, typically, that require no action but are easy to spot as you flip back through the book. Since bullets line the left margin of a page, it would be quick to scan pages for the solid bullets of notes and find a phone number or piece of info you’d written down weeks before.
Essentially it’s that easy. Here’s a secret that applies to nearly everything: if it’s simple, it probably works. The over-complicated systems are often the ones that fall apart.
Step 1: Find a journal you like.
I know that there are a lot of people out there who don’t mind using whatever pen is within reach or a notebook they got free at a conference. That’s fine; whatever works for you. But for me, I have a specific set of criteria that I need my materials to meet so that I can get the most out of it.
You can opt for traditional lined paper, grid paper (with the little dots), or plain sheets. I prefer grid paper because I can write all over the page, which I don’t have the freedom to do with lined paper or the structure I need with blank pages.
Another thing to pay attention to is binding. You may scoff at that, but this is a journal needs to be with you most of the time. So if you’re constantly getting tangled up with keys and headphones in your bag, then maybe a spiral bound notebook isn’t useful for you. I like hardbound leather.
What I actually use: $5 Artist Journal
Step 2: Make a legend.
Your legend should start the journal, and it can take on whatever style works for you. If you want to use different shapes or colors, that’s your prerogative. All that matters is that you’re consistent.
For me, I like a box for tasks, a circle for events, and a dot for notes. Items that are completed get a checkmark, moved items get an arrow in the direction they moved (only forward to the next page or lower on the list), and canceled gets an x. It’s not very creative, but it is very effective.
I also like to use color coding when I can. In my example, pink is work and purple is personal. I also add a red exclamation point in the right margin if something is exceedingly important.
My actual legend:
Step 3: Pick your content.
Decide what you’re going to use your bullet journaling for primarily. At my last job, I was a project manager so I kept track of the schedules, tasks, and timelines of many people and projects.
The majority of my journals at that time were to-dos with a few personal things peppered in. Today, I work a lower pressure job but I have more to do in my free time, so most of what I journal is personal, and most of it is events.
Step 4: Find what works for you.
You can apply these strategies to your wall calendar or your day planner, too. You can use it on your meeting agendas, your binders, your workplace memos–the system of bullets with a legend is so simple that it can be applied anywhere you need more organization.
Then you can add your own flare or spin. Personally, I love stickers. I motivate myself with stickers as decoration or accomplishment rewards.
So find what works for you and hop to it!