Two weeks ago, I started bullet journalling. I was sceptical when I started, not sure if it would have any added value. But now I have to say I love it! I had heard about it plenty before I started and I thought it was as to how sketch notes are to normal note-taking. That is was a more visual way of keeping a to-do list with a lot of different colours of ink and small sketches. It can be that, but for most, as it is for me, it won’t be. I would describe it as a mix between a calendar and a to-do list. But without the things I dislike about those calendars and to-do lists.
It’s like a calendar
A bullet journal is a lot like a calendar. It starts with a larger overview of multiple months which is called a “future log”. Here you write down tasks you know will need to be done in a certain month. Or just write down tasks wherever when you don’t know exactly when you’ll get around to doing it. This last part is one of the things I love about it, but I’ll get back to that.
After the future log, you zoom down into the current month. You write down the days of the month and a list of all the stuff you know needs to be done this month.
Then you have your daily log. A day to day transcription of the current and future days in that month.
At the front of you journal you keep an index listing on what pages you can find certain months or days.
It’s like a to-do list
A bullet journal is also a lot like a to-do list.
In the daily log, you write down all tasks for that day, any events that might happen or any notes that you need to remember for that day. You can also write down tasks, events and notes as they happen. Like a real journal. You don’t plan your daily log too far ahead. I personally only plan one or maybe two days ahead. Any tasks for later than two days, I add to the monthly list.
The monthly list contains a broader overview of all the tasks you want to achieve that month. When planning any specific dates you can pick and schedule tasks from this list.
The same goes for the future log where certain tasks are planned over several months. You refer to any points on this log when writing down your tasks for a specific month.
Maintaining the bullet journal
At the end of the day, I like to take a moment to look back at the day. I cross off any tasks I haven’t marked as done yet. Tasks I haven’t done that day, I either move to the next day, back to the monthly log or I strike through completely when it’s not necessary anymore.
At the end of the month, you look back at the entire month. You also cross off any tasks that are done or strikethrough any that you no longer have to do.
Any task that you haven’t done yet, you can move to the next month or the future log if you want to move it further than next month.
It’s not like a calendar
A digital calendar is good at scheduling events. To invite people and synchronise with them. But other than work meetings, I don’t feel like it works well for personal or work tasks. For me, adding a task or event to a calendar feels too permanent. Too “set in stone”. I think this is due to the fact that most events in my calendar are with other people and you kind of have to keep to the scheduled day and time.
Moving tasks is also not as easy. You have to move the task to a different date and not “somewhere this month” (monthly log).
The premise of the bullet journal is that there is no fixed time or even date to when the tasks need to be done. The journal is set up in such a way that it is very easy to move tasks to next day or even months into the future.
And the future- and monthly log allows you to keep a more ambiguous due date while also keeping a nice overview of all those tasks.
It’s not like a to-do list
I’ve kept to-do lists for a long time. I have like 3 or 4 of them and occasionally even more. I have for both work and personal a short term- and a long term to-do list. And these lists can grow quite long. That’s why I often break them down into separate lists.
The main thing I dislike about to-do lists is that with me, items can often exist on there for quite some time. Even multiple years sometimes. And having those items visible on those lists for so long is disheartening at times.
The future log in the bullet journal helps with this. Each month you have a reasonably short to do list that won’t have any items you know you won’t be able to do that month. And you use this “short list” for creating even shorter lists every day.
Just the thing for me
My days are quite full. I have a full-time job and family with two young kids who still ask for a lot of attention. Writing things down of stuff that needs to be done or stuff I want to do allows me to remind them of course, but also to keep my mind clear for other stuff.
With “normal” to-do lists I never wrote everything down. Afraid to clutter the lists too much I think. So I kept a lot of things in my head and as a result, things cluttered in my head. And when you feel like you have a lot to–I don’t know about you, but I definitely do this–you tend not to do anything.
In the bullet journal I can keep all manner of tasks and events, big or small. There is no pressure of getting things done, but ironically, I get done more than I would before. Even after two weeks, it has already become a therapeutic moment where I spent a few minutes each day evaluating the day and planning the next day. And it already having this much effect after such a short time is saying something, I think.