Everyone has New Years Resolutions. Usually, mine last until about mid-January. This year, however, my resolution was to become more organized. I am by no means perfect, but I picked up a Leuchtturm1917 dotted journal the week after new years and started looking up youtube videos and other blog posts on how the heck you use one.
The beauty of a bullet journal is that you can make it whatever you want. There are a few common themes, though, and there is an official bullet journaling method.
What I like about the Leuchtturm notebooks is that the pages are already numbered and there is an index printed at the beginning that you fill out as you go. If you choose a journal and it doesn’t have page numbers and an index, you’ll want to include some space at the beginning for them.
The First Pages
Include a description of symbols used in your journal here. My bullet journal includes Tasks, Appointments, Events, Notes, and Important symbols. Tasks that are partially done are half-shaded, completed tasks are fully shaded boxes, and migrated tasks are a box outline with an arrow through it. Migrated tasks should be moved to the next day, or a day in the very near future when they can be completed on your daily log.
The index is a running list of what’s in your journal. As you fill out pages, put a heading in the index for what those pages contain.
The future log is a six month planner where you can write important dates. I use my future log to write down dates I need to remember when I haven’t created a weekly log for the week it’s included in yet. When I create a weekly log, I go back to the future log and fill in any appointments that are in my future log for that week. I also write down birthdays, anniversaries, and days my kids have off from school in the future log.
The Monthly Spread
I use the monthly spread to get a general look at the month. I can flip to it and use it as a general calendar, as I don’t keep one on the wall anymore. I highlight paydays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Yes, I pointed out that I also have birthdays, anniversaries and important dates in my future log, but for me, repetition is the key to remembering. I also have a side panel where I outline goals I have for the month. I cross them out and write “DONE” as I complete them.
The Weekly Spread
This is the where the meat of my bullet journal lies. At the beginning of each day, I transfer my meetings from my work calendar to my bullet journal. I then write in any personal meetings I have after hours or appointments. Since the work I do is project-based, I write down key tasks in the morning that I want to accomplish for my project. Applying that to agile software development, I write out the user story number and tasks from the user story I’m completing. I check them off as I finish them, or migrate them if I cannot work on them that day. I personally have not used the notes signifier yet. I typically stick to using tasks and appointments. I sometimes use the “important” signifier for reminders, especially if it’s something I need to do that falls outside of my usual routine. I also include a habit tracker for each day of the week and indicate if I finished part of my habit, completed it, or put a tally in it’s box for how many times I accomplished the habit. My habits are:
- Morning Routine
- Mine includes taking vitamins, a five minute meditation, inspirational daily reading, and a few cleaning tasks. These are things I want to accomplish before walking out the door to go to work.
- Nightly Routine
- Along the same lines as the morning routine with some different tasks. These are things I want to do before I go to bed, and include things that help me feel like I’ve wrapped up my day to keep my mind from running when I do hit the pillow.
Next to my habit tracking boxes, I include a box for a workout. Usually this means walking or running, but I leave it open so if I do something like yoga, weightlifting, cycling, swimming, or otherwise, I can indicate it.
I started talking about habit tracking above. A lot of people get really into habit tracking. I am busy, so I need something simple to give me quick indicators of how I’m doing with healthy habits, so I do my habit tracking on my weekly spread. Another way to do habit tracking is to do a monthly spread with the habits forming the rows, and the days of the month forming the columns. As you go through the month, check off if you did the habit for the day.
Collections are essentially lists you want to keep handy. If you’re a traveler, you might want to create one for places you’d like to visit. Many people have a “Books to Read” list and check off books as they go. My lists are a mix of professional and personal. I have a “Wants” list next to a “Needs” list to write down things I see that I feel an impulsive urge to buy. When I write it down, I acknowledge that I want to buy something, but have to think about it for at least a day. The needs page reminds me of items I need to get for the house. I don’t write things like grocery lists here. This is for the big stuff. Professionally, I’m trying to find ways to program faster, so I have a list of Visual Studio keyboard shortcuts, and I’m in the process of learning Git, as I’ve used different source control systems for the last few years. I have a list of Git commands so I can easily reference it as I work with code.
Projects are spreads that you create when you want to be able to see your progress through a long-running theme. I typically use them for training and work at home that will take me a couple of months. For instance, I am currently training in Salesforce and am trying out LinkedInLearning. I have checklists for the courses I want to complete and as I complete them, I check off their box.
What NOT to use a bullet journal for
I found that it’s not really effective to use my bullet journal for general work notes. I write a lot as I code, but it’s better to use team productivity tools like Slack or Teams for general notes you want to share, and a regular notebook or whiteboard for random daily thoughts. The point of a bullet journal is to be organized. I did try to set aside pages for my work notes, but it quickly became unmanageable, so I went back to using a different writing pad for that.