Don’t Leave Your 2021 Goals to Your Future Self
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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future
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Digital product designer Ryder Carroll always thought his attention deficit disorder made him different from others. But then, one day, he realized that his condition was actually just a radical variant of the most pervasive malady of the digital age: a lack of self-awareness. “In the most connected time in history,” he bemoans, “we’re quickly losing touch with ourselves. Overwhelmed by a never-ending flood of information, we’re left feeling overstimulated yet restless, overworked yet discontented, tuned in yet burned out.”
In search of “an analog refuge” to help him focus on what truly mattered in life, Carroll devised “The Bullet Journal Method,” one of the most effective productivity systems of the 21st century. Fusing a variety of philosophies and traditions that define how to live an intentional life, “The Bullet Journal Method” is a powerful organizational tool for “anyone struggling to find their place in the digital age.” If that describes you – and, let’s face it, it probably does – get ready to get organized and prepare to inject a little bit of “clarity, direction and focus” into your days!
Our two most valuable resources in life are time and energy. The mission of the Bullet Journal method (or BuJo, for short) is to help you become mindful about how you spend them both – that is to say, to help you accomplish more by working on less. Martial arts legend Bruce Lee once said, “It is not daily increase but daily decrease; hack away the unessential.” Well, that’s what the Bullet Journal should help you with – to identify and focus on what is meaningful by stripping away what is meaningless. How does it do this? “By weaving together productivity, mindfulness, and intentionality into a framework that is flexible, forgiving, and, most importantly, practical.” Let’s take a closer look at each:
The Bullet Journal is nothing more – nor less – than a smartly organized, immensely flexible notebook. Since you can customize the BuJo system to meet your unique needs, your personal journal can be a to-do list, a journal, a planner, a sketchbook, or all of the above, and all in one place. The elasticity of the Bullet Journal stems from its modular Lego-like structure – namely, it’s composed from pieces that can be mixed and matched per your wishes. Browse around Instagram and YouTube, and you’ll notice at least two things: first, that Bullet Journals are ubiquitous, and furthermore, that no two Bullet Journals are alike.
Unlike traditional planners that are unavoidably linear, the BuJo respects the fact that life is messy and unpredictable. Consequently, it’s structured in “interchangeable, reusable, and customizable” modular blocks, each of them “a template designed to organize and collect related information.” That’s why these modular blocks are called collections. The four core collections that usually serve as the foundational structure for a Bullet Journal are: “the Daily Log, the Monthly Log, the Future Log, and the one Collection to rule them all, the Index.”
The index. The collection that stores all of your other collections. The index is, quite possibly, the best and most original part of the Bullet Journal. As Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote once, even the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry. In other words, life is unpredictable and it often requires one to shift gears. The index allows you to keep track of this practice. You can write almost anything on any page of your notebook as long as it is numbered. Numbered pages make it possible for you to add any entry to your index; and your index makes it possible to find whatever you need at any time with almost no effort. “While getting lost in your notebook can be a lovely and liberating experience,” writes Carroll, “losing things in your notebook decidedly is not.” The index makes all the difference. To make it work, reserve at least two spreads – four facing pages – for it. And always number your pages!
The future log. A basic monthly calendar. Located at the front of your Bullet Journal (just after your index), the future log is meant to store “entries that have specific dates that fall outside of the current month.” Not just birthdays, holidays or trips, but work projects as well. For example, if it’s March and you’ve got a project with a deadline of September 15, list the Task in your future log, so that you don’t forget to migrate it to your monthly log when the time comes. Speaking of –
The monthly log. The monthly log offers “a bird’s-eye view of the things you have to do, as well as your available time” as you dive into the coming month. To set up a monthly log, use a spread of facing pages. Name the left one “Calendar” and the right one “Tasks.” On the Calendar page, list the dates and the first letter of the day of each week. Keep your entries as short as possible and leave some room in the left margin to add signifiers (we’ll get to them in a bit). Use your Tasks page as an ongoing Mental Inventory of your month. A Mental Inventory is usually a three-column table that lists the things you’re working on, the things you should be working on and the things you want to be working on. Prioritize and migrate tasks between months at will.
The daily log. “The workhorse of your Bullet Journal,” meant for keeping your thoughts organized on a daily basis. The daily log helps you unburden your mind by allowing you to rapid-log your tasks, events, and notes as they occur throughout the day. To set up a daily log, you just need to add the day’s date at the top of a page in your notebook and the page number at the bottom. Since it’s impossible to know how your day may unfold, don’t worry about allocating space for the day beforehand. Some daily logs may span many pages, while others won’t take up half a page. The index will help you find your way around them. That’s the beauty of the Bullet Journal: it aims to organize the chaos of life, while fully respecting it.
In addition to the core collections of the Bullet Journal, you can create one for whatever you may want to keep track of. Indeed, collections can be anything from brainstorming sessions and mind maps to mock-ups and sketches to food lists and movie preferences. Thanks to the index, you can easily group these and refer back to them later, no matter how haphazardly they may appear to you as you go through your day and month. For example, you can write poems or sketch drawings in your daily logs whenever inspiration hits you. Then, in the Index, you’ll just write, “Poems: 3, 5-11, 17,” or “Drawings: 7, 19,” where the numbers represent the pages whereon you can find your verses or illustrations.
Another thing that makes the BuJo method so powerful is rapid logging, “the language the Bullet Journal is written in.” Rapid logging uses “a short-form notation, paired with symbols, to quickly capture, categorize, and prioritize your thoughts” into three types: notes, events, and tasks. Tasks are marked with traditional bullet points (•), events with open bullet points (○), and notes with a dash (-). To add some context to your tasks and illustrate their status, you can also use additional symbols. An X written over a bullet point marks a completed task, a greater-than symbol (>) indicates a task migrated to the following monthly log, and a less-than symbol (<) denotes a task that has been reassigned to the future log.
Additional signifiers – and custom bullets – can add even more context and improve the functionality of your lists and collections. For example, an asterisk (*) can mark a priority task or an important event, and an exclamation point (!) a note that has captured a moment of inspiration. If you want to mark something for further exploration, you can draw an eye before the relevant bullet point or dash. However, it’s important to keep custom bullets and signifiers to an absolute minimum. As Carroll explains, “rapid logging tries to remove as much friction as possible from capturing information,” so “the more you invent, the more complex it is, and the slower you will become.”
Rapid logging occurs throughout the entire Bullet Journal and affects all of your collections. In other words, whether you want to list an event in your daily, monthly or future log, use bullets and signifiers as your syntax. The best part of this practice is that, in addition to making capturing your thoughts and categorizing them easy, it can also help you effortlessly filter out meaningless content from your notebook during review. Active reviewing is the final piece of the puzzle, the last cornerstone of the BuJo method. Carroll refers to it as Migration.
“During Migration,” he writes, “we transfer content from one place in our Bullet Journal to another by rewriting it. This may seem like a lot of effort, but it serves a critical purpose: It weeds out distractions. Because it takes a little bit more time to rewrite things by hand, there’s a built-in incentive to pause and consider each candidate. If an entry isn’t worth the few seconds of effort required to rewrite it, then it’s probably not that important. Get rid of it.”
Migration is usually done at the end of a month, during the preparation of the following monthly log. If an unfinished task of the previous month seems still relevant to you, then mark it with a greater-than (>) or less-than symbol (<) and move it to your next monthly log, a custom collection or your future log. When the time comes, you’ll eventually cross it out, because that task will either one day become irrelevant to you or you’ll find the time and energy to complete it. Either way, you won’t need to think about it in the meantime.
And that’s what makes the Bullet Journal so great: by hacking away the unessential, it helps you focus on the meaningful. It helps you learn that being busy is not the same as being productive, but rather “code for being functionally overwhelmed.” More importantly, it helps you go through your days intentionally and mindfully, thereby improving not merely your effectiveness, but also your life as well.
Cal Newport, the author of “Deep Work” described bullet journaling as “one of the most elegant and effective productivity systems” he has ever encountered. Productivity guru David Allen – the renowned creator of the “Getting Things Done” time management method – wasn’t short on praises either, commending Ryder Carroll for doing “an extraordinary job in sharing a comprehensive and hands-on methodology to implement the powerful practice of externalizing our thinking – no matter what it’s about.”
We concur wholeheartedly. There’s a reason why bullet journaling is all the rage – it works. Some of us have already tried it. And we don’t intend on stopping anytime soon – if ever!
Stop using productivity apps: digital distractions are the problem, not the solution. Go buy a notebook and a pen and start bullet journaling. As Carroll writes: “As soon as you put pen to paper, you establish a direct link to your mind and often your heart. This experience has yet to be properly replicated in the digital space. It’s why, to this day, so many ideas are born on scraps of paper.”
Ryder Carroll is a digital product designer, a bestselling author and the inventor of the Bullet Journal method. He has been featured in many important newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, the... (Read more)
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