After years of hunting the perfect solution to be and stay productive, I think I finally may have found it: a bullet journal
Productivity is such a huge topic and such a personal one. I was on a roller coaster over the last years. Weeks of tremendous energy, motivation and productivity were followed by weeks in deep holes without getting anything done at all.
I tried all sorts of todo apps and techniques. The most promising technique was pomodoro for quite a while. But nothing really stuck or helped me overcome the deep valleys.
Then I read about bullet journals a couple months ago and was intrigued. I loved the idea to move away from digital tools and get back to good old pen and paper. It was also a good chance to finally make use of some of the notebooks I had collected over the years, but which lay unused in a drawer.
What is a bullet journal?
The basic idea of a bullet journal is to log todos, events and notes for each day in a very simple and fast way. You focus on the current day and write down all the stuff you need to get done or you need to remember. Todos get marked with a dot, events get marked with a circle, notes get marked with a dash. Important stuff gets marked with an additional asterisk. I won't go further into details here, because the bullet journal website has some really great docs and there's also a video:
Why does it work?
There are various points, that make a bullet journal special for me.
I think the most essential aspect really is the fact that it is not in my computer. Writing things down by hand needs more concentration. It's a more conscious form of storing your thoughts.
Every morning, I sit down with my bullet journal and focus on what I need to get done and need to remember. I don't stare into my screen. I don't get dragged away by Twitter or emails. I just sit there for a couple minutes and make myself aware of what's going to happen in the next few hours.
During the day, I write down every new event or todo immediately, which has the same effect of focusing on it once more. It helps to take a short break and recap the priority of each open point on your list.
While almost every todo app hides the finished tasks, the bullet journal leaves a quite beautiful and satisfying overview of each day. About a year ago, I used an app called I done this which basically does the same. I often suffer from the illusion that I achieved nothing. Every day seems super short and wasted with lots of tasks, which distract me from the things I really wanted to get done. The bullet journal helps me to get past this. Having written down all the tasks during the day and seeing that list in the evening is the best way to switch off and be happy with my day's work.
Breaking your todo list down into days, makes it feel much more manageable. I didn't have a single day in the last three months when I felt overwhelmed by my work.
According to the bullet journal concept, open tasks need to be moved onto the next day manually. This seems extremely redundant and annoying at first.
But writing down the same task over and over again is a fantastic way to show you how embarrassingly lazy you are or how unimportant a task actually might be. It might not work for everyone, but it sure does for me.
Finally, I think it's the format. The first couple pages have been horrible. My handwriting was a nightmare. But it really started to improve. I now enjoy the process of manually writing again and I absolutely love to see the results. I can't tell exactly what it is, but it's so much more satisfying to open a notebook with dozens of handwritten pages. It's a constant reminder of all the stuff I got done in the last weeks and months. It has become really, really precious to me.
I already ordered five more notebooks in the same format from the same company to make sure that I get a decent series — yes, that's the design nerd in me. I started the second book two weeks ago and it felt so great to start with a fresh book and have some decent handwriting in there right from the start.
I also love that it becomes more and more individual. The bullet journal concept is quite open. It offers modules and methods, which you can use, but you don't have to if it doesn't fit. There are also tons of videos on Youtube from bullet journal users, who describe their favorite ways to track stuff.
For example for the second book I decided that I don't need a future log. But instead I have developed my own way of creating a monthly and weekly overview.
I also started to create additional marks and symbols, which I use to highlight certain tasks and events, which is a lot of fun.
I'm looking forward to the next book filling up and I know that the system is going to improve with me over time, which is exciting.
The last three months with my bullet journal have been very rewarding and I feel more reliable and more in control.
If you want to give it a try as well, I really recommend to give it time. The advantages show after a week and become even more obvious after a month.