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Special thanks to Josh Hamilton who is the author of today’s post. You can find more of his articles on Hardly Hamilton.
8 Tips For a More Productive Bullet Journal
Wherever I turn on the internet, I’m constantly reminded that people are more productive than me. I would get home from school, and then from University, and then from my job, and collapse in a very unproductive heap. Dishes would go unwashed, the hoover would be unused and my blog was looking barren.
How did people do it? What made them so productive?
Enter the Bullet Journal.
Bullet Journals were first developed by Ryder Carroll, who used them to combat learning difficulties he had faced his whole life. In spite of these, he wanted to live more intentionally and productively, so invented what he called a rapid logging system.
This was designed to cut the content we don’t need when producing to-do lists and habit-tracking to stay focused. A weighty paragraph would become an easily digestible list. It was heaps easier to focus.
That system won’t work for everyone, but that’s the beauty of a Bullet Journal: you take a blank notebook and can customise it to your heart’s content. Create a system that works for you.
I’ve been using a bullet journal for nearly seven years now and have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
Here are my eight most important tips for a more productive Bullet Journal.
Bullet Journals can look absolutely gorgeous, if the designs all over Pinterest are anything to go by. I used to spend hours emulating the latest and greatest setups. The issue? It wasn’t very productive.
I wasn’t trying to impress anyone; the designs were for my eyes only, yet I use a Bullet Journal purely so that I can get more things done – not as a creative outlet.
All of that time spent researching, drawing and colouring various pages every month wasn’t getting me closer to achieving my goals, making it a waste of my time.
Now? I’ve scrapped the fancy designs. Rather than spending hours every month creating a beautiful spread, I now use 15 minutes to get myself ready for the next 6 months.
Everything in my bullet journal is intentionally minimalist so that I can focus on what’s important to me. As a result, my productivity has skyrocketed.
Once you’ve settled on a really simple, extra minimal, design, it’s time to think about what you want to use the Bullet Journal for.
Being productive is all about cutting out distractions so that you can focus on achieving your goals. For me, that meant cutting distractions from my Bullet Journal.
One of those cuts was a gratitude log, where you write down at least one thing that you are grateful for every day. I started doing this with the best of intentions, as I’d heard that it’s great for mental wellbeing, but I ended up feeling more stressed from thinking of something new every single day.
Some days I would repeat what I had added in previous weeks, so it started to feel like a chore. If it helps to settle you at the start of each day, then that’s great.
But for me? Hard pass.
My Bullet Journal is made up of three to-do lists:
Monthly: what needs to be done at some point before the end of the month? This might be a bill to be paid, or a lawn to be mown. If the deadline isn’t imminent – but it needs to be done at some point – it goes here.
Weekly: it’s the same principle as above – what do I need to do at some point this week? This list is more focused as there are usually more pressing deadlines within the next seven days. I will add monthly tasks to this to-do list if their deadlines are in that week.
Daily: by separating tasks into three sections, I can keep my daily to-do list focused on only what I have to get done that day. This keeps me from being distracted by thousands of other things I might remember throughout the day, which will be added to the first two lists. And if I don’t have time for something that day? I simply migrate it to the next day or add it to my weekly list.
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear wrote that if you focus on just being 1% better every day, then you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals.
How do I become 1% better every day? By being consistent with my habits of course!
Think about what you’d like to do every day, such as writing or learning an instrument, and start tracking those habits in your Bullet Journal. Personally, I lay out each habit in columns across a single page and colour in one block of the column for every day that I successfully do each habit.
This is a really simple, really satisfying way to track your habits – and adds a touch of colour to an otherwise minimalist Bullet Journal.
Speaking of colour…
I am so intentional with my colour coding. Unlike pretty much everyone else you’ll find online, I stick to the four colours commonly found on a four-way BIC pen:
Black – for titles, dates and headings.
Blue – for the main parts of the text. Things like tasks and calendar events.
Red – for extra information. It might be when a specific task is happening in my day, or something I need to bring to an appointment.
Green – for extra, less important information. I also use this for prioritising tasks, by writing discrete numbers next to each, to show the order in which I should get things done.
If a Bullet Journal is essential for organising your life, then a contents page is essential for organising your Bullet Journal. I used to get by without one, but it is so easy to lose track of important pages in a notebook that averages at around 200 or so pages.
So, as soon as you set up your monthly spread, number each page and add its title to a contents page, which you’ll have already created at the front of your Bullet Journal. Then, when you want to return to that ‘notes’ page that you created on page 126 five months ago, you’ll know exactly where to turn to.
Not only will this make the process of using your Bullet Journal far less frustrating, it’s also a tiny time-saver. If you spend 10 seconds trying to find the right page in your Bullet Journal every single day, then that will soon add up.
One day, you may have saved hours of your time from no longer needing to flick through every single page which will, in the long run, maximise your productivity.
I could write thousands of words about designing the best Bullet Journal possible (and I already have!), but what would be the point if it doesn’t work for you?
You’ve read my top tips because they suit me, but Bullet Journals are great because they are specific to each individual. Don’t follow the crowd just because it’s the trendy way to work.
Instead, you should experiment, try out my suggestions, and ultimately settle on a setup that skyrockets your productivity.
Do you have any tips for a more productive Bullet Journal? I’m always looking for advice, so do share them in the comments below!
A note from the guest contributor:
I’m a University of Birmingham, UK, graduate and have been writing in various places for six years and teaching for two. I’m also trying to be the best possible version of myself, which is why HardlyHamilton.com is geared towards education, personal development and maximising your productivity. So, if that’s of any interest to you, please consider following my journey for weekly tips on leading healthier, more productive lives.
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