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Get Your Sh*t Together: A Guide To Bullet Journaling

A blogpost by Tony Lynch.

At Onlea, being effective with the use of time is important. It helps us deliver high quality productions and keep a balanced enjoyable life. This blog post by Onlea's Project Manager, Tony Lynch, will give you fun insights into how to keep your life relatively sane and organized.
--Adriana Lopez Forero, President

Hey, Get Your Shit Together, is a blog series revolving around Productivity as told by, surprise, a Project Manager. Don’t worry though, I’ll do my best to stay away from things that will bore you to death like Methodology talk (Waterfall, Agile, Scrum….) Nope, all of that is off the table here. This series is going to be all about the small things you can do in your life to stay productive and to not make a giant chore out of it. I am far from an expert on the subject; my experience comes from trial and error, screwing things up or discovering something insanely useful that has kept my life sane and stress free… Just kidding on the stress free part, that’s impossible.

An Extremely Brief History of BuJo...

In this post, I’m going to give you the rundown on Bullet Journals. Please don’t abandon ship here after reading the dreaded word, “Journal”. It’s easy to bail on this one entirely if you’re opposed to writing things down, or, for the love of god, “reflecting” upon yourself. No. This isn’t a typical journal. This is going to be the notebook you carry with you that will help organize your day, help you remember everything about your year. Ok, so it’s basically a journal, but now that I’ve captured your attention for this long, you have to finish reading this article or you’re going to have some serious FoMO.

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The history of the Bullet Journal begins in a time of despair and an unhinged schedule. Ryder Carroll designed the system through trial and error, which ended up on something he later dubbed a Bullet Journal. You can find out more about the original Bullet Journal here, soak up all of that knowledge and then promptly forget about it, cause none of it matters. Bullet Journals have become sort of a monstrous being upon themselves. A mutation of overly fancy, overly designed agendas, to the simple scratch pads that look and feel as messy as your life currently. Honestly, people have been butchering the Bullet Journal format for years now. It doesn’t really matter if there was an original. This is something you’re going to make your own and you’re going to end up doing it your own way. I once followed the rules of the original, but I found myself branching away from it even in the first year of completing my first ever BuJo.

BuJo! But why?

So a Bullet Journal is aptly named for the quickness of the content that you’re writing down. This is what differentiates a regular journal from a Bullet Journal. A journal (or a diary) is something you could spend hours on writing down your thoughts, secrets and desires. A Bullet Journal is quick, fast and concise. You’re not going to waste your time reflecting on the big picture. You’re going to be creating simple To Do task lists in a weekly format and you’re going to keep those pesky emotional thoughts out of it. Why? Because this is a system for Getting Your Shit Done. Have an appointment you don’t want to forget about? Sure it’s probably already in your Google Calendar, but write it down in your Bullet Journal with an action point. Done with your appointment? Good! Now check it off. Feel those good feels of completing a self-made task list. It’s going to happen a lot if you keep it up.

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The Tools You’ll Need (And Some You Probably Don’t Need)

First off, you’re going to want to find a Notebook. You could potentially do this on your computer, but I would advise against it. An analog notebook is going to get you to form a habit. There are too many distractions on computers, you’re going to forget about your Bullet Journal in the first couple of weeks.

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In my opinion, the notebook that you choose is going to be the most important choice for your entry into the world of Bullet Journals. You’re going to want to think about line type, hard/soft cover, and how clean/detailed your cover is. Seriously, you’re going to have a hard time finding something you like and I can’t tell you what’s best here. It’s all a matter of personal preference. My first ever Bullet Journal was done on a MUJI recycled dot paper notebook. I chose this notebook mainly because of the line spacing on the pages. Yep, I obsessed that much about paper before starting my first Bullet Journal. From there, I went to a Field Notes Memo Book to create a mini Bullet Journal. This year, I’m going big with a Leuchtturm1917. Find the notebook that speaks to you, that whispers your name when you walk by it in the store. That’s the one you want.

The second most important thing you’re going to want to pick out is a damned good pen. Throw away all of your BIC ballpoint blue ink pens right now. Don’t even think about using those. Stop reading this right now, and empty out your desk drawer of all those sub standard pens and put them in the garbage right now. Done? Ok. Now you’re going to want to go find a pen that has a fast setting ink and when you write with it, the heavens smile upon you. This is something you’re going to want to experiment with again and it’s all going to land on personal preference. But because I’ve been trying, failing, and creating Bullet Journals for the last 5 years of my life, I’ll pretend to know what’s best for you. Remember that MUJI link I threw at you earlier? Go on, head over there again and look at their glorious pen selection. And while you’re there, go ahead and buy me some as well, ok?

That’s it. Stop right here with your purchasing. Don’t listen to the people who are trying to lure you in with fancy Washi Tape, different coloured pens, or special Bullet Journal carrying cases. Don’t do it! Unless, of course you want to really make it your own, and spend a lot of time creating some really nice looking and ultimately contributing towards the butchering of the standard practices of the Bullet Journal.

… I may own all of these things, except for Washi Tape. I don’t use Washi Tape. It’s weird. Just please don’t do this… You’re no longer using a Bullet Journal. You’re just scrapbooking.

Create a System. Now FORGET IT!

One of the hardest things about Bullet Journals is figuring out a system that works best for you. You can head over to one of the more active communities to see some really beautiful examples (or some really… ‘unique’ examples…). The thing here is that no system is the same, but you sure as hell can go through the Bullet Journal subreddit and find (and copy) what inspires you the most. Once you have something in mind, you’re going to want to do some testing of your system. If you’re a notebook pureist, I suggest sketching out your ideas on some scrap paper so you don’t muck up your brand new notebook. But one thing you’re going to have to come to terms with here is that you’re going to screw things up. Try not to worry about it. Learn from your mistakes and don’t do it again on the next page. Remember, it’s all about that trial and error.

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One thing you’re going to want to really practice though is the actual bullet system. Using bullet points for action items, circles for events, an asterisk to show priority, etc. This is what makes a Bullet Journal stand out from the typical journals. You’re creating tasks, action items, event reminders, or whatever it is you’re recording down on a day-to-day basis. You don’t need to follow the rules but you’re going to want a system that makes sense to you. Did you forget to do something that day that you had written down as a task? That’s where you carry it forward (migrate) to the next day with an arrow icon. The important thing here is to keep it simple and rapid. Don’t write anything longer than a sentence long for a single entry. If you do, you’re just writing a journal.

How Does This Help?

It’s all about forming habits and routines. A Bullet Journal isn’t going to help you if you haphazardly fill it out and forget about it for the majority of the week. It’s going to help you become that productivity master when you keep on top of it. Those simple To Dos and reminders are going to help you up your game. You’re not going to forget to unclog the gutters on the weekend because that task was sitting stagnant on your digital To Do list that you only check once a week. No, you’re going to get up there and unclog those god damn gutters because your Bullet Journal reminded you every single day cause you’re keeping up the habit of updating it every single day. And when you finally do it? You’re going to get those feel goods of checking something off on pen and paper. Something that is so much more tactile feeling than clicking your mouse on a box on the internet.

And at the very end of the year when you’ve filled out every single day in your Bullet Journal? Oh man, it’s going to feel so good to have that thing done. You’ll have that sense of accomplishment tagging along with you at the very end of the year. You’ll have a record of the year that you could go back to when you’re older and see how badly you screwed up so you can learn from your past mistakes. Or just to keep those good time memories kicking around in that old scatterbrain of yours. Trust me, it’s going to be awesome.

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Tony Lynch

Tony Lynch